How the Fitness Industry Has Taught Us to be Helpless

Getting fit and being in shape hasn’t been any easier to do than it is today. I mean, look at all of the options you have when it comes to exercise: Zumba, Pilates, Crossfit, Yoga, P90X, Parkor, Orange Theory, Barre, Spinning, not to mention the different types of fitness centers available such as Planet Fitness (if you want no judgement around you…this statement is said in pure hypocrisy BTW), or LA Fitness (if you love judgement) or YMCA (if you’re somewhere in between). With all of these options available to us, you would think that our planet would be oozing fit, in-shape individuals.

Quite the opposite is true, as a matter of fact. We understand, as a society, that we are slowly becoming more and more out-of-shape and metabolic disease is skyrocketing, not only in America, but in most developing countries around the world. So how does an abundance of fitness options lead to the irony of becoming less and less fit? To understand that, it’s important to first understand when the idea of “fitness” first arrived.


What is “Fitness”?


Fitness, in its’ true sense of the word, has been around millennia. Our idea of fitness was derived from the original use of the term in biology. Fitness, in biology, is defined as an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in an environment. In reality, when we are trying to become more “fit”, we a truly trying to survive. However, we’ve evolved the word fitness into a meaning the pertains strictly to us humans, which is the condition of being physically fit and healthy.

This second definition of fitness, the one we understand and the one I’ll be referring to from now on, really took on its’ true form it is today a little over a century and a half ago. In the mid-1800s, fitness was evolving and becoming popularized through a select few people who called themselves Physical Culturists. The idea of Physical Culture was developed to encompass how a culture groomed itself and kept itself healthy. This is a very broad span, for sure. But all the varieties of how a culture took care of itself fell into this idea of Physical Culture.

Yoga, for instance, is one of the earliest ideas of Physical Culture. Yoga uses exercises that are intended to benefit every part of the body, but also focuses on developing mental, emotional and spiritual health. Yoga considers the whole organism. As far as we can tell, Yoga is the first training system developed by man. Considering it’s been around for more than five thousand years, they didn’t think of it has Physical Culture back then.

Physical Culturists believed that you must take care of the body in order to be healthy and to achieve longevity. What they brought to the table, though, that hadn’t been truly appreciated until this point, was the idea of physically training your body to move well, function well AND be aesthetically pleasing. It was during this time that many of the different fitness factions we know today came about: personal training, aerobics exercise, resistance training, mail order products and so on.


Physical Culture Breaking Apart


Slowly, Physical Culturists began to go away and you saw people who were specialists in these different areas that Physical Culture had branched into. You saw runners and bodybuilders and powerlifters and aerobics instructors. And, for a while, people began to get great results from all of the different factions and the idea fitness was taking hold.

Suddenly, though, things began to turn around. Although fitness had been spreading for a while, suddenly people began to become less fit. From a cultural and psychosocial standpoint, there are many factors that play into this turnaround. One that is often over looked, though, is that abundance of options.


The Paradox of Choice


As social media genius Gary Vaynerchuck likes to say, “If you give marketers enough time, they’ll ruin everything”. And that’s exactly what they did with the fitness industry and why we, as a society, have developed learned helplessness over time.

You see, having options is a great thing. As a matter of fact, as humans we thrive with the understanding that we have options. But we only thrive to a point. We love having options because it makes us feel like we have a say in the choice. Without options, we have no autonomy. Without autonomy, we’re simply cogs in a machine. But at a certain point, options can be a burden. This is the breaking point between feeling free to make a choice and being overwhelmed about the options you have.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz calls this point the Paradox of Choice. Basically, once we have a enough choices, we are happy and content because we feel free to have the option we want. But when we have too many choices we enter paralysis by analysis. We attempt to analyze every option, and, considering there are an abundance of options, we become paralyzed because we just don’t know which one to pick.

This is what the fitness industry has turned into. Although there are many options at there that will get you the result you want, you don’t know which one to choose because they’re all telling you that they’re the best choice.

Or maybe you do choose one and start to get into it. Then after a few weeks you hear that Aunt Sally is having tons of fun in her Zumba class, so you go try that instead. After another few weeks you notice that you’re not getting results so you figure “why even try, I’ve tried everything and nothing is working” when, in reality, you’ve only tried 2 things for 2 weeks each.

Instead of letting yourself get caught up in the rat-race of choosing the perfect fitness plan, make a CHOICE. It can literally be ANYTHING. If you’re doing nothing now and you start walking tomorrow, that’s more than you were doing. When it comes to health, or truly anything in life, we are happy when we’re making PROGRESS. We aren’t happy because we made the perfect choice or because we chose to workout with our Uncle Bill. We’re happy when we are making progress towards our goals.

So just make the CHOICE to get up and move. You always have the ability to adjust the path down the road.

Spread the Word!

Jerry Scarlato
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Jerry Scarlato

Owner, Fitness Coach at Thrive Fitness
Jerry Scarlato is a Personal Trainer and Entrepreneur who lives in Northern Kentucky. He runs 2 businesses related to health and wellness: Thrive Fitness and Thrive Online. Jerry has been involved in the fitness for his entire adult life, including playing sports through college. Along with being an Entrepreneur, Jerry is a content creator,
Jerry Scarlato
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