The fitness industry has heavily promoted some of the motivational messages that have accumulated in competitive sports settings over eons. It’s a funny kind of image management — even when the idea is supposedly to help support people new to exercise, the slogans recall an old-school coach who doesn’t seem to care whether his athletes get hurt, as long as they win. This can sound pretty creepy if your childhood memories of exercise involved dreading gym class.
The hard-core attitude can also be harmful. If you are a competitive athlete, you do make trade-offs to focus on your performance — it’s part of competition. But super aggro “Winning isn’t everything — it’s the only thing” messages handily submerge the reality of successful competitive athletes: heavy pushes are strategically placed within a program that provides enough nutrition, rest, and recovery to make sure the athlete’s speed and power are truly there when it counts.
Hall of Shame: Fitspo
Jessi Kneeland (and many others, notably The Great Fitness Experiment and Mama Lion Strong) have also discussed the similar way a special category of fitness messages — dubbed “fitspo” — is harmful, by explicitly holding up visual “goals” while masquerading as promoting health and fitness. It’s the worst of both words: unattainable model looks combined with unsustainable training attitudes. At least the old-school hardcore stuff is about actually being good at something!
So What? I’ll Never Compete
Scratching the surface of some of these insistently “beastly” claims can help us understand two things: the grains of truth within them, and how a good foundation is built. Building a good, strong foundation of fitness is important for everyone — especially if you never compete, because that foundation is where you get your health benefits.
Chet Morjaria explains “Why These 7 Do-Or-Die Motivational Memes Are Misleading You” (and proposes some alternatives, available as images at Strength Education’s Facebook page). These aren’t subtleties — they’re realities. Progress comes when we train wisely, attentive to technique and willing to scrap a bad session in order to come back stronger after some rest. The same mindset also helps prevent injury at every level of expertise or interest.