Taking the first step towards better health is not that easy; finding an inclusive environment can sometimes make this process even harder. Creating a safe space literally means cultivating an environment where a person can feel confident that they will not be subjected to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other form of emotional or physical harm.
In the world of fitness, empowering people to feel the best versions of themselves is a huge gift you can give someone. Licensed Athletic Trainer Quan Davis and Becca Moorhead, founder of The Fit Fueled Feisty Mission are both strong advocates for developing an environment where all are welcomed. From homophobia to common stereotypes, Davis and Moorhead reveal how they are making a difference in fitness for the LGBTQ community.
First things first!
Creating an inclusive environment is the foundation of it all! Becca explains it starts with the instructors, even before class begins.
“From the programming that we create to the language that we use in classes, it all comes back to us and our intentions. As the professional at the front of the room, we have the unique opportunity to set the tone for the next ‘X’ amount of time. I think it’s vital to use that inherent power dynamic to be inclusive in every way that we can! I mean, these folks are putting their health and wellbeing in our hands… Why not take that extra step to make them feel comfortable?”
Quan is on the same page and reveals the importance of creating a personalized approach to allow students to feel comfortable. “I believe that getting to know my client in more ways than their physical goals, helps to create an environment of ease, relatability, and welcome.” says Davis.
If you are looking for new and insightful ways to create this experience for your audience, Moorhead suggests making small changes which might be hard but over time it will become second nature if you are consistent. Using terms like “hey team” or “all right friends” can go a long way in making everyone feel welcomed and included. Becca further explains that making assumptions about what a client may hope to achieve from their workout is not ideal. “All I know is that they chose to come, and they chose to move their bodies with me. I make a point to celebrate all levels when scaling movements, and encourage clients to listen to their bodies,” says Moorhead.
Outside looking in.
We all start somewhere, oftentimes it’s easier to provide an experience for others if you have walked the path they are currently taking. In addition, diving into a class as a student is a great way to get a perspective of what your clients may be experiencing and how you can make changes to your own classes. Before becoming an instructor Quan knew one thing for certain:
“I’ve always said that I never want to be a coach who yells and has to be drill sergeant. I also never wanted to be a coach who has a one size fits all program. I believe that in creating a safe space, you have to know what is unsafe for the client. I make it a point to make it aware to my clients that this is their journey and theirs alone.”
Becca recalls that when taking a class as a student she pays attention to which instructors make sweeping assumptions about the people in front of them. “There’s often an assumption that one comes to a fitness space to change their appearance. That isn’t always the case, and for many in the queer community language and cues about changing their body to fit a certain standard is not only off-putting, it’s triggering.” Moorhead suggests.
Knowing your audience is part of the job, making assumptions about one’s goals or journey is creating an environment that is unwelcoming whether you intended to or not.
Obstacles within fitness
Where there is change there is always an obstacle that was conquered. Within the LGBTQ community, there still remains a number of hurdles when creating inclusivity within fitness.
Becca says, “There are so many reasons that someone may not be comfortable stepping into a fitness space. For the queer community, sadly, there are obstacles ranging from the discomfort of moving in front of others, sexism and harassment, or even threats to physical safety. The toughest part for me is getting the folks in the metaphorical door and earning trust back. I try to use language that signals fun and enjoyment, rather than competition and intensity.”
She emphasizes that there is a lot of pressure in the beginning when you are attempting to create a class structure that is welcoming and inclusive. The best road towards success is recognizing that mistakes will be made but remembering that creates an opportunity for growth and learning if you allow it to. “I’m not perfect at creating inclusive spaces, even though I’m a part of the LGBTQ+ community! Making a dedicated effort to continue learning and growing is a major priority for me, and I fully believe that makes a difference in the client experience,” says Becca.
Quan adds that creating an inclusive space for the LGBTQ community comes down to this: “We forget free things, such as love, treating people with respect, and honoring our differences.”
Always take the opportunity to offer an experience that embodies all your students but do not forget to have fun! Allowing someone to walk into your class and unapologetically be themselves is one of the many wonderful ways to create inclusivity.