Do (no) harm... is your gym psychologically safe?


Last week I had the privilege of sharing time and space with a valued colleague and friend, brainstorming ways of teaching facilitation skills to others. We both work in the field of wellbeing and resilience, teaching psychological skills to others. Our job was to identify the intuitive strategies we use to host a group of people, and define what those strategies are so we can teach new facilitators how to do the same. The main principle we kept coming back to was that of psychological safety - ensuring that we establish an environment of trust and warmth, where people feel safe to share and discuss experiences relevant to their personal growth.

Beyond being a useful exercise for our day-to-day work, it got me thinking about how these ideas translate over into a gym environment. I started to wonder whether the concept of psychological safety applies in the fitness world, and if not, should it?

All throughout my career I have crossed over between health care and fitness work. I've blogged before about the difference between health and fitness - since 2015 I've been warning people that "fit" doesn't necessarily mean "healthy". Yet last week was the first time I recognised a difference between the industries in terms of a "do no harm" premise. In health care, just like in a psychological training course, our first principle is that of safety; do no harm. I had to wonder - does this apply in fitness?

As much as I love my gym world, I have to admit that while the industry talks about physical safety, there are very few pockets where psychological safety is created and everyone is made to feel welcome. Is this your experience? I talked about this with a couple of people last night - one of whom agreed that they have often felt fearful and threatened in a gym environment. Another one more strongly said "actually, the emphasis in fitness is to do harm - and the strong who can cope are able to stay, while the weak are forced out".

Wow. Do you agree? Has your experience in a gym been more harmful than helpful? Have you felt more intimidated than included? Found more bullying than belonging? Or have you found your happy place and want to share where and how? Would love to hear from you in the comments below - let's start a discussion, let's be loud, let's share and let's tell the fitness world what we want from it!

Bek would like to thank and acknowledge jhconline.com for the image above - follow the link for another read on psychological safety. This post was also published as a LinkedIn article - please share on your networks and spread the conversation!

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