How Exercise Professionals Can Make People of All Sizes, Abilities Feel Welcome

We live in a world where if you have a larger body, you have most likely heard the gold standard advice, “Move more, eat less.” Although this phrase is commonly shared, this advice can be problematic in a variety of ways. 

When we look at health from only a weight perspective, health and exercise professionals often miss an opportunity to really change someone’s life through physical activity for the long term.

A 2021 study from BMC Public Health found that people with obesity regularly experience stigma and discrimination in sport and exercise settings to the point where they often cope by simply removing themselves from these spaces. 

As of 2022, the obese population in America makes up 41.9 percent of people, which equates to over 80 million individuals living in larger bodies, so revisiting this standard advice is not only good for humanity but smart business for the fitness industry.

When individuals are told to move more, they must have options to engage in exercise that feels inclusive and safe for them to do so.

So, how do we as fitness professionals ensure that we are part of the solution when trying to engage larger-bodied clients? Here are five essential points to consider for inclusivity for all sized clients.

1. Representation: Review how your business is presented. Representation is the key invitation in our offerings so it’s essential that members in larger bodies see themselves successfully portrayed in marketing material across all facets of the business, including social media, websites, newsletters, marketing collateral and even your apparel sizing.  It is also important that “before and after” pictures are not highlighted as this upholds smaller bodies as more valuable and the measure of success. Instead, let’s celebrate individuals as they are while pursuing a path to better health.

2. Mindfulness: Consider the larger bodied lived experience. Larger bodied individuals often face the feeling of not “fitting” in many spaces. Think about theater seats, airplanes, restaurant booths and finding clothing off the rack. Making your space size-inclusive is paramount to building trust and welcoming people of all sizes. 

Points to consider:

  • Do you offer chairs in the intake room that are armless and wide to fit larger bodies?
  • If you offer a towel service, do you have larger towels?
  • At your entry point to your gym, do you have small gates or turnstiles? 
  • Can the bathroom or changing rooms accommodate a large body? 
  • Do you have parking close by?
  • Are your class styles and programming suitable for a range of body sizes?

3. Talk the Inclusive Talk: Train for an active lifestyle from a weight neutrality position. It is difficult to foster a size-inclusive health and wellness space while promoting weight loss as the measure of success. To be inclusive means to welcome and celebrate all our clients. Our job is to focus on getting people moving.

Although adopting a healthier lifestyle sometimes has a side benefit of reduced weight, that might not always be the case for every individual. Identifying what a “healthy” body weight is for an individual is highly complex and often well beyond our scope of practice. For individuals who have spent decades in diet culture, weight loss initiatives can create a negative cycle due to weight rebound, which can lead to on and off again exercise. Studies now lean toward weight neutrality, where  health outcomes can be greatly improved by regular physical activity without the presence of weight loss

4. Specialized Training: Invest in this demographic. Larger-bodied individuals most often have specialized needs from both a psychological position and a physical position. Specialized training in this area goes a long way and making sure that all staff members receive education and training in the areas of weight bias, fatphobia and discrimination in fitness industry is paramount.

You also need to consider equipment suitability and weight restrictions for machines and equipment, spatial differences and body geometry that affect a person’s form and balance, and differences in oxygen intake and cardiovascular exercise when an individual is moving more mass. Having a highly trained eye can prevent negative and isolating incidences for your larger-bodied clients. 

Remember, often what is keeping this population out of the gym is prior negative experiences with physical exercise. If we can be mindful of these practices, we can build trust and offer our clients one of the best exercise experiences of their lifetime.  Great experiences foster intrinsic motivation, and this is where fitness longevity lives, at any size.

5. Become a Size-Inclusive Fitness Specialist with the American Council on Exercise: Take your education further to better support people of all sizes. If you are interested in evidence–based methods on how to repair larger-bodied individuals' relationship with exercise, and learn more about training clients in larger bodies, you can become a Size-Inclusive Fitness Specialist with the American Council on Exercise. Through this education, you will be able to:

  • Recognize how vast this market is and how our current fitness culture can sometimes deter this audience from engaging in sustainable fitness routines
  • Understand how you can lower these barriers to build a more equitable and healthy nation
  • Build a lucrative fitness business with marketing techniques that attract and retain these underserved clients

I have worked with this population for 15 years (over 40,000 hours), and I have learned a great deal about larger-bodied people’s behavior around exercise. Contrary to common stereotypes, larger bodied people often are not lazy, do not lack discipline nor are they dismissive of their health. However, they may be unmotivated to exercise based on the negative experiences that they have had in the health, fitness and medical settings.

We have the power to change this.


Louise Green is an author, educator and award-winning fitness trainer who has been changing the narrative of the fitness culture since 2007. In 2007, Green founded the first exclusively plus-size fitness company in Canada. Banking over 40,000 coaching hours specializing in size-inclusive fitness, she has worked diligently towards a fitness culture that is accessible to all. Green is the founder of Big Fit Girl, which is now a brand, a fitness app, a published book, and a monthly column in SELF Magazine. Her work has impacted thousands of people from around the globe and encouraged them to step off the side lines. In 2021, Green founded the Size Inclusive Training Academy and is now certifying fitness and wellness professionals from around the world as size inclusive fitness specialists. She has authored two books, “Big Fit Girl” and “Fitness for Everyone,” and has been featured by more than 150 media outlets, including NBC at “The Steve Harvey Show,” The Australian “Morning Show” and London’s ITV “This Morning.” Green offers her expertise through education and consulting on size inclusivity to major brands, ad makers and fitness companies to hone more inclusive messaging and services. Through representation, accessible training and education, Green tenaciously works towards making fitness for everyone a daily reality.