Like many personal trainers, sometimes I question how impactful my contributions are for the clients I serve. Insights include moments of confidence and pride mixed with self-doubt, and at times, impostor syndrome. Earlier this year I found myself preoccupied about what I am doing or not doing as a fitness professional to accommodate and promote diversity in my practice.

Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Movement

The diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) movement began a few years ago and has primarily been seen among organizations seeking to create an environment that fosters the adoption of values that minimize organizational biases, systemic inequities, and increases recruitment of talent from underrepresented groups.

If you’re confused as to how these terms differ, Meg Bolger, author of, What is the Difference Between Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity?  has some great “thought exercises” you can do to understand each part of the movement individually.

The DEI Fitness Connection

While I have worked in a variety of different fitness environments, my two constants include being a group fitness instructor on a university campus and an adjunct instructor in the Exercise Science department on a community college campus. 

Contrary to common assumptions about teaching exercise on college campuses, participants in the classes I lead range from age 18 to 80, and a vast array of cultural backgrounds, gender identities, varying abilities, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Educational institutions have a duty to be at the forefront of the inclusivity movement. This allegiance to the educational and professional advancement of people of every age, gender, sexual orientation, culture, religious affiliation, and socio-economic background will, hopefully, then filter into other aspects of society.

An Advocate for Diversity

I have to admit the honest reason my exercise room represents a sea of diversity is in large part due to the work of the Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) committees of these higher education institutions where I am fortunate to work. 

Simply working in an inclusive environment means I reap the benefits of inclusivity efforts. However, I too, have to do my part to reduce my implicit biases and complicit prejudices (eliminate is the ultimate goal, but this is a work in progress), and ensure I advocate for the health and wellness of marginalized communities.

Eliminating Implicit Biases

Malcolm Gladwell’s discussion of what he dubs, thin slicing, in Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking was an incredibly eye-opening first step for me in the identification of implicit biases. What I discovered was unconscious patterns and behaviors I held that were stereotyping “others.”

A quick search engine query will reveal some great resources on implicit bias training. I’d recommend starting with a quiz to identify implicit bias. This was a helpful second step in my journey.

Bringing DEI to Fitness

The third step involves looking at how I tailor my programming. It is perfectly acceptable to be a trainer who specializes in a particular service or niche; we can’t be all things to all people. What we can do is make sure that when we customize our training, it doesn’t alienate or exclude any person or group of people but rather embraces all people. 

Let’s look at an example of a trainer who specializes in postnatal weight loss. Is there anything in the approaches or programming that might not be ideal for postnatal women in their 20’s? 30’s? Even 40’s? Women with suppressed immune systems? Women who birthed naturally vs. cesarean section? Women with diastasis recti? How about women from different racial, ethnic, or even religion than you?

This work is in its infancy phases for me, and I do not pretend to have it all figured out, yet!

Aligning My DEI Values

In addition to modifying my own actions, I feel compelled to look at the inclusivity commitments of every organization I am affiliated with. It is important that diversity, equality, and inclusivity is valued and ensured, unabashedly. 

To my fellow fitness professionals, I implore you to inquire among your leadership teams how they not only support inclusiveness but also set out to increase diversity. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, don’t be afraid to lead the charge.

Also, if you identify as a trainer of an underrepresented background, now is the ideal time to take a look at what is being done to support and champion you!

What actions have you taken in an effort to accommodate and promote clients from diverse backgrounds? 


Theresa Perales

Theresa Perales has an MA in Spanish, and is an ESL teacher at San Diego State University (SDSU). After years of struggling with her weight, she decided to give exercise a try. A passion for health and fitness grew instantly and inspired her to become certified as a personal trainer with NFPT, and as a group fitness instructor with AFAA Group Fitness and Madd Dog Athletics® Spinning. Theresa believes that nutrition and fitness are not about aesthetics but ultimately about feeling healthy and empowered.