approximate reading time: 8 minutes

Sometimes it takes a little joggle to realize who we are, and where we stand in society. I’m not about to make this some politically charged diatribe – I prefer not to spend too much time on those kinds of topics, and I like to keep things more “fitness” on this website.

You’ve probably read my title and have your guns drawn, ready to refute such an incendiary statement like the one seen. I mean hell, anyone can get outside, be active, and pursue health.  There are lots of great workouts that don’t require a state of the art home gym setup either. And that’s true.

But hear me out. It may make you reconsider just how strongly you react to certain crises in the fitness industry. Especially today.

Gyms are Closed – Get a Grip and Be Grateful.

When people park themselves in front of my region’s City Hall to spearhead a recalcitrant movement in favour of bringing back hair salons and restaurants – in a densely populated metropolis… amid a global pandemic – I can’t help but think the protest isn’t completely thought through.

The disregard for what’s clearly a health risk to ourselves and others can really put priorities into perspective as a person living through these times. A couple of months ago, I wrote an article looking at the bright side of the COVID lockdowns and resultant gym closures. It gives a lifter who’s been in a “strength” or “meathead” mode a chance to break away from the culture for a minute, explore new challenging methods of training, and give the body the rest and recovery (at the same time the shake-up) it needs to improve health and overall fitness.

Look at the endless magazine articles, social media posts, and new mainstream media content that’s been shared over the last 3 months delivering a plethora of training ideas for workouts in a living room or poorly equipped space. Are we seriously still complaining about gym closures?

Truth be told, there are folks out there over whom gym closures have no effect, and I don’t mean that in a “good” way. Due to disability or inaccessibility, economic status and other factors, belonging to a gym isn’t in the cards.  It’s not as simple as a quick subway ride or a drive up the street. And the further down the socioeconomic ladder you climb, the less frequently will you likely see a big name commercial gym in all its glory.

We can’t forget that having a membership to a gym, let alone hiring a personal trainer, is a luxury that not everyone can entertain. It’s not right, but it’s very understandable that from an infrastructure and business standpoint, there will be more clubs that charge membership dues and offer PT services in areas that are slightly more affluent. Companies are trying to make money, and would prefer not to go bankrupt.

This raises a deeper concern for me regarding the accessibility and true all-inclusivity of fitness and health for the masses.

Sure, it doesn’t take much more than “effort” to see some gains, but at some point there needs to be more than that alone in order to take things to the next level. You’re going to need to have a few resources behind you.  It’s not always just a matter of “trying harder” to get results.

So what does this mean? That if you’re rich, you have a better shot at getting fit and healthy? 

Sounds brutal and pretty exclusionary, but the real truth is, that statement isn’t too far off. When a 600 square foot, overcrowded and poorly maintained community rec centre is juxtaposed with a 200 dollar per month Equinox, it’s tough to make a case against some form of classism being a thing.

Low-income households have much more to improvise when it comes to getting or staying in shape. If gym memberships aren’t in reach due to finances or due to logistics, then they’re on their own, possibly left to stock their living rooms with a few select pieces of equipment to make ends meet.

Times are hard, but interestingly, I rarely see people who fit this demographic complaining about that.

If a global pandemic has shut your commercial gym down for a  couple of months, now’s the chance to stop crying about not being able to use your GHR machine or do cambered bar squats, and get a taste of training for fitness and health that those less fortunate have likely been experiencing daily. For most of you, your “horrible” living room workouts and phobic distress over losing your gains are the literal definition of first world problems.

I hope you like apples.

Think I’m Wrong? Then Consider This.

You might argue that I’m blowing things out of proportion, and the economic barrier to gym access as a whole is relatively low. Perhaps the deviation may be a bit more forgiving, depending on the region of the world in which you’re living.

Fair.

That still doesn’t excuse the fact that reality of the COVID situation has hit home for many people who might not be underprivileged, but still legitimately won’t be able to access gyms right now, nor anytime in the immediate future once they’ve reopened. Take a second to think about seniors – the most at-risk population for contracting the virus – and their understandable ambivalence toward getting back into the gym, even when lockdown strictures are removed.  Think of overworked healthcare professionals with their lack of time, and increased responsibility to avoid potential exposure.  Lastly, think about the typical parent whose children are off school indefinitely and have no one to look after them, especially as they try to navigate a semblance of a work schedule.

