I am Not a Special Population

Reader Elizabeth sent me this gem.  It hit home because I used to be an AFAA Certified Fitness Professional and I was just thinking about renewing my certification.

AFAA would like to invite you to attend A Taste of… Biggest Loser® Live Training (Live Online Workshop)

Already my alarm bells are going off.  The invincible ego of Jillian Michaels, the physical and emotional abuse of fat people under the bs guise of “saving their lives”.  This does not bode well.

What is it?
This one-day, live online workshop is designed to provide fitness professionals with an introduction to the knowledge, tools, and fundamental skills necessary to successfully work with larger-sized, overweight and obese participants.

I was not aware that a fitness professional working with me would be required to possess special knowledge, tools and fundamental skills just because of my body size.  Also, I sort of thought that the point of fundamental skills was that they are, well… fundamental, so ostensibly someone who is already a Fitness Professional would have a working knowledge of those skills.

In addition, the workshop will introduce AFAA’s signature Complete 10™ Workout which is a key component of The Biggest Loser® Pro program*.  This signature workout series is comprised of highly effective training routines that fuse high-intensity interval training, compound/functional resistance exercises, core strengthening and stretching/deep breathing into 10-minute, power-packed workouts.

The Biggest Loser is built around the contestants working out 5 or more hours a day.  What does a series of 10 minute workouts have to do with The Biggest Loser?  Are we maybe just smearing ugly lipstick on a pig here?

Program highlights include:
Information, review and discussion of the obesity health crisis

Oh dear god, I can’t even imagine the misinformation-palooza that this will become.

Review of AFAA’s Exercise Standards and Guidelines for the larger-sized participant

Because not only can you tell how healthy someone is by their body size, you can also tell their level of physical fitness.  No wait, that’s not true at all.

Realities and challenges of working with this special population

Oh what in fat hell… I could not be more offended by this statement. There are realities and challenges for working with me? I guess if you consider the fact that I am happy with my body and demand respect a challenge then a case could be made – but you’d better make it quick because I’m out the door to find another fitness professional. And “special population”…really?  If I’m a “special population” it’s because I’m an athlete, not because of the size of my body.

I taught group exercise from step to spinning to boot camp for six years in big name National gyms and  I can tell you that as a fitness professional it is absolutely part of your job to be able to create and modify workouts to suit the people you teach.  I can also assure you that no fitness professional worth their salt does that by looking at the size of someone’s body and taking their best guess.  That 250 pound woman could be an athlete in great shape and the 110 pound woman could be dealing with osteoporosis. That’s why you’re supposed to ask intelligent questions.

Lest you think I am anti-exercise let me assure you that’s not true at all.  I am, in fact, a great fan of exercise.  I think it’s extremely important for people to have access to safe movement options that they enjoy, taught by fitness professionals who can meet their needs.  I just seriously doubt that the people who put a group of starving fatties in a room full of cupcakes to test their willpower are the ones to get it done.  If you’re new to exercise or looking for some cool professionals I would highly suggest that you check out Jeanette DePatie  author of The Fat Chick Works Out, Abby Lentz creator of Heavy Weight Yoga, and Anna Guest Jelley, creator of Curvy Yoga. (If you know of someone I’m missing by all means make a comment! No, none of these people pay me to talk about them – I just think they are awesome.)

Regardless of who you choose, your fitness professional should always:

  • Ask you about your goals and train to them (they should not make assumptions or hijack your agenda)
  • Know how to modify their class, program etc. to suit your needs, or be honest that they don’t
  • Respect your path to health, your choices, and your body
  • Leave you feeling great about yourself and your body

Anything less and I would say it’s time to think about hitting the road and finding a better instructor.  Now I’m off to find another organization to certify me because I suddenly find myself disinclined to give AFAA any of my big fat special population money.

Published in: on September 19, 2011 at 9:39 am  Comments (25)  

25 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is precisely why I’m going to soon (when I can afford all the expenses) be going for the ACSM certification and let my AFAA certification go. I went back to AFAA after a long break from the business because doing so was the most affordable option, despite, well, issues related to this. This one pushed me over the edge. I’m a bit embarrassed to be noting I’m an AFAA trainer, but sort of feel I need to until I have another certification.

