What Fitness Instructors Need to Remember About People With Physical Limitations


As I’ve written about before, despite my chronic illness and several surgeries, I try to keep a regular fitness routine. I don’t always feel up to it, but when I do have enough energy to work out, I try to pick classes that I’ll have fun with, such as dance. Now that I am living in New York City, that means I can try different kinds of classes and studios.

When trying new classes, it’s always a hit or miss whether I will be able to keep up or if my physical limitations will hinder my ability to do the workout. It also depends on the instructor, and the overall environment of the class. If it’s a more fun, loose atmosphere, then the other people in the class and the instructor are encouraging, even when I can’t do every move.

I recently decided to try a trampoline aerobics class, which was basically mini aerobics routines broken down into intervals, all done on little individual trampolines. Before the class started, the instructor did not ask if anyone in the class had any injuries or other physical issues that she should know about. Most, if not all, of the fitness instructors I have taken classes with have started class by asking this, so I was surprised.

This meant that once we started doing abdominal exercises, I had to try to modify the moves myself. I recently had surgery on my esophagus and stomach, and am still careful when working out because of that. When the instructor saw that I was not doing the moves she essentially tried to force my body to bend a certain way – which it certainly could not. I told her that I had had surgery, and she backed off without showing me a modification.

In another section of the workout, I encountered a leg move that I was unable to do, due to an older (unrelated) surgery on my foot. This time, she tried showing me a different move, but at the end of class she basically told me that this probably wasn’t the class for me.

I was shocked. While I couldn’t do every single move, there were some that I was able to do “better” than some of the other participants. I still felt that I had worked out and broken a sweat. If I’m able to do aerial fabrics, which is a lot “harder” and more technical, why couldn’t I try this class?

Are instructors really not used to having people in their classes who have dealt with illness, injury, or surgery? The fitness world does not only include completely healthy people. Many people with health challenges can still work out in some respect. While everyone should be aware of their personal limitations, I hope that others who are chronically ill are not discouraged by instructors like this.

I have, of course, encountered instructors who are the complete opposite and have been incredibly encouraging. It is those instructors who make me want to come back to a class, not whether or not I was able to do every single move or not.

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