Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fitness is...


Take it personally.

Your fitness is not the gym you join or the site you follow. It’s not the shoes you wear, the weights you lift, or the nutrition book you read. Fitness is not your yoga mat. It’s not the Workout of the Day.

An individual’s fitness is, essentially, his decision. And it goes beyond deciding to surround himself with the various tools mentioned above. They help, certainly. If I want to cut down a tree, I’m better off using an axe than an icepick. But I still have to go out and chop the fucker down.

Sadly, unlike in the lumber industry, we can’t hire someone to chop this tree down for us. Fitness depends on two things: agency and ownership, and they span disciplines. Look at any sport and compare athletes of similar natural ability.The engaged athlete following an average program will outperform the dispassionate athlete following an exceptional program. Every time.

I was at my gym last week, and I watched a guy do twenty-five minutes of triceps extensions, proudly flexing in the mirror between sets to evaluate his work. While most of me was screaming objections based on my belief in functional training, useable strength, etc., another part of me was humbly acknowledging his right to train his way, and respecting his effectiveness in doing so. He had pretty big triceps, after all.

Now, if I were to go up to this individual and say, “Listen, I know a better way to train. It focuses on the whole body, both structurally and cardio-vascularly. It will produce measurable gains in strength, endurance, recovery, flexibility, coordination, and balance, and it will contribute to you living a longer and healthier life.” He might say, “Wow, that sounds great. How do I do it?” Or, he might say, “What’ll it do for my triceps?”

This is an example of agency. I decide what is important to my fitness. I can be told a million times the best way to train my heart and lungs, seen over and over the correct technique for a deadlift, have listened to lecture upon lecture about the right food to eat; but if I don’t choose to put those ideas into practice, they will remain just that: ideas, and nothing more.

The second part is ownership. Gym classes, as a culture, have largely been created to avoid this very concept. Most people who consistently do step class, or spin, or body sculpt either don’t know what to do for their fitness, or they can’t motivate themselves to do it on their own. So, rather than taking ownership of the problem, finding the answers, and implementing them, they schedule and attend a series of weekly classes to diffuse the responsibility (This is not true for all situations. Some people have found they perform better in group situations and have actively chosen class settings as the best way to facilitate this performance. These people, however, are in the minority. Most do it because they don't want to face the fact that fitness is hard and no one will do it for them). Watch any one of these classes and it will become quite evident who is truly engaged and who is just there to punch the clock.

Yoga is a great example. Consider the individual who goes to a class because someone told him it was a good idea, and is now blindly following the directions of the instructor. He is the one looking around at everyone else, distracted by his sweat, forcing himself into positions that his body cannot handle. This person will not benefit in the same way as the individual who has internalized the teachings and taken ownership of the practice.

Now, granted, ownership is a process, and people need to learn skills somehow. Just be wary of the chronic user, showing up each week without fail, blindly following the leader, and offloading the responsibility for his fitness to a series of instructors and classmates.

This goes for Crossfitters as well. CrossFit, as a methodology, does not belong to a particular homepage, blog, or box. It is a philosophy that must be interpreted and implemented by individuals who are unique. The program, therefore, will also be unique. This is okay! Heard of the open source method? Experiment, discover, and own what works.

Fitness, in the end, is a result. It’s the byproduct of the interaction between me (my physical tools, my mental capacity, my personal creativity) and the resources at my disposal (information, food, weights, etc.). As should, by now, be clear, the me is integral to this equation. As soon as I lose agency or ownership over this process, fitness ceases to be personal, and it is no longer mine. This is when training starts to feel like a chore. It’s when you burn out, resent the program, or lose interest all together.

The truly fit individuals stay conscious of their motivations and are actively involved in, and take ownership of, their programs. They relish the fact that no one can do it for them, and use this fact to push themselves harder. Zoning out, getting into a routine, or going to a class for class’s sake doesn't make sense to these people. For them, “Just doing it” just isn’t good enough.

From Nov 21, 2009


  1. This one really hit home. I may have been that guy in the yoga class because someone told me it would be good for me (that's a story in itself).....BUT taking ownership and engaging everyday is definitely the real key to making all the work pay off. Great lessons in this post. Nice!!

  2. Agreed. As a trainer it is my goal for my athletes to take ownership of their training. I want to help them as much as possible with my knowledge and experience, but I also want to expose them to as many useful sources of information as possible. I have noticed that the athletes who only show up in class and do what they're told, without seeking any further understanding, don't tend to make much progress or stick with the program in the long term.

    My value as a trainer is measured in my athletes' improvements in health and fitness.

  3. Great post, I especially like the ode to Fight Club in the beginning, very Tyler Durden of you

  4. truth and insight in this one.

    how to attain agency and ownership?

    thank you!

  5. I totally agree with Bill, this is required reading.

  6. always enjoy your posts Blair-
    sometimes its easy to forget that crossfit is NOT forging "elitist" fitness.
    to each his own.

    Steve D

  7. great post. opened my eyes. motivation is key. =D

  8. Great post and comments. Now, I'm even more motivated to train harder and smarter! :-)

  9. Another excellent post Blair. The bit on "ownership" resonates with me since I regularly fall into periods where I just blindly follow and rely too heavily on others. I'm working on being more mindful about what I do. Thank you for yet another insightful post!

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