What the Fitness Industry Doesn't Understand
April 27, 2022 9:38 PM   Subscribe

A new generation of fitness instructors teaches simple skills that make a difference. Why is beginner-level exercise treated like a niche? [slAtlantic]

The article features Hampton Liu, who's got a YouTube channel (Hybrid Calisthenics) that's geared toward starting at Ground Zero for exercise, and Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, who is the author of Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains of America's Exercise Obsession, a book coming out this December that explores the paradox of Americans becoming both more exercise-obsessed and less fit.
posted by Halloween Jack (51 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
 
I really recommend Casey Johnston - the Swole Woman, who explores a lot of these topics. She is really refreshing and inspired me to start my own strength training.
posted by awfurby at 9:50 PM on April 27 [18 favorites]


Fitness culture harnesses aspiration for profit.

When people are set on fitness, usually it’s in the context of wanting to lose weight. They’re at a pivotal moment in their lives. Maybe they broke up with someone or got divorced. Maybe they got some scary news from a doctor. Either way, they’re determined, and, they have an idealized image of what their end result will look like. They definitely want the instructor to model that goal. They want to dissociate from the self that got broken up with or sick.

Some of them will take up programs that are dangerous for most sedentary people (like high impact cardio or running), and end up injured. It me! (PSA: Running is free, but physiotherapy isn’t.) So I have occasionally piped up in fitness forums, advocating for cautious, gentle entry into fitness, and *no one wants to hear that shit*, they’re on fire, they’re never going to get injured, if anyone does it’s because they’re physically incompetent or have bad shoes or bad genetics, or maybe they just suck, IOW get out of here, you old, broken, cowardly, negative hag.

There’s just a host of self-serving cognitive biases that combine to make them reject a sensible approach, when they’re set to do a thing. (Apply to whatever.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:01 PM on April 27 [84 favorites]


cotton dress sock nails it.

No one wants to be at a a beginner level because they are told to aspire and push themselves beyond that. Again, this is unfortunate because regardless of your reasons to exercise and/or get fit, nothing will sideline you faster and longer than injuring yourself because you didn't have someone teaching you the basics. One of my old spin instructors--who was also a personal trainer--said, "No pain no gain is bullshit. If there is pain, you're doing something wrong."
posted by Kitteh at 4:01 AM on April 28 [14 favorites]


I was speaking with a head of HR for a large corporation once, and they said the most impactful thing they did as a leader was to change employee development course names so that "Introduction to..." became "Refresher on...". Participation skyrocketed overnight.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:25 AM on April 28 [119 favorites]


I was really happy to see this article. I've often found that stuff that's supposed to be beginner level just isn't something I can do. Even with yoga, I've really only had it work out with private lessons from one specific teacher (who unfortunately moved). The next teacher I tried couldn't come up with variations that weren't too painful for me. Theoretically, anyone should be able to do yoga, but it's not always easy to find a teacher who can make it work.

I would also recommend the youtube channel of physical therapists Bob and Brad. They're very good at providing much easier variations of their exercises. Their channel was a big help for me when I had shoulder issues and didn't want to do in-person physical therapy because of COVID.
posted by FencingGal at 4:35 AM on April 28 [21 favorites]


Seconding Bob and Brad (the most famous physical therapists on the Internet). They've singlehandedly saved me from shoulder surgery and helped with Plantar Fasciitis and a knee problem.
posted by mmoncur at 4:52 AM on April 28 [7 favorites]


I injured myself decades OK following Jane Fonda's no pain, no gain mantra.

Fonda didn't invent that, but her fitness books and videos were very popular and really too extreme for a lot of people. Diana Nyad wrote in her memoir that her book Basic Training for Women (what an unsexy title!) came out at the same time as Fonda's fitness book, but she didn't worry because who would buy a fitness book by a movie star over one by an athlete? Of course, we know how that worked out. Nyad's book was set up to gradually build endurance, strength, and flexibility. She wrote in the introduction that the program would work for professional athletes, but it was also the program her elderly mother followed. But that wasn't what people wanted. People wanted to feel like a movie star.

