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I'm the Personal Trainer Who Doesn't Like the Gym

For many people - maybe especially gay men and many in the LGBTQ+ community, the gym has been a place of mixed emotions. While some have managed to find solace and empowerment in such fitness spaces, others, including myself, a personal trainer, have often faced barriers and negative experiences that have deterred them from fully embracing the gym culture.

Even to this day, as a personal trainer, I'm not quite sure how I feel about gym spaces, it definitely isn't where I want to spend a lot of my time, sometimes, not any of my time at all.

I still find myself cancelling and re-starting gym memberships, vowing to quit the gym once and for all, to train solely from my home studio - my own controlled space, to then joining once again, once I miss the few but often significant benefits of training in the gym. Then the process repeats itself. Overall, I do prefer to work out from my home gym.

Though many of us are not too comfortable in gym spaces, there are ways that we can overcome these challenges and forge a new relationship with the gym.. but maybe we don't have to have the gym in the mix in the first place.

The gym has been a microcosm of societal norms and expectations, often perpetuating ideals of hyper-masculinity and heteronormativity. From my perspective as a gay man (and of course a range of personal perspectives) this environment could be unwelcoming and even hostile, leading to feelings of insecurity, fear of judgment, and reluctance to engage in fitness activities.

From simply the non-sensical and cringe mode of how men relate to each other in the gym and the sense of not belonging or fitting in due to the over-competitive, primitive nature of many of these spaces.

Discrimination, body image pressures, lack of representation, and internalised homophobia have all contributed to a negative relationship with the gym for many within the LGBTQ+ community, and out of it.

Often it goes way beyond such simplifications - we are all different people with distinct personalities. I would personally much prefer to exercise in a quiet space, with non-industrial fluorescent lighting. I consider many gym spaces to be verging on the aggressive, but I gather that I am what many may call 'sensitive'. but I know that I'm definitely not the only one. I do seem to simply have a natural, internal and distaste for gym spaces.

I remember, as a personal trainer, training many years ago these gym spaces, I would often find myself in a silent battle with other personal trainers. Having discovered the sound knob to the stereo behind the desk, I would often be turning the blasting, music down and complaining about the inappropriate lyrics, for another personal trainer to soon come by and turn it up all the way back up again. It would become a passive-aggressive to-and-fro, which lasted years, with two teams of trainers forming ready for battle.

I could also be found switching off the bright fluorescent strip-lighting, which felt harsh and ridiculous, lighting up the gym like a fridge, for these fridge lights to be turned on again, alongside the noise of the music.

I would internally be annoyed at not only the personal trainers but also the groups of gym users, typically young men, who were over-dominating certain parts of the gym for long periods of time, not sharing the equipment. Not only as a personal trainer did this irk me, but as a regular gym user too. I found this wolf pack mentality very off-putting, annoying, selfish and frustrating. Over time a slight repulsion for gym spaces has internalised itself.

How odd, I'm officially the personal trainer who doesn't really like the gym. This is the case, still, today, but I make it work on occasion.. until I know longer make it work.. and quit the gym, once again.

To change the narrative and overcome these challenges and create a more positive gym experience, we can take some proactive steps;

I like to seek inclusive spaces in all that I do. For example I've previously joined gay boxing classes and have chosen a gay therapist. In this case we can look for gyms and fitness centers that prioritise inclusivity and diversity.

Are there any LGBTQ+-friendly establishments or community-driven spaces where you can feel supported and affirmed? This is just one of the reasons people choose to train with me. My personal training space is a private space. This takes out the negatives of the gym. Also, as you know, I'm a gay personal trainer, who wants to work with you, and you will feel welcome and supported.

It might sound cheesy but it's important to 'find our tribe' and build a supportive network of friends, allies, or workout partners who share your values and encourage you to be your authentic self. Surrounding yourself with positive influences can make the gym feel like a safe and empowering space.

This is a space that I aim to create and can also, thankfully, be found in many locations, but truthfully and unfortunately, we aren't spoilt for choice, unless you happen to be in the very heart of a very big city. Things are slowly changing for the better though with diverse spaces opening up all the time.

In my case, near me, in the north of north London, Arnos Grove, there actually isn't a gym or fitness space that I want to be at. I don't like saying that, but it's true. The gym spaces around me are all typical, 2D, non-inclusive, non-diverse spaces that haven't changed in format for the last 30 years. Therefore for me, the gym continues to be somewhere I am either thinking about quitting.. or re-starting.

Nonetheless, i still want to offer other suggestions. Another way to soften our relationship with gym and other fitness spaces is we can also shift the focus further on our own personal goals, moving the focus away from external validation or societal standards, for example of attractiveness, or the need to be a huge bodybuilder etc.

We can do this by setting personal fitness goals that align with our values, whether it's improving strength, stamina, flexibility, or overall well-being. For me, the benefits to mental health is what gets me working out time and time again and has always got me active - whether in a gym space or not - being active has always been a consistent in my life, regardless of my dislike for gyms, because i've taken this approach. Sometimes when you're seeing improvements then you put up with the negatives, because its worth it.

We can also embrace alternative forms of exercise, remembering that fitness doesn't have to revolve around the gym. Explore alternative forms of physical activity such as outdoor sports, dance classes, yoga, or home workouts. Find what brings you joy and makes you feel good, regardless of traditional gym culture.

At certain points I've quit the gym to train only at home, with weights whilst joining a yoga class. Yes, I quit the yoga classes in the end, because even these spaces fail to get it right but for many, including myself, Yoga spaces are much nicer than an everyday gym.

I often work with clients to provide home workouts, that they can do from their own space. I work with clients on Zoom and also in person. Some clients like to enjoy a mix of in-the-gym and at-home workouts, alongside our personal training sessions. Clients have many reasons for preferring to work from home, not only the reasons above, but it saves time and much less hassle to workout from home. Some of my clients get very effective workouts from home on their own and this is their main training environment.

While the gym can be a valuable resource for improving physical health and well-being, it's important to recognise that it's not the only path to fitness. For many people, including from my perspective as a gay man, overcoming negative experiences in the gym may require finding inclusive spaces, building supportive communities, and redefining personal fitness goals. In the end, I'd still rather not be at a gym. I am fortunate to have a gym studio but honestly, even a good set of weights at home would be a preferred substitute for me.

Ultimately, prioritising health and wellness is about finding what works best for you, whether that includes the gym or not. Embrace your fitness journey on their own terms.



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