Assessing Fitness Culture

Assessing Fitness

Gym memberships, yoga classes and indoor cycling may be on your gift “wish list” this holiday season. But it is not always obvious when you start working out in a new environment if you’ve entered a positive and supportive space. Building strength, losing weight and maintaining an active lifestyle may be your goals. However, some fitness cultures may leave you feeling diminished rather than empowered—especially if there is more of a focus on fostering competition rather than camaraderie amongst the regulars.  

Before investing a significant amount of time, plus money, by signing a long-term contract (or asking family or friends to treat you to a pass package), inquire about a trial period or a free class. This will give you the opportunity to assess how much of the fitness culture is filled with good vibes versus toxic energy. Details to reflect on include: 

  • Does the staff encourage members to make choices that promote overall health? 
  • Are workouts designed for a variety of ability levels?  
  • Is the staff making an effort to foster inclusion and diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, gender and body size? 
  • Are members educated about how to safely execute all exercises? 
  • Does any staff use negative motivation prompts such as insults, shame or embarrassment? 
  • Has spending time there lowered your self-confidence—or your desire to exercise and/or eat healthy? 
  • Is individual progress being evaluated (and celebrated) solely based on physical appearance? 
  • Are previous fears or traumatic experiences being triggered by bullying or coercion to participate in activities that may be too strenuous for your current health status? 
  • Do you leave feeling invigorated by the activities you’ve participated in—or deflated by how “far you still have to go”? 

If you consistently feel like the places(s) you engage in sports, group fitness or other forms of recreation are tanking your mood instead of sparking beneficial, incremental changes, it’s likely not the right fit tribe for you. Ask your TOPS chapter members if there are alternative programs or studios in your region that they recommend. Also feel free to post specific inquires below. 

Let living in wellness continue to be your “why” this Wednesday. 


12 thoughts on “Assessing Fitness Culture

    1. You’re very welcome, Carol. I enjoy being able to write about a variety of wellness-related topics for the TOPS community.

  1. Very timely for me. I was debating getting a pss of joining. Some of my concerns are how willing am I to travel 20 miles round trip to a gym of any kind.

    1. Leda,
      Yes, how long it takes to get to/from any exercise facility is also a practical concern to keep in mind before purchasing a class package or a full membership. Not sure if this is true of the area you live in, but some community centers (or park & rec departments) will allow local residents to purchase passes to work out in pools or fitness centers in facilities they operate. So it may be worth looking into if an opportunity like this is available closer to where you live.

  2. Thank you very much!! I really enjoy your great articles and what an appropriate time for me to be reading this – my daughter is taking yoga and brought me to a class just this past week! (They have a variety of days & times & skill levels!) This “Wellness Wednesday” was a timely response!! Thanks, agai.

    1. You’re so welcome, Maimie. I also hope you enjoyed the recent yoga experience. (It’s been over 20 years now since I took my first class…& I still adore it!)

  3. I have a general fear of gyms and classes based on some horrible experiences. I always blamed myself for not being able to fit in, but this information is very helpful. Thank you.

    1. Ann, I am so sorry to hear that’s been more the “norm” for you at previous gyms or fitness studios you’ve gone to. One thing you may want to try (if you haven’t already) is a virtual exercise class. There are ones that are live-streamed, but also many options that are pre-recorded which would allow you to do them at your own pace and privately in a space of you’re choosing—either alone or with a work-out buddy if desired.

    1. Appreciate you for letting me know this post was informative, Robin. And I’m great about going for solo runs and walks. But just about any form of exercise, I’ll admit to needing the motivation of a “group setting” to stay consistent with strength training and working on maintaining flexibility + balance. So “high five” in doing such a stellar job of holding your accountable in terms of working out daily!

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