I did buy Nyad's book and still have it. Probably time to pull it out again.
posted by FencingGal at 4:58 AM on April 28 [14 favorites]


Speaking of building up to things, I really like the Hybrid Calisthenics channel on YouTube. You CAN do pullups, my friend! You CAN Do Pushups, Pullups, Squats, etc

Oh, how embarrassing! That's what I get for commenting before I RTFA.
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:01 AM on April 28 [7 favorites]


Thanks for sharing this post and all the great comments so far.


I was in my best physical shape last summer when I worked as an electric scooter rental delivery driver, dropping off fresh 50lb scoots across town and then driving around town, running around a block, and lugging back the dead ones to the van to bring back to base and charge up.

It was one of those jobs where every part of the body got a good workout - but I also hurt myself regularly. When I eventually quit, part of it was because I didn't think my body would get less injured, and I didn't want to have "the big one" happen that would put me in pt/ot (again).

Now that I'm back to peering down my nose at a tiny laptop screen, I have been looking for exercise. On Monday I hung a pull up bar in the basement. Wasn't able to do a pull up - no huge surprise. So this post is perfect timing.
posted by rebent at 5:18 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


I like what Hybrid Calisthenics is doing, but for me, the videos are mostly too focused and not sufficiently routine based. I sometimes watch them, but I am too lazy to learn to do a squat as an independent activity. He does have a few follow-along workouts, but very few that I've found and they're still quite focused. I just want a 30 minute routine of things I can watch and do that covers all the bases -- a little bit of warm-up, stretch, cardio, strength, you know? I'm not sure that's plausible for the many small steps approach he takes to building capacity because you wouldn't be able to demonstrate 19 different increments to doing a push-up for all the people who were in different phases of the progression, but it is what I personally need to be motivated to do the thing.

A couple of online beginner resources I have been using and like that offer follow-along videos:
Chair Yoga for Healing, Strength and Mobility by Sadie Nardini She and her mom do seated yoga, on a chair or on the ground that's easy to follow and builds on itself.
Body Project's Beginner Workouts They have quite a few all-standing workouts, which is great because while I can get up and down off the floor, it is painful and time consuming, plus there is usually a fat body as one of the demonstrators which is helpful.

I went to a studio that was specifically for plus-size women in Toronto for awhile but it was too far away from my house to be sustainable. Still, it was nice to learn a bit of yoga in a space where I wasn't 4 times the size of everyone else. Still 2 times the size of most of them, but at least it was closer. It makes a real difference in feeling like you're allowed to be there.

In Vancouver, they have a program that used to be called Healthiest Winner (a reaction name to the tv show Biggest Loser) and is now called something else. All Bodies Community Fitness, it seems. It's run through the Parks & Rec department at various community centres around town and focuses on providing a more beginner level of instruction in various things. Pre-covid they had gentle aquafit classes, walking groups, group training sessions that emphasized simple exercises to develop range of motion, equipment based training specifically for people with joint problems, as well as some seminars on health-related topics. Sadly, Covid put an end to a lot of that, but hopefully it will come back. The advantage of having it as a sort of defined, named program vs. just a bunch of independent sessions is that people felt like they could and should participate in a variety of the activities, and get to know each other, so there's a sense of built-in comradery and the advantage of having friends who are expecting / hoping you will be there. The aquafit instructor -- who is very plus-sized -- actually has become one of our closest friends and will be getting up at oh dark thirty tomorrow to drive us to the airport. I don't think that's a normal benefit, though ;)
posted by jacquilynne at 6:50 AM on April 28 [19 favorites]


Another one I find doable is Ballet Based Movement. It's listed as for seniors and beginners and features a dancer and her mom.
posted by FencingGal at 7:28 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]


I'm by no means a novice when it comes to strength training, but I frequently fall off the exercise wagon because there just aren't enough hours in the day for me to spend all those hours in the gym and live my life. But I'm getting to a stage of life in which I want to do some prophylactic mitigation of future age-related muscle loss. Since mid February I've been doing a program called "super slow" that's once a week for around 25 minutes. It's expensive, because you have to work with a trainer, but I've already achieved gains and increased muscle mass to an extent obvious enough that mrs. slkinsey has noted and remarked.

