Rant alert: Enough with the elitism in fitness!

Last night I was hanging out on my couch, drinking a glass of wine and clicking around on the internet, when I came across a random blog post that really got under my skin.  I’m not going to link to the actual post because it wasn’t that particular post that bothered me as much as it was the fact that it was just the most recent time I’d been exposed to what I consider to be one of the ugliest aspects of the fitness community: elitism.

If you’ve spent any time in online fitness communities, you know what I am talking about. It’s everywhere!  A certain kind of person gets super into whatever fitness philosophy they’ve chosen to embrace, which is awesome, but for some people, that’s not enough.  It’s not enough for them to say “Crossfit/triathlon/running/powerlifting really pumps my ‘nads” and leave it at that.  No, they have to turn around and talk about why their chosen fitness practice is better than all other fitness practices, and that everyone else who does anything different is a pathetic loser who should just do the world a favor and launch themselves face first into a volcano.

I’ve heard runners talk shit about triathletes, triathletes talk shit about runners, collegiate swimmers talk shit about triathletes, road cyclists talk shit about triathletes, powerlifters talk shit about bodybuilders, weight lifters talk shit about cardio queens, cardio queens talk shit about weight lifters, and CrossFitters talk shit about everyone.  Then all of those people join forces to talk shit about people who don’t do anything at all.

And then places like Planet Fitness talk shit about everyone who is really into fitness and athletics.  You know, just to make sure the ouroboros of shit-talking comes to a complete circle.

That’s a lot of shit-talking, and I am tired of it.  I would like a break.

I’m not talking about good-natured ribbing, mind you. I’m totally down with that.  Brian and I watched one of those XtraNormal videos the other day, one in which an Ironman triathlete talked to an ultrarunner, and we had a good laugh about it because it was funny and we can laugh at ourselves.  But the things I see and hear do not qualify as good-natured ribbing. They are cruel and mean-spirited and so, so judgmental. I am often shocked by the venom with which members of one community will regard members of another.  (This is why I can only visit LetsRun.com once every six months or so.  Not only do those guys hate everyone who isn’t a runner, they hate everyone who doesn’t run exactly the same way they run.)

Fitness and sports communities can already be intimidating places, with all of the equipment and unspoken codes of conduct and special language that often makes no sense to anyone on the outside looking in.  These kind of attitudes just add to that aura of intimidation and make them seem even more exclusive.

Never mind that most of the people I’ve met in all of these communities have been amazing, open, friendly and always willing to answer questions or lend a hand.  It’s the handful of assholes who stand out, who people remember, who people cite as their reason for staying away from the gym or hating sports or never wanting to sign up for a road race even though they’ve been running three miles a day for the last six years.

Frankly, I don’t think that we as a society can afford that kind of elitist mindset.  Anyone who cares about promoting fit and healthy lifestyles should be psyched whenever they see anyone doing anything, regardless of whether it meets your standard for the Holy Grail of Optimal Fitness Excellence.

Even Governator Pumping Iron himself is tired of the constant fighting:

Everybody, behave and stop bickering. This is about inspiring more people to get into fitness. I’ve never understood people who argue constantly about who is wrong and who is right in fitness, because the fact is, there are many “right” answers, especially for people just starting out…

Do me a favor. Try to focus more on expanding the fitness community as a whole than protecting your little corner of it.

I know there’s a lot to criticize about the guy, but he’s also been lifting weights since I was a dot in my parents’ respective gonads. I’m going to assume he knows what he’s talking about.

Now I’m not saying no one should talk about this stuff. Can you have opinions about what is more effective for achieving certain goals?  Sure.  Is there a right way and a wrong way to do some activities? You bet.  Is there room for critique with a lot of this stuff?  For sure. That’s why I have this whole blog.  I basically started this blog because I was tired of going into a gym and seeing all the women on the cardio machines and all the men in the weight room and never the twain shall meet, and then it all sort of spiraled outward from there.

But while a lot of women do endless cardio because they thought that’s what women are supposed to do to lose weight, I’ve been told by some women that they actually really like getting on the elliptical with their Kindle or a magazine and doing their thing.  Who am I to tell those women not to do something they enjoy?  Who am I to write snarky blog posts making fun of them, or being shitty about them in online forums?  My thoughts are that if you have something you do and you enjoy it and it makes you feel good and it works with your lifestyle, then more power to you.

