10 Essentials of Inclusive Fitness

Posted by Ilya Parker on

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Inclusive fitness means in practice as a collection of values that we can begin circulating widely in our industries. I firmly believe it is our collective right to feel at home and safe in our bodies and for fitness and wellness institutions to support and create the conditions to uphold this right.

What is Inclusive Fitness

It’s important for me to name that the Inclusive fitness was birthed from Black trans, queer and radical fat organizers and seeks to carve space for those who have historically been negated in mainstream fitness and movement spaces. Inclusive Fitness is a direct pushback towards mainstream/dominant/toxic fitness culture. By engaging in inclusive fitness practices we are aiming to proactively and explicitly create spaces that are: anti-diet, trauma informed, compassionate, harm reductionist, fat affirming, accessible, anti-racist and ethical. Inclusive fitness is not intended to be viewed as a separate movement but as a call to action for us to do our part in ensuring that all fitness and movement spaces are more supportive to diverse bodies.


To be clear, Decolonizing Fitness as a practice is not the same as Inclusive Fitness.

(language informed by Roc, owner of Rooted Resistance)

  1. The work of Decolonizing Fitness is always to help redistribute land, power, resources, money or leadership into the hands of Indigenous, Black & Brown folks.
  2. Decolonizing Fitness centers the leadership of BIPOC in curating a new way of relating in the industries of fitness and wellness, by rearranging social, economical, technological and political connections to support our most vulnerable populations.
  3. Decolonizing Fitness as a practice is not seeking to be included in mainstream fitness but to eradicate the current structures that are reinforced by white  western understandings of fitness.

*Note* Acknowledge the Indigenous land you exist on as a settler: You can also share this In your live workshops and trainings. What ways can you plug into local Indigenous communities volunteer work or by giving a portion of your profits to an Indigenous community in your local area. A step further is listing one tangible step you are doing to return the land. *Note: land acknowledgements should be about accountability and action not performative displays of settler colonialism.


Your presence -how you hold space for people- is the most motivating and helpful thing about you. Not the advice you give and the handouts you have.” - Dana Sturtevant 

Co-founder of Be Nourished 

Creating affirming fitness and movement spaces requires a level of thoughtfulness for populations that so many practitioners aren’t used to paying attention to let alone catering to.

Part of establishing a culture of inclusivity in fitness and movement industries is doing away with this idea that as fitness and wellness coaches we are here to fix and rescue our clients from themselves. We aren’t the gatekeepers of “good health” nor the promoters of what “healthy” should look like for someone else. We also aren’t here to morally impose health/”healthy” as an obligation to anyone.

10 Essentials of Inclusive Fitness

Honor the whole person, not who you think they “should be” or “could be”

Every person carries a unique experience with  how their body shows up in this world. The choice to exercise (or not) should have no impact on a person’s intrinsic value whatsoever. Everyone has the right to cultivate (or not to) movement practices that suit their needs.
As fitness and movement practitioners we must work through our internalized narratives around “getting better” and using movement to become “your best self.” As it is rooted in ableism and healthism. There is nothing wrong with enjoying movement and the many non aesthetic related benefits it can bring. However, our job isn’t to fix people with fitness as ALL humans are whole and complete-not broken (with or with out engaging in fitness). It’s ableist when we assume certain bodies need fixing.
Healthism puts the moral obligation on a person to maintain “good health” (whatever that even means) and blames a person for when they are unable to do so without taking in factors that are beyond our control.
The medical, diet and fitness industries all determine the values we place on bodies based on size, health status, and body function to name a few ways. Our bodies don’t need to be a certain way to be valuable. NO ONE is disposable.
That’s why the pervasive desire to “get better” via exercise (if not truly unpacked) can be extremely painful, dehumanizing, and triggering for so many people even though the idea seems harmless.


Proactively and explicitly aim to create spaces that are: trauma informed, harm reductionist, fat affirming, accessible, anti-racist and ethical. 

