I’ll be the first to admit my glorification of training in the past, I found a sort of ritualistic divinity in working out - what should be known to the fitness industry as musclebation. It is a derivative or a development of overcompensation, like first discovering the utility of one’s own genitalia. I found fitness fairly late in life; I was never the budding sportsman in a junior league team. I never had the fortitude or understood that physical feats were not just for muscular development, I made an assumption early on that lifting weights was something that the uneducated participated in. I saw my school colleagues glorify the act of pumping iron and I all but vomited in my own mouth; the thought of ever having something in common with such dullards would have certainly disappointed my prepubescent self. For what I missed out on in the high school weight room because of ignorance, I certainly tried to make up for with emphaticism in my later years. Like others of my generation, when I found fitness, fitness became the purpose; it was the holy light that I had the distinct urge to share – as if the world were some heathen, African country, and I, the only source of evangelical grace. I don’t know what it is in our human nature that gives us the urge to share our beliefs with others, but it isn’t a far leap to use that same mechanism to shove our unwanted opinions down the throat of anyone who looks in our direction (hence why you are still reading, and I am still telling you my opinion).
Let’s agree on one thing first, the gym is fucking shallow. The depth of character found in those that can forever stare into the mirror doing the same exercises, for the same amount of reps, for all eternity, are the same sort that drown in 3-inches of water – where by, it’s hard to tell if it’s on purpose. I’m not just poking at the bodybuilding world; the whole “constantly varied, functional” bullshit has an average workout duration of 11-minutes, it doesn’t matter that you also ‘mobilize, bro’, your experience fits nicely inside of that hour because your “tribe” - or whatever you want to call it - is a business and they need you to rotate the fuck out of there. I say this and also have to acknowledge that people’s interest in training - coming to a gym and learning, or even just getting in a “WOD” as a public form of fitness-wanking - is the way I also make a living. The process by which I am able to stay in business can be somewhat ironic, and it’s worth noting to understand the ridiculous nature of the fitness industry.
I first and foremost have to convince prospective clients the importance of exercise. I persuade the ones that are still listening - after I describe the pleasure of vomit-inducing intensity - that my inflated price for my expertise is somehow better than the Groupon for the CrossFit gym across the street. I show prospective clients that although they are physically and mentally worthless - in regard to my little tricks - I have seen people as disappointing as them before, and may be able to help so long as I can clear up my schedule because my own training takes up most of the day. I talk in terms of limitations when it comes to other’s abilities, but never have to acknowledge my own when talking about my work ethic. This gets expressed in its own circus-like act of usually telling people how busy I am, but then is contradicted by a Facebook ad that shows just how desperate I am to take on more clients. As a whole, I feel like I am making the world a better place, I will state that I am the first line of defense against the obesity epidemic, even ahead of medical doctors and in the face of my constant berating of the obese themselves, who just can’t seem to put the donuts down. I am as close to a philanthropist as one could possibly imagine, describing my altruism at parties, which is usually followed by my unsolicited advice on the dangers of sugary beverages, which I will be clear to point out that my own tequila is mixed with a sugar-free soda, and sweetened with the tears of the Inuit tribe (who also abstained from sugar, and never experienced cancer). The moment I can convince someone to pay me monthly for my service I refer to them as family, but any criticism of my training, programming, lack of progress, or lack of toilet paper in the bathrooms results in condemnation of the individual, this is what I call "keeping the tribe tight" - but it is only an excuse for the high attrition rate.
This is a sales pitch and not even a genuine one at that. The goal is to turn out more volume of clients and to do it in a way that is least inconvenient to me as a trainer. It is not dissimilar to working at an In-and-Out burger and disparaging the fat, drunken slobs who keep the midnight shift relevant. The problem I have then is not the fat slobs per say, but those attempting to establish that In-and-Out is something other than a dirty burger joint that happens to be open on your way home from the bar; that it is some sort of an experience. The gym, no matter if it is a globo-gym, a world renown Powerlifting gym, a CrossFit Games competitive box, or even an exclusive, invite only private gym, the four walls that you stand in to exercise are the means, NOT the destination, and the person instructing is more often than not a salesman, not a saint.