There’s a huge difference between having a conversation about the pros and cons of certain exercises and ways of eating and being a total d-bag about this stuff.  I would like to think it’s easy to tell the difference between the two, but sometimes I wonder.

There are a lot of ways to get fit and be healthy and active.  It’s not like there’s only one valid way to approach this.  I – and a lot of other people – say this all the time, but the best exercise for a person is one they will actually do.  It’s activity that enhances their lives, that gives them pleasure, that they are actually excited about doing!  That might be daily yoga for one person, CrossFit for another person, trail running, roller derby, belly dancing, whatever.

So please, let’s lay off the elitism and be a bit more accepting of the fact that what works wonderfully for us might suck for someone else, and that there isn’t a damn thing wrong with that.  Because in the end, we’re all aiming for the same thing, and that’s to care for the bodies we’ve been given the best we know how, and to maybe have some fun in the process.

30 responses to “Rant alert: Enough with the elitism in fitness!

  1. Praise Jesus Hallelujah. You are so on point with this!

    I see this in terms of nutrition elitism as well with IIFYM, Clean eating, Paleo,etc.- I’ve seen SO much bashing especially in the “Twiterverse” with all of these things and I’m so annoyed by it all.


    Thank you for speaking up! 🙂

    • OMG the Holy Wars waged over food and eating! It’s insane how worked up people get over this stuff. Meanwhile, I’m over in the corner going, “Y’all should be grateful you even have food to fight over in the first place.”

      • EXACTLY! I thought the same thing!

        I wonder what people in third world countries would do if they realized people had nervous breakdowns for having 5 extra carb calories or preaching against eating entire food groups…

  2. There is no best way to fitness as we are all individuals with our own preferences. I think some fitness enthusiasts get so caught up with fitness that they lose sight that most people are just exercising for health. health and fitness are not the same thing, if you are exercising for health then 30 minutes on the cross trainer whilst watching TV is a perfectly valid form of physical activity!

    • “I think some fitness enthusiasts get so caught up with fitness that they lose sight that most people are just exercising for health.”

      Yes, this! Not everyone is trying to achieve “optimal fitness” (Ugh, I hate that term so much.) and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  3. Can we still hate people who talk on their cell phones while on the cardio machines?

    There’s just something about someone getting in my face with their latest fad diet or fad yoga or fad workout and NOT STOPPING that makes me want to write snarky blog posts about it and make fun of them. If I get one more person saying I just HAVE to try yoga or that they are gluten intolerant but I see them drinking beer every other day, I will just have to….write another one. I blocked via global filter “yoga” “paleo” “crossfit” and a myriad of other words that obsessive people can’t stop yammering about, and it did make my life a lot easier, or at least, it made Twitter somewhat tolerable to use. I just don’t understand why people have to go on and on and ON about that stuff. WHO CARES??

    Phew, that felt good.

    On a less-aggravated note, I do think it’s worthwhile to point out the fallacies of these “workouts” because the reason people go on and on about them is that they have fallen victim to marketing hype. Not that correcting them would change their minds, but I think it’s important to check the marketing industry as much as possible. It’s toxic and promotes wasteful lifestyles and endless consumerism.

    • LOL! I get what you are saying, but I generally just hide those updates or scroll past them. I can kind of relate a little bit since I post a lot about running and triathlon because I get excited about it, and I figure those people are excited about it too. Of course that’s not ALL I post about so maybe that’s why people don’t seem to find me annoying, because I haven’t reduced my personality to a single facet. (Or do they and they’re just not telling me about it…? Things to ponder.)

      About your last paragraph – I have no problem at all with bringing a critical eye to things, especially when it comes to marketing. I am a huge fan of using our brains to puncture marketing-hype bubbles and I think the world could use more of it. My complaint is mostly with people who think that because they do this one kind of working out/exercise, it makes them superior to everyone else who does something else. THAT’S what my issue is with, not with any of the stuff you are talking about.

  4. Ha! When Ahnuld has to tell you to behave yourself, you have derailed. 🙂

    Thanks for saying this. I’m sick of seeing this in fitness forums as well as food/cooking/nutrition forums. “XYZ tastes fabulous and makes me feel great!” Is a valid statement. “No one should ever eat ABC” is not. I don’t mean cruel/inappropriate/annoying. I mean FACTUALLY INCORRECT and possibly dangerous. Human beings are widely varied. There is no such thing as one way of eating that works for all humans.

