We human beings are a strange species.
Over a million years ago, Homo Sapiens were said to have evolved from primates. Man in the early days had simple lives, with several simple goals – feed self, feed family, try not to die. However, our life span then also rather short, with the average man living up to 27 years old.
Through sheer necessity, Paleolithic humans were physical specimens (you could hardly outrun a sabretooth tiger if you were 30lbs overweight). As their days were usually spent either running after animals, running away from animals, or throwing heavy things at animals, they were a fit bunch. It also helped that their diet consisted entirely of raw meat and plants, and that Krispy Kreme donuts did not exist at the time. In fact, their lifestyle inspired an entire fitness movement, but more on that later.
Biceps a bodybuilder would be proud of, without a single protein shake.
Somewhere along the line, someone discovered crop planting, mass producing food, sugar and turned humankind into the sorry state that we are in now. Ironically, although we now can live much longer, we are now fat, unfit and generally a weak species. Most people’s definition of exercise is getting up from their chair to go to the fridge to get another beer.
To be fair, the fat guy on the right does have some decent arms, and looks like he could deadlift 300lbs with a few months of training.
Fortunately for the rest of us, someone took a look at themselves one day and realized “holy cow, I’m fat and extremely unappealing to the opposite sex.” And so the gym was invented – because whether we admit it or not, all of us started working out in some form or another to change the way we look. We were dissatisfied with the status quo, and took it upon ourselves to do something about it. Hence, we started using the money we made from working endless hours that made us fat in the first place, to pay for gym memberships to make ourselves fitter, so that we could live longer lives and work longer mundane hours. But I digress.
In the beginning, working out was simple. You just picked up some weights, lifted it a certain amount of times, and maybe did some running. However, as with all human tendencies to overcomplicate things, lifting weights evolved into an infinite number of programs, beliefs and fads, with some wacky stuff being introduced in recent years. It used to be that if you told someone you “worked out”, it was generally understood what that entailed, and met with an approving nod and maybe a “me too!”. These days, there are more fitness programs out there than Arnold had veins.
Arnold’s veins had veins.
It’s now not enough to tell people that you work out, you have to emphasize what exactly you do, and proceed to explain why it is superior to all other forms of working out.
If you are new to fitness, here are some of the people you will invariably meet along your fitness journey. In no particular order:
Bodybuilder (Time to get jacked!)
This is how you get biceps and abs in 60 days.
These are the guys who you will see crammed around the dumbbell rack, doing endless sets of curls in front of the mirror. The term ‘bodybuilding’ is self-explanatory – they are literally there to lift weights to transform their bodies. Hence the weights are just a means to an end, with the ultimate goal being aesthetics. Bodybuilding gained widespread popularity in the 1970s, with guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane becoming household names and inspiring an entire generation of boys to start picking up weights.
The vast majority of regular Joes lifting weights at their local gyms would probably fall into this category, and likely started in order to impress girls. (I realize I’m probably over-generalizing here, but A) This statement will probably ring true for a lot more of you than you care to admit, and B) There is no scientific way to prove it wrong). There is nothing wrong with saying you’re a bodybuilder, and at least you’re honest about your motivations for working out. Those who are truly dedicated to their craft have the best discipline by far in terms of training (they seem to never leave the gym) and diet (dry chicken breast, anyone?), and they have the bodies of Greek gods to show for it.
Ask these guys if they even lift. I dare you.
However, these days bodybuilders are sometimes accused of being vain, as if lifting weights to look good were some kind of crime. While bodybuilding has been around a long time, a new trend is taking the fitness world by storm:
Crossfitters, AKA my muscles are more functional than your muscles
The functional fitness movement has made enormous strides in popularity in recent years, and continuing to do so at a remarkable pace. The poster boy for this movement? Crossfit – one of the fastest-growing and polarizing fitness trends of the 21st century.
With a tagline like that, how can it not have haters?
According to Crossfit.com, the aim of Crossfit is to “forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness, and prepare trainees for the unknown and unknowable”. In plain English, it essentially means that doing Crossfit is supposed to prepare one to better handle everyday life, and the fitness that you build in the gym will have more carryover into other aspects of your life, such as sports, hoisting your kids over your head, and carrying heavy grocery bags.
Turkish get ups are so functional for everyday life
Crossfit programming is usually a mish mash of powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, running, and other assorted bodyweight movements. To give one an idea, here’s a typical Crossfit Workout of the Day, known as WODs for short:
Fran (yes, Crossfit workouts have female names)
21-15-9 reps for time
Thrusters (95lbs for men, 65lbs for women)
If you’ve never tried Crossfit before, it can be highly addictive. First, as WODs are usually timed, they rarely last over half an hour, whereas a typical bodybuilding routine could take anywhere from 45 minute to over an hour long. Also, as the programming is different each day and there are so many types of movements to choose from, it is certainly less mundane compared to doing 3 sets of 10 flyes every Thursday evening. In fact, it can be said that any type of physical activity can be (and has been) “programmed” into a Crossfit workout at some point. For a regular trainee, the variety keeps things fresh, and going to the gym feels a lot more like fun and less like a chore.
