Fitness professionals: do you feel pressured to maintain ‘the look’?

Body image disorder. Bulimia. Exercise addict. Food control freak.

Not exactly the words that come to mind when you think of the strong, lean, healthy-looking male and female fitness professionals that teach your classes, motivate you online and train you in the gym.

Recently, I’ve noticed a preponderance of posts by fitness bloggers using phrases like the above to describe themselves. These posts often contain a confession about feeling less than confident about their bodies, despite being in great physical shape.

My own experience with group fitness and personal trainer colleagues also supports the idea that fitness professionals feel pressured to maintain an extremely high level of fitness. They frequently overtrain. Obsess over their abs. Feel anxious when they miss a workout due to illness or family commitments. Compulsively document their workout routines and diet.

And me? Let’s just say that before I became a group fitness instructor and personal trainer, I never worried about back fat, muffin top, shoulder caps or the ‘peak’ on my biceps.

I wonder where this pressure comes from?

Do we place it on ourselves? Does it stem from the images of physical perfection we see daily in both digital and print media? Do the people we teach, train and motivate subtly require it of us? Or is it merely a by-product of living in a society that rewards more, better, faster, stronger?

I have purposely left this post for you to finish. 

Fitness professional or otherwise, please share your thoughts below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. such a great question.
    I know when I was a trainer Id have thought YES!! THERE IS SO MUCH PRESSURE TO LOOK A CERTAIN WAY etc but for me I think much of the response would have been colored by my age (20s)
    Now I see it’s all over.
    women on women no matter the profession.
    resisting tangenting 🙂 but the comments etc I hear around the SCHOOL by women about women make the world of fitness look pretty benign.
    MIz recently posted…We’ve turned the word TREAT on its head…My Profile

  2. I think in our minds we feel that to get and keep clients we need to look like we could train on The Biggest Liser or some such show. In reality we don’t need to look that way. We need to be motivated and fit in our own lives but not in the way that is defined by our abs (although I do want a six pack for other reasons). In this day and age many of our clients are going to be at such a high weight that they just need the support that comes with the mental aspect of training and eating right. They aren’t dreaming of six pack abs. They are dreaming of doing every day tasks without being winded. So if there is pressure to look a certain way, I think it is what we put on ourselves to push ourselves.
    Carli recently posted…Secretary SpreadMy Profile

  3. GREAT POTS!

    I am with Carla on this about being everywhere & we have to look a certain way – really a big thing here in southern CA!!! I think the media & advertising still push that looks matter. I have lived it with all my NO’s I get for things I try to get into as a reader model or other things I have tried for.. they just want a certain look & that includes pretty OR good on camera.. I get it but it sure is tough.

    As a fitness person, I do think there is a pressure for those that train or teach to look good so they are portraying what they are selling…

    Me – I feel pressure just to stay fit cause people expect it of me after all these years & I am not even a professional in the field! 🙂
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted…Gratitude Monday & Happy 29th Wedding Anniversary!My Profile

  4. This is a conversation I’ve had many times in many ways with very different people. I have left classes where the instructor didn’t look the part (why should I trust someone with my workout who doesn’t appear as dedicated to fitness and healthy living as I am? Yes, it’s shallow, but I’ll admit to it. Just for the record, if you cue an exercise in a less than safe way more than once, I will also leave your class and you will get some constructive criticism via email or note in the next couple of days. I care about my health and safety and will not risk it period.) My body isn’t perfect. I’ve eaten ice cream for dinner more than I would like to admit. However, my commitment to health and fitness came first. I became an instructor to share that passion with others in an accessible and safe way.

    In the same breath, I’ve dealt with eating disorders in the past. I have come back too soon after injuries. BUT, I have learned from them and will not make those same mistakes again. There is a VERY fine line between being an extremely healthy individual and taking things too far. However, it comes with the territory. How will you convince someone that adding those last few reps or keeping track of their food intake is worth it if you can’t show that you do it and it works?
    Jennifer McAmis recently posted…Words of WisdomMy Profile

  5. Great topic. I’m not a fitness instructor, but I can imagine that the pressure for them to look a certain way is indeed high. They might feel like their clients expect it of them, whether that is the case or not. It’s sad that someone who represents fitness has to suffer from the very things that make one less healthy. But with this world’s high expectations to look a certain way, it’s easy to see why fitness trainers could fall prey.
    Carrie Rubin recently posted…An Unexpected GiftMy Profile

  6. I am not a fitness professional, but I have taken lots of classes over the years and I admit, I expect my instructor to look fit.

    I also expect my Weight Watchers leaders to maintain their goal weights… so does WW by the way. I believe it is a condition of employment.

    I don’t think this is shallow at all.