    I have friends with equal and opposite food allergies–what one can eat will make the other incredibly sick and vice versa. I have a friend who is allergic to eggs, nuts and all legumes. She has enough other allergies, that she really can’t eat anything that is highly processed. If she listened to overzealous veggie/vegan types, her only protein source would be dairy products. She really can’t meet her daily protein needs without eating meat.

    • This is why I really don’t bother with the vast majority of fitness and nutrition forums. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all way of approaching food and exercise. What is optimal for one person could really harm another person, like your friend. But some people get so caught up in the fervence of their belief system – because that’s what a lot of this really is, adherence to a belief system, almost like a religion* – that they cannot step back and take a wider view of things.

      *Seriously, the parallels between fitness/nutrition fanatics and religious zealots are staggering.

  5. I wrote something very similar to this a few months ago, but you knocked what I said out of the park! You have an amazing way with words. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  6. This is great.

    I really love to run. It is my stress relief, my sleep aid, my general health provider. Finishing a race makes me feel powerful and proud.

    I also like strength training – I like feeling strong and knowing that building strength now will protect my bones later.

    And I really like to read about both things, particularly the latter, because I have a lot to learn. But on almost every site I click on – even the female-centric ones that place a VERY strong emphasis on body acceptance and body love – I eventually find a photo captioned “Betsy Sue, flabby after completing her 137th marathon” next to one captioned “Betsy Sue, fabulous after dropping running and picking up weights.” And inevitably, Betsy Sue is fit in the first picture but with more body fat, and then fitSPO in the second photo. And it is clear which photo the site thinks is the “better” photo. Similarly, I almost threw away Rachel Cosgrove’s weight lifting book after one of her many “cardio puffiness” rants and her complaints about how “bad” her body looked after her triathalon.

    Please don’t tell me to love my body and then subtly – or not so subtly in Ms. Cosgrove’s case – tell me that my body is the wrong kind. THIS is my biggest pet peeve.

    (PS I’m sorry if it is wrong to call her out by name, but I think she is one of the biggest offenders of talking out of both sides of her mouth: “Go women! Don’t be afraid of weights and strength!” BUT “Jeez, women, cardio is making you all puffy and that is NOT the body you want!” I really do get that she and others are trying to teach people how to get that really lean look, and I get their point that tons of cardio probably won’t get you there. But I’d love to be able to read her book or visit a strength training site and read how I can get stronger too without being insulted at the same time.)

  7. Truth! It’s such nonsense to pick people apart just because what they do to be healthy is different from you. Nunyerbizness how they do it.
    Bullies, bullies, bullies. Ugly.

  8. I agree so much I can’t even tell you. I give major respect to everyone I see who’s doing work day in and day out, whether it’s something I do (lifting), something I would like to do (martial arts), something I will never do (Zumba, triathalons), something I do but suck at (yoga), something I used to do more of (cardio on machines) or something I plan to do 20 years from now (water aerobics). Basically, if you’re working on your fitness, I salute you.

  9. I love that you used the word “ouroboros” 🙂

    Several years ago I was doing the P90X workouts. I was super proud of myself, because those things are HARD. It’s a very intense schedule with workouts that are WAY above my ability, but I was adapting them to what I could manage, and more and more pleased with my progress. Then I ran across *several* forums apparently devoted solely to griping about how stupid and worthless the P90X program is, and how everyone who does the program is some kind of weak idiot. That was by no means the first or only straw, but it was definitely the last straw that caused me to stop reading forums. I’ll read individual people’s fitness blogs, like yours, but if I want to be reviled and mocked, I can get that at work! (jk)

    That’s what I really loved in Kat Whitfield’s interview, when she gave props to Richard Simmons. The hard-core fitness people love to make fun of him, but he’s probably affected more people in a positive way than ALL the hard-core gurus combined. Everyone is not the same; let each find their own path without being criticized.

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  11. Thank you so much for this post! Honestly, it’s great that you are just moving and discouraging and being rude to people doesn’t help anything.

