Fitness program raises the bar for LGBTQ inclusion

‘I feel like I’m in a safe training environment’

A new exercise program created by a NAIT grad is fostering a more inclusive fitness environment for Edmonton’s LGBTQ community.

Through a partnership with Edmonton Men’s Health Collective and a local gym, Em Lamache (Personal Fitness Trainer ’16) launched the exercise classes last July, first running a short trial period to gather feedback, then a six-month pilot.

Lamache was motivated to create the program after noticing what he felt was a lack of inclusion for LGBTQ people or awareness of the community’s needs in gyms and exercise classes. Men’s and women’s change rooms, women’s-only weight areas and gender-specific forms or contracts aren’t inclusive, he says.   

“The fitness industry is extremely gendered.”

“Even at a very basic level, I felt like there was an extreme lack of accessibility for members of the LGBTQ community. The fitness industry is extremely gendered.”

The main focus in the program is to feel comfortable, Lamache says. The program offers modifications so people can attend and not feel pressured or afraid. People are encouraged to work out at their own pace or try alternative moves that he demonstrates for the group.

Program addresses LGBTQ community's unique needs

“I just really want people to be in tune with their own body,” he says. “I have the challenge of working with some transgender and non-binary people. Some of them may be going through hormone therapy, which influences their physiology. That’s something to take into consideration.”

Deanna Kumpf has attended the classes and says Lamache’s approach is perfect.

“It’s a phenomenal experience,” she says. “I’ve done traditional training before, and found that experience negative with self-talk like, ‘Am I fast enough? Am I strong enough?’ And it was so refreshing to work out with other people and have that not be a focus at all. It’s so positive and encouraging.”

The program’s initial partnering gym has since closed, but the relationship with the collective continues, Lamache says. They’re gearing up to relaunch the program with three free classes a week at a new location later this month. Details such as location and schedule will be announced on Facebook soon. Classes will have up to 20 people.

Inclusivity training for industry staff

A grant from Edmonton Culture and Tourism will also allow them to expand and offer education programs for trainers and industry staff to help them learn about inclusivity.

The changes that need to be made in fitness facilities don’t need to be extensive, Lamache says. Simple things can have a big impact, starting with a basic understanding of LGBTQ vocabulary and what each letter stands for: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning or queer.

“Another thing that’s fairly simple is asking people for their preferred name and pronoun when you first meet them,” he says. “That way, you refer to a person in the way they want to be referred to instead of relying on what you see.”

“It’s not only a really great fitness program, but I felt like I made friends really quickly.”

Lamache hopes the exercise classes and education programs will help grow a more accepting fitness environment in Edmonton. The feedback he’s received from participants is a motivator to keep growing the program, so everyone can feel safe and comfortable while improving their physical and mental health.

“People have come up to me afterwards and said ‘I felt safe in the training environment,’” Lamache says. “I’m really grateful for that.”

“It’s not only a really great fitness program, but I felt like I made friends really quickly,” adds Kumpf. “Being part of that community, it did phenomenal work for my mental health, not just physical health. Everyone should be able to join a nice community that prioritizes that.”

Inclusive fitness at NAIT

NAIT’s Personal Fitness Training program brings in a lecturer each year to speak with students about LGBTQ issues, educate on terminology and awareness, says program chair Kate Andrews. In the program’s business class, students are encouraged to discuss different target markets, including LGBTQ clients.

NAIT staff and students can try out a variety of exercise classes at NAIT, all designed for different abilities. Ravercise gets the NAIT community dancing while breaking a sweat, and NAIT Campus Recreation consistently offers drop-in classes, recreation challenges and personal training opportunities.

If stress and anxiety get in the way of heading to the gym, a new program for NAIT students can help ease the transition, with small group work and counselling assessments.

Subscribe to receive more great stories every month

Find out more news about NAIT, stories about our alumni and their impact on their communities, and useful how-to content featuring our experts.

Sign up today »