Perhaps the most important factor of why so many are drawn to, and swear by Crossfit is the community that is built around it. There is no better way to build camaraderie than to suffer together through a grueling WOD, much in the same way as bonds formed between soldiers on the battlefield are that much stronger. (Yes, I just compared doing Crossfit WODs to actual soldiers fighting in wars, which is a travesty – but you get the point). If you have ever worked out in a team before, the competitiveness of the group always pushes you harder, which will help you achieve your results faster, which in turn gives you motivation and makes your experience working out that much more fun.
You do Grace, I’ll do Annie. Deal?
The benefits of training like that are numerous, and if done in a safe and controlled manner, usually helps the typical trainee gain results much faster than if they had joined a regular commercial gym. The surge in Crossfit’s popularity, though due in part to clever marketing, must also be credited with helping many regular folks get fitter, faster and better conditioned. Results speak volumes, and nothing spreads interest more than word-of mouth.
People are now more interested in Crossfit than bodybuilding. How functional is that?
However, Crossfit has drawn more than it’s fair share of criticism, much of which is valid. I won’t go into detail too much into this; a Google search for “Crossfit fails” yields about 499,000 results. It also doesn’t help that many trainees who currently train with this style and consider themselves “athletes” can be complete fanatics about it, constantly reminding their friends on why Crossfit is superior to all other forms of working out, and belittling our aforementioned bodybuilder friends.
This guy below – not an athlete, except in his mind.
Their scorn always seem to be directed at bodybuilders who use machines, whom many deride as being not ‘functional’. Any form of exercises using machines are also pooh-poohed. So, Crossfitters are supposed to be the fittest, fastest and strongest, yes? But wait a minute!
Here’s a quote from Greg Glassman, the founder of Crossfit.
“A 4-minute mile and a 900-pound squat are both clear and compelling evidence of a lack of balance in your program.”
So it seems that Crossfitters not only hates building muscle for aesthetic purposes, they also hate being fast or strong at an elite level. Much of the criticism of Crossfit centers around the argument that Crossfit makes one a jack-of-all trades, but master of none.
Pictured here is Greg Glassman, a suspiciously unfit-looking founder of the sport that forges elite fitness.
It must be said that elite level Crossfitters do have very impressive fitness levels. Rich Froning Jr, 4-time champion of the Crossfit Games from 2011 – 2014, has a 370lb clean and jerk, 305lb snatch and 475lb back squat, which is strong by any standard.
There is nothing wrong for an average Joe to aspire to reach that level, however unlikely that may be. Just like in the top tier of any sport, professional Crossfit athletes get paid to train all day, not a luxury that most of us have. Train however you like, but you don’t have to be so fanatical about it!
If tough, intense training is not your thing though, you might fall into the next category:
Fitness Chick – I looove Zumba / Bodycombat!!!
Step into any commercial gym, and you will find that there are a myriad of classes for you to choose from. These can range from shadowboxing, dancing, or lifting tiny barbells (are those called barbells), among other assorted movements.
These classes are conducted in a group setting by an instructor, and might last anywhere between 45 minutes to 1.5 hours, and usually accompanied by loud dance music.
A complete newcomer might feel intimidated by the intensity of serious weight training, and heaven forbid if he/she had to enter the weights section, where large men grunt while curling 100lb dumbbells!
In this instance, starting off in a class setting with 20-30 other people is a far more appealing prospect for the newbie, because A) you are told exactly what to do, B) you can hide in between masses of people, hence avoid embarrassing yourself, and C) it’s just plain more fun than grinding away lifting weights.
Now, this would be fine if your objective of joining a gym was just to ‘have fun’. If a trainee wanted to make real progress, he or she would soon find themselves hitting a wall after a few months of attending these classes. This is because real gains in strength / muscle growth / fitness levels can only come through serious training, and serious training generally involves lifting weights and is rarely fun.
This is why so many of these “fitness enthusiasts” look exactly the same despite years of attending these classes. Commercial gyms exist primarily to generate profit, not to make it’s members fitter. They are constantly looking for ways to keep things fresh, conjuring up endless ways to make their classes interesting. For example, Les Mills Bodycombat is now in it’s 65th release, and commands a solid follower base in commercial gyms (who look nothing like martial artists). Also, apparently trampoline classes are a thing.
I cannot even begin to understand this.
Group classes are fun, but understand it’s function and limitations, and make your own judgement based on your fitness goals.
Despite all their criticism and perceived flaws, however, all these fitness movements have one thing in common – they encourage us to get off our butts and move! Malaysians have the highest prevalence for being overweight in Southeast Asia, and for most of us, any exercise is better than no exercise. At the end of the day, you only have one body, and being fit and healthy is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
So understand your objectives, choose your exercise program wisely, and good luck on your fitness journey!