This Philly Fitness Club Is Here to Empower Nonnormative Bodies

Nonnormative Body Club supports all bodies — particularly ones that don’t fit the mainstream image of health and fitness. 

Founded by personal trainer Asher Freeman, Nonnormative Body Club offers body positive one-on-one sessions, group fitness, and wellness workshops on a sliding scale. / Photograph by Michelle Gustafson.

As you might have known from our biweekly series, body positivity has been a big part of the wellness world recently. Within the framework of the inclusive social movement is Health At Every Size, a concept that celebrates body diversity and promotes positive, compassionate self-care. It “offers a path to health for more people by encouraging health-promoting behaviors, regardless of their outcome on weight,” says contributing writer Jenny Weinar. Equally important, Weinar suggests, is that Health At Every Size forwards the notion that “people in all bodies are worthy of dignity, pleasure, respect, and nourishment.”

Health At Every Size and body positivity more broadly are practices, meaning they don’t just happen at the snap of a finger. Feeling comfortable in one’s body involves time and support. In the fitness world especially, media and social media have made wellness literally look as though it’s only suited for very specific body types, sizes, shapes, and ethnicities. Because of this, many individuals whose physiques and identities don’t align with the mainstream — and very narrow — definitions of health may face added challenges in accepting and honoring their own bodies.

Enter Nonnormative Body Club. Officially established this past November, the Philadelphia-based body positive personal and group training club seeks to create inclusive and accessible fitness spaces for anyone experiencing a complicated relationship with their body. The goal? Build strength and self-love, while smashing oppressive (i.e. cisnormative, racist, fatphobic, and ableist) myths society holds that dictate whose bodies are “beautiful.”

Nonnormative Body Club was founded by Asher Freeman, a personal trainer who identifies as nonbinary and transgender. When Freeman came out as trans about six years ago while living in Portland, Oregon, they began lifting weights in the hopes that they’d achieve a more “masculine” body, a physique that better fit societal expectations of masculinity. What Freeman ended up building was a better relationship with their body — one that felt more embodied, in sync, and at home.

As they spent more time at the gym and then began studying Personal Training at Portland Community College, Freeman started sharing their knowledge with other trans folks and people whose bodies and identities are often devalued by society. “[It was then that] I started having this idea in the back of my mind to support other people who have complicated relationships with their bodies,” Freeman says. So, they created an Instagram handle, @nonnormativebodyclub, as a virtual space to share their own journey with a broader community. Eventually, it organically became the official platform for Nonnormative Body Club.

Freeman moved to Philadelphia last year, after their partner relocated here for work. Freeman, who had completed their degree, decided it was the perfect time to transition into working as a personal trainer. They began offering one-on-one personal training in clients’ homes. The 60-minute sessions incorporate body weight exercises and suspension training (Freeman brings resistance bands, kettlebells, and a mobile TRX frame with bands). Personal training through Nonnormative Body Club is offered on a sliding scale, making fitness equitable for all individuals.

Earlier this year, Freeman teamed up with local fitness and wellness professionals to expand the club’s services. In February, Freeman and local licensed massage therapist Brian Flynn started wellness workshops for trans individuals needing strength and guidance pre- and post-surgery. The two workshops, one for top surgery prep and recovery and the other for binding health, were inspired by a collaboration with Sweet Momentum, a trans-owned gym in Portland where Freeman had interned. Freeman and Flynn ran the workshops at the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference two weeks ago, and will be hosting a chest binding webinar specifically for fitness professionals at the end of August.

In addition to personal training and wellness workshops, Nonnormative Body Club offers queer and trans group fitness classes at BodyRock Bootcamp in West Philly. Through cardio and strength training, the group classes are meant to help folks who have experienced or continue to experience trauma or dysphoria spend intentional time with their bodies. “I work as a fitness professional who is not interested in helping people lose weight,” Freeman says. “I use movement as a means of empowerment, self-love, and community building.”

Interested in Freeman’s personal training? Inquire here. Nonnormative Body Club group fitness classes will be held at 7 p.m. every Monday night starting September 9th. Payment is on a sliding scale ($10 to $20), with two no-cost spots reserved for queer and trans people of color. You can register for the group classes here.

Nonnormative Body Club classes can be found at BodyRock Bootcamp, located at 3858 Lancaster Avenue in West Philly.