A number of articles over the past few months about CrossFit and the militarization of fitness have got me thinking about the long-term consequences of this “extreme approach” on society at-large and on my students personally.
It is no surprise to me that the fitness culture has gravitated toward a philosophy of “No pain. No gain.” We are a society that loves to “Go big or go home.” Add to that a lot of misinformation about what constitutes healthy habits and what counts as health benchmarks (check your scale and Fitbit much?) and we’ve created a recipe for disaster.
As a Pilates teacher, it is not uncommon to hear new students tell me that they like to be “pushed” by their trainer or teacher. This usually means one of two things: 1) they want to be challenged to advance their personal wellness practice; or 2) they think they should be “crushed” by their fitness practice.
I work hard to advocate for the first kind of “push.” Pilates is a technically and mentally challenging movement system with lots of potential for refinement that can take years to understand and instill in the body. Pushing students to evolve in their movement practice safely and successfully is one of the most exhilarating parts of my work as a teacher.
But the cultural pressures regarding body image, misinformed beliefs about weight, and hard-core, super-sized approach to fitness means managing a student’s expectations and broadening their perspective about what it means to be healthy can be difficult.
People aren’t likely to say their fitness goals include the desire to feel uplifted and inspired. They rarely ask that their exercise improve their daily routines and activities. This is troubling to me. Taking it to the limits for the sake of taking to it the limits may be exhilarating but may also border on damaging and gets you no closer to wellness.
There is so much to be gained by adding wellness concepts like functionality and less is more.
I see many people who do hundreds of stomach crunches, for example, but can’t do a Pilates Roll Up. Mastering the Roll Up will aid you in safely getting in and out of bed as you age, for example – no small feat for many seniors — as well as fire the adductors, and cue proper shoulder engagement.
Shifting our mindset away from the “working out” and “going the distance” motif to an integrative movement approach could go a long way to improving our personal and collective health.
Don’t get me wrong. Any movement system should be challenging – and breaking a sweat can be invigorating. But let’s be sure our fitness habits also leave us feeling revitalized, not run through the ringer.
It is my hope that teachers and trainers of every stripe will adopt a more thoughtful and comprehensive approach to whatever movement modality they offer and that students will demand something different from them.
Now that’s an extreme notion.