What they forgot to tell me in gym class…

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By: Matt Powell.

The American fitness industry is broken.

Everytime I go and teach a seminar, I usually walk into a school that is different from your average gym. It’s kettlebells, climbing ropes, chin up bars. I smile – it’s like being home, at my gym. The true fitness – not the endless running on a treadmill, or the sweat stained pads on a bench press machine. Not the petty gossip, or the men staring at women, women staring at men, and someone asking, ‘Could you wipe that bench please?’

But, the true trail blazer gyms – the people who touch lives.

I truly believe that our society fails in fitness from the moment we are in grade school – fitness turns from one day being fun to being a task that you are graded on. I remember Coach Hill, at Garrett Middle School – God bless him, he was a true PE coach. He led us in push ups, sit ups, he did classes for the boys in wrestling and the girls in gymnastics. I remember doing a reverse sit out on him in middle school and taking him by surprise and actually ‘pinning him.’ He was mad – but he was made happy by the fact I simply wanted to wrestle.

Then one day – we move from a Coach Hill, or a Coach Ekerd, who used to take us on nature runs around the school and have us sprint and climb trees – to Mr. Thompson, who was more interested in you hitting a free throw so he could show the basketball coach what he had done- and bridge the gap between fitness and sports for their own adult need to succeed – rather than focus on your actual ability to perform what we really want to do, and what we will need long term.

This leads to a fitness industrial complex of sports trainers who are in school, taking our loans for college, to be HPE majors so they can work for a major football team, or studying kids sports psychology to create a good pitcher.

We begin to see fitness as a task that has to be performed in the 9 to 5 world, instead of something that speaks to the primodial man or woman in all of us – fitness as a means of exploring our world without cars, without windows between us and the beautiful trees we drive through.

The decaying, grasping for water roots of the American fitness industry do not start in the mirror – they begin in the education process we go through at the youngest of ages.

I see everyday, in my travels and online, men and women focusing on making fitness interesting and fun – an enjoyable experience that challenges the mind and body, and the soul – as we push the body to it’s extents so far from this world. From kettlebells and clubbells to bodyweight exercises…we shift our focuses back to being children when for so long we have forgotten what it truly is to be fit: fit for you. Fit as a human being, and not a mind numbed robot on an eliptical machine trying to get to 60 minutes so you burn so many calories.

Outward appearance become grades: A, B, C, D, F. Your performance is governed by what the numbers show you and not how out of breath you are and your heart rate at the end of your workout. We do crazy diets. People begin to judge their fitness based on their appearance and the ‘nagging injury from when I benched ___ pounds.’ Fitness is not exercise – fitness is the human state when we must look at survival and our ability to utilize our body’s to survive, be it in better joint health, showboating your ability to do pushups with someone standing on your back (the oldest fraternity show-off exercise on earth) or in the ability to carry a fallen comrade. That is fitness…not exercise science – fitness.

Being fit to survive.

What they forgot to tell me in gym class is one day I wouldn’t be graded – but I would have a metabolism that slows and if I still play like a child – I can stop that belly fat. What they forgot to tell me is I’ll be more likely to go hike to a picnic than shoot a basket. What they forgot to tell me is that all the gymnastics in the world mean nothing if you don’t do them at age 54. What they forgot to tell me is they were grading me because they were being graded – and shooting a free throw is easier to grade than can I climb a tree.

We look at a broken system and make attempts to change this system. The truth is it can only be changed in fragments, as 1% of the population begins to view fitness for more than a gym membership. But that is not enough to combat the eating disorders, the obesity brought on by ‘failing grades’ in one’s own world view that create a complacency to get a D instead of an A. A size __ belt instead of ‘I can run 5 miles and not be sore after.’

I am not a coach or a fitness guru. I look at ‘fitness’, which for me is biomechanical efficiency in everything I do…how does my body work. At my desk, shooting rifles and pistols, teaching class, whatever. But, I’m not fitness guru.

To those who are – I say the key to changing our physical culture is not the 26 year old you can get in your gym after a long day at the office. The key to changing our physical culture is the PE teacher you can get in your gym who will take your lessons and spread them to the monkey bars on the playground – who will grade based on the child’s ability to perform tasks that a child performs, instead of rote motor memory of how to shoot a basketball.

.0001% of our population will shoot baskets for a living or for a team. But the 99% of the population will need to pull themselves up, push up off the ground, hike or run with their children, sprint to save their lives. It is their teacher’s that have to be taught…

Next class, go climb trees, or go to a park and play on monkey bars. You’ll be surprised how few of your top students who can do X, Y, and Z that they grade themselves on subconsciously – how few can actually climb to the top of the big tree at the park….and how fun it will be for them to try.

And perhaps in 2012, after climbing trees we will look at the root of the problem, the educational system and teach it’s teachers – instead of the industrial problem where coaches and teachers scrape for money to pay bills based on how many students they can get: when it’s too late.

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