    Interestesting discussion going on here.
    Elle recently posted…Sunday Check-InMy Profile

  7. I’m not a fitness pro at this point in time, but many of my instructors do not “look the part.” You honestly cannot judge a book by its cover, because some of my best workouts come from some of the less fitness-y looking instructors!
    Christy recently posted…#MotivationalMondays- Spooktacular Abs WorkoutMy Profile

  8. Yes, there is pressure but I don’t fault the public for expecting us to look fit, lean and healthy. This is the industry we chose to be in. And would you go to a dentist with bad teeth or a dermatologist w bad skin? Probably not. …

  9. I do feel like when I become a personal trainer, I will strive to be a good physical example for my clients. I don’t really want to take advice from an obese person on how to get fit, so I expect myself to be a good example for others. I don’t need to have a 6 pack though. I don’t have the time or energy to make that happen, but I do feel an obligation to stay looking fit:)
    Hikermom recently posted…Free Rant FridayMy Profile

  10. Nah…. At this ripe age I feel very good about myself and don’t need to please anyone but me. I’d never have become a trainer if I couldn’t live a healthy lifestyle myself.
    Suzanne @WorkoutNirvana recently posted…Weightlifting Ideas to Pump Excitement into Your Recovery WeekMy Profile

  11. As a registered dietitian I definitely feel pressure to look healthy. The pressure started as soon as I chose what I wanted to be when I grew up. Statistically there is a high percentage of dietetics students with eating disorders compared to other degree programs. I feel like my professional credibility hinges in how I look. I don’t think I’ll be taken seriously providing diet and healthy lifestyle advise if I’m overweight myself. It’s absurd and ridiculous but I’ve also heard comments questioning the professional credibility of over weight colleagues. While I admit much if the pressure is self inflicted, I believe that social pressure plays a big role. Being in a profession like dietetics or fitness makes it much more severe because the expectations if body image are higher.

  12. I am a PT who specialises in the over 50s, I love this demographic which is the main reason I work with them but the other reason is because they think I look fit and healthy ( which I am) whilst 20/30 year olds would probably judge me as carrying a few extra pounds thanks to the bombardment of advertising showing them anything more than flat stomach and thighs that don’t touch is unhealthy/fat. It’s rubbish. I know triatheletes that never pick up a weight and powerlifters that can’t run 5k. We need to stop focusing on what we look like and start on how we feel and what we can achieve and having read many a fitness blog I can assure you looking lean does not mean a healthy body…..

  13. I’m not a trainer, but am dedicated to living healthy. I’ve also lived almost my entire life with eating disorders. I can “blame” this on many things, but have made a conscious effort in the last year to change it myself. I would like to make a NON-judgmental statement regarding fitness professionals- when I’m having bad days with my ED I have to make a conscious effort to step away from the fitness/healthy living blogs. I begin feeling overwhelmed, guilty, or depressed because I don’t work out multiple hours every single day!! It is obvious you guys are hard on yourselves and personally, I don’t think that always equates to “healthy”. It’s important to keep in mind we’re all at different places with our lives, schedules, goals, etc. and we’re ALL beautiful!!
    Sharla recently posted…Fall ChallengeMy Profile

  14. I’m not a fitness professional but as a figure competitor, I definitely feel pressure to maintain a certain level of leanness & muscularity – even when I’m not preparing for a show. I know that a significant amount of the pressure is from myself but there is some outside forces that apply pressure as well. I think one of the above readers stated it best when they wrote that they feel their credibility is connected to how they look – reading that was an “aha moment” for me!

    T.
    Tenecia recently posted…My Week in ZapatosMy Profile

  15. One of the many advantages (as I see them) of working with an older population, is that is not about looks, they don’t want or expect skinny or defined muscles. They really are looking for healthy and fit.

    When I was first starting in this business, I worked at Gold’s with a clientele that was much younger (as was I). There was more pressure to look fit, but I never felt that there was the expectation that I be extremely thin.

    That being said, I have never had a predisposition toward having an eating or exercise disorder. I can understand how the fitness business might attract people who have made fitness their lifestyle, who already control their eating to an extent, and who may feel pressure to present themselves as the perfect image of fitness.
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted…I’m Dreading TomorrowMy Profile

  16. I definitely believe there is a pressure to look a certain way as a fitness professional and as a medical professional but I also think everyone has their own definition of fit and healthy. I do not believe every personal trainer needs to have a six-pack, although it looks good, to be an effective trainer. As a medical professional who teaches patients about health I do feel following my “own” advice so to speak is appropriate, but again I do not believe you have to be in perfect shape to be an effective nurse. I do believe in general that people will take you more seriously if you look the part, I mean who wants to listen to a medical professional talk about smoking cessation when the reek of smoke.