The reason I bring this up in the thread is that the super slow technique was developed initially for older women with osteoporosis, and as a result one fundamental aspect of the regimen is to minimize the possibility of injury while performing simple, easy-to-understand movements. I see men and women at my super slow gym at all ages, sizes and putative levels of fitness and muscular development.
posted by slkinsey at 7:55 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]


It's been interesting watching Supernatural find its level. The product is basically Peloton-in-VR, or Beat Saber turned into a fitness program. You do shadowboxing or various light calesthenic things with a very light video game and a coach urging you on. I like it enough to be paying for it.

But Supernatural started with what looked like a really hard core audience. The founder and Head of Fitness there Leanne Pedante is this super-fit, high energy person. She is what I imagine the stereotypical Crossfit instructor to be. A lot of the early marketing and exercise programs looked to be aimed this way, "high intensity gonna get you burning!" kinda stuff. Fortunately they soon realized that wasn't their only market.

The tutorials I took in January greatly emphasized that you should find your own level. The coaches encourage you to push yourself a bit, but only if it feels good. In the initial calibration you're able to moderate squat depth as you need, which my right knee is grateful for. When I log in I have my choice of three levels of workout intensity and lengths anywhere from 8 to 30 minutes and I can pick what's right for me that day without judgment. The coaches scripts are all super encouraging and emphasize how much good you're doing yourself just being there.

I have to think their primary market is people like me; gamer nerds who bought an Oculus and then realized they could do with a little exercise. That's a very different market than people who have gym memberships they actually use several times a week.
posted by Nelson at 8:06 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


(Haven't read the article yet, but based on the comments..) the GMB folks are another nice addition to the list of gentle, reasonable exercise plans. It's especially fun if you like to crawl around and do gymnastics-y things (or would like to be able to do those things). They've been around for ages, and were started by a former gymnast and a physical therapist, and they have a ton of free content if you want to see if you like their approach. Over the years they've slowly shifted from emphasizing calisthenics and gymnastics skills, to teaching how to explore movement safely so that you can move in ways that bring you joy.

I was also recently introduced to Nutritious Movement and I haven't tried any of her plans so I can't comment on that, but boy her explanation there of how venous insufficiency works was so good I sent it to a relative who suffers from it and had been asking me about it (I'm the family medical researcher). Great discussion of how calf raises help, as well. I keep meaning to look into more of her stuff.

And a request: after years of getting tendinitis all over like wack-a-mole, I ended up being diagnosed with hypermobility. There's extremely limited PT care for it in the country I live in, so I'm always on the look-out for something like these sorts of sites, but with an emphasis on training geared towards the Ehlers Danlos and hypermobile crowd. If you know of any, please post :)
posted by antinomia at 8:30 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


I think another thing that trips people up is past performance. In my 20s I was a physical specimen. Now in my 50s after a few decades of a sedentary life style coupled with desk work, I'm supremely disappointed that I can't run, jump, push at a high level. So I really have to work hard to rein myself in from trying to go for it at the gym. Exercise is as much psychology as physiology.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 8:31 AM on April 28 [11 favorites]


I have enjoyed Bob and Brad, but I discovered that they poach some of their videos and thumbnails from a chiropractor’s channel. I think it was this one. If it’s about releasing or popping something, I watch that guy instead.
posted by Comet Bug at 8:49 AM on April 28


Great comments, everyone. This is something that's been on my mind for a while; I've always resented the hell out of fitness coaches, leaders, etc. that pegged their classes (even the so-called beginner ones) way the heck above what a noob could reasonably do. I'm still pissed about a certain step class instructor that used to chide people during the class itself with "You gotta listen!" No, you gotta remember that lots of us are not used to your elaborate choreography because we came to a class that, at its heart, is about stepping up on a plastic bench and stepping down from it, and expected something like that, not whatever fancy competition routine you're doing for the contest in your head. Sorry, just had to get that out.

Anyway, I'm coming to grips with being in my late fifties and realizing that I have to have realistic fitness goals and methods of reaching them for my middle age and later, and that I have to be careful about what to pick and who to follow--even other middle-aged people aren't necessarily good teachers if they're the kind who have been jacked since high school. Apple Fitness+ has had some good instructors and most if not nearly all of their routines have variations for people who are less strong, flexible, etc.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:06 AM on April 28 [8 favorites]


Decoupling fitness from weight loss is the best way to actually achieve fitness goals. Been going to my gym for 2 1/2 years and haven't really lost weight. My clothes fit better though and I feel better though.
posted by greatalleycat at 9:08 AM on April 28 [18 favorites]


I have never felt so validated.
posted by bleep at 9:49 AM on April 28


Looks like basically nobody has read TFA before commenting so I won't either.