Historically fitness and movement spaces have not been welcoming to people from oppressed groups. Therefore, it is important to be explicit in acknowledging that Black, Indigenous and People of Color, trans/gender expensive/queer people, super & infinifat folks, people over the age of 65 and people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by barriers to healthcare and wellness services due to systemic and institutionalized systems. Make a commitment to continuously engage in anti-oppression, racial justice and equity work.


Value Lived Experience Over “Expertise” Always

Refrain from invalidating people’s experiences, no matter how far they deviate from your assumptions and preconceived ideas. Each person is the expert on their own body, no exceptions and has been with their own body since birth. No matter how many books a person reads, degrees they have, or years of medical school they’ve excelled in they will NEVER know more about someone else’s body than the person themselves.


Strive for Collective Access

Create and explore ways of doing things that go beyond non-disabled and neurotypical norms. Access needs aren’t just for disabled folks, non-disabled people have access needs too. For example, financial accessibility can be a huge barrier for many people, so consider sliding scale or “pay it forward” models, if your activity isn’t already free.


Divest from Diet Culture

Diet and toxic fitness culture work in direct relation to each other and they both exist because of white supremacy and capitalism. In the US, the weight loss & “wellness” industries are worth 90 billion dollars and counting. As a fitness or movement practitioner it’s important to be reflective on your beliefs and relationship with food. Never assume people: can, should, want to or need to engage in intentional weight loss. By doing so you are directly extending harm. You cannot tell by looking at folks what they eat, how much they move their body, if they are “healthy” or sick, if they have an eating disorder, what their gender is, or what their body can or cannot do. Notice the assumptions you make based on your social and cultural conditioning and then question and challenge them.


Community Over Competition

Be proactive in removing the embedded competition in fitness and movement spaces, especially the ways we engage in group settings. Promoting bodily autonomy and personal agency in practice. Learn more about toxic fitness culture so that you can identify these harmful norms when they inevitably show up.


Provide More Information Upfront

Lay out the whole plan early on, whether in online class descriptions or before kicking off in-person. Everyone benefits from a clear plan upfront, especially neurodivergent folks and people with disabilities. This practice honors the autonomy of your participants. More information upfront allows folks to have a clear idea of what they are consenting to when they join your movement or fitness space.


Rest is Essential, Not Earned

Rest is not simply stopping/pausing exercise and it never has to be earned.

Create a culture that encourages the practice of self-care to address each individual’s critical needs. This will vary from individual to individual. Pay attention to pace and resist urgency, this allows for us to create a sustainable, long-term relationship with movement. Respect and trust in all bodily cues, especially pain and exhaustion. Pushing past limits does not make anyone better or stronger, but it can put them at risk for serious injury and a disordered relationship with their body. Create a culture of safety that encourages folks to explore their own limits and potential.


Make the Time to Listen

Being inclusive is not a destination you can arrive at and be done with. The most inclusive spaces are the ones that value open and honest reciprocal communication amongst all involved. Change does not happen in a vacuum. You have to reach out, remove barriers, get curious, and make it easy for folks to give genuine feedback about their experience and your impact. You cannot perfectly anticipate every single need that is going to come up for people and that shouldn’t be the goal. You CAN stay committed to actively listening whenever concerns are raised and hold yourself accountable to the values you claim. Try to see every fumble as an opportunity to learn something you didn’t know before. Slow down the process and your reactions. 

Be fully transparent in highlighting the social justice movements that have informed you/your practice

It’s also important to pay social justice consultants, guest speakers and co-facilitators equitable rates for our labor and collaboration. Also, prioritize ordering products and services from BIPOC owned businesses in your local area. Specifically if you are a gym or studio owner it is important to genuinely do the work in leveraging resources to undo inequity. This means working alongside and in conversation with marginalized communities to achieve equity and justice. That requires building awareness of your own resources, networks, skills, access, and influence, and leveraging those things in the service of oppressed populations.

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  • This is excellent! Thank you ☺️

    Kelli Cronin on

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