  2. I am about to let my ACE certification lapse (AFAA lapsed a while ago) because the materials that I receive from them always seem to be geared toward weight loss. It seems that these certifying organizations are just out to capture your money. Most instructors I see these days have not a clue as to how to adapt their class to the participants in the group. Usually they are doing their own workout and to hell with the group behind them. I taught fitness classes for 30 years in many different venues and with many different populations and over time the quality of the classes have eroded to mere showmanship. Finding a quality class led by a quality instructor is a difficult task. Goodbye AFAA and goodbye ACE. I will keep my money, thank you.

  3. I think I’d like to attend just to heckle.

  4. What are we coming to, a world focused on the outer appearance and scheming toward profit through the commercial abuse of each others self-esteem?

    I recently began investigating certification, again, through AFAA. I taught group fitness for five years, but left to work a 9-5 slot. Boo! I loved teaching and as certification seems to be the standard by which teachers are judged (rather than competency), I thought to check it out. Double BOO!

    I left my training with Beth Shaw and YogaFit as her focus became celebrating weight loss through YogaFit, and protecting her copy write. Even though YogaFit offers a Plus-Size YogaFit Video (training), they do not sell their products in those sizes.

    Let me say, I had EXCELLENT Master Trainers for the sessions I attended. Most Master Teachers came from another discipline in the beginning days. As more teacher complete YF training, they seem to be bringing less varied yoga experience to the mat.

    I am sad to say that in the height of my fitness training, teaching, and re certification process, I was referred to my physician for permission to be trained (even as I was in the training program and a teacher, and running races). Size prejudice interferes with competence, both in the trainer and those being trained.

    Well @#$%!

  5. The best workout instructor I ever had was a woman who was not certified by any organization, she just loved to work out with people who wanted to work out with her! She did it free of charge at a community center, and she was amazing! Our class held seniors, young people, of all sizes and fitness levels. She tailored the class to the group! And its been years since I’ve seen a fitness instructor/teacher like that! Now all I’m surrounded by are these pretentious know-it-all’s, who think that just because I’m a plus size, that I should feel shamed or want to lose a certain amount of weight.

  6. Next, they’ll be in the schools training me to properly teach fat kids. Because apparently, they are part of a special population. Oh my gods, what is wrong with this world?

    • I thought that they had a plan for fat kids in schools – shame the ever loving crap out of them, make sure that they hate their bodies and the concept of exercise, then send them out into the world as failures when they don’t lose weight. Hmmm, is it bitter in here, or is it just me?

      • If it helps, I “activity lead” (I do not say “teach” specifically because I am not certified to teach yoga or fitness) yoga twice a week through an after school nutrition/activity program at my school. I teach two different styles of classes (one vigorous, one more restorative) to try to reach a variety of different prospective yogis.

        At each class, I summarize the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of yoga — pointing out that since we don’t know someone else’s primary motivation for practicing, it’s impossible to judge whether that person is “good at yoga” or not. If they’re getting what they came for — whether it’s strength, flexibility, relaxation, or, “shit, I missed the bus and have nothing to do until 4 o’clock!” — then they’re practicing their yoga just right.

        • What a fantastic attitude to have, I love it!


  7. Recently I went to Weight Watchers to try it out because I had gained some weight recovering from a sports injury and thought it might jump start me. I say to the leader, half my size, “Do you have any leaders who are athletes here?” She says, very haughtily, “I’m very active”. I say, “Any marathoners or endurance athletes who work here?” and she says, “I walked a half marathon once”. I said, “I run 30 miles a week, do a marathon every month, spin, do yoga and work out 6 days a week. Is there no one here who understands the nutritional needs of athletes” and she said, “Oh they’re not that different”. I’m supposed to learn something from her? Just another example of how it’s unfathomable to people that heavier people might be athletes.

    • I went to a weight-loss clinic once awhile back. I was very active, training with a personal trainer almost every day, lifting weights at least 3 days a week. While I was interviewing the lady about possibly joining the program, I explained my activity level and asked if there was any modification to the program.