I just want to say, where the Hell has The Atlantic been since... IDK, forever, probably, that they are just now noticing that "beginner-level" exercise is treated "like a niche." I mean, it's a good thing that "beginner-level" exercise is even a niche, considering that for all of history up to more or less the present moment is has not even been that.

Were you a horribly-out-of-shape kid in elementary or middle school? How much help was the PE teacher at helping you change? What was the PE teacher doing instead?

In conclusion, both the "fitness industry" and "physical education" have negative net value to people who are not already athletes.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 9:49 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


Looks like basically nobody has read TFA before commenting so I won't either.

I sure did. I encourage everyone to read the article we're discussing, you might learn something!
posted by Nelson at 10:02 AM on April 28 [11 favorites]


I’ve been casually told that mainstream gyms make their money on people who subscribe and don’t come, and boutique gyms make their money on people who are there all the time. Also that almost noone makes money on 1-1 instruction, including (averaged over their careers) the instructors.

Even discounting for cynicism and despair, these are strong disincentives to beginner-friendly gyms! Is Planet Fitness the only one trying the other way?

I have an older relative who had to go to PT after blowing out her knee. She now has more mobility than she had had for decades beforehand, because she really didn’t know how to move. Lots of women were brought up to never sweat or move exuberantly. At 60, my mother in law remarked that she really didn’t know how to tell if she was exercise-tired or had hurt herself until it was well too late. She goes on many slow walks, because that’s what she feels safe doing, but she lost a lot of options.
posted by clew at 10:05 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


I did read the article. I don’t know if it mostly cites online teachers because that’s useful for a global readership, or because that’s the way to make money teaching total beginners if you aren’t a physical therapist.
posted by clew at 10:07 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


In conclusion, both the "fitness industry" and "physical education" have negative net value to people who are not already athletes.

That's pretty much the tl;dr for the second third of this article, just in case you were wondering if your ideas were revolutionary ones that the authors of the article hadn't considered.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:14 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


In conclusion, both the "fitness industry" and "physical education" have negative net value to people who are not already athletes.

In my state they cut PE to 2-3 days a week when my brother was in 2nd grade in 1985 (?) so putting a lot of blame on PE seems wrong, or alternately, if it's a net negative (not sure I'd agree with that) well it was paired back a long time ago. Are kids more fit now compared to then? I'd say there are too many environmental factors to even determine that.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:19 AM on April 28


These fitness videos recently became huge in China because they are aimed at beginners -- 1 , 2. (The guy in front is called 刘畊宏,and the women in the back in the second video are his wife and his mother-in-law.)
posted by of strange foe at 10:23 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


I can't read the article without signing up for a subscription; must have hit my free article limit.

PE and Games lessons, which happened once or twice a week throughout my 1980s-90s schooling, taught me that physical activity was something you either had a knack for, or you didn't. And I didn't. As the child and then teenager who couldn't run as fast, throw as far or keep going for as long as the rest of the class - and who was stiff as a board and uncoordinated to boot - I was left to struggle along as best I could. (Or sometimes held up to scorn.)

In fairness, much the same applied to a great many subjects at school - those who had the knack were able to benefit from the new techniques and knowledge they were being taught, and those who didn't were left behind.

However, the end result is that I have always considered myself someone who simply isn't capable of success in anything more taxing than walking, and have always seen gyms, personal trainers and the like as being for people who are already fit and want to get fitter or learn exciting new skills.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:31 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


I ran into precisely this problem when my youngest was born. I had an emergency C-section for a ruptured uterus, and the recovery was AWFUL, I could barely walk, and wasn't even cleared for PT for like six months. Then I went to PT, and it was good! But then I graduated from PT and was ready to begin "actual fitness," and there was just NOTHING. Nothing in between "graduated from PT" and "already am fit, actually."

