In a world where everyone has a public platform to speak their mind – regardless of whether they should – it seems we’ve fallen into a pigeonhole of simultaneously being proponents of free speech, and taking offence to it.
In fitness, unwritten boundaries have been broken, which is why the fragile take refuge in the latest words of wisdom and life advice from 23-year-old Instagram nutritionists who purport to have seen it all. Training and nutrition have definitely changed a whole lot in this generation, and have become something that they weren’t before; I think equally for the better and for the worse.
On the favorable side, the amount of education that comes along with knowing just how important it is to train using correct technique and smart exercises (for the sake of example), demonstrates just how much the world of exercise has evolved. The baseline level of understanding is slowly but surely rising. To add to this, the stigma that was once attached to things like women lifting weights, or the idea of the classically “fit” body have seen a major turn for less popularity, especially in the past few years.
But within that lies the problem: There’s a fine line between using your platform to correct misinformed thinking about fitness and health, and using your platform as a bastion to coddle the insecurities that many may possess. Believe me – More than a few have them, and it’s often their default pattern to find solace in numbers.
This isn’t an attack on emotional or mental weakness. This is different. Today’s culture is so quick to call out anything that’s politically incorrect, or offensive, or inaccurate, or shaming, or a slur, or salacious, or otherwise inappropriate, that it’s caused fewer people to take a closer look at the call-outs themselves. I’m calling out callouts.
I find it particularly disheartening to see that although attaining an “athletic physique”, having cosmetic goals or doing “hard work” are now looked at through much more of a skeptic’s lens, things have reached the point where almost no residue of the original thinking towards those subjects is left to exist. That might not sound like an issue, but it is.
Respect the Spectrum
The truth is, there’s a sliding scale that should represent what is healthy, fit, and “in shape”. It isn’t black and white. Everyone needs to know that. It’s the only way people will stop getting disheartened when they realize they still haven’t pulled off the hardly attainable look of an airbrushed magazine cover model, or the sinewy, dehydrated physique of an on-stage fitness competitor.
But the so-called culture I’ve described above has distorted many minds into thinking that that spectrum just may be a bit broader than it really is. Along with that thinking come the ideas that hard work, being uncomfortable, telling yourself “no” at times, or just plain acknowledging deficiencies, shouldn’t exist in one’s journey toward better health and fitness. That’s dangerous – especially if that individual is impervious to constructive criticism or suggestion to boot.
This all probably sounds like I’m picking on one aspect of fitness culture to remain unnamed, but I’m not.
Many are culprits of approaching their health with an exclusionary bias in strict favour of what they like, what’s comfortable, and what their favourite goals are.
It’s great to be strong – but once you’ve gotten stronger, it doesn’t mean you’re fit. It just means you’re stronger.
Being a runner may release endorphins out the wazoo – but it isn’t the be-all and end-all of all things training.
Chasing a cosmetic goal like washboard abs and a very low body fat percentage can make you look like a classic superhero, but if all of that’s come at the expense of key dietary aspects, recovery, and knowing what’s really going on inside the body, then maybe it’s not so healthy after all.
It’s great to let exercise dictate the state of your mental health, especially if you’ve come from a place where your efforts in the gym wreaked havoc on your mindset. But if achieving such mental calm meant foregoing plenty of physical health-related fitness, then should there be a line? I can’t answer that question.
In each of the cases I’ve listed above, it’s easy to think of an extreme version of the example that we may even personally be able to reference. I’ve listed them to say that this can (and does) exist in every sub-community of fitness, and if we’re not careful, we can become prisoners to the same thinking.
Health and fitness is a spectrum, alright. But let’s not forget that most people who fall under the above categories still tend to have goals of being in good, rounded health and fitness, if nothing else. Taking an approach like this won’t get them there. And if there’s no respect for the fact that this health spectrum isn’t as fluid as some may think or hope, then the industry might be in for some tumult.
There are actually 11 components of health and skill related fitness. To me, that’s a good guide to help determine how rounded your efforts are through your training. And it makes it easier to gauge just what level of fitness you possess as a trainee, without having someone else say something that may be taken the wrong way. These components are:
- Cardiorespiratory Capacity
- Muscular Endurance
- Body Composition
- Reaction Time
Consider that, and then think once more about the four examples I gave earlier. I’d bet my bottom dollar that leading a fitness journey with a narrow scope in favour of any one of those pursuits wouldn’t keep all the aspects of fitness listed here, in check.
No one’s perfect. But it’s one thing to be closed off to even entertaining other elements of fitness, and another to at least be trying. For the record, I’m not knocking those who try.
That’s Not what I Meant by “Get in the Zone”!!
The thing is, finding your niche in the fitness world is fine and good, as long as there’s a realization that your niche won’t address the big picture ideal of being a healthy, fit individual. Yes – there’s a modicum of fluidity as regards the terms “healthy” and “fit”. But there’s still a fair amount of rigidity to define the athleticism that will come from establishing fair proficiency in as many aspects of health and fitness as possible.
Your 600 pound single rep max deadlift is impressive, but that probably won’t be what saves you from cardiac arrest in your 50’s due to a poor diet and heart health.
Your body fat percentage may not be a significant determinant of your health, but your waist measurement might be.
Cardio may be for suckers who want to lose their gains, but never doing cardio probably creates a fair amount of risk in its own regard.
And foregoing a healthy diet, enough water, flexibility work, or injury care in order to attain a certain “look” on the surface … well that speaks for itself.
What I think 90 percent of the real issue is, is that people are too easily glued to their comfort zones. And that’s fine. It just gets dangerous and misleading when like-minded ones in a similar situation find every reason they can to justify it.
I’ll say this here and now: Getting in shape takes hard work. And it shouldn’t be easy. If you’re smart about it, it’s going to take pockets of time and phases of programming that might not be your absolute favourite. For a generation that’s become so oriented toward mental fortitude, overcoming obstacles, and personal development, it’s astounding to me just how taboo it’s become to even think of associating a strong, disciplined mind with sticking it out through a program phase that steps out of said comfort zone, knowing it can test their loyalty to the bigger picture: Staying the path en route to improving overall rounded fitness and athleticism.
Unfortunately, the prevailing resistance to do such things often evolves itself into justifying it through delusion.
The reason I’m writing about this is because with all of the attitudes toward fitness to be seen around the industry, I’ve found that the underlying base theme still sings the same song: Get better, physically and mentally, with a mind for sustained health and wellness first. There are very few people in today’s atmosphere who will disagree with that notion.
With that said, if that’s really the long term game plan, it’s wrong to be claiming “fit” or “healthy” and promoting it all as perfectly fine, when much of it is a convenient veneer that distracts attention from the real issue: A spirit of complacency being swept under the rug.
Hating a workout program because it’s injurious is bad, and requires immediate attention. Hating a workout program because it’s hard, and temporarily not “fun”, isn’t as bad as many think. Most things are more fun when you’re good at them. With due respect, embrace the suck and get in shape.
Fitness is individualized – of course it is. But stop thinking about fitness through a scope that only fits your preference and convenience. There’s more to it than that.
The moment you can appreciate that, is the moment you’ll probably realize just how sensitive everyone’s really started to become.