fitness

A Workout Does Not Change the World (on its own)

I got an “exciting” email from Trail Runner magazine yesterday, announcing with “joy” that its family of companies, Pocket Outdoor Media (POM) had added five “amazing” companies to its portfolio, including Outside magazine and TV.* 

In addition to all the expected superlatives, the email concluded like this:

In closing, let me thank you for being a fan and supporter of our brands. We believe that a hike, a run, a ride, or a yoga practice can change a life and change the world. Today, we are one giant step closer to achieving our mission, and we invite you to join us on the journey ahead. 

            Yours truly,

            Robin Thurston

            CEO of Outside

I enjoy David Roche’s writing in Trail Runner. This letter, on the other hand, from his new boss, not so much. I get animated when I read things like this and immediately send notes to Sam (who coordinates things here at Fit Is A Feminist Issue) and ask when the next open slot is on the blog.

Because … really?? –A hike, a run, a ride or a yoga practice can change a life and change the world? Okay, I know that the sentence is softened by the use of the word “can” instead of “will”. But let’s be honest, they are selling the idea that “a”, which could mean only one, workout can change a life and the world. Aaargh.

Then, when someone discovers that not only is their whole life not changed by one single workout, but, in all likelihood, they will need to keep moving to continue enjoying the benefits, the person wonders: What’s wrong with me, I haven’t solved everything in my life in one shot?

Well … because … there’s no one-and-done. Life is above all about living. Living is about change, flux, dedication and perseverance. That’s what makes it interesting. And hopefully fun. The only way a single workout changes our life is if it sets us on a new path. But that path requires our ongoing attention, patience and, yes, love. The path is the change and that’s still the work of a lifetime.

Magnetic sign board that reads: A smile can change someone’s day (which is true!)
Neonbrand on Unsplash

Oh, and lest we forget, yesterday’s email promise was not just that we’d solve things in our own life, but also in the whole wide world. Gosh, it feels so good to know we’re only one hike (or bike or run or …) away from changing the world. No. I’m sorry. I have to stomp that hope out right here. It’s simply not true.

We need to change the world. No doubt about that. Our planet is pleading with us to be gentle. The wealth gap yawns ever wider. Racial and gender equity are goals, not current realities. So, yes please, let’s bear those calls to action in mind in everything we do, including our workouts.

But let’s not confuse the workout with the work. Our workout is not a free pass to feel like we’ve already done enough. Oh gosh, thanks so much for going for that run Mina, the homeless situation just solved itself as a result. Our choice to be physically active gives us the strength, endurance, resilience, and such like, so that we can show up in the world as resourced as possible and pitch in with the work that needs to be done.

There’s another insidious bit of nonsense in the sentence (which Nicole, another blogger here, pointed out). Implied in the idea that our hike, bike, run or yoga class can change us and the world is the notion that we are kind and compassionate people who want to make positive change. Is there a logical correlation between working out and being good? At a stretch there’s an argument to be made that being physically active contributes to our mental health (true!) and, therefore, we are better human beings.

That’s a generalization with gaping holes in the knees and thighs of its jeans. Yes, I do think that how we do anything is how we do everything-ish. That “ish” is an important caveat. It’s more that how we do anything demonstrates the potential for how we might do everything—the zeal and commitment with which we may approach other things, if we so choose. It’s not possible to do everything with the same level of enthusiasm and kindness. But, our choice to be active (however that looks for us), may resource us with a larger reserve of enthusiasm and kindness.

The marketing email I got was only repeating the hackneyed inspiration we are fed all over the place these days. We know better. We know how much work it takes to stay active. Then, how much more courage we need to share our gifts. Oh, and to be clear, we are more than allowed to just go for a hike, bike, run, yoga, whatever, just for the sheer pleasure, and not to change anything.  

But when we are in the sharing mood, let’s use our more bountiful resources wisely and joyfully to change our life and the world!

*In case you’re interested, the new media conglomerate (which will be called Outside) includes these magazines: Gaia GPS, athleteReg, Peloton, SKI, Yoga Journal, Backpacker, Trail Runner, Climbing, Clean Eating, Women’s Running, VeloNews; plus Warren Miller Entertainment, Roll Massif, FinisherPix, and more.

4 thoughts on “A Workout Does Not Change the World (on its own)

  1. Nice one Mina! The issue here is “neoliberal”- speak: the idea, as the brilliant feminist cultural scholar Angela McRobbie pointed out in one of my fave essays ever, “Top Girls?”, is that we are encouraged to be *important to ourselves*, and sold the notion that looking after ourselves will somehow (yes, hi Ron!) “trickle down” to all the other things our planet needs to thrive. This is the opposite of socialist democracy (note: socialism is not communism! It simply means we are social creatures who need to think of ourselves as part of communities!), in which we advocate for one another and do things in order to uplift one another. So simple, really: and the principle behind everything from Extinction Rebellion to Black Lives Matter.

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