I've had a couple of health setbacks, so fitness honestly continues to be a struggle! I don't like to walk too far from home in case a particular health issue flares up -- I get scared of being caught outdoors without transit if it does -- and there's just really limited options for the unfit. I managed to talk my way into a senior yoga class, and that was actually really good (until Covid shut it down). We recently had a public fitness center open in my town, with an indoor track, so I may join that so I can walk indoors and not worry I'll be caught outdoors away from home if I have an emergency. I'm kind-of hopeful that because it's a public, tax-supported center (and not a private, for-profit company) they'll have more offerings geared towards senior citizens etc that I can leverage as a "beginner"? I guess I'll see!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:34 AM on April 28 [7 favorites]


I remember when I once got a free subscription to Men's Health. Reading that magazine I got the feeling that my workouts were never hard enough, I was never fit enough, and I must have looked terrible because I didn't have shaven, tanned, six-pack abs like all the models in the magazine. I finally realized that always felt bad about myself after reading that magazine and cancelled it.

For my post-heart attack cardio, I found this great site that pushes a program that is intended for out-of-shape overweight diabetics all the way to ultramarathoners. The same program for both! It is basically low-heart-rate training. You calculate your set heart rate, then you work up to that heart rate and don't go beyond it. If you are out of shape, then that means you are walking. Eventually, (at least in my experience), you'll start to be able to move faster at the same heart rate--maybe some slow jogging during the walk, then eventually more and more as your body adapts.

The site answers lots of questions across the whole spectrum: from people really out of shape and from marathoners.
posted by eye of newt at 11:43 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


I started going to the gym with friends in my second year of university. None of us had any expectations of becoming "swole", the more advanced pair of friends subscribed to a hardgainers mailing list where a lot of emphasis was placed on you probably not seeing instant results but that you're still building strength, and we all followed their lead. From that point on I always liked going to the gym, after a while you start to see the same faces and it's a bit of a community where we share the same space but don't really interact with each other, but outside of university it's always been harder to go because it isn't right there.

For a couple of years my family had a YMCA membership and I signed up for personal training. I really enjoyed my sessions and while they were spendy I still felt they were good value. I had two trainers, first one and then the other, that were very different from each other but were also both very good but after the second trainer left for a different job I didn't feel like starting with someone new and then without the training sessions it reduced my motivation to go on my own and I eventually stopped going, reasoning that I could stay active just doing stuff with my kids, which by and large is true but it's been more running around and doing stuff that maybe I shouldn't be like learning how to skateboard or do parkour than strength training.

During the pandemic I started cycling to work and for the amount of activity I've been doing, 90-100 minutes most days, my weight hasn't really changed (this is that whole weight loss comes from diet not exercise thing I guess and I eat way too many snacks like cookies and potato chips to expect anything different) but my waist has gotten smaller and my legs bigger. I've realized that I probably don't have time to go to the gym with any regularity and keep telling myself that I'll buy a set of adjustable dumbbells and a bench so that I can do some strength training, 15-20 minutes a day, at home. I had to finish some long overdue projects around the house first, but now that they're done and Ramadan is almost over there won't be anything stopping me so we'll see if it happens.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:17 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


This tracks.

I have a friend who, pre-covid, was a yoga teacher. He doesn't look like the stereotypical instructor - male, POC, below average height, not particularly skinny. He's the first to admit that he's probably not the most flexible person in the classes he teaches. He doesn't subscribe to any of the 'woo' about toxins or wellness often expoused by people in the community.

In the yoga studio, he consistently has the most people in his classes, to the dismay of all the other instructors. He's approachable and patient with people who are beginners, and they specifically go to his class over the better trained, more flexible instructors.

Alas, this studio proclaimed covid to be a hoax, and stayed open with indoor classes in direct violation of local laws. So of course he quit.
posted by meowzilla at 12:49 PM on April 28 [10 favorites]


Oh gosh, I'm such an advocate for starting small. I've written elsewhere on this site about how I went from zero movement --> figure skating, just because it sounded fun --> taking group figure skating lessons because I wanted a weekly commitment --> private figure skating lessons because I wanted to make progress --> checking out a local small gym because a woman at the rink said she was having fun there --> doing extremely slow & steady learning at the gym (then at home during the pandemic) --> going back to the gym for more slow & steady progress.

In the midst of that I lost a ton of weight, started working with a therapist on body issues, gained some weight back, am working on intuitive eating.

