Ideological Gym Ethos
I offer CrossFit, as Spartans and BodyTribe, as Athenians opposed to each other but united in their opposition of professional bodybuilding, Persians, perhaps.
- However, that moment represents the tipping point. It is preceded by years of physical culture sub-culture. Synthetic testosterone was developed in the 1940s, so 30 years (though other versions of the story extend into the 19th century). Venice beach, in Los Angeles perhaps the sacred city, the navel of the universe.
- We see an aesthetic for the shape and form of the male physique writ increasing large by the “good genes” that came in bottles from pharmaceutical companies and available to everyone willing to use them. In the 1970’s Arnold reigned as embodied exemplar of the aesthetic.
- Yet in the spirit of American consumerism and the excess ofthe 1980’s the aesthetic shifted increasingly celebrating, simply more. This era of bodybuilding shows participants of both genders, raising their testosterone to extraordinary levels, and supporting muscle growth by consuming 10,000 calories per day, perhaps more…. Food blended and drunk because sitting to a meals of these proportions takes too much time. Then as the competition approached reversing the training radically dieting to near starvation levels, and weight training to maintain gains but now training to burn calories in order to eliminate even the thinnest layers of subcutaneous fat, this to show veins, and striation in the muscles for fans and judges, and increasingly large purses.
- Yet, muscle and strength developed to what purpose?
- If we circle back to Venice beach, we recall the importance of gymnastics at the roots of this physical culture and displays of amazing feats. Perhaps, carnivalesqe, campy, but still functional showing balance, coordination, skill, strength, and risk. This is altogether unlike, bodybuilding competitions where men and women display their muscular development by posing, extraordinary, and unclothed models parading on the catwalk rather than performing feats of strength.
- A moment ripe for an iconoclast, an irreverent, voice, and enters, Greg Glassman as much an entrepreneur as Joe Weider, but brash, embracing of controversy and hungry for success. CrossFit, a trademarked brand, combines, elements from gymnastics, Olympic lifting, power lifting, and calisthenics into high-intensity short duration workouts, given women’s names, or honoring deceased soldiers, police, firefighters remembering them by name.
- Glassman franchised the concept and gyms swept the country, the world even. The exercise formula appealed to military and first responders this combined with Glassman’s rhetoric has created an aura around a Spartan functional fitness.
- The BodyTribe gym in a Sacramento suburb offers its walls to artists to exhibit their paintings and drawings. The gym has doubled as a concert venue. Cats and dogs are welcome and people exercising yield to the animal’s right of way. Conrad like Glassman draws from Olympic lifting, power lifting, and calisthenics, he as well draws upon gymnastics and yoga. Conrad is deeply committed to functional fitness but he also aims to develop a whole person. He thoughtfully, examines playfulness, sociability, the pleasure, and wonder at beauty. He is concerned with social justice and is willing to speak out. Accordingly, we may liken him to the Athenian values.
- Yet his principles seem to hamper his potential impact Conrad is deeply suspicious of fitness credentialing, he tours and speaks nationally, but does not seem interested in branding and franchising accordingly his impact on American exercise culture is limited in comparison with CrossFit and professional bodybuilding. One may join the tribe as a participant but not as a franchise owner/operator.
- Workshops in NC taught by your’s truly.
- Conrad searches for an alternative genealogy for his fitness/philosophy. He is an artistic video maker and one of his loves is capturing moments in the lineage of physical culture sub-culture.
The First Peloponnesian War
- Glassman took a next turn, one similar to what Joe Weider did in promoting professional bodybuilding, and that was to create a consumable spectacle. Glassman promoted the “sport of fitness” and introduced the“CrossFit Games.” Contestants compete in several workouts per day over the course of several days a grueling endurance event. Workouts are scored in several ways, most repetitions, and speed to completion, for examples.
- We could look at the movements the practitioners engage in and start to sense something about the values and the ethics of the approaches. For example, bodybuilding prefers isolating muscles and joints, the number of sets and repetitions optimized on hypertrophy. Both Crossfit and BodyTribe celebrate and elevate compound movements seeking to engage many muscles around multiple joints. So the movements themselves convey information about priorities. But we do not have to constrain our inquiry to this alone. The adherents themselves tell us about what they consider a beautiful body. They tell us about their values and priorities.
- However, necessarily standardization in movements and routines is required in order to compare performances, and so, for example, there is one “right” way to do a burpee. It is at this moment that CrossFit and Body Tribe absolutely and irreparably divide. Their differing values certainly anticipated this divide, but this is the moment of non-negotiability.
- Conrad's rejoinder… And it is not all about any particular movement, rather about the mentality that surrounds the movement. Conrad, himself competes in Olympic lifting and so it isn't only about competition, rather about the mentality that surrounds the competition. Conrad does not name by brand who he is speaking to nevertheless we know, the breadcrumbs are sufficient.
- Circling back to CrossFit it is interesting to note that the web page of 2017 feels very different from that of 2010. This website today is more polished, more inclusive gone are the images of Pukie the Clown and Uncle Rhabdo.
- Pukie the Clown references exercise induced vomiting, unpleasant, at least. Uncle Rhabdo is a reference to the condition rhabdomyolysis a very serious and life-threatening breakdown of muscle with a consequential flooding of the circulatory system with proteins which in turn overwhelm the kidneys. Not unusual in the early days of CrossFit workouts. Yet, weirdly made light of in the old days.
- Circling back to bodybuilding we see equally disturbing aspects of that activity these include cycles of binge and purge eating, extreme drug use, and other high-risk behaviors and consequences.
- How ironic that the most visible and successful training types in America come bound together with extreme health risks if taken to their most competitive levels?
- Circling back to BodyTribe we see that Conrad's rant about "un-stupid" is important and significant. Alas, the very weakness of the most principled is the principled quality itself. For Conrad to achieve the level of impact necessary to challenge bodybuilding or CrossFit would probably require a spectacle rivaling these and a compromise equally monumental. In the end, I think I will give Conrad the last word in this strange tale.
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- Rhabdomyolysis. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 23, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhabdomyolysis …
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