When Is A Workout A Workout?

We’re obsessed with ourselves. For all our existence we’ve done everything in our power to know as much as we can about us. We want to know what we’re made of, we want to know why we are and why we are what we are. Maybe most obsessively, we want to know if we’re perfect, if we aren’t why aren’t we, and what can we do to achieve perfection. For much of history we tried to achieve this perfection through hoarding our genes and traits with creepy inbreeding. Eventually, thankfully, that gave way to science and our desire to improve and perfect the bodies we’re given instead of conceiving perfection through arranged marriages and other weird shit like that. Unfortunately it seems we’ve returned to the realm of mysticism and speculation. The fitness industry explosion of regimens, diets, gyms, and experts *big Dr. No air quotes* have introduced more introduced more theories with less evidence than Alex Jones’s entire catalogue. With everyone and anyone with leggings and a camera inventing new techniques every day the question becomes just when is a workout a workout?

I know some of the stuff we can throw out right away. Or can we? I’d love to condemn CrossFit as debunked conspiracy, but the more I think about it the more I wonder if I’m dismissing it too soon. There’s no denying the fitness of the most serious of its cult members. I know of at least three success stories where people abandoned their mortal ways for the life of the sled and the kettlebell and they’re all in better shape than I’ve ever been. So why do I refuse its authenticity? Is it its appeal to the unmotivated and inconsistent? Its virus like infecting of the entire country seemingly overnight? The fact that its acolytes might only be eclipsed by Scientologists in fervor and faithfulness? I don’t know.

Despite how often I dismiss it I think CrossFit is a legitimate workout. I think what scares me away is so many “trainers,” that operate gyms where the people in the sessions have more curves in their back than a leg of the Tour de France. Is that it then? Does the person performing the workout provide the legitimacy? One could argue that. Last week I saw an Instagram influencer trainer model supers setting her shoulders by sitting sideways on bench at the Smith machine and lifting the bar with one hand. Uhhhhh,,, wut? Soon as I saw the first rep I dismissed it, ejected out of that tutorial faster than someone landing on meatspin dot com. Was it because of the person performing the exercise? Maybe. Maybe if it had been the rock doing it at the bench with an Olympic bar I would’ve stuck around.

Ultimately I think the merit of a workout comes down to the combination of complexity and efficiency. Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson reached Herculean levels of fitness by simply doing push-ups until they made ruts then going out into the woods so they could run a buck to exhaustion and carry it back on their shoulders. I shouldn’t need to stirrup my feet into the cable machine and hang upside down so I can isolate my biceps when I curl the ez bar. If a workout takes more than one piece of equipment (plates not included) more than 10 seconds of setup, or makes you look like you’re having epileptic convulsions while you’re performing it, you’re doing too much. Keep a little perspective. If you just want to keep time and the beer gut at bay all you need is the floor and a treadmill. If you’re trying to go pro, I don’t know what you need. Steroids, I’d imagine, but I don’t know. Arnold does though, do what he did. All you have to do is remember why you’re getting fit in the first place, and you’ll never have to answer the question of when is a workout a workout.

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