Mainstream Fitness – Creating a Culture of Jerks

By Fatima Lee Garsi
In the last ten years, I’ve ebbed and flowed through the fitness world as a certified personal trainer. Actually, it’s felt more like a battle. Many, many battles. I’ve worked for Goodlife Fitness, LA Fitness, boutique style gyms, a private women’s only studio, a physio/massage clinic, my own studio in Kitchener, and a mobile training company. My experience working in this wide range of fitness environments – from large corporate gyms to small private ones – has taught me that personal training can be an exercise in the art of manipulation.
When I first entered this field, I didn’t realize how much of a salesperson I would have to become. I got over my naiveté quickly, however, as I learned the methods we were expected to use to sell a fit and healthy body to potential clients. For me, these methods were spiritually blackening.




Consultations are designed to make you feel vulnerable

At first, the conversation during your initial consultation seems genuine. You’ll feel comfortable enough to tell the trainer about your personal life – your family, your significant other, your eating habits, your vulnerabilities, your hopes for the future. It’s actually a lot. You’re laying everything out on the table and trusting this professional to help you. What you don’t know is that this person is trained to use your words to pressure you into buying training. Your vulnerabilities are used as a form of manipulation:
How do you expect to be a good, present mom if you’re feeling bad about yourself?
How are you going to have the energy to study if you don’t start training?
What’s more important? Your health or your car?  


“Now or never” = false urgency  

An atmosphere of urgency is created where you’re now making decisions while inside an emotional warp-hole:
You can have the body of your dreams in just ONE YEAR for only $20,000!
The idea that training is more important than providing enough for your family or paying off your debts on time is false. Managing your stress levels and family life are of equal importance. Training is meant to enhance your life, not burden it. Only you know how finances will affect your life and stability.  Remember, training can relieve stress but it’s also a stressor in and of itself. Training is physical stress and can sometimes be a lot of extra work. Trying to change your body when you have a lot of emotional problems can be too much at times. When people say the time is always NOW and start training NOW because it will never be a good time, I say they lack empathy and life experience.


Gyms can create atmospheres of isolation

This sales driven approach may be rooted in the fact that gyms aren’t really providing you with a lot of options. For females, the best options seem to be to get smaller everywhere except your chest and butt. And for males – get smaller (except for your arms), or, get bigger everywhere. The mainstream fitness environment in gyms is designed to make you self-conscious and hyper-aware of so-called deficiencies in your appearance. The doors are shut, it’s quiet, and there are no clocks. This creates an atmosphere of strange isolation devoid of time and external stimuli. You’re surrounded by gym-endorsed images: before and after pictures of people who took the plunge and invested in themselves. You’re meant to consume these images and the message they send: Look how successful they are! Look at how much better they look! If you don’t invest in yourself, WHO WILL?
The truth is, these are not the only options we have. Our bodies are the only thing we have full ownership of in this world so we must decide for ourselves what we truly want. The real core questions require deep introspection: can we accept and love ourselves regardless of our physique? Do we have the energy we need to live life to its fullest potential? (whatever that may be for you).


Successful training requires a relationship of trust

My approach when working with clients is to listen and attend to the needs of the client, not just my business. I never argue or question my client if they want to take a break from training. Of course I would prefer if they came in – it’s good for business and for the client’s consistency. But, it’s not my life or my choice. I want my clients to make their choices on their own. There is no right or wrong because every path is unique and different. What kind of life skills will my clients gain by just following my orders?
My health and wellness philosophy is to help you improve your life from a position of genuine interest in who you are and what you believe will be beneficial to you. At Sister Fit, I’ve made the deliberate choice to ensure there are NO posters of skinny, white women posing rather erotically with weights – there is no space in the studio for intentional emotional manipulation. In our consultation, I ask questions about you and get to know you. I don’t talk about your body until you do. I don’t give you opinions about your body unless you ask me to. I do not use our time to tell you what I think you need or how great I am.
If you decide you’d like to start training with me I accept however many days you can commit to and try not to load you with more. I don’t pressure you. I accept you and what you wish to achieve for yourself. I challenge you to give the middle finger to mainstream fitness culture while eating a homemade protein cookie. Get bigger, stronger, thicker, leaner, faster, broader, smaller…whatever YOU want to do, for you. 
This blog post was originally published in August 2017. It has been reproduced here with updates.