My wife and I joined a relatively high-end gym down the street from our house recently in an attempt to bring much-needed exercise back into our lives. I was a runner for many years, but had stopped almost completely until last month when I realized the loss of those meditative minutes had altered my ability to manage stress levels. While, of course, we always want to look our best and fit into our clothes, I'd say we were both using psychic balance more than drastic weight loss or peak conditioning as our motivation. The spiritual and mood-lifting benefits of exercise are well known to me, especially after having experienced life without their aid. What I did not realize, however, was how spiritual—maybe even religious or cultish—the exercise world has become over the last five years. You'd be amazed by how argumentative and aggressive some people are about their particular brand of physical fitness, to say nothing of their feelings for a particular brand of yoga pants. Running on the treadmill this week I overheard a heated conversation between a trainer and a customer concerning the merits of Crossfit as compared to other schools of fitness.
"There's really no reason to do anything else at this point," the trainer said. "It's been proven that Crossfit builds muscle and lowers body fat more effectively than any other program; forget yoga, or standard cardio, or that bar method bullshit."
While continuing to eavesdrop, I spotted the root of the argument almost immediately because it's eerily similar to conversations I hear at K&L about booze, or on television by religious zealots. It has to do with viewing an experience or an action solely as a means to an end, rather than a rewarding or enjoyable process. For example, some devout believers push religion as a way to add meaning to life, as simply a guide to help one happily navigate the many perils of our time here on Earth. Others, however, believe religion to be a simple matter of right and wrong, as in there is one true god and all others are false idols. They feel it's their job to point you towards the correct answer, to save you from hellfire. To those folks, it doesn't matter whether the tenants or philosophies of a different religion connect with your own personal beliefs, or that the practices of a particular creed might appeal to your way of living. In their eyes, there's only one right answer because religion isn't about enjoyment for them; it's about getting the desired result. In the case of the trainer I was listening to, this person couldn't comprehend that anyone committed to serious exercise would do anything other than the most effective form of training. Because why would you waste your time doing anything else?
As a former teacher, I can tell you from experience that there are quick and effective ways of educating children that are practiced and proven, but they don't work for every single kid. Do you think you can kill and drill the multiplication tables with every single boy or girl out there, regardless of their disposition? There's a reason different schools of training exist. Some people prefer yoga to cardio kickboxing, or pilates to heavy weights, so the gym therefore offers a variety of different classes. Some people prefer pinot noir to cabernet. Some people prefer Scotch to Bourbon. Some people prefer peace and love to eternal damnation. But to a large number of people out there, our world is black and white. Efficacy is evolution. Life is about filtering out the static, stripping away the excess, and getting down to the root of everything. Life is time optimization. Life is value. Life is meta.
"David—why would you drink the Springbank 18 for $170, when you could get the Glenmorangie 18 for $100?They're both eighteen years old and one's way cheaper!"
Why? Because I like the Springbank 18 more, that's why. Sometimes I make decisions based on my own personal preferences, and not merely on the most effective use of my resources. My tastes are also different than your tastes. I like to drink whisky that tastes good to me, not necessarily whisky that makes you feel more secure about your beliefs. Does that make sense?
So I'm going to go to the gym, I'm going to run four miles on the treadmill, and I'm going to pick the precision running model that has the drone-filmed international video courses because it makes me happy. I particularly like the one where I can run through Bad Reichenhall outside of Munich. Something about that Bavarian town calms my soul. Then I'm going to eat some pretzels and drink some beer. I know—those are carbs. It's true, I won't ever get down to under 5% body fat, but—believe it or not—that's not why I joined this gym.