The Birth of Athena

lift the weight. fight the power. eat the candy.

The Art of Compassion and Kindness in the Fitness Community

You’ve heard it before. You log onto the internet, go to your favorite fitness forum and there it is:


You’ve probably also heard this one (or something similar):

“There was this girl deadlifting and her form was TERRIBLE. HORRENDOUS. IT HURT MY BACK TO LOOK AT HER. GAWD. I don’t understand why she hasn’t done her research. It isn’t hard to watch form videos.”

And you have probably seen videos like these:

I’ve touched on it before, but all around us is fitness elitism. So much of the fitness industry is based on belittling others because they aren’t doing what they “should” be doing and so much of the fitness community is based upon bonds built by making jabs about other people’s fitness levels, knowledge, physical appearance, etc.

I hear it all the time.

And it drives me bonkers.

People immersed in the health and fitness culture generally have the idea the those who are not should know better. They should be better researched, better programmed. They should work harder. They should be more dedicated. The thing is, these normative statements make one things very clear: the fitness industry and fitness communities lack compassion and are generally, unkind and unwelcoming to those who are not “experts.”

Think about it. How often do we find ourselves asking why are colleagues follow shitty diets because they should know more about nutrition? How often do you hear yourself or others say that if someone really wants to get stronger/lose weight, well, they just need to work harder and exercise more will power? How many fitness elitists do you know who like to point out when people are doing “stupid” exercises in the gym and express the opinion that they need to have better programming if they want to see results?

All of these questions and shoulds and should nots ignore one really important facet to health and fitness (as well as other aspects of life): working hard, dedication, gaining knowledge, deciphering facts from fiction, willpower and motivation – these are all learned behaviors. They come from practice and honestly, many people in our society just aren’t taught how.

It is not actually useful to tell people they should work harder.

It is not helpful to tell someone to exercise greater portion control.

And if you make fun of someone’s diet, but are unable to explain the scientific method to them in a way that allows them to make more informed decisions and decipher facts from myths, then I kind of want to hit you in the head with a frying pan.

The scientific method. Duh.

I think the most underutilized tool for motivating people to learn more, work harder and eat better is compassion. Too often are we willing to climb onto our pedestals and declare that we have the key to enlightenment. Health and fitness have been made very complicated by the many media outlets. If a person has no experience in choosing a program, losing weight, or even being consistent in their exercise routines, it is not helpful to make fun of them. Nothing is going to come from you poking fun at the dude curIing the squat rack anonymously on the internet. If you want to see more people make healthy food choices, if you want to see more people be successful at losing weight, if you want to get the dude out of the squat rack, and if you want to help lead someone down the path to “enlightenment,” the best way is to acknowledge what they are going through and that they may not not know how they should be doing something. All belittling someone is going to accomplish is scare them away. Then they will never improve. And you will always be frustrated about the novice dudes at the gym. Plain and simple, people don’t like to listen to jerks. However, they will probably listen to people who they believe to have been through the same issues.

It’s not actually helpful to shout at people from above that you have found the answer without using your knowledge and expertise to guide them along the path; it just frustrates the person and makes you look like an asshole. We need to acknowledge and understand that people entering the fitness realm may not have the same skill set we have. They may have never been told the principles of healthy eating as a child or what portion sizes should look like. They may have never known what it is like to work hard for something (honestly, in this day-in-age, this is not a marvel concept. People grow up, pass school with decent grades without trying, go to college – which their parents pay for, major in something that doesn’t matter or require deep thought/work ethic, and then move on to cubicle dwellers where they push paper all day at a slow pace. We all know someone like this). But, we were all beginners once.

The best way to motivate people to learn more, work harder, and in general, be better is to show them a little kindness, a little compassion, and lead by example.

This about it. How do we teach children about math?

We share with them the fundamental principles and then show them example after example after example. And when they make a mistake, we don’t make fun of them. We say, “Here’s where you went wrong. We all make mistakes. You’ll do better next time.”

The same principle of teaching applies to health and fitness. You want people to work harder and complain less? Show them what quiet work and determination look like. Show up everyday, be present, don’t be boisterous and just do the fucking work. You want people to eat better? Eat yummy, but healthy lunches at work and bring food to share – so they can see what someone else is doing. These are just a few examples, but I think you get the point. Lead by example.

Positivity begets positivity.

Negativity begets negativity.

So, just be kind. You aren’t in third grade anymore. This isn’t a popularity contest. People’s lives are actually at stake and the act of being an anonymous asshole on the internet or just an asshole in general doesn’t tell me anything about the people who are making mistakes. But it does tell the world a lot about you.


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2 thoughts on “The Art of Compassion and Kindness in the Fitness Community

  • I love this post. One of the reasons I left the first gym I started lifting at was the stupid cliques (grown ups behaving like middle-schoolers) and I just wanted to be left alone to do the work. I switched to a gym where I was anonymous and it was wonderful. And for the past year I’ve mostly been doing home workouts. I admit I was guilty of a little elitism (an overeager convert to lifting heavy), but then I saw how…obnoxious…it is on other people and I mellowed out. Run, lift, lift really heavy, just do yoga, whatever – if you’re moving, you’re already ahead of the game!

  • Stephanie says:

    I love this. Exercise/fitness/healthy living is a journey and a process, and you learn (and need to learn) along the way. It isn’t just knowing the right answer; it’s knowing how to problem solve and think critically.

    The same ideas apply to coaching sports — positive reinforcement does wonders. You want others to continue to want to improve.

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