By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc, CSCS, SDL (He/Him)

David Hydock, Ph.D., is the chair of the Department of Kinesiology, Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) located in the town of Greeley, CO. Several years back, UNC, like many college campuses, started updating parts of its campus toward building inclusion of trans, intersex, and non-binary people such as gender-neutral bathrooms and increased campus resources.

As the department chair himself, Dr. Hydock overseas a large research program at UNC focusing on exercise, nutrition, and physical. When UNC updated its campus restrooms, Dr. Hydock noted that many of the parameters used to assess health and physical fitness were equally, if not more outdated as they were built on a strict binary and base on decades old research. Within his own preliminary research, Dr. Hydock found that trans/intersex/nonbinary individuals are much less physically active than their cisgender counterparts.

For Dr. Hydock, this only raised more questions than it answered. Afterall, exercise has been shown to have numerous physical and mental health benefits, it is an important intervention for a population like the trans/intersex/nonbinary community that already faces an ongoing mental health crisis. Dr. Hydock was inspired to explore and better understand the barriers affecting accessibility to exercise and fitness for the trans/intersex/nonbinary community so that they could get to work on dismantling those barriers through better science and affirmative action in creating inclusive spaces.

In his “Exercise Assessment and Programming” course, Dr. Hydock created a discussion with his students regarding transgender health and physical activity, starting with the implications of a binary classification system and reflecting upon the issues it creates when developing inclusive exercise programming.

“The classifications are usually, depending on the parameter, excellent, poor or average. That classification drives the exercise prescription and from there the exercise program. Not having the option to classify transgender individuals according to the American College of Sports Medicine’s parameters misguides our prescriptions and programs. It is possible to misclassify a fitness component such as cardiovascular fitness or muscular fitness in some cases, which could be problematic,” said Hydock.

Many of the barriers that limit accessibility to exercise, fitness, and sport spaces are well established among the community. Everything from locker room use, discriminatory language, gendered (binary) spaces, lack of representation, physical fitness assessments and classifications, and other psychological and social barriers. But, according to Hydock, there’s even more that can also understood on the physiological level. This is especially important for developing better and more scientifically valid tools to assess physical activity and fitness that takes into consideration gender affirming treatments and healthcare.

While the research is still young and the project is just getting off the ground, there are a lot of new and exciting approaches currently underway that will eventually come to fruition and serve as an important stepping stone toward full equity and inclusion for all gender diverse individual to be able to exercise safely and without prejudice.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Hydock and his lab’s research.

Photo Credit: PXhere