Creating Inclusive Fitness Programs for Everybody

Understanding the origin story of an institution can form a better understanding of how it has evolved and why it is the way it is now. Fitness is one example of this. Fitness started as a means of transitioning athletics and sports into the everyday lives of people as a way to get them to move more often and create healthier benefits. Yet, what resulted was instituted narratives of ideal bodies as having a certain size to be fit, impacting views about fitness and health and harmfully exclusionary fitness culture. Much of the research included in early interventions of fitness and wellness left out a bulk majority of excluded identities and created stereotypes still deeply embedded in fitness culture today. Creating inclusive fitness programs for everybody should shift the mindsets of coaches towards one of self-awareness and rewriting some of the teachings we have perhaps seen in the earlier part of our careers. 

Since the definition of “inclusion” is the action or state of including or being included within a group or structure, a fitness professional must know the origins of fitness and how systemic imbalances from those origins cause the bulk majority of individuals who need fitness to be excluded. We have to know where we come from in order to know where we are going.

Stereotypes of bodies

Due to the limitations of individuals used in historic fitness and wellness studies, many stereotypes were formed as a result. Outside of a thin and lean aesthetic, many bodies are excluded from what most would define as “fit” or “athletic”. Origins of fitness stem from athletics and sports, so there’s no wonder that many present-day gyms and fitness spaces can be spaces of exclusion and assumption. Deeply embedded structural barriers and cultural norms are not welcoming to individuals in larger bodies, those with disabilities, women and gender expansive identities, as well as LGBT+ individuals. Therefore, accessing health, fitness, and wellness begins with the removal of the stigma attached to what a body looks like that is capable and deserving of movement and exercise. 

Defining “movement” on an individual level

Along with variances with individual bodies come differences in ranges of motion and how bodies move in many unique ways. Whether it’s from textbooks or historical certification material, the way that a body moves does not indicate its ability to move properly. What a plank looks like can shift from person to person. How “intense” an interval should be can vary from person to person. Lifting weights should serve as a means of facilitating functional movement instead of showing how strong someone is within a fitness facility. Coaches and fitness professionals want to learn to take the time to learn their client’s individual needs. Success in movement can vary from person to person and day to day, and every moment that someone can celebrate movement is a moment to celebrate – period. Gone are the days of “going harder” and “doing more” and instead we should all meet ourselves where we are at and be grateful for, however, we can move within our given ranges of mobility, time, and effort each day.

The goal of physical exercise and movement is longevity, chronic health condition prevention, and improvement, as well as embracing fitness and wellness outside of the aesthetic. Yet, the World Health Organization (WHO) globally tracks that one in four adults and over 80% of adolescents do not engage in adequate amounts of physical activity to improve health outcomes. We have an issue with education, accessibility, and consistency of moving a pivotal part of everyone’s daily regimen. 

Movement on an individual level has to be understood as a way of working within what’s possible each day.  Many coaches understand sessions and time as a luxury that everyone has access to, but that is not always the case. Walkability, moments of movement sprinkled into the day, and affordability don’t always come easily for everyone depending on where they are and what they can access. Coaches who want to provide guidance will understand that inclusion starts with understanding and getting creative to help progress someone’s fitness journey outside the conventions of traditional coaching sessions and group fitness classes. Many individuals may only have access to in-home movement and for short periods each day. Other individuals may have multiple responsibilities in their day as caretakers, so have to incorporate movement alongside their household members and community to see it as possible. Coaches should also learn from groups working to enhance inclusion in the fitness industry to debunk their internal biases and stigma. Everyone comes into the fitness industry for personal reasons, and [often] those reasons don’t always fit the stories of their clients and the general public. Organizations such as Fitness 4 All Bodies work toward transforming fitness spaces into those that are more welcoming for systemically ostracized populations. Their mission is to address structural injustice and facilitate vulnerable groups to engage in meaningful conversation, build community connection, and liberate their bodies through inclusive physical activity. 

  1. Bell, D., Rahman, S., & Rochon, R. (2023). (Trans)forming fitness: Intersectionality as a framework for resistance and collective action. Frontiers in sports and active living, 5, 944782.
  2. Thedinga, H. K., Zehl, R., & Thiel, A. (2021). Weight stigma experiences and self-exclusion from sport and exercise settings among people with obesity. BMC Public Health, 21(1), 565.
  3. Wilson, K. (n.d.). The importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in fitness.


Katrina is a global educator and Certified Wellness Specialist dedicated to bridging gaps through equitable access and collaborative coaching. With over 20 years of experience, she leads diverse teams, creates support groups, and mentors future leaders. Katrina specializes in Bias Unearthing, Neurodiversity Inclusion, and Intersectional Inclusion. She holds a Master of Science in Exercise Science and Health Promotion, certificates in Diversity and Inclusion from Cornell and USF, and an Associate of Science in Graphic Design. Katrina’s mission is to foster unity through self-care and compassion, making healing a path to deeper purpose and inclusivity.

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