For a good chunk of time, I’ve been following the wonderful Ms. Fit Magazine, which is “a body-positive, LGBTQ-friendly, unapologetically feminist women’s health and fitness webzine.”
If you don’t already follow it, I definitely suggest it! They post what are consistently thought-provoking, worthwhile, and empowering articles about body and mind.
I was very excited to see their recent post “Your Workout Is Not a War Zone: Rethinking the Language of Fitness” by Bekah Richards.
I’ll admit it: one of the reasons I loved this post so much was because it refers to my second-favorite linguist (after Noam Chomsky), George Lakoff as well as my favorite of all of his books, Metaphors We Live By (which was co-written with Mark Johnson).
I’ll give you all a moment to ponder the possibly unexpected fact that a personal trainer would have multiple favorite linguists, but do keep in mind that I got my master’s degree in writing prior to starting my career as a trainer. I am, among other things, a bona fide dork.
The other reason why I loved that post so much was because it explored an idea that I’ve been thinking about for quite some time: the frequent tendency we have to speak about exercise and strength training with combat-related metaphors.
Some of the ones that Bekah mentions are:
“…damage control is just a body-shaping undergarment away.
Attack your hidden core muscles.
Crunches target only superficial muscles…
…try this drill…
Combat tight hip flexors…
Stress sabotages your abs…
Get a killer body…
Blast fat with a circuit…
This boot-camp workout…
The Total-Body Blitz…
The battle of the bulge…”
And that’s just he beginning of the ones that I’m sure we could all come up with!
This way of discussing exercise has some serious implications. As Bekah writes, “This conceptual metaphor suggests that the body is an enemy that must be disciplined and controlled, encouraging us to feel critical or hateful toward our bodies, or toward specific areas—the enemy is your thighs, your arms, or your stomach. Rather than being fun or empowering, exercise is now an activity that implicitly involves violence or pain, a perception that can cause people to dislike or avoid exercise.”
I can totally relate to that, as I imagine many of you can, too. One of the most troubling effects of that way of viewing exercise and one’s body is that it becomes very difficult to sustain… if someone’s motivation for working out is grounded in judgmental ways of viewing him, her, or hirself, then there are two main paths they can take:
- Keep finding new things to criticize about their body, and thereby continue to have motivation to “attack” their “trouble areas,” or
- Start feeling good about their body exactly as it is in that moment, but risk losing their primary motivation thus far for working out… because all they’ve been driven by is the exercise vs. the body paradigm.
In sports, you’re usually trying to beat an opponent. When you’re not playing a sport, however, exercise is war typically suggests that the enemy that must be controlled or dominated is your own body.–Bekah Richards
But here’s the thing… YOUR BODY IS NOT YOUR ENEMY. And what’s more… finding a new way to think about exercise and your body can help you find and sustain a path towards fitness that lasts a liftetime!
Think about it: say you take my word for it and start learning how to love your body, just as it is, right in this very moment… whether or not it receives external validation. You might read some great articles about body positivity and self-love, such as this one by Madelyn Moon, this one by Gabrielle Bellot, or this one on the Beauty Redefined blog.
You might also check out the awesome list of six things to look at that will help you love your body that can be found right here.
Say you then start to reframe your thoughts of exercise and begin thinking of it as a celebration of your abilities, or a path towards greater flourishing, or (in Bekah’s words) “a journey, a respite, or an adventure,” rather than as a battle.
Then what will happen when you start to feel healthier, happier, and even more accepting of your body’s present state?
Not the two things listed earlier, that’s for sure. Instead, a third option opens up: you’ll feel even more motivated to continue in a way that will enable continual, long-term progress.
But wait, you may ask. If I adopt this gentler way of thinking about training, won’t I have to sacrifice my #Gainz? I like my #Gainz!
Some of you may even be competitors… I get it! I like competing, too! But wait, you may say again. Aren‘t “demolishing,” “crushing,” and “destroying” weights and workouts an inherent part of being a competitor?
Many experienced lifters and competitors who have been around the gym’s block more than a few times are coming out in favor of smart, sustainable training that is more focused on long-term, healthy progress than on crushing a workout or getting frequent PRs. Here are just a few of the posts I’ve read recently that, in different ways, explore this subject:
- “Practice, Performance, and the Mentality of the Old-Time Strongmen” by Dave Whitley, Master SFG and Performing Strongman
- “Get Smart of GTFO: Essentials for Smart Training” by Páll Logason, an international elite powerlifter and strongman competitor.
- “Training Lab: Training Smart” by Matt Vincent, Professional Highland Games World Champion
- “When the Workout Breaks You” and “Tough Versus Tender” by Dr. Kathy Dooley, DC, MS, ART, co-owner of Catalyst SPORT, and all-around strong woman
And there are so many more posts out there from equally laudatory athletes from any sport you could think of. I’m sure I’ll be referring to more in future posts!
So whether you’re just getting started or competing at top levels, end the war on your body.
Set down your weapons.
Then, keep moving along the path of strength, ready for greatness and wonder.