A few months ago I was describing the type of client I train while being interviewed for Amanda Thebe’s Fit n Chips podcast. I mentioned many of my clients only workout once or twice per week and aren’t the type who eat, sleep, and breathe exercise. “You mean normal people” was her quick-witted reply.

I think the fitness industry fails a lot of people because its underlying assumption is everyone has lofty physical goals. Look at any advertising for gyms and personal training and the message is you need to either have or be working toward ripped abs. This message is usually supported with photos or videos of shirtless young people showing off their six pack abs.

This, despite the reality that most people will never have a six pack. And probably never wanted one.

The only six pack that interests me

What about the people who don’t want six-pack abs? Or the people who don’t enjoy exercise? Where do these people go after their doctor convinces them they need to exercise more? Is that person really going to contact the gym selling six packs? Or maybe the gym that has a poster saying “Pain is weakness leaving the body”, or “Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done.” These are not exactly welcome wagons for someone who is apprehensive about going to the gym!

This is the aspect of my industry that I loathe. It says people are only welcome if they’re ready to completely change how they live. What about the person who is happy with how they live, but just wants to get strong enough so they can continue to enjoy it? Or the person who finds themself a bit off-course and just wants to get back on track? Odds are that track never included shirtless workouts.

I have the good fortune to train a lot of people who are new to the gym. One of my favourite things about my job is the stories of little improvements people notice over the first few months of training. Like being able to get up out of a chair without struggling, going up the stairs without huffing and puffing, being able to put their own carry-on in the overhead compartment, or being able to enjoy gardening without ending up flat on their back the next day. Some of them are also performance related, like having to relearn what club to use because they’re hitting the ball so much further than they used to, or being surprised at some of the tennis balls they were able to get to, or climbing hills with newfound ease.

These are the type of things I wish my industry published as “fitspirational” posters, so regular people who don’t want to completely change their life, but who do want to improve a few things feel like exercise is actually for them.

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa who gets that exercise isn’t the most important thing in most people’s lives.

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  1. No, I don’t think it’s over-rated; I think it’s great. That said, I think that most people either do too much or too little yoga. I would love to see people who do nothing but yoga for exercise swap one of their weekly yoga sessions for a resistance training session; and I would also love to see people who do nothing but resistance training swap one of their weekly sessions for a yoga session. Both have great benefits, and they complement each other nicely.

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