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Ignorance Speaks

Australian Tia Clair Toomey is truly extraordinary athlete. For the second year in a row she was named the Second Fittest Woman on the planet, by her placement in the Crossfit Games, a grueling five-day, 17-event test across numerous fitness domains. Then, a couple of weeks after this competition, she represented Australia at the Olympics in the weightlifting competition. How enviable is her achievement? So much so that some wanker at The Sydney Morning Herald, in a fog of foolishness, ripped into Toomey for being “only the 14th strongest” woman in the 58kg class. Consider that when America’s Morghan King placed sixth out of twelve competing in the 48kg class, it was roundly considered a triumph. Yet King–a fantastic athlete–trains only for weightlifting; she does Itwo lifts: the snatch and the clean-and-jerk. To be a Crossfit athlete, Toomey trains an insane array of movements and modalities, from track and field…

New LIFT excerpt

I am really honored to have an expanded excerpt from Lift published on The Paris Review Daily. I spent most of my twenties working at what was then just a literary magazine, first as an intern and eventually as the managing editor. During that time, George Plimpton, whom I miss dearly, was my mentor and friend, and so I’m especially pleased to be able to write a bit about him on a blog I read every day.

More weight-loss madness

I wasn’t going to post this week because I have some other things I need to attend to, but then this bit of empty clickbait popped up, a Vox article claiming “The science is in: exercise won’t help you lose much weight”. This is yet another example of people making money by misleading the public on the subject of weight loss. To say that exercise won’t help you lose much weight is like saying that guns don’t kill people, people kill people: there’s just enough fact (as opposed to truth) to dupe the public into buying a falsehood. So let’s look—very quickly–at some of the assumptions this article makes and why they are incorrect, and ultimately destructive. First and most important: Why are we talking about weight at all? Without context–meaning a broader set of data points—it is a meaningless abstraction. If you tell me you’re a woman who weighs…

The Butt Test

Butts and thighs are busting out everywhere: the evidence is all around us, so I’m sure you don’t have to be told. In Lift I argue that the recent emphasis on performance in working out “is slowly, though perceptibly, altering the very culture of the body.” One example is the changing status of the butt, which, over the last four years, has given rise to the Butt Test, a semi-serious test of booty size popular among strength practitioners and Crossfitters. To take it, you simply lie face down on the ground and then you try to roll a barbell loaded with standard bumper plates (or 45 lbs. iron plates) over your body from head to toe. If your glutes stop the bar, you pass the butt test; if they don’t, you need to do more squats and deadlifts. The test arose in response to what had been an aesthetic orthodoxy…

On tech

Just read Edward Mendelson’s excellent NYRB essay, “In the Depths of the Digital Age,” in which he cites Bernard Harcourt: “In place of the medieval idea of the king’s two bodies—the king’s royal powers derived from heaven and his natural self—Harcourt proposes the two bodies of ‘the liberal democratic citizen…: the now permanent digital self, which we are etching into the virtual cloud with every click and tap, and our mortal analog selves, which seem by contrast to be fading like the color on a Polaroid instant photo.’ ” It would be interesting to consider and discuss the burgeoning of today’s physical practices, and the new asceticisms they have engendered, as a response to our increasingly robust digital selves. This would not be a new phenomenon: various fitness practices, from gymnastics to sport, arose in the early 19th century in response to the technologies of the Industrial Revolution and to…

Facade Bod

A few thoughts about a piece in Vice, called “Your Sculpted Pecs Are Worthless.” Although it’s great to see the mainstream press picking up on the idea that looking fit and being fit are completely different animals—a notion that I discuss extensively throughout my book–there are a few misstatements here worth discussing. The clickbait title, for instance. Your pecs are far from worthless, as it claims, and the bench press certainly has an important place in functional strength training. Rather it’s having pecs without back and shoulder muscles—working only those muscles you see in the mirror and ignoring the all-important back—that is worthless in producing usable strength. Similarly, the article presents the visible abs on a 26-year-old, seemingly ripped guy as indicative of a “façade-bod.” I love the notion of a façade bod, since it points so directly at the looks versus strength issue, but the visibility of abs indicates…

Lifting news

Here’s a cool article on how Crossfit expanded the ranks of weightlifters. Both my book and I make an appearance. If the link above doesn’t work, copy and past this into your browser: http://www.nbcolympics.com/news/crossfit-hoists-olympic-weightlifting-public-eye

Art and Fitness I

What follows is the first in a series of what will be intermittent posts on fitness and art. Flex Time A single evening forty years ago can be viewed as a pivot point, a banana peel on which the entire subsequent course of fitness and contemporary art slipped. A symposium followed by a bodybuilding performance held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, “Articulate Muscle: The Male Body in Art,” began with the question of whether or not bodybuilding ought to be considered an art form. One of the panelists, Vicky Goldberg, had in fact published an essay in The New York Times magazine the previous November raising just that issue, so bodybuilding was in the air, even though it was a maligned and suspect practice. The evening, which was attended by some 2500 people, also served as a very successful fund raiser for what would become the documentary Pumping…

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