Fitness program aims to break down barriers for LGBTQ people

A personal trainer from Edmonton is launching a free group fitness program for members of the LGBTQ community, and hopes to educate fellow trainers along the way.

Grant money will also go toward developing educational tools for physical trainers

Making fitness training LGBTQ friendly

4 years ago
Duration 1:37
Em Lamache is launching free fitness classes for the LBGTQ community. He's also using a grant to create guidelines for trainers and gyms. 1:37

A personal trainer from Edmonton is launching a free group fitness program for members of the LGBTQ community, and hopes to educate fellow trainers along the way. 

Em Lamache was studying personal fitness training at NAIT when he noticed that his education didn't include information on how to train queer, transgender and non-binary people.

"I thought, 'This doesn't exist, so I might as well make it exist, I can do that,' " said Lamache. 

As a non-binary person who takes testosterone, Lamache is sensitive to the challenges that LGBTQ people face when trying to access a traditional gym.

Em Lamache (left) runs the stairs in the Mill Creek Ravine with Deanna Kumpf, who participated in the pilot version of his inclusive fitness program for the LGBTQ community. (Josee St-Onge/ CBC)

He explains that the gym is often a gendered space, with expectations that patrons will be either male or female. It's reflected in the paperwork, the programs offered and the lack of gender-neutral change rooms and washrooms. 

"If you don't have to think about it, it might be strange to think that we need a space specifically for LGBT people," he said.

"When you're part of the community, these are things that will really jump out to you." 

Gyms that cater to LGBTQ people have recently opened their doors in Edmonton.

Queerflex, which is run by Kyle Fairall, is exclusively for LGBTQ clients, while In Your Boots Fitness, run by Toni Harris, also caters to allies. Both have wait lists. 

"It's hard to find trainers that are actually from the trans and queer community, or are sensitive to it in a way that I would trust them with my clients," said Harris.

Em Lamache started developing his inclusive group fitness program for LGBTQ people while studying to become a personal fitness trainer at NAIT. (Rod Maldamer/ CBC)

Tools for other trainers

With the help of the Edmonton Men's Health Collective, Lamache obtained a $20,000 grant from Alberta Culture and Tourism to continue his work. 

The grant will be used to fund the fitness program, and also includes an educational component. 

With the help of other fitness trainers and organizations, Lamache will develop guidelines and resources for gyms and for trainers who want to create a more inclusive environment. 

He hopes his program will eventually become obsolete.

"If we do our job properly with the grant, and create proper educational resources, I hope that it will teach to existing gyms and trainers how to be inclusive to our community," said Lamache. "Then a program like mine won't have to exist anymore." 

Successful pilot project

Lamache launched a six-month pilot version of the LGBTQ-inclusive group training program last September. 

Deanna Kumpf was one of the participants. She credits the experience for making her healthier, both physically and mentally. 

"It was really fun. Instantly I felt these were people that I wanted to get to know, talk to, and connect with," said Kumpf, who identifies as queer. 

She said gyms don't reflect the diversity in her community. 

"I recently stopped going to a gym because they only offered male trainers suddenly," she said. "That just wasn't something I related with."

Deanna Kumpf is a long-distance runner who was looking for a fitness program that embraced diversity. (Rod Maldaner/ CBC)

Impact of hormone treatments

Trainers also need to understand how to safely work with transgender clients.

People who are taking hormone treatments as they transition from one gender to another will see rapid changes to their musculature, which increases the risk of injury, said Lamache.

"As a trainer, you have to be able to say, 'Your muscles are still growing, your tendons are under a lot of strain, so we need to make sure that you don't lift too heavy too fast,' " he said.

In the absence of guidelines for training transgender people, Harris said the key is to be attentive to the client's needs and personal situation.

"There's also considerations about what part of their body they would like to emphasize or de-emphasize," she said.   

Grassroots initiatives  

Harris is working in partnership with the Pride Centre of Edmonton and Queerflex to develop a similar education program to the one that Lamache is working on.

"Hopefully at some point we can all collaborate and bring all of our resources together," said Harris. 

Toni Harris founded In Your Boots Fitness for people who don't feel comfortable in a traditional gym setting. (Rod Maldamer/ CBC)

Lamache is hopeful the fitness industry will be receptive. 

"A lot of people want to do good things but they may not have the tools to apply that goodwill," he said. 

"We think it's important to develop these resources so that if it's something they want to do, they know exactly where to go, and they will have guidelines they can follow."


Josee St-Onge


Josee St-Onge is a journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has also reported in French for Radio-Canada in Alberta and Saskatchewan.