Bikini body! Six-pack abs! Long, lean muscles! Sculpted shoulders and rock-hard glutes!
Anyone who’s glanced at the covers of women’s magazines is familiar with the “body language” of the fitness industry. Even in this era of body positivity, “strong” still gets equated with “sculpted,” progress is measured by weight or inches, and we are continually told that if we just follow the right exercise and eating regimens, we, too, can have the sexy, beach-ready body we’ve always wanted.
Enter Alyssa Royse, co-owner of Rocket Crossfit in Seattle, Washington. Alyssa and her husband Brady started Rocket six years ago with one primary goal: to create an empowering community through fitness. And by fitness, they don’t mean “shapeness,” which is what the fitness industry sells. At Rocket, fitness is about one thing — having the strength and stamina to do the things that bring you joy.
“Some of the strongest, healthiest, happiest people I know aren’t shaped like the industry tells us we should be,” says Royse. “Not everyone is going to have visible six-pack abs, period. But as long as the industry sells that goal, and you don’t achieve it, you’ll keep buying their ideas and their products. So we reject that completely. What we ‘sell’ at Rocket is the idea that you should feel good in your body, and your body should help you do the things that make you feel good.”
Royse runs the operations at Rocket, and her passion for challenging the focus of fitness is enough to inspire even the most exercise-averse among us. Everything problematic in the fitness world, from shape-oriented language to weight/size goals to gender-specific equipment, gets the boot — and she doesn’t mess around.
She starts by screening potential trainers with a “super-intense conversation” about how they talk about bodies. The basic rule is: Don’t.
That’s right — trainers at Rocket are instructed not to talk about what a person’s body looks like. Rocket trainers never discuss fitness in terms of size, shape, or texture — ever. No commentary about weight, positive or negative. No pointing out muscle definition or inches lost or gained. Being fit isn’t about what your body looks like, how it’s shaped, or how much gravity pulls against it. It’s about what it can do.
Rocket trainers never use sexualized terminology like “hotness” in the gym, whether they’re talking about clients or celebrities or famous athletes. Royse says, “What you think is ‘hot’ is not anyone’s business, and it immediately alienates anyone who’s not ‘that.’” Everyone has different things they find sexy. And as she points out, the only person you should even think about wanting to be sexy for is the person you have sex with. Why do we feel the need to meet some arbitrary standard for sexiness for random people we see walking down the street? That’s asinine.
Rocket trainers encourage members to set functional goals. Royse says 8 out of 10 people who first come to the gym have some kind of weight or size goals in mind, and she tells them, “That’s not a goal we can really work to.” Goals at Rocket include things like “Do three pull-ups,” or “Hike six miles,” or “Run around with my kids at the park.” They focus 100% on pushing your own personal boundaries, finding your power, and appreciating your body for what it allows you to do.
Here’s the Goals Wall at Rocket. One of the notes simply says “Childbirth” and another pointing to it says “Me too!” Go, mamas!
Are we in love with this gym yet?
Another problematic issue in the fitness industry, says Royse, is gender-specificity. Why refer to weightlifting equipment as a “women’s bar” or “men’s bar” instead of simply categorizing bars by weight? Rocket strives to avoid gendered language entirely, including instructor phrases like “ladies and gentlemen.” This creates a welcome environment for gender nonconforming people, in addition to helping all members broaden their concept of what their bodies can do without artificial gender-based limitations.
Royse is fiercely protective of the inclusive, positive environment they’re trying to create at Rocket. If trainers find themselves unable to avoid talking about bodies or using gendered language, they’ll find themselves out of a job. “If you can’t treat humans the way we believe they should be treated,” Royse says, “you don’t belong in our gym.” That goes for both employees and members.
Within those rules, Rocket members find freedom and comfort. One member noticed that the men in the gym often removed their shirts when it got hot in the summer, but that many women — especially those who don’t fit society’s standards of shapeness — felt awkward about doing so themselves. So this member suggested a “Shirts Off Sunday” for those who were afraid to take off their shirts. Members took to it like crazy. Royse said seeing so many different bodies confidently sweating in sports bras brought her to tears. Now it’s just the norm.
Alyssa and Brady Royse wanted to create an empowering, body-positive fitness community. I say, mission accomplished.
You may be thinking this all sounds too good to be true. Is it really possible to silence the voices that tell us our bodies aren’t good enough unless we’re a certain size or shape?
Royse addresses that as well: “If all this body-positivity makes it sound like I breeze through the world blissed out with the power of my own body, I don’t,” she says. “I struggle too. Granted, less than most because I’ve been focusing so hard on this for so long, but I grew up with all the same toxic messaging as everyone else. With age, however, I’m aware that the voices in my head aren’t my own. That gut-reaction I have when I see my own stretch marks is society telling me I’m not good enough. But the voice that comes roaring in immediately afterwards, telling me I’m awesome? That’s mine.”
New life goal: Be like Alyssa Royse.
And yes, she really does believe we can transform the problematic aspects of the fitness world. “We can fix this,” she says. “We can fix this with our actions, our fat rolls, our stretch marks, our raw humanity. We can fix this with our words to ourselves and others. We must fix this for the next generations.”
BOOM. Alyssa Royse is now our favorite fitness guru, forever and ever, amen. Now let’s figure out how to get clones of her in every gym in America.