    I definitely feel there is pressure but it is probably more self imposed, we are much more critical of ourselves than other people are of us.
    Toni @runninglovingliving recently posted…Monday Motivation-A Truly Inspirational StoryMy Profile

  17. I am not a fitness instructor, but I can only imagine what the pressure is like to look good, because your body is a model for what you are selling to your clients/students. I have no idea what the solution is since we live in such an appearance-obsessed culture. In fact, I have found that even as a lowly slow recreational runner it can stink to not look the part, since even the employees at a running store will judge you based on how you look.
    Julia recently posted…On Not Looking Like A RunnerMy Profile

  18. This is a great post and a great question to ask!

    Bottom line for me is to do good for my body and mind so that I feel my best both inside and out…I exercise and lead a healthy lifestyle for me and I love it 🙂
    Kierston recently posted…Being Proud…My Profile

  19. This is a great post Tamara and such a good question. I can’t even imagine the pressure that fitness professionals and trainers feel – on top of all the pressure people feel already to look a certain way and our body image obsession in our society. I will admit to judging trainers and fitness instructors based on their “look” – I know that it’s unfair especially after I’ve had them kick my butt in class.
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted…The Two of YouMy Profile

  20. I think that there is pressure on those in that postition to feel as though the need to present themselves as role models. This can be an incredibly daunting task!! One that can lead to disordered eating/eating disorders/body dysmorphic disorder from the stress and the pressure alone.
    Coming from an ED background, I fully understand the motivations and desire to present yourself with the “perfect image” and I wasn’t even in the spotlight at the time. But I’ll never forget the day that a girl came up to me (when I was quite deep in my disordered habits) at the gym and told me I had her “dream body”. All I could think was “You have no idea what I’ve put my body through to get here”. To get that body, she would have to put herself at risk for a heart attack or stroke every time she walked through the doors of that gym. And that’s not right.
    I’ve turned my mindset around now, and I fuel and exercise properly. But this is definitely a topic about which I have many opinions.
    Chelsie @ Balance, Not Scale recently posted…Great Friend + Dessert = Can’t Go WrongMy Profile

  21. I’ve loved reading all these comments! I don’t want to make myself seem like the ‘expert’ on this topic, so I’m refraining from responding to each one individually. Thanks so much for a fantastic, frank and eye-opening discussion. You’ve all given me lots to think about!

  22. I feel a tremendous amount of pressure to “look the part”. I think that people strive to be the best and on some levels compete with one another to be the best looking, most fit fitness professional out there. And then there are your clients. What would they think if you gained 10 pounds? Are you setting a good example etc. I’m not speaking for everyone here. These are just the thoughts that go through my head. And then you have those “colleagues” who like to point out your faults. Someone once told me that my triceps looked a like they were jiggling more than normal. To this day I can’t help but obsess over them, standing in front of the mirror, each time hoping I’d see less jiggle than the time before.
    Kristen recently posted…Monday Morning Inspiration: Don’t Sweat the Small StuffMy Profile

  23. Yes, there is always pressure to be slim as being a dietician if you are not fit and slim then it put negative effect on clients. As being a dietician we need to come as an example for fitness. If you are not fit then how can people will listen to you.

  24. I honestly don’t really feel pressured from anyone but myself and that stems from long before I became a fitness professional. It stemmed with a desire for control and perfection. That led to unhealthy habits and mindsets that can still be tough to handle and leave that subconscious pressure on myself. I do want to “practice what I preach” so to speak as well, so that puts some pressure naturally but it also helps because I preach a lifestyle and something maintainable over “perfection”.
    Tina @ Best Body Fitness recently posted…Post Run Routine & Marathon #2My Profile

  25. I think the pressure is greater on women than it is on men, as usual. I’ve had female trainers working for me who aren’t 98 pounds and have heard under-the-breath comments about them and have had to say, “Whoa, wait a minute, she could drop everything right now, do 50 pushups and a 5 mile run without breaking a sweat, can you do that?”

    On the male side of things, I got a comment or two when I first started in this business in the 90’s. Back then, big was in, and the expectation to be muscular as a trainer was greater. I’m 160 lbs, very average in size and won’t be seen on a magazine cover anytime soon. However, recent years seem to have tempered that expectation. Now, fit is in. Hopefully it stays that way for both genders.

    Look, judge a trainer by his/her performance. I don’t care what you look like, but you better be fit; able to run, lift, climb, jump, push, step, whatever, that much is reasonable to be expected.
    Jonathan Aluzas recently posted…Food For Fitness: Turkey Pumpkin ChiliMy Profile

  26. What a great topic. I can only speak from a runner’s/running coach’s perspective, but I’ll say that yes, we all worry about it. I run with a group of uber skinny women (two w/ former eating disorders) and it’s hard not to feel huge around them. And that’s just stupid, b/c I am healthy and that’s what matters. But it’s there, nonetheless, especially as a coach. I can only imagine how it feels to get up and teach classes in front of people–the pressure must be huge! Wish we could figure out how to stop it.
    misszippy recently posted…HoardingMy Profile

  27. I started eating clean and lost 35 lbs, and have since started modeling. I feel a little pressure, but I let myself enjoy life and food. I am no longer a slave to cardio or the gym. I used to HAVE to do cardio 6 days a week. Now, I run 3 days and lift the other 3. So the image thing gets me out of bed in the morning, but I will not over-exercise to get there.
    Leonor @FoodFaithFitness recently posted…That time I was on TV…My Profile

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