I saw an ad for the new iwatch, or Apple Watch, or as I think it should have been called: the watchamacallit. There was a guy at a restaurant doing bodyweight dips in between two benches. Someone else looked at his watch and then got up out of bed to exercise. And I don’t know why they didn’t run with the slogan: “the new Watch from Apple. Turning humans into robots since 2015.”
Now you can exercise anywhere at any time, every time your device demands your compliance. Way of the future – you couldn’t exercise anywhere before technology told you to.
Yay fitness! Many physique. Very athlete.
I struggle not to be cynical about it, but I must say that I’ve known many people who do actually find these sorts of things useful. They can be a great ‘way in’, so-to-speak. They can help you track things, and they provide structure, and if you have no idea what to do, or how to get started – I get it. I do. Very useful tool, full of facts.
But I can’t escape my own cynicism – and maybe my own agenda. For me, exercise is about getting in touch, not out of touch, and the way to get in touch with your body, to become friends with this physical form that we are taught to despise, is not to relate to it as if we too, are a machine, controlled by a machine. The way to get in touch is by having real physical experiences with your own body, in your own body.
As I have been doing lately, paraphrasing Bruce Lee: you don’t want training to turn you into some kind of mechanical human. You need to identify your true nature, and bring nature and structure together in harmony, and this – I believe, I agree – is key to learning to value and appreciate your body in the context of physical exercise and development, and it can enable the pure, uninhibited physical expression of human emotion.
The physical skill to express yourself. The self-confidence to know your truth.
So in pursuit of physical development – which in broad terms seems to be the theme of modern fitness training – play to your true nature. Training is about self-discovery, not obedience.
I sometimes ask myself – I come back to this question – what, in essence, is my job actually about? I’m a personal trainer. To distil down to the most fundamental level, it’s about educating people about fitness. Teaching people about exercise, about training, how to train. I don’t think of my job as being to push people, to make them thin, or to make them fit, or to motivate people – seriously, how do you make people care about something that they don’t care about? Is that why we resort to shame in this industry? Do we really have no other strings to our bow?
Those are clichés. To push people – why? To what end? But I never satisfy myself with my own answer, because the truth is that my job is different in relation to different people. That’s why it’s called personal training. Some people I push (not many), some I guide or educate, some I just hang out with, being their (specialist) gym buddy and that’s about it.
With some people I specifically use techniques that I know damn well are broadly considered wrong, but almost all things have some applicability in some way.
But I also cannot separate myself completely from my own agenda. And I don’t want you to be thin, I honestly don’t care. But I can help you learn how to exercise. Because training is about exercise, not your shape, it’s about human movement. If you lose weight, fine, and if you don’t, fine. If you build muscle, fine, and if you don’t – who cares?
I don’t want to create a training population of obedient monkeys. And when you separate yourself from the propaganda of calories and weight loss, you start to see things differently. If it’s not just about burning calories and expending energy for the sake of expending energy – then why this exercise? Why not that one? What are we actually trying to achieve? What can change, what cannot, and how patient do we need to be? How much can we force it, and how much can we just play? If it actually is about self-discovery, how can you even get it wrong?
In the end, it appears consistency trumps all else. We are told these days that intensity is the mother of all progress. But the underlying assumption seems to be that everyone’s going to give up and progress must be rapid, or that everyone wants to be a competitive athlete, but no. We are played off against each other. Beauty is actually not competitive. It exists in character, which we all possess. And health is not competitive either. It is not all about progress in some meaningless bubble. But instead, you can get used to training at a certain level, and that safe level can increase over time too. The best progress I’ve made, if I look back, has been when I’ve not been pushing my one rep maxes, but when I’ve been rolling with it, paying attention, sinking my teeth into what I was ready to, and not judging or punishing myself for anything. You do more when you are ready to do more. Not before. Not unless someone is paying you a lot of money and demands sporting performance, and even then you can only push it so far. Many athletic careers are ended before they have begun.
Sometimes the body will develop only at its own pace. And all you can do is train, recover and wait, reassess, and continue. But I’m not really one for results-based training, not any more. I’m more about satisfaction-based training. The reward is in the process, not at the end. There are no goal pants at the end of the rainbow. It’s the rainbow itself that has worth. Not the pants.
I unearthed my fitness certificate the other day. I’ve been working this crazy job for ten years. Lifting weights for ten years. And there’s been running, martial arts for twice that long, acrobatics, swimming – a bunch of things, so it’s not like I’ve been pursuing a powerlifting career – but seriously. In those ten years I’ve more than doubled my bench press, which is satisfying and all, but it took seven or eight years to double it. And nobody really cares. I mean, when you tell people you can lift stuff they’ll sound impressed and maybe they are – but really, if you can press a pair of 40 kilogram dumbbells and you used to max-out at 20 kilos – is that going to make it into your eulogy one day? The fitness ads are misleading – other men don’t secretly want to be me because I can pull a heavy barbell.
If anyone was honest about how much work and time it takes, and in the end – I don’t want to be too gloomy about it, but in the end, how irrelevant it all is – would anyone ever do it?
And that’s the corker. It has to be for you.
It absolutely has to be for you.
If I was lifting weights for someone else – why? But for me – I just really like it. It’s like iron and zen. Pure focus, my time, my body and my mind, and I don’t really know how to talk about it, but if I did all this because I wanted someone else to be impressed about the three inches my arms have grown in the last decade – if that had been my motivation, I’d have wasted ten years of my life. The reward just is not there. There are no muscle-tees at the end of the rainbow either.
In the end, after the sweat and the work, if you’re pouring all your efforts into the acquisition of approval or validation, we all know this deep down – nothing is ever enough. You’re better off working on your shit.
And health – my training absolutely benefits my health, but we talk about health as if health and status are one and the same. But in reality they’re not. Weird things happen to people. Your health is influenced by your training, but not controlled or determined by it, and many people do themselves as much harm as good at the gym. So again – intensity is not all. No one thing is all. All methods have some benefit. Choose the method that seems to benefit you.
And so I return to my same old points – practice things that are good for you, practice being kind to yourself and you’ll slowly, over time, develop the skill of being kind to yourself. Practice respecting yourself, and you will develop self-respect. And know that if you want to train – only you really know where you want to go, what you want to work, what satisfies you. There’s no right or wrong way, only appropriate or inappropriate techniques and methods. All choices are valid, and on some level, your body knows what it needs. Practice listening rather than dominating, and grow in some surprising way.