Fitness classes can be a great way to de-stress and move your body in a way that brings you joy (if you're at a point in recovery where you have that relationship with movement!) You can head to a class and not worry about having to plan out how you'll move your body or what music you'll listen to. And as a bonus, you get to meet people and enjoy the social aspects of a group activity. Those people can and should include the fitness professionals who are running those classes. However, we all know that the fitness industry (which is besties with diet culture) can be toxic and we should be on the lookout for red flags when interacting with fitness professionals.
As we head into the season of discounted gym memberships and sales on class packages, I have compiled a list of those red flags so that you can keep an eye out as you move through the world of fitness studios, online platforms and personal training options. These aren't an automatic "no" to a space, but they may be a sign to ask more questions before committing to any contracts. Remember, the goal is to feel good and safe in these spaces and only YOU can determine what that is!
Any fitness professional who is obsessed with something and wanting you to also be obsessed with that same thing. This can be a specific workout movement, a supplement drink, a post workout meal... anything.
Expecting that what has worked for them will work for you. This can look like having someone definitively say "you should be doing this" as opposed to "you could be doing this". All bodies are different and if someone is insisting that a very specific program or movement or style is the ONLY way, that's a big ole red flag.
Taking things super seriously and not allowing the environment to be enjoyable. This can feel like there is no space for fun or lightness in the class. Taking the activity this seriously can also lead to pushing too hard for perfection which can result in injury. Related, if the class is not accessible to all levels or demands a certain level of expertise with no room for a learning curve, the fitness equivalent of stepping into a calculus class with no math background whatsoever...you're not being set up for success!
Instructors who do not offer modifications or who challenge clients' choices for their own bodies. No one knows your body better than you do, so if you feel you need to modify a movement or to slow down and breathe, or even to step away, a fitness instructor should be able to accept that. Variations for movements should be readily available and there should be no shame involved in doing what's right for your body.
Someone who does the entire class WITH you and is doing that multiple times throughout the day. Especially when the class involves showing, demonstrating and doing. Instructors should be demonstrating and then stepping back to offer instruction. Instructors should not "have to" participate fully in the class - they are there to instruct. Going "full out" during the class prevents the instructor from being engaged in the safety of the class since they may be more focused on their own workout.
Someone who is always engaged in a competitive aspect of their particular activity or sport. If they are always trying to get a PR or win something, that can be a red flag.
Instructors who comment on bodies, specifically theirs or others. Have you ever been in a class where an instructor said something like "working on our summer bodies" or "we are focusing on problem areas (fill in body part here)"? When an instructor makes references to "cutting" or "shredding" or "burning" or making bodies smaller... you guessed it - red flag.
Instructors who refer to body parts inappropriately - like the word "flab". I've literally never seen this in an anatomy book, an ACSM text, or in any fitness trainings. Fitness instructors should be referring to bodies with their appropriate anatomical terms. Body parts are not good or bad; they are not problems to be solved.
Like I said above...these aren't immediate cause for "no's" nor does one instance of an instructor using the word "gut" instead of "transverse abdominals" indicate that you need to leave the room or facility screaming. Rather, use these as signs to ask more questions. One example could be asking "what types of nutrition programs would you recommend?" If you get programs that are attempting to work with specific diagnoses (such as PCOS) and there isn't a dietitian involved in that....there may be safer classes or spaces for you. Feel free to reach out if you're looking for what places I'd recommend!