Let’s begin with a premise. Our goal in the gym is to make a better version of ourselves, or if we’re one of these fancy fitness professional folks, maybe our clients. If we can agree on this, perhaps we can agree on a foundation for programming. To achieve this upgraded human status, our training should enable better movement, which empowers greater strength.
To create a better us, our training is about skill building.
I’m guessing, if you’re reading this, you’re probably on board, just like the groovy, enlightened attendees of my workshops, who nod their heads vigorously, occasionally raising me up on their shoulders to loud cheers of Huzzah! (It could happen).
When we scrutinize the output of the Fitness Industrial Complex, though, we’ll see a contrary story, usually manifested as reduced movement programming and more distraction than actual strength building. The industry’s words say one thing, their actions another. As a species, we’re increasingly masterful at lying to ourselves. The fitness culture is one of many outlets for our personal dishonesty.
Let’s remember the premise above. Enable better movement to empower greater strength, all as a foundation of building skills. Some version of this message is trumpeted enough on websites, blogs, and our instatubefacegram posts that we have made the shaky correlation that gym=improvement. Period. Do the gym. Be the superhero. No questions asked… or at least honestly answered.
What if we get specific? Let’s pick an example of a modern gym program staple and ask how it makes us better. Like, really. For reals.
Try this. Flop to the ground. Just go ahead and bend over and then fall flat. And then writhe your way back up by flexing and extending your passive spine in positions that would get you kicked out of yoga kindergarten. Maybe add a little jump once you’re up. Land and repeat. Again. And again (and again). As fast as you can.
Now come up with a case of how that is building any skill. How would this flop-and-writhe support our premise goal?
It won’t. Which means we’re lying to ourselves every time we toss modern burpees into the daily exercise stew.
I know my attack on the poorly performed modern burpee, which we’ll henceforth call a Sloppee, is old news. We’ve been on this soapbox for a while, but not without reason.
When we work on improving our skills, there is a byproduct of getting tired. Through the course of fitness industrial history, it was deemed easier to sell the byproduct than the actual skill-building journey. We’re now, as a culture, distracted by our belief that getting tired is the goal. Getting tired is somehow the magic path, and the industry currently markets it under another name. Intensity. We seem to understand that intensity is part of the transformation recipe (as we’ve mentioned before), but now we’re offered this great chance to start lying to ourselves. Call it cognitive dissonance, call it brainwashing, or perhaps it is pure ignorance, but our quest for chasing exhaustion completely disregards the true correlation between intensity and getting tired.
If we put in high quality work towards learning skills, we will get tired. If we put in low quality work towards getting tired, we won’t learn any skills. Turning the byproduct (getting tired) into the goal is a failure to our bodies.
A properly executed burpee is a call to athleticism. No, really. It takes two good ol’ foundations of structure and mobility, the plank and the squat, and combines them. Through understanding key components in our movement vocabulary, we attempt to let them seamlessly flow together. Athleticism lives in the transformation of shapes. The burpee lets you practice becoming a performance changeling, morphing from one well executed shape into another, quite different, but no less important, shape.
Zen out on it. A burpee has a chance for movement meditation status, whereas a sloppee has become the slightly traumatizing experience of get-through-this-any-way-possible. Sure, one might pray during a sloppee, but usually to be done. Meanwhile, a burpee can be a little slice of self-reflection. A burpee allows for playfulness and presence. The burpee is not punishment, as movement should never be.
A burpee is also a keen study in intensity, with many lessons about how that word might not mean what you think it means.
Discern any movement, tool, or program through the filter of our premise. Are your practices building skills by enabling better movement, therefore empowering greater strength? Make a good case if you think they are. Be willing to let go of dogma if your case falls apart. Have the goal of being honest with yourself. If you are lying to yourself, what about your clients, peers, and tribe?