      This woman looked me straight in the eye and said, “We prefer our clients not to do any strength training. If you have to be active, we only recommend walking.”

      My jaw dropped and I got out of there as quick as I could. The idea that a “health” professional (let’s be honest, she was more saleswoman than anything) would say not to strength train was unbelievable to me.

      • I remember those days – being told that I would be healthier if I severely restricted my food but stopped being active never made sense to me either.


  8. While taking classes at a local college with a personal trainer degree program the man of the house & I signed up to have a student train us for a quarter. We ended up being good learning opportunities, but not because we’re fat per se. My repetitive stress injuries meant we had to try different things to avoid injury; meanwhile, hubby was maxing out the leg press the first day, so coming up with exercises that were challenging to him spurred some good class discussion (or so I’m told 😉

  9. I think if the announcement weren’t linked to the The Biggest Loser I’d be excited to hear about more training for fitness professionals in the “realities and challenges” of working with fat people, because I’d hope it would be along the lines of “the REALITY is that fat people have just as wide a range of humanity–fitness levels, health concerns, creativity, grace, strength, intelligence–as the rest of the population and your CHALLENGE is to understand your own prejudices and preconceptions and GET OVER THEM.” That would be good training.

    And as much as I’m a drooling Ragen fan I’m seeing things a little differently than she does in this paragraph:

    “I was not aware that a fitness professional working with me would be required to possess special knowledge, tools and fundamental skills just because of my body size. Also, I sort of thought that the point of fundamental skills was that they are, well… fundamental, so ostensibly someone who is already a Fitness Professional would have a working knowledge of those skills.”

    For me, as a dance teacher, I’ve had to deal with a shortcoming in my fundamental education as a person, which affects my dance teaching: I’ve lived all my life in a society that does its best to exclude from movement just about every body that doesn’t fit in its aesthetic monculture and which generates shame around those bodies. I was really lucky that one of my best friends/dance partners is a fat man and that I fell in love with him as a person and a body as we danced together. However, in none of the classes I took up to that point–and taking classes is how a lot of people learn to dance and thereby teach it–were there other fat people or real discussions about dancing with people who have an exceptionally different body from one’s own, except for around the differences within the range from short thinnish women to tall thinnish men.

    Within forms that normally include lifts, such as Contact Improv, Blues, and some Swing forms, I’ve experienced two areas where I’ve needed to have my fundamental gaps filled in–one is dealing with physics, such as the fact that if you’re lifting someone whose weight is on the outside of your strength range, your leverage, momentum, and footing are likely to need some specific modifications (just as they would when your partner is a couple of feet shorter or taller than you are). The other is how to deal with my own, my partners’, and my students’ internalized prejudices and ignorance. These are some size-centric situations I’ve had to deal with without any training and could’ve used some preparation for [WARNING: POTENTIALLY TRIGGERING DESCRIPTIONS]:

    *A fat woman disparages her body in class
    *A thin woman gets very upset when a fat man rolls over her and she is afraid she’s going to get hurt
    *A fat woman doesn’t believe that anyone, especially another woman, can lift her without getting hurt or dropping/embarrassing her

    So, this is why (shameless pitch for Ragen), I’m working on my dance community to allocate the funds to fly her out to do an education session with us on teaching dance from a Health at Every Size perspective, and teaching dance for EVERY body. I want to become the kind of fitness professional who doesn’t have big gaping gaps in my fundamental skills.

    • One thing I’ve learned volunteering at conventions is to not assume anyone can lift anything heavier than a few sheets of paper. Example: “How are you with heavy things? Can you lift 35 or 50 pounds?” If they can’t, then I give them lighter things.

      • Absolutely a good point. The first question I ask, after names, is whether people have any injuries or other issues that affect what they can do and want to do. By that time, they’re watching other dancers roll all over each other and pick each other up, so they can see the implications of what I’m talking about.

  10. Crazy! As a trainer you need to be aware of client’s health conditions, but that fact is separate from someone’s body shape. While I think there’s nothing wrong with designing a fitting program for someone who wants and needs to lose weight to do so, this information presumes that is the position everyone is operating from. “Special population” just sounds offensive.

