Arnold Schwarzenegger Is on a Mission to Make the World of Fitness More Inclusive

Arnold Schwarzenegger Is on a Mission to Make the World of Fitness More Inclusive

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ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER IS a well-known fitness evangelist, and frequently speaks about how setting and achieving personal goals in strength or athletic performance can translate to wins and breakthroughs in other areas of life. But he’s also aware that gyms can sometimes be intimidating and unwelcoming spaces, and he’s determined to change that.

“Young, old, rich, poor, black, white, straight, gay, man, woman, ‘disabled,’ able-bodied — and anything in between; no matter who you are and what your situation might be, fitness is for you,” he wrote in the latest edition of the Arnold’s Pump Club newsletter, in which he recalled a recent workout with Kyle Landi, a bodybuilder who is defying stereotypes about people with Down syndrome.

Schwarzenegger has made inclusivity a core philosophy at the Arnold Sports Festival, where lifters and bodybuilders who live with a limb difference, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome have the opportunity to be celebrated for their strength and athletic achievements.

“If you saw them outside of the fitness setting, you might feel bad for them. They don’t want that,” he explained. “Fitness gives each of them, and all of us, a way to overcome whatever challenges we face. It’s the great equalizer. Two hundred pounds is 200 pounds whether you live in a mansion or are struggling to put food on the table. The barbell doesn’t see your race or sexuality or gender or bank account or anything — it’s just asking to be picked up, no matter who you are.”

It’s an admirable message—and an important one —but the fact remains that a person’s health or financial status actually can form a barrier to accessing workout equipment, or even the free time required to dedicate themselves to training. And then there are the social barriers. Schwarzenegger acknowledges this, and urged gym owners and fitness professionals to find a way to help everyone.

“You have to be inclusive. You can’t turn people away because of who they are, and you must be willing to help people with different issues find their way into the gym,” he wrote. “Imagine an elementary school that said I only want to take the best students, no students learning English, no students with developmental issues, no students who are falling behind. You wouldn’t look at that school as a success. I know that it might take a little work to make your gym welcoming to everyone, and you might have some members who you fear will be uncomfortable, but it is worth it. And let me be clear: it is your job to set the tone and make the gym inclusive and open.”

He included everyone else in this mission statement, telling regular gymgoers that they also have a responsibility to be kind, welcome people into the “big tent of fitness,” and help them find their own inspiration. “Lift them up — don’t put them down,” he said.

“That’s why fitness is for everyone,” he concluded. “No matter what we face, it gives us the power to change something in our lives: our strength. And when you learn that you aren’t powerless in that one part of your life, you gain the strength to deal with the challenges outside of the gym. It feels like magic, but it’s really just work.”

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Philip Ellis

Philip Ellis is News Editor at Men’s Health, covering fitness, pop culture, sex and relationships, and LGBTQ+ issues. His work has appeared in GQ, Teen Vogue, Man Repeller and MTV, and he is the author of Love & Other Scams.

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