My Beef With The Women's Fitness Industry

There’s something that has been interesting to me in women’s fitness for several years, and I haven’t really been able to pinpoint it until recently.

From the rise of Crossfit and revolt against body shaming, the women’s fitness message took a sharp left in the mid 2000’s from purely aerobic/aesthetics to valuing strength. Since then, it’s been on the rise in a wonderful direction.

But over the last few years, there’s been another slight shift which I believe is slowly sending us back the other way, and it’s taken me a long time to realize why it all feels peculiar.  

While most of the information we have today for women is incredible and valid and needed, there’s so much I personally can’t relate to. I have been searching for a place to get information that’s a happy medium between the pink, and feelings, and periods, and cellulite, to the bro hour and super science nerds, but there’s not a ton in between.

It’s a lot of extreme female (pink and feelings) or extreme male (red, black, and heavy metal), and I’m just a girl-dude who wants to get solid information and train because I love it. Here’s what I mean:

 

The Cellulite Pictures

Body positivity is something I can absolutely get behind. Normalizing fat rolls, and dimples, and imperfections have been a huge step in the right direction for women to realize that none of the shit we see in magazines is real. Even the stuff on our own social media is staged. We all show our best parts, and it’s been super awesome to see that, nah, we are all actually human and have insecurities. That being said - What would we have space to think about or create if we stopped thinking and talking about cellulite all the time?

Everyday I scroll through Instagram and see 3-4 asses staring me in the face, and they usually tend to be the asses of insanely gorgeous women with killer bodies that happen to have a piece of cellulite. While I do think it’s important for other women to relate and see that even fitness professionals have cellulite, my guess is that the cellulite is actually one of the last things people are looking at.

Personally, I’m noticing all the gorgeous parts of their bodies - the parts they worked so hard for over the years, and thinking, "great job on your dedication and sexy ass muscles." I’m also noticing that these women completely fit the profile for America’s cultural standard of beauty, cellulite and all. 

I’m all for the body positive movement and fully support that ride, and have even purchased tickets for other female passengers. I’m just personally not on the train where we need to talk about it non-stop if we fit the mold of societal beauty and health. I don't know how much that actually helps women who are truly struggling with body image.  

If we want to normalize something and show we are truly okay with it, post with no commentary. If we are really that secure in ourselves, lets post the pics with cellulite and say nothing so people can see we are normal and okay with it. 

To normalize something is to be without commentary or explanation. 

I also feel like the absence of this in men’s fitness is part of the reason men get to be known for their knowledge. They aren’t spending time posting pics of their naked butts, focusing on their imperfections, and talking about their feelings around them. They just talk about fitness stuff. I’m sure some dudes were overweight and have stretch marks, but they just don’t care. Not having commentary around it makes it normal.  
 

Female Fitness Aesthetic

This is a big one because I love the way women look, and I think women should present themselves in whatever way they feel most confident that is true to their brand.

Quick Story: In February, I taught a Shape Magazine Live class at Mark Fisher Fitness. I found myself kinda stressed out the week leading up to it deciding what I was going to wear, which is very unusual for me. It may sound dumb that apparel was stressful, but I am definitely not the Shape Magazine stereotype. I’m not girly. I don’t wear tight clothing, and I usually have on some type of hat. I found myself feeling (by my own conviction) like I needed to fit into a very specific female fitness mold, which I very much do not.

I decided to go with a tight women’s tank top that was low and showed a little chesticle cleave, and leggings to represent some kind of Shape brand that was being blasted to the world. I felt uncomfortable as fuck. Seriously. Watch the first three seconds of the video. My facial expression says it all. It’s uncomfortable to watch.

The class was great, but afterward, I couldn’t help but wonder why I felt the need to be something I wasn’t to fit into an industry that I mostly can’t relate to anyway. It was a huge wake up call to me for two reasons:

#1. I was un-true to myself. For what? Because I needed to wear tightly fitted clothing to be considered a credible woman? Hell no. Never again. Who actually cares? I've never tried to fit into anything, and I made a promise that day to never try to do it again. It’s not worth it, and it feels horrible.

#2. There is only one type of woman represented in our industry. And if I, a fitness coach of 12 years, feel this way, there must be so many other women who feel underrepresented as well.

Anyway, back to the aesthetics.

I’ve thought frequently that none of my male fitness friends probably ever think about what they are gonna wear when they make a video or put something on the internet. My guess is that Tony Gentilcore doesn’t pick out his outfit the night before he teaches a deadlift on Instagram.

To be honest, a lot of men kinda look like they rolled out bed when they teach on the internet. But it doesn’t matter because people aren’t seeking them out because of their ‘fitness style’. They are going to learn from their brains.

