What Is Toxic Fitness Culture?

Posted by Ilya Parker on

One of the foundational components of Decolonizing Fitness is creating educational resources for coaches, trainers, studio owners, movement practitioners, and anyone who is interested in divesting from toxic fitness culture. In order to meaningfully address “toxic fitness culture,” we must first understand all that it encompasses. As a Black, queer, trans, chronically ill individual, it felt especially important for me to create my own comprehensive definition of toxic fitness culture because I and others like me are often the primary targets of the harm and misinformation peddled and purported in fitness and movement spaces.

I also want to honor the additional descriptions of toxic fitness culture by Paul Landini and Ameera Ladak listed below. When we bring our voices together, give name to, and call out unspoken and assumed norms, we illuminate new paths of equity and accessibility that bring those forced into margins into greater safety and support.


“Toxic gym culture manifests itself in all sorts of ways, though it can be tough to identify unless you’re the target. Bullying and sexual harassment are the most obvious examples, but by no means are they the only ones. Ageism, ableism, sexism, racism, fat-shaming, homophobia – if you train at a standard big-box gym, there’s a good chance this stuff is happening all around you."
- Paul Landini, The Globe and Mail


“The fitness world is really inaccessible for someone like me who deals with physical health issues, is prone to injury, and experiences ongoing pain. On top of that, most fitness spaces are extremely fatphobic, or focused on weight loss. Many gyms boast about how they push people past their limits and help
you crush your weight loss goals.
What if I don’t have those goals? What if those goals
are actually really unhealthy for someone like me?
What if I want to safely play within my limits, and learn to build a relationship with fitness outside of weight loss?"
-Ameera Ladak (they/them), The Mighty


Here is my definition:

Toxic fitness culture consists of two binary groups situated on opposite ends of the fitness spectrum. One group consists of folks who carry intersectional and intentionally exploited identities that mainstream fitness culture negatively impacts. This includes bodily agency which perpetuates harm thus limiting access to resources and representation in ways that feel inclusive & supportive.

The mainstream group consists of the traditionally accepted, racialized, non-disabled. thin/toned attractive, young, cisgender, heterosexual people who are often represented as the gatekeepers of theoretical knowledge and inclusion within defining an embodied fitness culture.


Check out some examples of Toxic Fitness Culture HERE

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