Since COVID-19 hit, shutting down much of the world, gyms everywhere have been scrambling to figure out how to serve their athletes from afar and of course keep their businesses alive.
Long-simmering tension over racial injustice complicated matters further, with major industry leading groups like CrossFit and StrongFirst revealing themselves to be ill-equipped to handle the challenges of an ever-more-dynamic world.
We think this is a critical time for physical culture. It’s a time to ask hard questions and explore what it really means to be healthy and strong. Consider this our messy attempt to clarify these issues for ourselves as a business and as individuals. We hope it also offers insights into what we want to offer our athletes.
As a culture: how do we define healthy living?
For too long we have neglected the interconnectedness of all things. Exercise and diet are important, of course, but they are only parts of a fuller and healthier life.
Other factors that have a tremendous impact on health include, but are not limited to: stress, sleep, sunshine, workload, expectations (both internal and external), socialization, honest communication, and how safe you feel just existing.
We tend to deemphasize a lot of these in the gym because they are difficult to address. There are also forces at work that have a vested interest in our NOT being healthy in one or more of these areas.
Any modern definition of health should include the whole of a person’s life. Just as a squat is only as strong as its component parts, so too is a person’s physical fitness limited by the life in which that body and mind is living.
You’re only exercising for a small fraction of your daily life. Your fitness is actually not about the time you’re in the gym — it’s how well you handle the rest of your life as a result of the training you’ve done.
Culturally, we need to move beyond the gym. We need to include more nuance and ideas in our discussion of health.
As trainers, gyms, and the industry as a whole: how do we best continue to serve the public?
We don’t have immediate or thorough answers to solving these bigger challenges. But we think it starts with at least understanding that there’s more to health than lifting a lot of weight or hitting your macro goals.
The fitness industry and any trainer that’s serious about healthy living in the modern era should be willing to go beyond exercise and nutrition.
That doesn’t mean we have to track our clients’ sleep for them, text them regularly to remind them to get outside more, or anything like that. But we can talk to them about the bigger picture, emphasizing the value of paying attention to habits outside the gym and how they impact health.
We don’t need to be one-stop shops for all aspects of healthy development. Most of us in the industry don’t have the time, qualifications, or energy to cover all bases. But we should be clear about our intentions and offerings, while being humble enough to discuss the bigger picture and those areas where we may be lacking.
We need to acknowledge our limitations. Maybe you want to help a person, but what they really need most is to spend that same money on a therapist. Or to simply get a good night’s sleep every night for a month.
We need to recognize the reality within the industry that high-quality training is often expensive, and thus is accessible only to individuals of certain higher income brackets. Which disproportionately benefits white people and leaves black people further behind. Even a gym that is outwardly very welcoming is often unintentionally racist by not being willing to acknowledge this discrepancy created by systemic racism.
The industry also has problems with misogynistic behavior and sexual harassment. Women can and should strength train, participate in martial arts, and generally have access to all the same opportunities that men do. Without being hassled about it or made to feel unwelcome/unsafe.
To move forward, the fitness industry needs to open itself up to more ideas and possibilities. We need to get away from the idea that certain topics should not be addressed because they are too difficult/hot/political. Such behavior is pure cowardice.
After all, fitness is about building strength. If you are not strong enough to have a discussion, you are practicing for an overall life of weakness and fear. If you hide when confronted by a challenge, you are not fit to teach people about strength.
Strength goes beyond muscle — it also involves character. Someone who insists on only teaching movements is not a trainer/coach, they are an exercise facilitator.
As an athlete: how do you find the kind of training that works best for you?
Simple: look for the teachers who live the kind of strength you want.
For some, this will mean leaving the rest of the world’s concerns behind and focusing exclusively on exercises. This is the traditional approach. You can certainly still achieve a lot in fitness by focusing on exercise. But by definition you will never reach your full potential. Your health will never be complete, because you are ignoring the interconnectedness of your life and turning a blind eye towards deficiencies.
How much sleep you get matters, as does the quality.
How angry or emotional you feel throughout your day affects your health.
It matters how safe you feel at home with your family as well as out in public.
These are just a few examples. If you want to make the most progress in developing strength, flexibility, endurance, cardiovascular health, and general peace of mind — you have to consider the whole picture. You have to be willing to discuss and address the issues that might limit you.
It helps to make sure that any gym, trainer, book, video, or program you choose to follow considers the whole picture, as well.
Ask questions. Perhaps most importantly: do you feel nourished by your training? If not, figure out what would help to make that so.
A while back we posted an Introduction to Agatsu NC that helps clarify the basics of what we’re about. We also talked about the kind of gym we hope to be in the context of current events. We want discussion, compassion, and adaptability within our gym and beyond. We want to be a modern fitness destination unhindered by anger or dogma, focused on a full picture of what it means to be healthy in this day and age.
We are doing our best to make Agatsu NC into the kind of gym that feels safe and welcoming to all. We want to help you build lasting, complete strength. We want to get stronger along with you. Let us know how we’re doing and what we could do to become even better by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.