I would say it’s joy. But we train as if the purpose of exercise is to change the shape of our bodies.
Really, the bulk of what I have to say on this point can be summed up in three words: what the hell?
And I could just leave it there, but I’ll elaborate.
Evolution is the new black. Many people are doing the ‘paleo’ thing, looking to evolution and vaguely nature-based ways at optimising health and performance – and if you’re going to buy into the evolutionary thing, the paleo ideal – what sense does it make for exercise to change the shape of our bodies?
I’ve touched on this before – if running all day caused us to lose a substantial amount of weight, the species would not survive. And on the other hand, how can adding pounds of muscle be a good idea – in the context of survival of the species? It requires so much damn food to maintain that extra mass. There’s no logic to it.
But having fat on your body, reserves to dip into when times are tough – having enough muscle to get the job done but not so much that it’s too costly to simply maintain – this makes sense. Have some fat, have some muscle, and do your thing without too much worry.
What else can you bet your ass paleo-man never did? Diet. They wouldn’t have been caught dead dieting.
And for the record, they did eat grains. They just didn’t farm them. Grains didn’t magically start existing when humans started farming - they were already there.
So what’s the purpose of exercise?
To get better at stuff.
You train so that you can improve – training and practicing are the same things.
You train hunting so you can be better at hunting.
You practice running so you can be better at running.
You practice martial arts to be better at self defence and combat.
You lift weights to develop your strength.
But lifting weights for fat loss? Martial arts for fat loss? I’ve seen that advertised, and it only makes me think they’re missing the point entirely, in the hopes of capturing another market. Doesn’t it just lead to an identity crisis? If you’re practicing something for a purpose other than that which the exercise is for – what kind of success do you expect to have?
So what is ‘training for fat loss’? Is it anything at all? Does it even exist?
Is it cardio? Nope. The purpose of training cardio is to develop your cardiovascular capacity; to develop your capacity for endurance. Not to diminish yourself.
Is there a form of exercise – the purpose of which is to lose weight?
I don’t buy it.
There often seems to be an initial period of either weight loss or muscle gain that people experience when they start training (again). But that normalises pretty quickly, and then adaptations are slow to come by. It’s just that we think ‘normalises’ means ‘makes us thin’ when that really isn’t the case. And often fat that is lost starts to come back, as the body seeks out homeostasis.
Usually at this point we think that exercise has stopped working, or we think we’re doing it wrong, or that we need to do it harder, to get more benefit.
But I don’t buy it. Just doing it harder isn’t the same as working for progression, and we don’t often stop to wonder what is the actual purpose of training, and how it might still be of benefit to our health, even if we’re not losing weight.
I’ve seen a number of studies, turned into graphs, like this one, that indicate you’re better off – for your health – being fit and fat, than you are being thin and unfit. It’s a good graph to have in your back pocket - doesn’t matter how big you are, fit trumps thin. Of course, telling people they need to train - it frequently results in resentment and non-training, or training obsessively for the wrong reasons – this is not what I’m interested in. What these graphs reveal is a different truth – if exercise made you thin, there wouldn’t be any fit, fat people to use in these studies in the first place.
And anyway – is it the state of ‘being fit’, or is it the fact that you train?