    I myself am I distance runner so I tend to be a little biased towards the sprinters on my schools track team who seem to not have nearly as hard workouts as we do, but than again I can’t sprint to save my life. Everyone is different in their own way and we should accept that.

    xo Amanda

  12. Truth! Although I do think that some things are better for you when it comes to fitness, I *try* not to be too snarky or “fit police” about it on my blog,because I know that in the end, it is better for people to be doing SOMEthing. If you love Zumba? Hey, go right ahead! My only issue is when people have been doing the same thing for 10 years (riding the elliptical) and complain cause they haven’t seen results. But if it really is something they enjoy and it’s a part of their day that they look forward to? Than that’s a whole different story.

    • Yes, it’s one thing if a person has a specific goal and they don’t know how to get there and they are seeking a different way to do things. But even then, I’ve seen articles like that that shred people who do cardio and Zumba to pieces. It ought to be possible to promote a way of doing things without ripping others to shreds.

      I guess basically what I’m asking for is a more humane and compassionate way of approaching things as opposed to the judgmental, rude and elitist way a lot of people talk about these things.

  13. A few thoughts…as usual, this is terrific stuff.

    I just spent a week working in remote, rural Nicaragua, the 2nd poorest nation in this hemisphere after Haiti. “Exercise” there means walking through the muddy forest, scrambling down a steep sandbank, paddling a dugout canoe to a shade-less 98 degree field to weed and gather vegetables. Or walk 2 hrs each way to the furthest field and carry a lot of it back on your body.

    It’s so bizarre to freak out about our bodies ALL the effing time. In the “hungry season” there, there is so little food they do not even bother to light the kindling in their stoves — as there is nothing to cook.

    I am one of those people that many of your readers might mock. Well, pardon me, but eff off. I was a nationally ranked fencer in my 30s and one of the first women to fence that weapon at the national level. I play softball, bike, ski, walk, ice skate and enjoy other sports. I don’t need or seek anyone’s approval in this regard. Maybe it’s my advanced age?

    I’m not a skinny-minnie 32 or 42 but a 57-yr-old struggling with excess weight, working in a dying industry, who fucking hates the gym. I have zero interest in triathlons or other such feats of derring-do, (while your joy and enthusiasm is inspiring to many, I know.) And making fun of someone who reads on the elliptical is rude: 1) it’s cheap; 2) it’s quick; 3) it’s warm and dry in a long, bitter, icy winter here in NY; 4) I can read a book or magazine and actually enjoy the tedium and boredom of burning off calories. Many women are too damn busy doing other things — like trying to earn a living! — to spend $$$$$ on gear and classes and entering races. If it works for you, awesome.

    In my world, a feminist is someone fully able to respect all choices, not only the cool, hip, Spandex-clad ones that reinforce her worldview.

    • As always, I love your no-bullshit attitude.

      “I don’t need or seek anyone’s approval in this regard. Maybe it’s my advanced age?”

      Could be. I really believe one of the reasons why our culture is so adamant about making older women vanish is because older women don’t give a fuck. I’ve noticed since hitting my mid-30s that my ability to give two shits about what most people think of me is rapidly shrinking. My hope is that it will be gone by the time I hit my 40s.

      • It will!

        What I’ve gained past menopause (at 54) — a fat ass (FUCK…trying to shrink it) is balanced (hah) by almost zero interest in people’s approval of me. I care what my husband thinks, and people who hire me and pay well and and promptly, and my friends. What’s that? 30 people? 50?

        Honest to God, the hysteria over…over…over what?! We are all going to die, some in slow agony, some quickly in a accident. This obsessiveness over the shape, size and maintenance of our corporeal reality is such utter stupidity. Health, yes! The rest? Meh. I get it, it get it. I’m an athlete and dancer, but enough is enough.

        Ask someone in the chemo ward if they care about the shape of their hips or ass. I’m thinking, not so much.

        Be deeply and astonishingly grateful for every minute of your strength, flexibility, grace and speed. If or when it fades, you will cherish its memory — and really understand what a temporary gift such a body bestows on us.

        FYI (imagine) I’ve been no-bullshit for decades.

  14. Caitlin, great blog and right on target! It’s hard enough getting started in any sport or exercise routine to then have to deal with all of that nonsense. I see too many individuals in my line of work, (healthcare), who would rather risk heart disease or the complications from obesity than face the intimidation of not looking like an athlete or, god forbid, doing something wrong. No doubt, getting out and doing something, anything, is better than doing nothing at all.

    • Hi Mary Jo! And thank you! I completely agree. People could stand to be a bit more compassionate and open-minded about these things, but then I also think that’s true for just about everything. 🙂

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