• drsuzbaxter

Inclusivity in language and attitude




Today's post is going to be most focused on inclusivity in a range of ways as it relates to exercise.


Now, from the outside, the fitness industry is a very positive place, you know, endorphins are flying around. Where else do you get to see everybody from all walks of life, participating in comfortable clothes, and coming together in one place, all together. However, there are ways that sometimes as health professionals that can be ingrained in us that we do not even realize that we're triggering some of our most vulnerable clients, or some of our new clients that are trying it out for the first time, or they're returning to exercise after a long hiatus. And there are so many Australians for one, but Americans and every other developed country that are just not participating in regular exercise. And so, yes, we can get more clients from there than just people already into exercise. We could focus on people who are already into exercise, but we'll all be fighting for smaller and smaller slices of the pie.


However, what if there were bigger slices out there? And what if there was an entirely new pie? Well, that's what it's like, when we're attracting people that are completely new to exercise, or they're exercising after a long hiatus, maybe they've had kids, maybe they've been focusing on their career, or they just fell out of love with exercise. Whatever the reason, there's about 80% of people out there that are currently not exercising. I find that shocking, because the amount and myriad of benefits that there are for these people, especially cannot be overstated. So there are so many benefits. I'm sure you would agree because you're reading this right now. However, we might actually be the reason as an industry that we are not encouraging 80% of people to be getting into exercise and giving it a go and finding that magical thing that makes them want to keep coming back and getting sweaty and getting uncomfortable but loving the process. And so I want to take you on a journey.


Now, being Irish, actually from Northern Ireland, but being from Northern Ireland, my Celtic heritage means that I have really deep hip sockets on my side of the world. In the country that I'm from, people are more likely to need a hip replacement than they are to dislocate their hips. And that's due to their hip architecture, we can go over this in another post, but I have really deep hip sockets. So that means if I am not going to be able to do the splits, I'm more likely to be able to get a labrum tear. These are just things that are commonplace, hip mobility is just going to be an issue for me, and full depth squat is probably out of the picture. Whereas if you get someone who might be of Asian or Polish descent, these are broad standard generalizations. But they tend to be more likely to have a dislocated hip, they've got more shallow hip sockets, and they actually tend to engage in more things culturally, that would require more mobility from the lower body and more flexibility from the lower body.


So look at Jackie Chan, for instance, those really awesome kicks that he was famous for. That's not something that you would see happen in Scotland or in Ireland, think about what their sports were, it was this kind of tossing competition called a caber toss and Welly Wanging. The latter I think it was like Wellington boots. At one point when I was a kid, I remember there's lots of Wellington boots, kind of tossing festivals, if that doesn't sound too strange, but a lot of the power is derived from the upper body and just using the lower body as the leverage point for that.


And so, you can see how, over time, even like the cultural sports that are accepted, have been adapted to really accommodate what people traditionally would have been feeling in their bodies and that sort of thing. So that aside, anytime I go to a yoga studio, I know that it's just not going to be a pretty sight, it's just not going to be necessarily something that I'm going to be great at in terms of, you know, standing on my head with this the splits, or, you know, these beautiful kind of like, side split arrangements with, you know, your arms tangled around you. It's just never going to be like that. I do know that I've been to numerous classes before, where even when you sit cross legged as you would as a kid where the teacher says to you that we're going to lean forward and reach forward with our arms, we're gonna try and get a forehead on the ground. Now, if I do that movement, crossing my legs is one thing I can actually achieve but I actually can't lean forward. My hands can barely touch the ground in front of me, and everybody else has to watch that they don't hit their foreheads. I find it particularly interesting because I'm the only one that's sitting upright while everyone has their head down. And I am always really happy when I'm in the studios where they make it so that I don't feel negatively impacted by not being able to do that, where there is a positive validation of my non ability to do that as opposed to a negative one.


I get a variety of outcomes from even that particular move. But one of the ones that makes me trigger the most, not personally, but more on the level of how we are going to help as many people and stop people from being eliminated from exercise or being put off exercise if this is how we act. So I get teachers that look at me, and they go, “well….???? try!!!!”, or they say, “Come on, reach forward”. Then I tried to show them that that's kind of where I'm stuck. I've had one or two that have tried to push me a little bit forward, much to their detriment. But I don't react aggressively in the class, don't worry, I am pretty just chill about the thing. And I'm saying, I just can't do that. It doesn't upset me. But I realized that, I'm not the exception, I'm actually, pretty much the majority of people.


Teachers that are in yoga classes tend to be drawn to yoga, because they're really good at it without without heaps in practice even from day one. So people look at the yoga teachers who obviously do quite a lot. And they think, oh, gosh, if I want to be really limber and flexible, I need to do yoga. And yoga provides more things than just flexibility. But whilst it will give you a little bit more flexibility, because you'll get better at anything you work on, you're not necessarily (especially if you're just not that way inclined, like your ancestral line is against you), you're not going to be able to turn Irish hips into Polish hips, like this is not something that yoga can do.


