“The best bit was the banter!” Charlie Swinbourne: What it’s like to take a fitness class in BSL with a Deaf instructor

Posted on February 11, 2016

About two years ago, I started getting fitter through swimming (check out my blog on why swimming is a great sport for Deaf people), and more recently, by going to the gym.

I feel a lot better for it, but the challenge of swimming up and down a pool, or doing a regular programme in the gym, is coping with the sheer repetitiveness of it.

Which is where group exercise classes come in.

Just one problem – they’re usually run by instructors who aren’t necessarily deaf-aware, and usually attended by a group of people who also aren’t that deaf-aware.

What also doesn’t help is the pulsating beat of the loud house music they play during the class!

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve taken spin classes and other workouts, and I’ve enjoyed them. I’ve just not felt like I really knew exactly (or at all) what was going on.

I’ve found myself copying people, hoping I’m doing the right thing. Which might be why I’ve never lasted long at the classes.

So when my wife spotted circuit training sessions being run by a Deaf fitness instructor called David Edgington just down the road near Bradford, we thought we’d go along and see what taking a fitness class in BSL was like.

The gym is brand new, based upstairs in an office building. The people who work there (including David) are volunteers, and the gym has a social aim – it’s aiming to support young people in the local area.

Five of us arrived for the class last Friday, and soon, we were doing our warm ups – skipping, cycling, rowing and jogging. Straight away, all of the information felt clear, and we all knew exactly what we were supposed to do.

Then it was on to the proper stuff. Like sit ups:

And weights.

As you can probably tell from the photos, I’m not quite as fit as I thought I was.

David explained everything clearly, then had us doing two minute activities including calf lifts, sitting-down tricep lifts (they may have a proper name, but that’s what they were), boxing, and a few other things besides.

The activities seemed easy for the first 30 seconds, but the remaining minute and a half were absolute torture. David seemed pleased to see just how hard we were all working.

What was great though, was him going around us all, checking we were ok, tapping us on the shoulder to tell us to stop, or signing how long was left before we could put our aching arms down.


By the end, we were all red-faced and absolutely knackered. And a bit fitter than before.

So, what was the best thing about the class? This might surprise you, but it was the banter. Because we could all communicate, we could have a bit of a laugh and joke in between our two-minute torture sessions, and after the class had ended.

Don’t underestimate banter. It’s what makes you feel like you belong, like you’re not just a Duracell Bunny getting fit, but you have a link to the people around you. On the drive home I told my wife that it reminded me of the days when I played football in a Deaf team – just without anyone getting sent off!

If you’ve never been to a fitness class run by a Deaf instructor, I suggest you give it a try.

The circuit training classes run by David take place on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6.15pm-7pm or 7.15pm-8pm. Fancy going along? Contact David Edgington by email: david.edgington@live.com

The address of the Lion Gym is Robin Mills, Leeds Road, Greengate, Bradford, BD10 9TE, or you can see them on Facebook by clicking here.

Charlie is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being an award-winning filmmaker. He directed the comedies The Kiss and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen go to Blackpool, and his documentary Found, about people discovering the Deaf world, came out last year. As a journalist, he has written for the Guardian and BBC Online.


The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne. 

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