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Are You 'Useful'?

Today's article was inspired by a great podcast I listened to last night by the guys at Iron Culture. If you want to learn more about the ideas explored in this article, follow Chip Conrad.

How Fitness and Sport Replaced Work

As humans, moving used to be a necessary part of survival. Prehistoric people had to be able to run, jump, swim, lift, hunt, and fight for survival. Without that ability, they would not have survived to pass their genes onto us.

Physical labour of some kind remained an integral part of life for roughly 199,900 of the 200,000 years we've existed as a species.

But around the 1920s, something interesting happened. The 1920s saw a growth in wealth, which created more leisure time for workers, and a room in the economy for spectator sports.

Fast forward 100 years, and we live in the digital age, where exercise is now almost exclusively done for recreation or health reasons.

Okay, But Why Does This Matter?

The point of this email is to deconstruct how you think about fitness. We are often fed the idea that there are multiple different disciplines in fitness: bodybuilding, yoga, running, crossfit, boxercise, etc.

But really, they're all just movement, and a capable and healthy human being can and should borrow something useful from all these domains.

I myself am guilty of overstating the importance of strength. But strength, like anything, has a point of diminishing returns. What's the importance of adding another 10 kilos to your bench press if you can't touch your toes or run for 5 minutes without passing out?

I have seen examples of a lack of balance from people in all disciplines - and they're all equally ridiculous.

The runner who can run a national standard 10k pace, but can't do a single pull-up? They're dead if he ever had to pull himself over a cliff, just like the elite bencher is dead if they ever had to run for their life.

I'm not saying you need to be a jack of all trades - but you should be able to hang in a variety of activities.

Fit For What?

Maybe this doesn't matter to you. It's certainly true that you could just lift some weights and do a bit of cardio and you'll reach a fine standard of health and aesthetics.

But am I the only one who thinks it's kind of absurd to spend hours in a gym, yet be unable to apply that fitness to any real world scenario?

A lot of people have criticised the recent announcement that strongmen champions Eddie Hall and Thor Bjornsson will be conducting a boxing match - I think it's great.

Athletes have become hyper-niched into their sport, to the point that it's the only area they're athletic in. In the early 20th century men like Jim Thorpe won Olympic medals in several sports and also dominated in professional baseball and football.

The true test of athleticism is the same as the true test of fitness - how capable it makes you in different scenarios. In other words - how useful you are.

What Should You Do?

First, ensure your training is really giving you bang for your buck. Train to be strong in things that matter, and conditioned in activities that matter.

For example, picking things up and pushing them overhead are pretty key in my opinion, so deadlifts and overhead presses get a big tick. Being able to do a load of fancy tricks with a kettlebell? Not that important. Additionally, I love cardio equipment like assault bikes and ski ergs, but you should practice running and swimming every now and then too - the things our body evolved to do.

Embrace your ability to move by challenging yourself in various ways. In the past couple years I've started doing climbing (bouldering I think is the specific term). It was extremely humbling seeing people much worse at pull-ups than me fly up a wall with ease. Post-lockdown I'm also considering taking up some kind of martial art like kickboxing too. Your path may look different, but just do something outside of 'a workout'.

I hope you liked the article, as it was something fairly different to regular programming. Talk next time.


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