Art and Fitness III

In the late sixties, the artist Bruce Nauman created a number of videos based on “an awareness of yourself” that comes from “exercises” rather than simply thinking or reading, as he said in an interview from the period. His current show features seven video installations that look back on one of those pieces, Walk With Contrapposto (1967-8). I wrote about it here.

Is exercise addictive?

Here is a thoughtful and worthy essay, from Nautilus, about exercise addiction. The topic certainly deserves attention. However, as a skeptic of lumping strong habits under the rubric of addiction, I was not convinced by this author that the phenomenon is accurately described by the term (as opposed to compulsion, another term brought up here). She acknowledges that no agreed-upon definition of exercise addiction exists but pushes on without trying to convince us that people who work out too much are in fact addicts. Are people who study too much addicts? Who worry too much? Who are neat freaks? Is the definition of addiction simply overdoing it? Still, making the connection between eating disorders and exercise addiction seems to me astute and cries out for of more study.

Too much exercise?

A new study reports that, despite changing the structure of the heart, “chronic right ventricular damage in elite endurance master athletes with lifelong high training volumes seems to be unlikely,” as reported in The New York Times. Interesting, since A-fib has seemed to have a markedly higher incidence among endurance athletes training at high volume. In fact, I know of at least one lifelong endurance athlete, a widely respected physician and longevity researcher, who switched to strength training specifically because his concerns over A-fib.

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…

Weight Loss

In a long article this week, The New York Times basically suggested that diet and exercise are not effective strategies for keeping weight off once it’s been lost. Contestants on the eighth season of the reality show The Biggest Loser shed an impressive tonnage. Yet all but one gained weight back in the six years since the show. The reason, the article explains, is that the resting metabolism of the newly thinned person slows and continues to slow, causing them to gain fat. What strikes me about this piece is its failure to consider how the choices these contestants made might have contributed, or even directly caused, the slowing of their metabolisms and packing on of fat; instead their predicament is chalked up to “biology” (which is rumored to cause cancer, too). Even worse: the go-to response to the findings is that “we need to explore other approaches,” says Dr. David Ludwig, meaning drugs and surgery. I found…