How women are redefining fitness on their own terms

Women fitness professionals are increasingly occupying leadership roles in organizations and as entrepreneurs, but there is still work to be done to achieve gender equity.

Women’s History Month commemorates the achievements and struggles of women throughout history and shines a light on the evolving roles and growing presence of women. The fitness industry is a good example of this evolution.

Historically, the world of fitness mirrored many other sectors, with men predominantly filling the roles of personal trainers, health coaches and group instructors. Today, women are participating in fitness at a higher rate and are serving in leadership and influential roles as personal trainers, health coaches and entrepreneurs as they continue to overcome barriers to success.

The women’s fitness experience

Initially, women’s participation in fitness was relegated to specific segments, such as aerobics or women-only gyms, reflecting broader stereotypes and social expectations of the time. These roles, while important, represented a limited view of women’s capabilities.

As the decades passed, the fitness industry began to see a gradual change driven by changing societal attitudes and women began to assert their presence, breaking with stereotypes and redefining what it means to be a professional of fitness.

Maria Luque, PhD, MS, CHES, ACE-CPT, ACE-FNS, educator and founder of Fitness in Menopause, says that as a fitness professional with more than two decades of experience in the industry and who works exclusively with women for more than 10 years. years, has witnessed a remarkable transformation in the industry’s approach to women’s roles as personal trainers and health coaches.

Early on, there was a prevailing stereotype that women were primarily customers rather than leaders in the fitness space, Luque says. However, there has been a significant shift towards the recognition of women as knowledgeable and skilled professionals in this field, a shift that should inspire and motivate us all.

Maria Luque (credit: Weston Carls)

Judi Sheppard Missett is a quintessential example of female innovation and leadership. In 1969, Missett founded Jazzercise, a dance-based fitness program that seamlessly combined jazz dance with exercise, strength training and stretching.

Missett, who is worth an estimated $100 million, has grown her creation into a global empire, encouraging women to embrace entrepreneurship within the fitness industry.

Other examples of women making inroads into fitness entrepreneurship and leadership include Payal Kadakia, founder of ClassPass, whose net worth is at least $60 million, and Robin Arzn, vice president of fitness programming at Peloton, who has become a prominent figure and highly. popular brand instructor.

The gender wage gap

Women in the fitness industry often face gender biases that undermine their professional credibility and contribute to pay disparities compared to their male counterparts.

For example, female personal trainers and health coaches may face skepticism about their experience and physical abilities, a challenge that men rarely face. These biases can extend to compensation, where despite equal qualifications and responsibilities, women often earn less.

A 2021 salary survey by the Personal Trainer Development Center (PTDC) found that women, on average, earn 68% of what men earn for substantially similar work. In the world of personal training, the gap is even wider, with female personal trainers earning 66% of what male personal trainers earn, with male respondents reporting an average annual income of $54,514, while women female respondents reported a median income of $35,945.

Award-winning personal trainer and educator Irene Lewis McCormick, MS, says the conversation about gender bias and pay disparities isn’t unique to the fitness industry; is a national issue that affects several professions, where the quality of service is increasingly more important than the mere hour spent providing the fitness service. Advocate for a change in the compensation structure of the fitness industry.

I would like to move from a time-based model to one that recognizes the value of the expertise and experience of fitness professionals, says McCormick.

Judi Sheppard Missett (c) founded Jazzercise in 1969 (Credit: Jazzercise)

Women are not little men

Another relevant aspect when it comes to women overcoming barriers is exercise science research and how women have been underrepresented. This is important because good program design depends on available research and education.

NASM Content Strategist and Global Master Instructor Susane Pata is eager to help change that conversation.

Pata’s journey of discovery led her to the work of Dr. Stacy Sims, a figure who has become synonymous with innovation in the field of women’s athletics. Pata reflects on her initial encounter with Sims’ research and the realization that there was “someone out there focused on the female athlete.”

According to Pata, Sims has opened new avenues for “discussing female athletes: their health, performance, well-being and longevity in new ways based on the latest research and highlights a popular Sims quote: ‘women are not little men,'” a simple but powerful statement that challenges long-standing biases in sports science.

This statement not only emphasizes the biological differences between men and women, but also marks a significant change in the way female athletes are perceived and studied.

“Now it’s bringing conversations about the female athlete to the table, conversations and comparisons that weren’t there before,” notes Pata.

La Pata also admires athletes like Tia-Clair Toomey. The discourse surrounding Toomey, whether it’s criticism or praise, “makes room at the table for female athletes,” showcasing her undeniable talent and dedication.

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Pata links these observations to a larger narrative about gender equality and collaboration in sport.

“So while there are obvious physiological gender differences, women like these show that you can have a seat at the table with men,” says Pata.

Opportunities for everyone

The demand for personal trainers and fitness instructors has increased over the past decade, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting growth of 15% between 2019 and 2029. This expansion will add approximately 57,600 more trainers over the next 10 years, which suggests growth. influence of women in the sector.

Pata encourages other female fitness professionals to take advantage of the increase and keep learning.

Knowledge is power, and it pays to go in armed with knowledge and never be complacent, he says. Just because you’ve earned a certification doesn’t mean the learning stops there. It never ends.

For women new to the industry or in need of advice, Pata suggests trying a little bit of everything because it can inform future decisions, especially those who are in it for the long game.

McCormick, an industry veteran, says that while there are pioneering women who have taken on important roles and been recognized for their contributions, the fitness industry still has a long way to go to achieve gender balance; perhaps especially in executive roles.

The representation of women in leadership positions in the fitness industry is a matter of concern, says McCormick. According to one survey, 47% of men work in leadership roles in fitness compared to only 36% of women. Men make up 70% of gym owners and women make up 29%.

Luque is encouraged by the changes she sees in the industry, but agrees there is more work to be done, echoing the McCormicks’ perspective.

As more women enter the fitness profession, there is a greater emphasis on inclusion, diversity and recognition of women’s unique needs and experiences in fitness and health training, Luque says.

“These changes not only provide more opportunities for women to thrive professionally, but also contribute to a more balanced and inclusive fitness industry that better serves the diverse needs of all people, regardless of gender,” she adds.

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