As women, so many of the videos that we post feature fully done up faces and the trendiest Lulu threads (mad love for Lulu - I worked there for 3 years - killer discount). I guess I'm just wondering, is that who we all truly are or are we trying to fit into something?

If going full face and wearing your Sunday best is truly who you are, do it! But if it's not you, and you are trying to do the thing to fit into this "cookie cutter fitness woman" standard, you are robbing the world of your unique presence. We don't need more cookie cutter. We need more you.

Thinking that women need to be trained, psychologically and emotionally, in a special way.

This is a hard one for me because I am part of, arguably, the most emotionally intelligent training team in the country. Michael Keeler and Mark Fisher have gone above and beyond to not only help the Mark Fisher Fitness team cultivate emotional intelligence to work with others (through years of life coaching practice - asking open ended questions, listening, repeating back, validating and acknowledging, etc), but to bring awareness to our personal emotions, behaviors, and work “love languages” (through DiSC analysis, EQI, MBA Inventory, etc).

Those who put all women in a box by saying we should be trained emotionally and psychologically differently than men, I’m not with you on that. I disagree. I believe on an individual basis, women and men have a way they learn and feel heard and seen.

Psychologically, how I would train a survivor of sexual assault is not the same way I’d train a woman who is morbidly obese, and not the same way I’d train gay male looking to add muscle or a straight dude looking to lose weight.

If I were teaching a class, I'd speak to each individual differently and coach specific to the person.

Emotional intelligence is individual, human intelligence. I fully admit that I have the curse of knowledge and get to practice these skills on a daily basis. I just can’t imagine separating them into gender specific boxes. Each human is different.

I personally don’t need to be trained, psychologically or emotionally, “like a woman”. Believing I have some special way of thinking is putting me back in a box where women are fragile and can’t handle some truth or toughness.

 

Thinking women need to be trained, physically, in a different way.

Yes, we have boobs, and a vagina, and more of certain hormones. I have trained women in the past with giant boobs who had to slightly alter the trajectory of the bar on a clean or do a double KB squat instead of a single bell. Other than that, it's pretty much the same (unless we are talking about elite level bodybuilders or a women going for highest athletic potential - then we can play with their woman powers.).

But the vast majority of women that are showing up at the gym everyday aren’t trying to reach their highest athletic potential. Most of them just don’t want to feel fat, but are being told they should train differently than men, when training the same could actually benefit them greatly.

In my 18 years of strength training, and 12 years prior to that of sports training, I’ve never been on a “women’s” program. I can squat, hinge, push, pull, stabilize, and transmit force because I’m a human.

There are women who put themselves through grueling physical feats just to prove they don’t need any special consideration - GI Jane, amirite? And now we are shifting back the other way, saying we need to have special training systems for women.

It was only as recent as the London Olympics in 2012 where every country in participation included female athletes. The first Saudi women, Sarah Attar and Wodjan Shahrkhani, were disgraced by their countries for competing in  sports. Shahrhani was labeled as the “prostitute of the olympics” by men who didn’t believe she should be able to compete. My guess is she wasn't trying to be on a special woman's program.

I get it - we are in America, and we could say the same about any women’s issue in the world, but if we take a step back and look outside of ourselves, it can help us see that women before us have fought hard to get us to the place where we can walk into a gym and train like any other person in there.

I don’t want to be on the boat that is sailing us backwards to the time to when women need special training programs. Even our Formation Strength Training Team follows a program that is applicable to all humans - we just happen to be women.

Let’s take a walk back through the 1900’s to see how far we've come as women needing special lady fitness:

  • 1900-1920’s - stretching, stationary biking, rowing machines (thank god), the vibro-slim, and synchronized gymnastics

  • 1930-1940’s - repetitive body weight movements and twisting

  • 1950-1960’s - calisthenics and hula hooping

  • 1970-1980’s - step aerobics and exercise video tapes

  • 1990-2000 - Thigh Master, Buns of Steel, Tae Bo

**Note: The Sydney 2000 Olympics was the first Olympics where women could compete in weightlifting. The first Olympics were in 1896.

There are women from all over the world who would give anything to be able to train like men or walk into a gym, period. It feels very much to me that we are treating women like they’re a different species. We are not special snowflakes. We can train like men, even if have boobs and vaginas and periods and cellulite because we're still humans.

I fully appreciate the women who are my peers, and role models, and pioneers of the women’s fitness movement, who have paved the way for what we have today. Ultimately, a lot of what is being preached and how it’s delivered doesn’t resonate with me. I can’t help but think that if I feel this way, there must be other women who feel the same and are looking for information from somewhere in the middle of the pendulum. I decided to stop waiting for that person to come along, and chose to step up and put it out there so other women might step up too.