Ah, working out.
Why do we have such a love/hate relationship with it?
Have you ever thought about why this is?
Fitness used to mean being fit for your environment. It used to mean being hard to kill — being strong and adaptable, ready for any situation that life might present you with.
How did we get so far away from that?
How did we end up with this model of fitness that’s divorced from real life?
And why is it that fitness these days seems more designed to run your body down, leaving you feeling more broken than before, filled with shame and guilt for not “doing it right” or “training hard enough”?
Well, to understand this strange predicament of compartmentalized fitness we find ourselves in, we need to zoom out a bit.
To understand why “working out” comes with so much baggage, we need to look at our roots as humans.
We didn’t used to workout in boxes to stay healthy
This may seem obvious to some of you, but depending on your education of anthropology, you might not realize that fitness didn’t always work the way it does now.
Fitness wasn’t something we did to “stay healthy.”
We used to be fit simply by being alive.
That is to say, our lives as hunter-gatherers, living in direct relationship with nature required strong bodies. Our daily tasks demanded strength, stamina, and most importantly, adaptability. As wild humans, we had no other choice but to be fit and adapted to our landscape, or we simply didn’t survive.
As we “progressed” (if you want to call it that) to agriculture, industrialization, and most recently, the age of the screen, we’ve become increasingly specialized.
How we began to compartmentalize, and distort fitness
The specialization of humans and our progressive outsourcing of movement follows a sad pattern that looks something like this:
- Hunter-gatherer life (millions of years). Robust, well-adapted to the environment. Every day is a new movement challenge. Only the strong survive.
- Farmer life (the past 10,000 years). Still lots of movement, but more specialized and repetitive. Our bodies become more rigid and susceptible to imbalances.
- Industrialized life (past 300 years). Not nearly as much movement, and it’s grown even more specialized and repetitive. More time than ever is spent indoors in artificial environments. Less exposure to the sun and the elements to keep us strong and healthy.
- Modern, technological life (last 50 years). With our ability to temperature control indoor environments, the desire to stay inside increases. The rise in computer work and screens to entertain us causes us to spend even more time indoors.
As you can see, it doesn’t look very good for us. What we call “progress” as a species is actually making us weaker and weaker.
We’ve outsourced the need to move to get food machines and farmers. We’ve outsourced the need to protect ourselves to police. We’re engineered discomfort out of our lives through temperature-controlled environments. But in this relatively short period in history—in the last 10,000 years or so—our biology hasn’t changed much. That is to say, our bodies still need movement, still need to feel competent, and we still need connection with nature to feel at peace.
We’ve tried to give our enough doses of movement to keep from falling apart by going to gyms, but it’s clearly not enough.
Besides, most people hate going to the gym, because doing workouts divorced from any practical purpose just feels like work.
How to find a motivation beyond shame and guilt
Without a reason to move to live, fitness becomes obscure. We do it to “stay healthy” or to “get stronger,” but rarely do we ever have a clear idea of what health and strength actually is.
Why do more reps? Why lift more weight or run longer?
Is it just to be able to train more, and guilt your way into showing up, because you’re a bad person if you don’t?
If you want to move beyond the mainstream fitness paradigm, ask yourself these two questions:
- How do you really want to feel in your body?
- What do you really want to be able to do with your body?
I encourage you to really sit with these questions and ask yourself why you want what you want.
The clearer you get, the more you’ll be able to create a body grounded in something deeper than shame and guilt.
But that still leaves the stagnant environment we’re in.
How do we build a more integrated approach to fitness, in a world that seems designed to keep us from moving?
In the next post, I’ll share with you the answer…
In the meantime, I want to hear from YOU.
Are you absolutely done with forcing yourself to do workouts you don’t care about? Why?