Drowning In Doubt as a Fitness ProfessionalSep 24, 2021
Drowning in Doubt as a Fitness Professional
By Karyn Silenzi
We are a collective group of like-minded, driven, and optimistic women. We are the voice of change. Filled with ideas, inspiration, and unbridled enthusiasm, we make a difference in the lives of those we touch. Within our industry, there are still obstacles to overcome. Some are self-imposed, others positioned in front of us.
Doubt is the biggest and most insidious barrier we face. Doubt is a dream killer, leading to the cessation of progress, both personally and professionally. Uncertainty surrounds us and, too often, we find ourselves drowning in doubt.
To remove this obstacle, we must explore key situations where doubt thrives. Where does doubt begin and who feeds it? Most importantly, how do we banish doubt to create the life we want?
Overcoming Body Stereotypes
Health and wellness professionals talk about inclusivity, yet our environment is not always a welcoming one. Physical change is the cornerstone of the diet and fitness industry: Drop 2 dress sizes, go from flab to fab with this routine, how to get the perfect bikini body guide. The premise is you must change your body to change your life.
Statements and stereotypes about “the ideal body type” affect consumers and fitness professionals alike. We may never meet the ideals that society dictates. Do fitness professionals belong if they don’t look a certain way?
To address any doubt about what a fitness professional should look like, it is important to understand exactly what fitness is. Physical fitness is “one’s ability to execute daily activities with optimal performance, endurance, and strength with the management of disease, fatigue, and stress and reduced sedentary behavior”.1 Within that definition, there is no mention of size, BMI, or body composition. On the contrary, fitness is the ability to perform tasks while also reducing the potential for future disease-related states.
The reality is motivation comes in many shapes and sizes. The six-pack abs and chiseled pecs you see on social media are not the goals of every person seeking health. While those images may be motivational to some, they are unrealistic and intimidating to others. As fitness professionals, we recognize the clients that seek our advice are on a unique journey. We provide targets and plans that are individual and intentional. We understand aesthetic changes aren’t always necessary to change health. How we choose to lead people is our purpose; how we look while doing it is of no consequence.
Subtle messages cause doubt about the value of our authenticity. We have the power to change this. It begins with a single voice; your inner voice needs to be the loudest. When you feel that who you are and what you offer is not enough compared to the sleek physiques that the industry reveres, recognize that this is a feeling, not a reality. Think about how you would respond if you were speaking to one of your clients. What questions would you ask them? How would you guide them? Learn to reroute your negative thoughts and beliefs to those of self-compassion and acceptance.
Addressing Ageism in the Industry
Veteran fitness professionals have amassed a great deal of knowledge. These seasoned individuals provide an invaluable service by guiding and educating others. Additionally, the full impact of aging is delayed by leading healthy and active lifestyles. Fitness professionals are positive role models that represent well-being and sustained physical activity for clients at any age.
Experience is a double-edged sword, however, and the fitness industry is not always nurturing. Ageism affects older fitness professionals every day and exists in all areas of the industry, from marketing to operations. Women are more adversely affected than men are, and it begins as early as age 40.2 Fitness professionals may feel the need to continue to prove themselves - work demanding hours focused on prime-time attendance, teach multiple classes a day, or fit into clubs looking to appeal to younger market demographics. In this industry, your body is your paycheque.
It is difficult to decide that your current role no longer serves you; balance is in understanding what to hold on to and what to let go of. If your abilities are not being properly recognized nor appreciated, seek out different possibilities.
According to IHRSA, 49% of US health club members are older than 41.3 Opportunities abound for the fitness professional interested in working with the intricacies of aging. “Exercise is Medicine” and “Fitness Programs for Older Adults” are two areas of growth for 2021, according to the ACSM.4 There is value in being able to relate to what your client base is going through. There is also a demand for formalized educators that can pass on their skills to others. Create your role within the industry as an author, business developer, content creator, or training facilitator. Experience is the best teacher.
How we perceive aging is a complex social issue, further exacerbated by one’s self-belief in belonging. This problem is pervasive throughout the industry and affects fitness consumers as well. By identifying these concerns, fitness professionals can tackle them and challenge the status quo. There is no downside to remaining active, and this is a message we must share far and wide. You have value to add because of your age. Whether you decide to change your client base, your career path, or others’ perceptions, there is a multitude of opportunities available to you.
Fighting Off Feelings of Fraud
Imposter syndrome can be a debilitating condition. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one's abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one's ongoing success.” Any person struggling with imposter syndrome is at greater risk of developing additional mental health conditions. Understanding how it negatively affects feelings of self-worth is crucial to building a foundational belief in oneself.