So the majority of people that come in, that aren't just naturally quite bendy, or hyper mobile, which is another topic that we'll get to on another day, will not be able to achieve such a flexibility and feats of greatness, as these naturally, really bendy people. So having an attitude where of “oh, you must not be trying, if you can't reach your toes”, or, you know, “if you're not able to balance on one leg, like you're, you're just not trying hard enough”, like, that's really negative for a new, potentially new lifelong clients that could have been inspired by all of the greatness that she/he saw in the room, but instead they were led to believe that, what's the point in trying if that was the best you can give? And apparently it looks like you're not trying but that is the best that you're doing! Then what's the point in continuing to try? That makes me really sad to think about. So thinking about how that relates to how we coach people because it's worth bearing in mind that just because someone is unable to perform some of the more complex moves or circus style moves in CrossFit, or yoga and that sort of thing, it doesn't mean that they're a novice completely, there can be people that are returning from a hiatus because they've been pregnant, or that sort of thing. But they actually have a decent level of strength. They've been maybe working on the farm, they've been doing all sorts of things. And to come in and to be told that they're not good enough. Or that they're a novice, because they all of a sudden can't do this, like a circus act, even if they've been maybe even coming 10 or so times. And this is their second pack that they've bought for your studio, to continue being known as a novice until you're able to perform these majestic feats is quite narrow minded.


I think it's time that we take a step back and look at how potentially, we might have actually been the exception and not the rule, when we came into fitness, not just mentally in terms of our discipline and that sort of thing. But in terms of our ability, and that's why we got drawn to doing what we do. So, not basing someone else's progress or ability, or even how they're showing up on that day, on your own trajectory is very important. That's one of the ways I think that we can really ensure that we tap into people on that other part of the pie that don't currently have a fitness home, and they haven't found something that they love yet. Because even if that person is not your person, and it's not your studio's person, in terms of the correct fit, we still want them to exercise. Because conversely, there's other studios out there that have someone who's the wrong fit, but the right fit for your studio. And if they're putting that person to exercise, then you're missing out on what could potentially be from that person. So, keep a nice, open mind.


Another example that I might give, is not pretending to know what another person is going through when they're showing up or displaying something. I've had in the past before where I've been in classes, and the teacher has gone through a flow or a movement. In this case, a child's pose was part of the flow. And so I just continued to do it. And then there's no extra coaching. The person just said go through your flow. I thought Child's Pose was just part of the flow, because that's what we've been doing the whole entire time. And every time I got into the child's pose, before I did the rest of the flow, the teacher would eyeball me and say, if you need a rest, you can do child's pose, or do Child's pose if you're resting. I was very confused because I actually didn't really feel like I was resting, I felt that was part of the flow. I also felt that it was stretching through my thoracic spine and stretching through my lats. So for me, it was a very active pose. It seemed to be quite disappointing that there was a very narrow mind that because that's where some people might just chill out, because they're passively doing it, then that doesn't mean that that is not quite a stretch for another person doing it.


Another way to be really inclusive as well. You might have heard me talk about being a specialist in an area. And that's great. If somebody is outside of your lane, send them to the specialist that knows that bigger topic better. So potentially someone might have come to you and you're the specialist in sprained ankles. But this person also has Ankylosing Spondylitis. Initially you might be the right person for them to help them with their ankle. But then after that, it may be the time to send them someone who is more attuned, and akinde to ankylosing spondylitis. But during that time you're working with them. Get really across what that means, ask the person questions about medication, of course, ask them how it presents to them, all these kinds of things. But don't be uninformed, or you're not doing your own research. Always across who's in front of you, and take the time to research the things that you may not have heard of before. On top of that, look to specialize. In the fitness industry you must be doing CECS every year (continuing education credits) in order to stay current and relevant in the industry. But some specialist subjects whilst it not might not be your specialty, a person may come with a sprained ankle, like in the last example, but they may also be pregnant. If you do not know enough about pregnancy, you will not be able to help that person really well. So using your continuing education credits, and banking them by doing courses and things that may come up for you so that you know the best course of action.


There's no way we can make people feel really included unless we know the kind of considerations to make for the person. So if someone's pregnant, they may be still able to lay on their back in the earlier stages of pregnancy (make sure you are qualified). Potentially, you might want to start teaching them how to get up without using their stomach muscles to do so or the sorts of things that are going to make them feel more comfortable and confident in you helping them on their fitness journey. Because they start with you as not an expert on their body. They might have been out of exercise for a while and you are the expert, but they are going to want you to work with them and grow with them in order for both of you to become an expert on the their own body.


Can you think of other ways you make clients feel included? Let me know your thoughts. I have a few other ways which I incorporate into the customer journey, but these above things are around attitude and language (which are important regardless of how customer-focused your customer funnel is).

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