For many of us that are into fitness, our physical interests tend to have a way of bleeding over into our digital leisure time. We “like” pages on Facebook, follow athletes on Twitter, and share our own fitness journey on social media through pictures, statuses, or, if you’re like me… complaining incessantly about how much I hate dead lifts.
Important fitness update: I still hate doing deadlifts. pic.twitter.com/6K6uj1xwkB
— Alex Hollings (@AlexHollings52) April 5, 2018
Just like any other online community, the fitness world has a social hierarchy all its own. At the top, elite level athletes and celebrities with precious little body fat regale the rest of us exercise mortals with their “Guardians of the Galaxy workouts” and their “Spartan core regimes.” At the bottom, you’ll find fitness newbs (people who are new to the fitness game) and hair gel wearing bros with skinny legs and pumped biceps. The rest of us fall somewhere in between, where we’re sorted socially by a long list of increasingly specific sects: crossfit groupies, power lifters, Instagram models, aesthetic lifters, marathon runners and, of course, that couple you know that posts pictures of them completing the Tough Mudder as though they just finished Marine Corps recruit training. We all have a place within the fitness community – offering us a chance to share our experiences, our challenges, and our victories with other people that can truly appreciate what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how hard we worked to get there.
But of course, there’s a dark side to our ability to share our journeys with one another: that same human need to gather in social groups and belong inherently requires a level of self-importance, as we naturally assess who is one of us and who isn’t. That distinction leads to condescension toward other sects of the fitness world and, in some cases, blatant animosity. Walk into a power lifter gym and ask them about Crossfit – they’ll tell you it’s a cult that emphasizes bad form and might get you injured. Ask the woman cycling next to you in spin class what her max is on the bench and she’ll give you the same dirty look and dismissive scoff – at best. At worst, she’ll tell you that she doesn’t touch the weights because they’ll make her “look like a man.”
We shame one another for posting workout selfies, saying things like, “I guess a workout doesn’t count unless you post pics!” or “men don’t take selfies!” as though our own masculinity is somehow tied to making sure our friends maintain the same self-imposed standards of manhood we’ve decided on for ourselves. Women who would otherwise claim to support the idea of empowering their own gender are happy to quip about the way free weights will make “that girl over there” bulky and masculine – certainly not pretty like she should be trying to be. We share videos and pictures of people using gym equipment incorrectly, laughing at the way the uninitiated struggle to comprehend our culture and equipment.
Basically, we do all of the things to others that we all were once terrified someone might do to us. Humor is supposed to be the driving force behind all of it, of course, but I have to wonder – is it really that funny to shit on your boy that proudly posted a mirror shot of himself covered in sweat because he’s lost that first ten pounds? Is it actually funny to post a video of a confused newcomer trying to figure out a machine that you probably once had to google yourself?
Does anybody ever really laugh when they see you calling your old Army buddies “so gay” for trying Yoga, or is it really just about being an asshole?
During my time at Framingham State University, I worked out at the school gym just about every day, but as a thirty year old man wearing a wedding ring and a holy old football tee shirt, I was far enough removed from the make up wearing teenaged girls and hair-gel laden guys lifting in Abercrombie sweats to feel like Jane Goodall surrounded by a completely different species of mammal. Sure, we had some things in common: we could both use tools and probably liked the show Archer, but our differences were too great to merit an attempt at communication. Instead, I just worked and left – usually without removing my headphones a single time.
One day, however, I forgot my headphones at home, and was forced to hear the ridiculous shit people say to each other as they workout. In particular, were three heavy set girls that spent the better part of 45 minutes stretching in front of the exercise bikes, doing nothing but insult the women they could see lifting through the glass partition that divided the room for “looking like men.” I’m not talking about sixty year old women that may still harbor some outdated concepts of gender roles; I’m talking about the same young ladies you might see leading a campus protest about the gender pay gap. Women should be able to do anything they want, I have to assume they were thinking, as long as it’s stuff I think is cool.
This one is a particular pet peeve of mine. Ladies, do you have any idea how long many of us men have worked to achieve a “bulky” look? We have genetics on our side: testosterone is literally what they make steroids out of of, and we still have to pile supplements into our bodies and lift until we feel like our arms are going to fall off to gain mass… and you think it’ll happen for you over night if you pop off a few curls with a 10 pound dumbbell? Give me a break.
Public service announcement to women: Unless you’re on one hell of a regimen, adding weight lifting to your workout will only firm, tone, and tighten your body. Believe it or not, looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime is almost impossible to do by accident. Skipping the weights is hurting your game, so stop shaming the more enlightened women for relying on science, rather than old episodes of “Leave it to Beaver,” to help them design their workouts.
We work out because the act and the effect are supposed to be positive, beneficial to our mental and physical state of being. I hit the weights hard on bad days, and sometimes harder on good ones – I leave my little home gym feeling good about myself and what I did. That’s what the fitness game is all about. So why do we spend so much of our free time tearing others down? Maybe its insecurity. Maybe it’s because we’re assholes. Maybe, sometimes, it’s because it really is pretty funny – but if you ask me, we could do with a whole lot less of it.
As I scroll through my Instagram or Facebook feed and I see a portly buddy of mine drenched in sweat, proudly taking a picture in a bathroom mirror, I’m clicking like.
If I see see a one of my old college professors stepping out of her comfort zone and picking up a kettle bell, I’m clicking like.
And if I see you leave a comment underneath either that’s supposed to somehow take the wind out of their sails, I’m going to assume it’s because you’re feeling pretty insecure about what you got done today.
I’m too busy to shit talk people for the way they work out. I’m too positive to tear people down for being proud of what they’ve accomplished. I’m too old to worry about whether or not you think someone is manly, womanly or whatever else enough.
Because a real man doesn’t really care about your nay saying. A real woman ignores the chunky ladies on the mats, doing reps with their mouths instead of their quads.
Real fitness is about feeling good about what you’ve done today and what you can do tomorrow. If you don’t want to share that with one another, at least stop trying to take it away from those who do.
In the mean time, I’ll see you on the black top (or in your gym selfies).
Modified feature image originally courtesy of Greg Westfall on Flickr