The Intersections of Fitness and Culture

        I was a history and german studies major; in other words, a social science student. At the time, I was not able to fully appreciate these subjects. One of the things that often floated in the back of my mind as I studied historical events and broad scale social and cultural movements was the feeling that our models of these events were rather abstract. The idea that something which we now label a movement, i.e. the enlightenment, humanism, etc. was actually influencing individual lives and actions seemed hard to grasp. At the time, I simply didn’t feel I had a first hand experience of watching a popular movement effect my real world life. Then I became a personal trainer. In this career, I have worked with many individuals on a personal level. When I work with those people, I see clearly that I am not dealing merely with the individual that is in front of me, but with the world in which they exist. I am seeing first hand how the macrocosm of society trickles down to the microcosm of the individual, and what I have found is as fascinating and instructive as it is alarming.
        My primary task as a personal trainer is to help clients become healthier. This is no small responsibility. As such, I have delved into anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and exercise science in an attempt to hone out the very best solutions for the bodies that are under my care. However, what I am amazed to find is that many people already have a very clear idea of what it is that they expect from me. Many are even completely uninterested in what I, the ‘expert’ has to say. This spawned two important questions for me which are: 1) Where exactly do these ideas come from?, and 2) Why are they so difficult to overcome?
        There is already a great deal of scholarly work out there about the fitness industry examining its current form, its cultural influence, and its direct effect on society.  Here are three examples: 1, 2, 3. What I personally find more informative in trying to answer these questions though is not looking at what the fitness industry is, but more how it got there. Why do we seek to alter our physiology through supplementation, or cleanse ourselves of toxins, or transform our physical appearances on a nearly unlimited scale? Why do we allow ourselves to think that we can control so much with so little?
        This requires a look at the themes on a macro level. We must understand how fitness intersects with economics, philosophy, science, medicine, popular culture, and more. As I have started down that path I have been surprised at the directions it has taken me. I would not have suspected that I would be refamiliarizing myself with Descartes, or that I would be reading the history of economics, or the history of medicine, or even be re-examining my old action figures. Nevertheless, I have done so and it is what I have discovered that I will begin sharing under the category Cultural. I hope, reader, you find it is scintillating as I.

There Is No ‘All Or Nothing’

Something that I hear quite often as a personal trainer is “I am an all or nothing person.” Usually the message is from a client who believes that they either have to eat perfectly and exercise every single day, or they will be unable to keep from gorging themselves and skipping the gym. I think this attitude is false and really only serves to set one up for failure. We are all much more capable than that, and most of my clients lives outside the gym already show that. Continue reading

Don’t Fear the Turkey

I noticed a common theme this past week. Many people, including some of my clients, were in defense mode about Thanksgiving. They were concerned about how to avoid as many of the ‘bad’ foods as possible. They were preoccupied by how they could best offset the inevitable disaster that Turkey day would bring. This is an unfortunate way to be living and I also believe it hints that they have failed to assimilate the real lesson of proper dietary habits. Continue reading

Nutrition: Don’t Forget the Big Picture

This week I came across an interesting article from Mayo Clinic about sugar vs. artificial sweeteners. You can read the article under Artificial Sweeteners and Other Sugar Substitutes. I was looking specifically for a comparison of sugar against the various substitutes because I was confronted with the question: Is it better to sweeten coffee and tea with artificial sweetener instead of sugar. The answer is, not really. Continue reading

Calf Stretching – There Are Two Muscles!

Calf stretching is pretty common out there. Runners in particular love to do a little stretch off the fence before they hit the road. Something I have noticed is that there does not seem to be much awareness about the fact that there are two calf muscles. Depending on how you stretch, one will be emphasized over the other. Continue reading

What Weight Lifters and Dancers Can Learn From Each Other

This is a collaborative post with Marissa Joseph, CSCS, PN1 – www.workinglines.org

Dancers and weight lifters should sit down and compare notes. Though they may think there is not much to talk about, they would be surprised at what they find. Each athlete excels in certain atheltic traits and their strengths compliment one another. Each can each learn from the other to improve their respective performances. Continue reading

Core Series Part 2 – The Glutes and Lats

This is part 2, check out Part 1 if you haven’t yet.

The glutes and lats are part of the core. Typically, we tend not to think of them that way because they appear to be relatively far away from the stomach. To clear up the mystery, it helps to think of the core as a base of stability, rather than to associate it only with the stomach or with washboard abs. The spine and hips create a stable base on which your body can operate, therefore, whatever helps to create stability in those areas can be thought of as part of the core. Continue reading

Core Series Part 1 – It’s Not About A 6-Pack, It’s About That Aching Back

Core training is the topic that never gets old. We love flat abs and we also recognize that it is good for our aching backs. What we don’t always understand is that flat abs don’t necessarily equate to strong cores, and by extension, flat abs don’t mean our backs do not ache. Continue reading