The only reason we have athletic centers today are - for the most part - an inability to adapt properly to abundance. We are animals that are evolved to move, stay on the move, and do so on very little food. This is not a sonnet to a Paleolithic lifestyle, nor do I think you will die unless you run barefoot, it is simply the reason that you drive for 20-minutes, seated, in an air-conditioned car, only to sweat to a radio mix of Katy Perry and Journey, and describe your 45-minutes of chalking up as “intense training”. Other fitness pro’s might take the time right now to tell me that “some exercise is better than none”, they will say it’s certainly better than getting drunk and stopping to get a burger, fair enough but I might reply: “how, exactly?” No really, HOW is it better? At least the guy stopping for a midnight snack will shut the fuck up about his sub-par meat sandwich. He may also be under the influence, but at least he isn’t under the false impression that the business he eats at is some sort of “community”. He won’t have to reply to an Instagram post where he is tagged and referred to as #family. Yes, you are correct; eating fast food in a drunken state and working out in an infinitesimal manner are different, but the similarities are worth questioning, as in: where is this going – or even better – where am I going?
One look at the fitness industry can tell us a lot of what we need to know. There is a reason that people jump from fad to fad, from Tracy Anderson to Soul Cycle, from CrossFit to whatever the hell Wim Hof is doing; they are looking for something. It would be incorrect to assume that people know that they are looking for something. It would be another mistake entirely to think that they are looking for results, physical results are fairly easy to attain, as Dan John once asserted: “anything works for 6-months”. Others will say people are searching for community, which is partially true, but I think finding an in-group is a trap of what people are in need of, which is meaning, or what is better known as purpose. A group that has similar values and places importance on a specific habit gets confused with meaning, it side tracks an individual pursuit because belonging to a group on it’s own is not purpose, listening to a leader talk about what that purpose should be, most frequently leads to the following and worship of gurus. In the void of your own motivation, it is not uncommon for the vacuum to attract charlatans who are privy for recurring monthly dues. To avoid this trap it is usually helpful to have personal purpose, to have a reason to need a guide in the first place, this also unfortunately gets confused with being in the same building as those who have purpose, in wearing the same clothes, and repeating the same taglines. It is the difference of being a person that is simply drafted into the military, and someone who seeks out to be a professional soldier, who makes it to the highest level of a special team, and executes history-altering missions as part of that team. Both examples share the same designation, they are part of the same military, they even go through the same motions (training), and wear the same uniform, they will be confused as the same to those that don’t know any better, but at the end-points their experiences are vastly different, their outcomes are defined by purpose or lack there of.
Purpose organizes chaos, purpose sets priority, purpose gives meaning to actions. Hanging out in a gym with buddies, doing some healthy exercise while socializing is helpful, so long as it doesn’t mask one’s purpose for being in there in the first place. The pitfall comes when we confuse belonging with purpose. Even the most skillful salesman will have a hard time selling “purpose” so instead we are sold on the idea of a group, and with an inability to at first replicate the physical standards, we carbon copy the image – making the immediate goal to at least “look the part”. There is nothing wrong with a uniform, but there is also no purpose in costuming, there is no meaning in virtue signaling, other than expanding your flock. There is also nothing wrong with treating exercise as a hobby, but there is something wrong with allowing others to use their desperation for customers to become our purpose.
It might be hard to imagine how I found so much negativity with an experience that even in the most miniscule doses could help people, this is in large part because I have fallen for some – maybe even all of the topics that I’ve listed above; which delayed what is ultimately my purpose. I showed up and held my self to the standard that was presented to me, which should help us experience a better life, a more physical one, a life tethered to purpose. Unfortunately “standards” have become yet another selling point, and in the worst cases are just an excuse to keeping clients inside of a building. It is worth understanding that the purpose of a “standard” was to replicate or at least aim to hit certain designations of those that were capable before us. It was a way for us to organize what the ingredients are for success. If I want to complete a marathon the standards for training are pretty well known, I aim to train in a way that at least resembles what those who have accomplished what I wish to have already done. But the purpose is the marathon, not the intervals that help me prepare for one. This is easy to forget as the building that we pay to train in rewards us greatly for our practice, often our comrades clapping us to an imaginary finish line, when we never actually left a start line. To this day I have never heard those that have purpose confuse it with the act of training for it. I have never had a life-altering experience by pretending to have one. It becomes clear then, that the training that happens within four walls is appropriate and useful only when our sight is set beyond them. A 2-times bodyweight deadlift or a sub 7-minute row are useful guides to being more capable, but they are not capability in and of themselves, they are artificially constructed targets to let us know we are on the right path, and the right path is out the fucking door.