  11. Hey there, Thanks for the shout out! And I have to agree:

    Yes, yes, YES! AFAA embracing Jillian and Biggest Loser is sheer craziness. This is part of why I left AFAA and got certified with ACE. That isn’t to say ACE doesn’t have its own problems. The training materials for the actual certification aren’t too, too bad. But the marketing stuff they started sending after I got certified can be seriously problematic. Even so, I’m very shocked that AFAA would jump on the Jillian/BL bandwagon given the fact that there have been multiple, and constant criticisms about her qualifications as a trainer and her technique. Check these out:


    Also in the wikipedia article see the lawsuits section:

    I just can’t understand this company which is supposed to represent standards in fitness allying itself with a group which has constantly come under suspicion for unrealistic claims and unsafe practices.

    Jeanette DePatie
    AKA “The Fat Chick”

  12. I sure hope trainers use their brains and not their Egos. Jullian is all ego. The biggest loser is a show about abuse of fat people, and proports myths about over half of the population. Your blog, has me feeling good about me, for over 50 years I have tried to be thin, I did it to be accepted. Now I’m going to go for the health. I am thankful for your blog, keep writing.

  13. I agree that the ad you’ve dissected above is crap. But I disagree that there aren’t things to know about working with individuals with larger bodies. I do personal training, and trainers don’t ever seem to have thought about the things that are different for fat people.

    For example, the difference between body weight exercises and free weights. Every trainer seems to be shocked about the amount of free weights I can lift, while being similarly shocked at how few pushups I can do. I’m fat, folks. That means my body is, literally, heavy. Lifting it or holding it in position is hard!

    I’ve had similar experiences in yoga. I can’t pull my body in some position because my belly or thighs or whatever are in the way. Or I can’t lie on my back comfortably without a pillow because the fat on my back makes the angle steeper.

    Which is to say, I’m all for fitness professionals learning about how to work with a variety of body shapes and sizes, in ways that don’t stigmatize fat people but do recognize that are bodies are different.

  14. Oh boy. isn’t it nice to be “special”? I see biggest loser is starting again tonight, with Anna Kournikova as a trainer. Kinda curious what her qualifications are… the commercials make her look like another jillian michaels type, screaming at the contestants. We’ll see. The sad thing is people go on this show expecting and even wanting the abuse.

  15. This is kind of tangential, but I’d love to see someone do a Biggest Winner show, that follows a group of people (of various sizes) as they learn how to do HAES. We’d watch them go through intuitive eating coaching, body image and self-esteem counseling, etc.

    And they could get cooking lessons, but without the good-food/bad-food bent. i.e., “your body will tell you what it wants, so let’s learn how to provide it.”

    And each week they could try out a different type of exercise: some of it classic “workouts”, some of it play like dancing and games, and some of it sillier but physical stuff (a scavenger hunt that takes them walking all over the city, or a wacky obstacle course like on Double Dare). But always with a focus on “let’s try something new and have fun”. And always with lots of friendly encouragement from fitness professionals of many sizes.

    And there would be NO WEIGHING EVER and no before & after photos. There could be before & after profiles that focus on how much better they feel and how much happier they are. And we *could* follow their other health indicators, if the participants were comfortable with that.

    And there could be “how to do this at home” guides for the viewer each week.

    Hell, it doesn’t even have to be a show. A YouTube series would be awesome enough.

    • Cool idea. I’d like to be on a show like that. 🙂

    • I don’t think many people would watch it. People want shows with screaming and crying and puking and blood and guts and misery. The idea is to sell products.
      It would be fun to watch a Biggest Loser Revenge kind of show, where the fat people become the trainers and the trainers become the overexercisers. Even I’D watch that, and I’ve never watched Biggest Loser.

  16. On the other hand, it does sometimes seem that some people don’t understand the nonsense they write. I remember the Time Magazine piece on the Million Pound March oh so many years ago, in which the writer commented that he didn’t see a single jumping jack among the exercises the people were doing. My reaction in reading this was, “You want they should all break their ankles doing the exercise YOU want to see them doing???”

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