Athleticism vs. Fitness

I am very tired of fitness writers applying competitive athlete solutions to the problems of everyday fitness. The fact the body needs to move is not an issue that only pertains to competitive athletes. As a corollary, just because a world-class athlete does something doesn’t mean that it’s needed for every-day fitness.

When you thumb through a swimming mag, you’ll see articles talking about how to shave fractions of a second off your time offering all kinds of advice. I’m not going to buy the special swimsuit made of Neptunium-coated fiber blessed by the Dolphin Gods because it will reduce my drag in the water by .001%. Nor do I think that for my daily workout, shaving off all body hair below the neck to reduce drag is necessarily crucial. That .001% might matter to an Olympic athlete a great deal. But I’m not a competitive swimmer. I don’t need to apply the problems of athletic competition to daily fitness. I need to show up daily for daily fitness. That’s a completely different problem, especially when being athletic is not generally the focus of my whole day.1

I recognize that many fitness writers are competitive athletes. It’s how they motivate themselves and they tend to like the mindset. There’s nothing wrong with being a competitive athlete, of course. It can be a good way to motivate oneself, if that’s to one’s taste. But what it means is that articles on activities are going to be geared to constantly improving athletic performance with a competitive mindset.

But I think the needs of people who have absolutely no interest in being competitive athletes, but are interested in making sure they get in enough movement to keep healthy are being completely underserved. It’s logical that it’s happening. Most people in the fitness industry do get there by means of having been a competitive athlete. Hellfire, I was as a teenager, myself.

What we need to see are more articles talking about consistency of exercise rather than training for competitions, or imitating training for competitions as a workout strategy. We need to talk about staying motivated when one hasn’t the slighted interest in treating exercise like a competitive activity. We need to talk more about modifications for physical issues. We need to talk about what being fit really means instead of implying you’ll be immortal if you’re thin enough, work out enough and take all the right vitamins.

I’d be curious to know what people who aren’t into the athlete mindset, but who still work out like to do and how they keep motivated on a daily level.


1 I mean, come on, I’m a writer and a teacher. While the performance art of teaching can be pretty physical when you’re trying to keep your students interested and engaged, it’s not like being a lumberjack.

5 Replies to “Athleticism vs. Fitness”

  1. “I’d be curious to know what people who aren’t into the athlete mindset, but who still work out like to do and how they keep motivated on a daily level.”

    I’m not at all into being an athlete, but I guess I cheat by just naturally enjoying exercise. As long as I’m not sick, I consider it fun to go to a fitness class, or even just cycle on a stationary bike.

    Motivation for improvement comes mostly from numbers, for me, so I keep track of how fast I’ve covered certain fake-distances on the bike, or how many fake-calories I’ve burned (fake only because there’s a big unknown factor they build into their calorie calculation, that reflects some average efficiency of human metabolism). My latest one is based on the discovery that my bike can do any form of countdown, not just a countdown in time, so I set it for a fixed number of “calories” (see above) and cycle until that drops to zero. I keep notes of my “record-breaking” times for how long it took to burn X “calories” — and I don’t really worry too much about the fakeness of the numbers, since I’m interested mostly in how they change rather than their absolute values.

  2. See, that where I am trying to STOP. Getting into improving by the numbers gets me going to0 hard and burning out. I do think of it in terms of being an athlete and being in competition, even if only with oneself. I consider measuring progress very much an athletic mindset.

  3. Huh. Well, then you should definitely avoid what I do! 🙂 For me, it doesn’t lead to burnout, fortunately. On the other hand, you seem to be a lot more consistent about every-weekday exercise than I am — I only manage it about every second day, and it’s not clockwork-regular.

  4. It’s interesting, I’d never thought of this little self-competition thing as in any way athletic-minded, but I suppose it does sound like that, doesn’t it? Huh, again.

  5. So, an interesting thing happened this very morning with my stationary cycling: I got about halfway through, and was tempted to quit because I’d been going so slowly that I was never going to match my previous numbers. And I thought: “Aha! That’s exactly the sort of thinking we don’t want, thank you very much. The numbers are supposed to be a motivational tool, not an excuse to quit if they’re not working out right.” I was forced to wonder: of those times I concluded that I was just too sick or congested or tired to exercise, how often was I actually concluding that I was too tired/etc. to exercise *well enough*?

    This is an interesting line of thought, and it points out something that I need to keep in mind: although I’ve been getting by reasonably well on just enjoying the process of exercising, that’s a fairly brittle thing compared to a strongly ingrained habit. If I go based on “feeling like doing it”, I run the risk of not feeling like it for many days in a row. And I definitely agree that consistency is far more important than some silly measurement of “performance”, so I really need to guard against performance being the enemy of consistency.

    So this has been helpful to me, Noel, thanks! More consistency in exercise might make for a good summer project for me.

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