July 3, 2023

Essential Principles of Trauma Informed Weight Lifting: Do Less Harm, Then Do Good

It is well known that trauma disproportionately impacts individuals and groups who experience marginalization and oppression including people of color, those living in poverty and experiencing socioeconomic disparities/classism, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. For this reason, Trauma Informed Weight Lifting is committed to principles of practice that incorporate anti-oppression and anti-racist frameworks (Do Less Harm) and values as well as trauma-informed frameworks and values (Then Do Good). 

Additionally, considering the unique context of movement, fitness and gym spaces and cultures, we adapt and evolve traditional anti-oppressive and trauma-informed principles to account for important context-specific considerations. Our principles and theoretical foundations consider the need to reduce harm, experiences of oppression and risks for retraumatization as a part of a more comprehensive and holistic view of trauma-informed practice. Beginning with Do Less Harm, TIWL incorporates the following into its training and practice:

  • Foundational Knowledge of Trauma:  Beginning with an understanding of the definitions, language and neurobiology of trauma along with contextual and historical research explaining trauma's rootedness in systems and institutions as well as the intergeneration, historical, cultural and identity based nature of many traumas and adversities. Additionally, we support a deepening awareness of individual and collective positionality within the frameworks of privilege, access, and power. The diverse and varied manifestations of trauma across domains (e.g. intrapersonal, interpersonal, physiologically/physically, behaviorally, emotionally, psychologically, etc.) are not only understood, but embraced in an effort to depathologize trauma and normalize its manifestations as reasonable and necessary coping and adaptation strategies. 

  • Inclusivity: With an understanding of the negative impact of mainstream fitness culture on bodies and identities, we respect the stories, experiences, abilities, bodies and needs that are not our own. In practice we find and support pathways to limit barriers or access and to actively combat and change toxic fitness culture narratives and practices. 

  • Practitioner Self Awareness: It is paramount that practitioners of all kinds, including coaches and personal trainers, do their own inner examination with their relationship to power and privilege in order to not replicate trauma paradigms that we have all been indoctrinated in. Active and ongoing work must be done to increase awareness around implicit and explicit biases and to engage in reflective practice. 

In taking a stance to first minimize opportunities for harm in an effort to reduce retraumatization and minimize  experiences of adversity, discrimination, oppression and harm, we then work to offer transformative and healing experiences and practices as we Then Do Good. 

  • Responsivity in Relationship: The impacts of trauma are well documented. At the center are relationships and how power moves or can be manipulated in the context of relationships between individuals, groups and with systems. Cultivating relational dynamics where no one is coerced or manipulated is paramount to trauma-informed care. Embodying responsivity in relationship in practice requires the practitioner to actively observe, seek information from those they work with and respond according to needs and requests within their scope of practice and in attuned ways. 

  • Stance of Curiosity: Responsive practice also requires a willingness to ask questions and be curious. Trauma-informed practice in action looks like wondering about how individuals and groups communicate in explicit and implicit ways about their histories, experiences and needs. We seek to lead with wondering about how a person or people have adapted to, survived and coped with their experiences versus taking a hierarchical and power over approach. Additionally, trauma-informed practitioners remain curious about themselves and actively seek to become more self aware. 

  • Interoceptive Awareness: Trauma can have negative impacts on our ability to connect with our sensations, bodies and internal experiences. As a result, supporting the development of interoceptive awareness (our ability to notice and understand internal signals and sensations as helpful and necessary information) further supports autonomy, nervous system regulation and self-attunement. We use weight lifting and resistance training as a mechanism for increasing interoceptive awareness.

  • Agency, Autonomy and Choice: Trauma robs us of choice, control and agency. Healing from trauma requires that practitioners center agency, autonomy and choice at every step of practice to ensure an individual and group's ability to identify their own needs and develop self-trust through the practice of weight lifting and movement. We imagine weight lifting spaces and communities where individual and collective needs dictate how movement is approached, language used and the physical environment itself.

  • Healing Relationships and Community: In addition to supporting connection to self, Trauma Informed Weight Lifting encourages connection with others in community as healing relationships further address the impacts of trauma and foster greater resilience. Healing relationships and communities also use intentional processes to address harm through accountability and restorative/transformative practices.

Thanks to the generosity of trauma-impacted weight lifters who have shared their personal accounts with us through our research, during trainings and other collaborative efforts, we have heard impactful stories of both experiences of exclusion and harm in gym environments as well as experiences of healing and growth. As a result, we firmly believe that a trauma-informed approach to weight lifting must both address the harms present in gym environments and promote the healing potential of weight lifting. 

By responding to the needs of trauma-impacted individuals and groups, we can work together to increase the accessibility of weight lifting as a therapeutic resource for those seeking healing, particularly for those groups historically excluded from weight lifting and other fitness spaces.


Trauma-Informed Coaching Philosophy


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Trauma Informed Weight Lifting
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