Initially observed almost 50 years ago, imposter syndrome primarily affected high-achieving professional women. 5 Research shows that its prevalence has increased as more women and members of ethnic minority groups have entered the workforce.6,7 Successful endeavors can cause a cycle of self-doubt and dysfunction for people with impostor syndrome. Unable to recognize their accomplishments, these individuals worry others will discover the truth about their abilities. Fear of not belonging and fraudulent feelings are common for those that suffer from imposter syndrome. Sometimes these feelings become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Could it be that imposter syndrome makes us doubt we belong because some people believe we never were supposed to belong? Currently, the issue of imposter syndrome lies with the person and not with the environment. The solutions provided focus on fixing the individual rather than fixing the root causes. Some research has suggested that pervasive stereotypes and systemic biases may be a part of it.8 Biased practices frequently deter under-represented groups from achieving success. If we are continually made to feel we can’t be successful, we believe it. If that is the case, surely the opposite is true too.
While self-limiting beliefs may never completely disappear, building your future self requires awareness, identification of potential triggers, and creating steps to deal with them. This concept deserves more space, attention, and action. We can do that, but we must first voice our doubts to overcome them.
Creating Your Foundational Fortitude
Bias and exclusion lead to self-doubt. To combat that, fitness professionals need to build a strong foundational belief in their abilities and recognize that they deserve a seat at the table. However, doing that alone or without a framework is hard.
- Belonging fosters confidence. Organizations like WIFA (Women in Fitness Association) aim to foster deep connected relationships and create supportive communities to raise each other up. Working with like-minded professionals can inspire growth and create opportunities. The voice of many is powerful.
- Shift seclusion to inclusion. Share feelings of vulnerability with others in similar positions. Having authentic conversations with others can lead to collaboration and problem-solving.
- Flip the script. Negative moods can deeply influence perspective. Before giving into feelings of anxiety and doubt, use that inner voice to challenge the emotional response.
- Create a feel-good file. Have a physical or electronic space to store positive feedback and accomplishments. Listen to what others have to say about you and the impact you’ve already made.
- Failure is natural. Not everything works out the way you envisioned it. Where self-doubt may stop progress, idea doubt can lead to the refinement and advancement of products and services. Communicate with your target market to better identify what their needs are.
I don’t know what brought you to WIFA, but I do know where it can take you, and the industry, as a whole. There is power in numbers; your voice along with others will be amplified. Speak up to break down these barriers. Banish doubt.
1. Campbell N., De Jesus S., Prapavessis H. (2013) Physical Fitness. In: Gellman M.D., Turner J.R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1005-9_1167
2. Krekula C., Nikander P., Wilińska M. (2018) Multiple Marginalizations Based on Age: Gendered Ageism and Beyond. In: Ayalon L., Tesch-Römer C. (eds) Contemporary Perspectives on Ageism. International Perspectives on Aging, vol 19. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-73820-8_3
5. Sakulku, J. (1). The Impostor Phenomenon. The Journal of Behavioral Science, 6(1), 75-97. https://doi.org/10.14456/ijbs.2011.6
6. Feenstra Sanne, Begeny Christopher T., Ryan Michelle K., Rink Floor A., Stoker Janka I., Jordan Jennifer. (2020). Contextualizing the Impostor “Syndrome”. Frontiers in Psychology, 11 https:DOI=10.3389/fpsyg.2020.575024
7. Villwock, J. A., Sobin, L. B., Koester, L. A., & Harris, T. M. (2016). Impostor syndrome and burnout among American medical students: a pilot study. International journal of medical education, 7, 364–369. https://doi.org/10.5116/ijme.5801.eac4
8. Gaerlan-Price E, Wardman J, Bruce T. Welcome to the Table: A Bourdieusian Take on Gifted New Zealand Young Women. Education Sciences. 2021; 11(3):106. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11030106
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Karyn Silenzi has been a part of the health and fitness industry for 30 years and has coached individuals and businesses to successfully excel and expand their offerings. After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, she pursued further education in fitness and exercise training with the belief that health and education go hand-in-hand. A former national and provincial team athlete, Karyn has worked and trained alongside Olympic and nationally ranked athletes. Karyn is a Master Trainer for Team ICG/Life Fitness Academy in North America and with LIVNorth in Canada. She also runs certification programs for personal trainers and fitness instructors through canfitpro. Karyn presents at international fitness conferences, writes articles and class profiles for companies, and facilitates workshops in several fitness modalities.