Exercise for Everyone? An Open Access Manifesto for Training

An expanded account of the manifesto that appears in my book “Lift”.

The cover of the book “Lift: how strength training can help you feel at home in the world and in yourself”

The theme of next month’s Mental Health Awareness Week is “Nature.” It’s a great theme, but it’s also a reminder of the complexity not just of mental health and mental illness, but of access to nature.

When we talk about the benefits of exercise, it’s all too easy to forget that some people find exercising so much easier than others — and not just because they’re “more sporty” or for personal, historical, or social reasons around body shaming and body confidence, expectations of what someone who exercises should be like, or trauma resulting form a childhood being bullied during games lessons.

There are many reasons why exercise is harder to access for some than others. They include lack of geographical access to green space; lack of provision for mobility and navigation aids; lack of media coverage of non-mainstream activities; lack of safety in many remote or poorly lit spaces; and of course lack of representation among those who already exercise in a space.

Until we address all of the issues that stop some people but not others from exercising, it will always be inadequate and overly-simplistic to advocate the benefits of exercise.

That’s why I thought it was important to draw up a detailed open access manifesto for training the body. Something that combines existing principles. Something that attempts to break down the things that make exercise easier for some than others. As such, it is a work in progress. It’s already expanded since I wrote the book.

  • Every body is different; every body has different needs; every person has different desires, aspirations, and potential for their body; Whatever those needs, aspirations, desires, and potentials are the means to train the body to attain them should be freely available to all.
  • Societies should do everything possible to ensure every form of exercise available to the abled is available at no extra cost to those who would otherwise be disabled.
  • Physical education in school is the cause of more trauma around and later life disengagement from exercise than any other single cause. Address this. And in addressing it cover the unacceptable behaviours of teachers as much as other students.
  • Access to the place where a person wants to train should never be denied them by fear. Overcoming fear for one’s physical or mental safety, one’s security, or one’s position in society is not something to be praised or promoted or encouraged — it is something the need for which we should seek to remove.
  • The environments in which we live should be there for all of us; whether park or city, the wilds of nature or the concrete of the town square, the rapids of the river or the twists of the underpass the spaces around us should be tools for all of us to meet our needs, desires, aspirations, potentials; this is how we form a relationship with our surroundings; it is how homes are forged.
  • The public space is a commons; no one group has the right to deny access to another — by enclosure, by commercialisation, or by intimidation.
  • Leave no trace — leave the world in which you train as you found it so that others may enjoy, use, and relate to it in the way that works for them as you have the way that works for you.
  • Leave your traces everywhere — let your photographs, you writings, your movements, your way of being, your relationships, your kindnesses and affirmations, your anger and demands for justice show others the potential of the world around them to make them stronger.
  • Strength should always liberate and never oppress.
  • Record what you do. Make high quality open access materials in accessible formats about the activities that have changed your life for the better. If you have skills, equipment, and privilege, use all of those to make materials like this depicting underrepresented people enjoying taking part. But always get consent. because
  • Visibility in participating is a valuable service to others, but invisibility should be a right. It is often as much a part of a person’s safety as a helmet and good technique.
  • Consent in everything. Especially coaching. Passing on your expertise is a wonderful thing. Part of that is teaching people how to use their body. But the shapes a body makes, the hands that touch it, how that touch takes place, and everything else are no one else’s decisions to take except in exercising their own consent.
  • Your body is only a part of you — it is integral to your dreams and your hopes; strengthening it creates a tool that brings you closer to achieving them, but unless those hopes and dreams direct the body towards building a better future, your strength will not be all, or anything, it can be.
  • Make your parks safe.
  • Reclaim your streets for those who are denied access to them.
  • Resist the enclosure of spaces — in the physical world and online.
  • Protect those who do not feel safe.
  • Pass on your experience.
  • Give someone a spot if they need it.
  • Clean up the things that make your environment less safe (broken glass, plastic). Leave those things which do no harm, they may be important for cultures you are not a part of who also want to use the space (do not wash graffiti).
  • These aims cannot be met in a vacuum. They are part of a wider open access agenda that seeks to give every individual the means to realise their potential, to meet their needs, to live their dreams, and to aspire to play their part in making a better world.
  • Time that does not have to be used to sleep; eat; shelter; or provide for the means to do those things should be a basic right for a society that wants all its citizens to flourish.
  • These aims cannot be met without achieving a wider open access for the body, comprising: access to healthcare; access to reproductive autonomy; access to gender identity treatment & care; access for disabled people both to the medical treatment they need and the social modifications that remove the barriers to bodily autonomy.

Please share as widely as you can, and please do what you can to make exercise something as widely accessible as possible. And let me know if you think I’ve missed anything — this should be an evolving document.

You can email me at rogueinterrobang@gmail.com if you don’t want to post here.

CEO & founder of Rogue Interrobang, University of Oxford spinout using creativity to solve wicked problems. 2016, 17 & 19 Creative Thinking World Champion.