“There are no limits, only plateaus.”
The New York Times just came out with an article about the American fascination with “extreme fitness.”
The article critiques this trend on several grounds:
- People are paying money to mimic hard labor; why not just go work construction?
- The fitness trends of today are usually modeled after a watered-down version of “ultramasculine” groups like Navy Seals.
- In these trends, “fitness” is often achieved at the cost of health. The NYT article that this isn’t fitness at all.
I have a post in the makings about my own opinions on these things, but first, I’d like to hear what you have to say.
Read the article (also linked here)—or don’t—and tell me what you think about the extreme fitness trends (or the critiques of it) in the comments.
Whenever I cross a runner who’s decked out in brand names, their sunday trip to REI or Sports Authority billboarded on their bodies, I worry for their knees.
Brands have become a way of differentiating ourselves socially—of carving our identity as separate from the person next to us, and yet displaying that we share (at least) one common belief: consumerism. Continue reading The lay athlete, brands, and the dilemma of ornamentation.
We seem to have an ingrained cultural notion that technology solves everything. Got a problem? Throw some tech at it. Is that problem still there—or did it get worse? That’s okay. Some more tech should do the trick. This is what the wearable tech corporations like FitBit have been telling us. Wear a wristband that tracks the amount of steps you’ve taken, or the calories you’ve consumed, and that’ll make you fitter. Which launches us into a serious dilemma: we begin to think that we have control of our fitness like we have control of our thermostat.
Just change the little number and the temperature will change. The little number says how fit we are. But the body is a complex system, and as such, it is hostile to our attempts at simplification. If we try to “describe” fitness in such a simplistic way, we will find again and again that we are becoming overtrained and injured. As Albert Einstein said:
“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”
That is exactly the claim that wearable tech purports to let us make: that we “know” how fit we are because the little digital monitor says so. We can say “this is our fitness”—a claim about knowledge (or even worse “this is fitness”—a claim about truth). And our bodies, and our fitness, will be shipwrecked accordingly. The gods will be laughing at our disdain of the fact that the body is a dynamic system.
“Don’t dream of winning. Train for it.”
Our athletic potential is based largely on the biological traits humans acquired in evolutionary time, while our athletic horizons are mostly built around our experience of the athletic feats of people in our society. We are not in a position to make judgments about our own athletic potential.
Daniel Lieberman, the chief proponent of the endurance running hypothesis, has continually fielded criticisms that humans could not have evolved as endurance runners, because the cognitive burdens of persistence hunting, such as the need for tracking, would have been too great for early hominids to bear (among other things).
In a 2007 paper, Lieberman et. al. respond to such criticisms suggesting that (among other things), “less-encephalized mammals than humans”—i.e. those with smaller brains—are quite capable trackers, etc. Throughout the paper, the authors suggest that such criticisms come from the observation of modern hunter-gatherer groups, such as the Bushmen. They point out that spears and other hunting techniques are relatively recent inventions (from the early stone age), which fundamentally altered the ways in which humans hunted and scavenged.