In the winter of 2001 I had a lot of firsts: my first love, my first experience with snow in Seattle, and my first time being truly enveloped in an academic pursuit. I was a sophomore at UW, taking second-year German, an expository English writing course and a literature class. My life revolved around words: love, Leben and English.
Expository writing needs a topic, a theme. That particular quarter, my instructor chose medical language — the way we talk about illness, the way we write about it, the general zeitgeist of our speech choices. Initially I was bummed — this topic was most definitely not in my wheelhouse of expertise at the time. As the quarter passed, we looked back at how tuberculosis was romanticized in westerns, then we started to look at contemporary pieces about the “fight” against cancer and the military-esque metaphors we all regularly use to describe disease. And I was sort of, well, hooked.
When put plainly in front of you, it was pretty shocking. Why do we do this? These are our bodies that we are discussing, yet when it comes to disease we suddenly use words that imply we are raging against them. Our bodies that we know and love are suddenly part of the enemy. It’s not this simple though: the answers of why we speak like this are impossible to lay out simply and plainly in front of you.
And this was my biggest first of all that winter: it was my entry into truly understanding and feeling how and why the words we choose, matters. From the very first email I sent for BCSF, I have always had this in the back of my mind and have been applying it to the language we use around fitness. Because, words mean things.
And yet, so often the words that are chosen to represent fitness are aggressive and negative. About our own bodies. About our own minds. On the one hand we say we are working out for our health, to live longer lives, to run around with our kids and grandkids — all positive and noble reasons to exercise. Yet, a quick search on Pinterest for the top fitness pins give us “9 Moves to Shrink your Muffin Top”, a “Saddlebag Sizzler”, “5 Arm Workouts to Teach you How To Look Good in a Tank Top”. We buy books that tell us how to get “Killer Abs with a Killer Body”. We want workouts that “torch” calories, we want to burn, burn, burn. Calories are an enemy in the fitness game. I would file most of these words as negative. When you look at them, most inspire judgment, shame, self-loathing and condescension.
But, aren’t our bodies are precious? Isn’t it awesome that we have the power to do so much with them? Isn’t it awesome that we have bodies that allow us to deadlift, run, do push-ups, do pull-ups? Isn’t it awesome that even when we can’t do something that we really, really want to do, we can almost always do something rather than nothing?
Aren’t calories the means that allow us to do all the above? Because last I checked, calories are what give us the energy to chase after our kids, to walk with your significant other on the beach, to chase your dog, to run up that hill.
Why did we decide that these things our enemies?
Why do we allow people to cut us down with shameful sounding workouts right out of the gate?
We can do better this.
We can fix this.
And it all starts with how we speak about our workouts. It starts with owning your badassery out of the gate. It starts with being proud of what you did, not what you didn’t quite get right during your workout. Recognizing mistakes is not the same as tearing yourself down for making mistakes. It’s not about feeling guilty about having “excuses”. It’s about being realistic and remembering your “why”. Your “end game”.
My why: life-long health and pursuing something I love with passion and all I’ve got.
My “end-game”: to exercise until I’m 85 (or longer, hell, who knows what’ll happen) and to do so safely.
This starts with honoring the process. By having goals but not determining my self-worth by said goals. I.e. I have a goal of training for StrongFirst right now, but that doesn’t supercede my priority of training safely, to mitigate injury and to be able to do this all for years to come. The SFG cert is like a cherry on top of a cake that I have working on for years, building layer by layer.
So, try it. Try only using positive words to talk about your workouts and fitness goals. Try avoiding plans that use shame right out of the gate. And let’s just see what happens.