Inclusive fitness resources for all body sizes and abilities
Exercise, movement, physical activity (or whatever you want to call it) comes more easily to some people than others:
- If you have become deconditioned because life (work, kids, aging parents, the pandemic) got in the way, noticing that you easily become out of breath can be disheartening, embarrassing and de-motivating.
- If your body size means that certain exercises don’t work for your body (I hear this a lot about yoga), or you simply feel that your body doesn’t belong in fitness spaces, you may just avoid, avoid, avoid.
- If you struggle with joint pain, back pain, or have other conditions that limit your mobility, you may find it challenging to be active in ways that work for you — and also find that traditional fitness spaces are inaccessible or unwelcoming.
Given that movement is good for every body — and mind, because exercise is good for both physical and mental health — if you want to be active, you should be able to be active, regardless of your current fitness level, size, or physical limitations. Fortunately, there are many resources out there to help you incorporate movement into your life while meeting your body where it’s at.
Here are some inclusive fitness resources that I’ve vetted for you. All of them strive to be accessible for different bodies, and none of them promote exercise as a tool for weight loss (which is sadly not the case in many traditional fitness spaces). These resources are about caring for your body and feeling good in your body, and that’s that.
“Big & Bold: Strength Training for the Plus-Size Woman” by Morit Summers. I reviewed the book and interviewed Summers for my column in The Seattle Times last fall. This book emphasizes why strength training and movement are important for women of all sizes and how progress is not tied to a number on the scale. It offers clear and simple instructions on how to safely perform 83 exercises to make them more effective for larger bodies. I use this book for my own workouts.
“Big & Bold: Yoga for the Plus-Size Woman,” By Laura Burns provides clear instructions for safely performing 43 poses in a variety of seated, kneeling, standing, reclined, and restorative positions. Poses feature multiple options for body positioning and prop usage, so you can choose the variations and make the adjustments that work best for your body.
“Every Body Yoga: Let Go Of Fear, Get On The Mat, Love Your Body” by Jessamyn Stanley is appropriate for beginner and experience yoga practitioners, showing us that yoga isn’t about how we look, but how we feel, with yoga sequences like “I Want to Energize My Spirit,” “I Need to Release Fear,” “I Want to Love Myself.”
“Fat Girls Hiking: An Inclusive Guide to Getting Outdoors at Any Size or Ability” by Summer Michaud-Skog offers personal stories, practical advice and helpful trail reviews to help people of all body types, sizes and background experience the pleasures of hiking.
“Fitness for Every Body: Strong, Confident, and Empowered at Any Size” by Meg Boggs. I learned about this book from one of my clients, who mentioned another book, “Fitness for Every Body” by Meg Boggs (@meg.boggs), and how much she appreciated the photos of a body that resembled hers. This body positive fitness guide includes a dozen step-by-step full-body strength workouts.
“Fitness for Everyone: 50 Exercises for Every Type of Body” by Louise Green includes 50 exercises that have modifications for every body type, tep-by-step instructions showing you how to do each exercise, and ten fitness routines for specific physical and mental benefits.
“Yoga for Everyone: 50 Poses for Every Type of Body” and “Yoga Where You Are: Customize Your Practice for Your Body and Your Life” by Dianne Bondy (the second book is co-authored by Kat Heagberg). “Yoga for Everyone” is a visually illustrated yoga guide showcasing diversity in people and their mixed fitness abilities, including 50 yoga exercises with a minimum of 3 modifications for varying body types. “Yoga Where You Are” discusses how yoga intersects with body image, uses truly inclusive language, offers alignment options for real bodies, and uses photos of a range of practitioners.
Barre3 Online. Like barre classes but in-person studios don’t work for you, for whatever reason. You might like this service. I signed up for it during the peak of the pandemic, mostly to get an alternative to walking when the weather was gross. I don’t use it a lot now, but I enjoyed the workouts, and while there’s not a ton of body diversity among the instructors (some, but not a LOT), I can honestly say that I never heard any instructor utter anything about burning calories, losing weight or getting a beach body. You know, the nonsense that is so common in the fitness industry, generally. Instead, the focus is really on listening to your body, and adapting moves if needed (you’ll get guidance for this). Workouts range from 10- to 60-minutes long. There’s a 10-day free trial, then the paid plan is $29/month or $199/year. When I signed up, I chanced upon a sale, so I’m paying like $10/month (billed annually), so you might keep your eyes peeled.
The be.come project. Founder Bethany C. Meyers also struggled with an eating disorder for most of their fitness career, they healed their own relationship with exercise, then wanted to share her new “body neutral” approach to fitness with approachable, body-inclusive classes. The paid version is $35/month, and you can check it out first with a 10-day free trial. You get one featured 25-minute, zero impact routine per week, to allow you to learn the moves better and not waste time searching for the “right” workout (OK…I’ve totally done that). After watching the video clips on the site, if you’re not sure you can do the workouts, you can take the “can I do it?” assessment to find out.
Big Fit Girl. Size-inclusive fitness app from Louise Green. $11.99/month or $130.99/year after 7-day free trial.
Curvy Yoga Studio. Offers body-affirming yoga for people of all shapes and sizes. Offers various membership levels, including $25/month and $195/year. You can get your first two weeks free with the code mentioned on the website.
Decolonizing Fitness. Educational resource for anyone who is interested in unlearning toxic fitness culture. Provides a supportive environment to individuals who have historically not felt welcomed in fitness spaces. The Decolonizing Fitness Patreon offers a growing catalog of workout videos (including some awesome seated workouts) for as little as $2 per month.
Dianne Bondy Yoga. Bondy offers both online yoga classes for $14.99/month (with a 14-day free trial) and a Yoga for Everyone online course for $149.
Joyn. This free streaming service offers, and I quote, “body-inclusive, encouraging and kick-ass” Belly dance and burlesque classes for all bodies. Again, for free. Once you “joyn,” you can filter your class search based on type, length, intensity, instructors and equipment needed. Some of my clients have really enjoyed this.
Madison Dance Life. I accidentally stumbled across skilled teacher Arielle Juliette’s Instagram reels (she’s also on Tik Tok), and became an immediate fan. Her body positive, fat positive classes are designed for adults who have no dance experience. I signed up for her free trial, which includes a free 15-minute “belly dance fundamentals” class, which was indeed very beginner, but since I haven’t seriously studied belly dance for 10 years, it was a nice refresher. The free trial also includes a full-length “burlesque fundamentals” class, which I haven’t tried yet. The paid service gives you access to all three of her weekly classes (belly dance and burlesque fundamentals, plus the intermediate level “Belly Dance Level Up,” plus her library of classes going back to July 2021. Juliette once struggled with eating disordered, so all of her classes are Health at Every Size-aligned and informed.
Mindfully Active. Creator Gillian is a body positive personal trainer who offers training and classes suitable for all levels and abilities both online and in person in Newberg, Oregon. She aims to create a safe space for all bodies, and approaches exercise from a place of feeling good and functioning with more ease.
The Underbelly. Started by Jessamyn Stanley, this service can be streamed via an app or on at least some smart TVs. $9.99/month or $118/year, and there’s a 14-day free trial.
Some of these accounts are all about the movement, while others incorporate a lot of “general life” posts. As always when deciding whether to follow someone on instagram, I recommend scrolling through their feed and assessing if most of their posts feel inspirational or useful to you.
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Carrie Dennett is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, intuitive eating counselor, author, and speaker. Her superpowers include busting nutrition myths and empowering women to feel better in their bodies and make food choices that support pleasure, nutrition and health.