This stuff has a greater reach than what we consider on surface level. All three of the groups above would probably love to get a workout in at the gym, but can’t do so, making their home workout quest probably last a lot longer than yours. Smile. 

Culture Shock

I’ll take a turn from COVID to briefly discuss something more “evergreen”, that can make for a very realistic transition if we take this privilege for granted.

Let’s be honest – one of the largest real powerhouses for driving fitness advice, content, and mainstream media fitness outlets forward would be North America – most specifically the United States. It makes sense when you consider stuff like television and film, national sports associations, and the like.

That’s just the way it is, and at its core, I believe it’s well intended and generally harmless… less the pernicious side of it all that deals with body image or unhealthy societal norms.

When it comes to setting and meeting fitness goals, however, it’s important to recognize that certain things may be a bit more achievable due to one factor: Geography.  Allow me to explain.

We all know that diet and exercise go hand in hand when we’ve got a goal we’d like to reach in our performance or physique. For that reason, it behooves fitness professionals everywhere to become more sensitive to the dietary realities of clientele based on their geographic location or cultural norms.

This is a monumentally important point for online coaches who deal with clients outside of their region or country.

Instead of force-feeding (pun intended) very classically “westernized” clean meals on a client who may either be used to eating dishes of their native land, or pushing  similar rules on people who live in countries where the kinds of meals required to make “gains” are at the very least, more limited in their abundance, it’s important to be cognizant of not pushing a client to shirk their cultural upbringing or norms in the name of gains. And that’s as much a resources thing as it is a respect thing.

I’m not a nutrition guy, so I’m not about to give diet tips, but I’ll highlight that there are regions of the world that, for various reasons, will include more meat eaters, more vegetarians, higher carb dietary norms, the use of more high-viscosity sauces in dishes, more bread, or higher fats. A good nutritionist should be able to navigate these truths without asking something unfair of a client.  I’ll leave it there.

First World Problems of Food

When it comes to eating for gains – whether you’re trying to gain muscle or lose fat, or even to enhance athletic or sport performance – one thing’s for sure: It ain’t cheap.

People will say it is, but unless you’re open to some of the most redundant, uninspiring meals that lack variety, the above is fairly true.  If solving the obesity crisis is high on the priority list of national governments, there has to be a reason a quinoa stir fry with organic ingredients in the name of health will cost 3 times the price as a completely unhealthy big mac meal from McDonalds (and THAT, my friends, is for another article).

I digress. The long and short of this subheading actually goes back to my first one: It’s a bit harder to afford a month’s supply of clean food while on a lower monthly income.  And we haven’t even begun to talk about supplementation, which can add up in a hurry should you decide to pursue it.

None of this is to say that results can’t happen, or that a low income trainee is relegated to a life of fast food and bodyweight training. It’s to say that our expectations have to match our starting point, lifestyle and environment. I’ve listed many things above that for some people, may not be feasible to modify at this time.  A lifter or a lifter’s coach should be aware that all of these factors will to some degree affect that lifter’s rate of change. It’s not worth it to force a client to pursue an unsustainable lifestyle in order to support a fitness goal. And that goes beyond a hardcore diet; it gets into the topics of what’s truly realistic, close to home, and important.

What this Means

Whether you’re a lifter or you’re a coach who trains lifters, there’s a lesson to be learned:  There’s much more “privilege” attached to getting steeped in gym culture than meets the eye.  Some things about that culture aren’t as accessible as they seem, and believe it when I say: professionals in the fitness industry are partially to blame for this rift.

It’s kind of the same way athletic clothing isn’t widely available in plus sizes. Regardless of our standpoints on a given topic, the reality is the reality, and it’s our responsibility to do whatever we can to make fitness, nutrition and health as accessible as we can from our end.  There will certainly be things we can’t change, but there will also be things we can, to broaden those horizons.

When you see an image of a homeless person who happens to be jacked, or a third world country inhabitant going hard in a makeshift yard gym, it’s usually juxtaposed with the provocative question: “What’s your excuse?”. The truth is, the more affluent should probably be asking that question, not directed to their own training, but in hopes to answer why people in these demographics can’t have similar access to resources that will help them.

The events of COVID-19 should be an eye opener for some of the reasons I’ve written about, and should also give a shout out to people who might be less obvious examples of lacking the privilege to train freely – some for the short term, and more for the long term. If we’d like to create and preserve a healthy lifestyle, outlooks need to change in the present time of tumult, but even more so in the bigger picture. Hopefully this shift in perspective makes for a start.

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