Two decades in, and I have noticed at least one characteristic which clearly cuts between people who make great progress in fitness and those who never do: refinement versus “hurry up and get it over with.” Sadly, only skill aficionados make progress in fitness. But that’s how all skills ever were, ever are, or ever will be.
Imagine trying to learn to play piano without ever placing your hands in the same starting position, never bothering to know what middle C is. Imagine learning guitar as a beginner with a different tuning every time you grab the instrument, or no tuning at all. Imagine learning to type without ever returning your hands to the “g” and “h” keys or really any same keys. Imagine learning math where you use a base 10 on your first day and decide on binary the next, hexadecimal the next, and your own “bleep” “blop” “bloop” the next. This is how most people approach fitness. They just want to move any ol’ damn way, maybe break a sweat, believe they logged effort, and hurry up and get it over with.
And their results are identical to a person who wants to hurry up and get it over with in any other skill or subject. In fact, it’s pretty hard to believe that people want to improve at flute if they don’t take the time to set their body in a just-so position and practice with high precision. I don’t believe any people who say they want to learn guitar if I don’t see them take great pains to angle their hands and body in the best manner before extensive practice.
I don’t believe anyone who says she wants to improve at something if she doesn't obsess over the setup. Imagine a marksman pick a different caliber, a different firearm, a different stance, a different eye, a different distance, and a different breathing pattern for every single trigger pull. Imagine an archer fletching arrows on a different section of the bowstring every time, sometimes raising elbow, other times dropping it. Imagine a golfer placing different feet first, standing differently, sometimes stacking right hand over left, other times left over right, sometimes one handed, grabbing any club indiscriminately and taking no practice swings ever before “hurrying up and getting it over with.”
Imagine a person saying she wants to learn ballet but refuses to pay attention to how her feet are angled, how her joints are positioned, how her torso is postured. Imagine a person saying he wants to become better at cycling, but sometimes places his heel on the pedal, sometimes mid foot, sometimes toe, sometimes one foot. Imagine someone claiming to learn a language but always hurrying through a handful of random vocabulary and never patiently getting any of the words expertly right.
We wouldn’t believe them. We certainly wouldn’t expect them to become better. And we’d know with total confidence that excellence will forever elude them. We would never call someone a martial artist or a boxer or a wrestler if he just flippantly whipped into movement with no practice of forms, no attention to detail, no obsession over placement.
And that is how I see most people approach fitness. There is no curation of the forms, no obsession over postures and placements, no refinement in practice, no approach toward skill development at all. There is this propensity to move any ol’ damn way with any ol’ damn thing and call it good. To be fair, the “hurry up and get it over with” attitude is reinforced in a lot of group exercise landscapes and by trackers. They don’t care whether you achieved excellence or perfection of a single movement. They care if you do 50 reps, the whole 60 minutes unbroken or some other unrefined checklist.
And it’s a wild exception, because we would never accept such a barbaric attitude toward any other skill. Never. When the skills are strength-related and have to do with the foundational health and fitness of a person, somehow it gets a pass. We would think it silly to watch a basketball-aspiring athlete take willy-nilly practice shots with no effort toward consistency in footing, grip, angling, where he's looking, and the like. Our red flags would be going crazy if our accountant said he uses a different filing system every month, or no filing system at all. We need precision. We don't just trust him if he hurries up and does any ol' damn thing any ol' damn way. I watch gamers assume specified postures and hand placement on controllers before playing a video game. I watch card players meticulously angle fingers.
But somehow, if we’re talking the skills which will enable you to be functional into your old age, it’s just “hurry up and get it over with.” It gets demoted to simply “move the bar up and down however” and “randomly tug on a machine or cable”. If it’s the skill which will allow me to pick up my grandkids and get off a toilet without the help of a nurse, all-of-a-sudden it becomes “move any ol’ damn way”.
And the results speak for themselves.
Experts are complicit, by the by. Organizations and influencers post “workouts of the day” with riveting and compelling content like “50 burpees” or the always-popular “30 kettlebell swings” or the much-anticipated “60 second plank”. Imagine a piano instructor listing off “slap the white keys with your palms for 50 reps,” “2 sets of drag-left-elbow-along-black-keys for 15 reps”. Any ol’ damn movement isn’t skill. It isn’t anything. But literally there are multi-million dollar organizations and influencers whose entire empire is built upon this completely ridiculous notion that refinement and proper skill development are passé or overkill.
Consumers, stop the insanity. At some point, we have to take a step back and require some effort toward excellence from ourselves. We do it in every other domain of skill building. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. We NEVER look at a person diluting apple juice with water and think, "wow; you're really getting great at chemistry." When someone pours some extra water into his apple juice, that IS chemistry. It is. But that doesn't necessarily make him a chemist. And it sure as hell doesn't mean he's becoming a better chemist. When someone does 100 jumping jacks, that IS exercise. But it doesn't necessarily make him fitter. Just doing any ol' damn exercise lacks the ability to improve fitness in the same way that just doing any ol' damn chemical interaction lacks the ability to improve expertise in chemistry.
"Hurry up and get it over with" is a singular exceptional view that we don't apply toward any other skill. It's unserious, impatient, and careless. Impatient carelessness toward any skill lacks the ability to improve the skill. It can only ruin it.
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