by Mark Van Streefkerk
There’s a new fitness studio in White Center, and it’s doing things a little differently. For starters, the queer- and woman-owned No Judgment Fitness has an unexpected logo: a pink-sprinkle donut with a bite missing. The approximately 900-square-foot fitness space at 11019 10th Ave. SW has no mirrors, no scales, and no weight-loss contests, and it forbids diet talk. It’s also very proudly LGBTQ+ inclusive. At the top of No Judgment Fitness’ website, the words “Welcoming All Trans, Nonbinary and Gender Non-Conforming Bodies. Cis, Too,” are written in all caps. With its grand opening at the beginning of April, No Judgment Fitness aims to be a place for people who want to get into fitness, but don’t feel at home in most gyms.
“We’ve all been hurt by the fitness industry,” said No Judgment Fitness founder Sophia Walker about a sector that’s largely influenced by white, patriarchal, and fat-phobic ideas. For decades, the fitness industry has been propelled by the idea of weight loss, and Walker is candid about her own history with disordered eating and recovery. “I don’t believe in losing weight,” she said, clarifying that simply getting numbers to shrink on a scale comes at the cost of muscle mass, something to be protected, especially with age. “Actually, most of my clients need to get a little bit heavier. I know that’s probably not what you expect a personal trainer to say, but I find my clients get the results they want when they end up eating more and gaining weight.”
To kick off No Judgment Fitness’ grand opening, Walker is offering classes every day, sometimes up to four per day, throughout the month of April. Working with free weights, kettlebells, and battle ropes, Walker caps classes at six people in order to focus on the form and technique of each participant. “I am a geek, on a biomechanical level,” she said. “I care about people’s knees and people’s ankles.”
Walker specializes in functional strength training with an individualized approach to her clients, whether that’s in group classes or one-on-one coaching sessions. No Judgment Fitness offers both masked and unmasked classes (Walker noted that almost everyone wears masks anyway) with proof of vaccination required for all — including beginner class Baseline, intermediate class Benchmark, and advanced class Oh My God Why?! There’s also a class focused on upper-body strength called Lesbian Arms; however, “Your arms need not identify as lesbian,” Walker said.
Her training style leans more toward “low impact than high impact [workouts]. It’s still going to be effective. Sometimes, the slower you do something, which can take the impact out of it, the harder it is on the body.”
U.K.-born Walker hails from a high-level athletic background that includes softball, boxing, and soccer. In fact, she played for the second-best soccer team in the U.K. during her uni days, the Durham University Women’s Association Football Club. Walker also intimately knows how mainstream gym culture is largely unwelcoming of LGBTQ+ people. “I really enjoyed the fitness, and I really hated the gym,” she said. In fact, after uni, she didn’t set foot in a gym again until she was 29.
Before obtaining her personal trainer certification, Walker spent time as a social worker, including a stint working for crisis phone lines. It wasn’t until she moved to Seattle in 2017 that the idea of starting her own fitness space slowly started to come together. “I spent three years staring at [Facebook group] Seattle Queer Exchange, [where] all of these trans and nonbinary, gender-nonconforming people were posting asking for somewhere safe to work out. I’m cis[gender], but I felt a similar sort of difficulty, although obviously less life-threatening.”
Recently, the safety and rights of trans and gender-nonconforming people in the U.S. came under increased attack from new waves of harmful legislation. From Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill to numerous bills in multiple states aiming to exclude trans athletes from sports, or even criminalizing gender-affirming medical treatment for trans youth, these proposed bills have had harmful repercussions for the safety of trans people throughout the country.
When Walker and her wife bought a house in White Center in June 2021, complete with a separate RV storage garage, she saw an opportunity to create a safer space for the LGBTQ+ community literally in her own backyard. She overhauled the RV space into a gym, sourcing help from all LGBTQ+-owned businesses, including contractors, electricians, and a graphic designer for No Judgment Zone’s website.
A grand launch event took place on April 1, with an evening of “beer, wine, and doughnuts” that introduced No Judgment Fitness to the community. Classes are $25, with 10 classes for $200, and low-income community members can attend for free, partly aided by a donation program funded by T-shirt sales. Walker is currently looking for a queer or trans BIPOC yoga instructor to host classes at the space — with the instructor keeping all proceeds.
In her role as teacher and trainer, some of Walker’s most rewarding moments come when “someone realizes they’re a badass. You know, like they can do more than they thought they could do, or when they feel it in their body that they nailed it,” she explained. “It’s just beautiful, and then seeing someone change over time … seeing that confidence settling in and blossoming in a person over time. That’s just fucking brilliant.”
Stay up to date with No Judgment Fitness via Instagram and Facebook.
Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist, freelance writer, and the Emerald’s Arts, Culture, & Community editor. He often writes about restaurants, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter at @VanStreefkerk.
📸 Featured Image: Founder of No Judgment Fitness and trainer Sophia Walker (left) stands next to her wife, Bernadette Wright (right). (Photo: Chloe Collyer)
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