Meanwhile, I'm almost 55 and Monday I deadlifted my PR, 135 pounds. Yesterday I barbell squatted my PR, 90 pounds. I started my deadlifts with maybe a 5 lb. dumbbell in each hand. I started my squats with just body weight. Starting small -- with a happy beginner's mentality -- is definitely the way to go, and there are gyms/trainers/instructors/online channels/etc. out there that will help.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:52 PM on April 28 [9 favorites]


In my state they cut PE to 2-3 days a week when my brother was in 2nd grade in 1985 (?) so putting a lot of blame on PE seems wrong, or alternately, if it's a net negative (not sure I'd agree with that) well it was paired back a long time ago.

I had PE one day a weak and it was the part of the week I dreaded the most. The humiliation started in the changing room and continued throughout for all those too slow, too uncoordinated, too out of shape and lacking in upper body strength and too fat to do anything that was required to the requested standard. People who were not those kids have no idea. As an adult I was extremely surprised to find that there was plenty of exercise I enjoyed. It just wasn’t being publicly ranked against my peers in ball sports, track sports or balancing on beams or whatever other random shit the PE curriculum deemed relevant.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:11 PM on April 28 [13 favorites]


As an adult I was extremely surprised to find that there was plenty of exercise I enjoyed.

I had this experience too. I think I was taking tai chi when I realized I didn't hate moving my body. I just hated gym class.

Back in the dark-age 70s gym classes, we were also graded on our weight. I don't remember the numbers, but the grades were A, B, C, D, and F depending on how far you were from what the charts said was your ideal weight. I always flunked weight for being too fat. And I remember one girl who was naturally thin who also got bad grades in weight. She was maybe ten pounds under the ideal. They must have gotten complaints because they eventually said your mother (specifically your mother) could sign off on a different weight for you, but I would have been too embarrassed to tell my mom.
posted by FencingGal at 2:36 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


or whatever other random shit the PE curriculum deemed relevant.
Climbing the rope. The vault. :|
posted by Glinn at 3:52 PM on April 28 [4 favorites]


> Climbing the rope.

Ha! That's the goal I'm working on with my trainer: climbing a rope, which I have never done in my entire life.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:00 PM on April 28 [4 favorites]


If anyone else is curious about the CDC guidelines mentioned in the article: for adults aged 18 - 65, it's: "At least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity such as brisk walking. At least 2 days a week of activities that strengthen muscles."
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:03 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


@jacquilynne
That's pretty much the tl;dr for the second third of this article, just in case you were wondering if your ideas were revolutionary ones that the authors of the article hadn't considered.
No, the observation is not a new one with me either. It was about 40 years ago, as a 20-something who had never been in shape for anything finally encountering a pain-free running book, that prompted the insight.

@The_Vegetables
In my state they cut PE to 2-3 days a week when my brother was in 2nd grade in 1985 (?) so putting a lot of blame on PE seems wrong...

Oh sweet summer child...

In the 1960s and '70s, before the antisocial madness took full control of the Republicans, the typical elementary or middle school pupil in the Midwest (at least) had PE five days per week. The issue is not that there's not enough PE, it's that PE teachers don't care about kids who aren't already athletes.

It's like if the academic classroom teachers never paid attention to any kid who did have reading or math skills at least four years above grade level, and spent all their time tutoring the kids who were HYPS candidates.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 11:03 AM on April 29 [4 favorites]


not enough PE, it's that PE teachers don't care about kids who aren't already athletes.
You all must have a very different experience in PE than me. We did stuff that was moderately competitive and required some athletic skills for sure (like kickball and soccer--with the entire class), but we also did things like square dancing, basic gymnastics, and beanbag tossing and other really light barely athletic stuff. PE was not 'athletics', which was a separate class starting in jr high, where they did care how much of an athlete you were.


academic classroom teachers never paid attention to any kid who did have reading or math skills at least four years above grade level
Yeah, my kids public school isn't too far from that, and any public school that caters to the upper middle class is the same. Kids learn to read at home, either before or during kindergarten.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:53 AM on April 29


I installed a pull up bar a few days ago, so this post is very timely. Question - what's the cheap way to make the gymnastics ring set? Something from the hardware store?
posted by rebent at 2:08 PM on April 29


Urf this is such a big problem in the world of fitness (or physical activity, as those of us who try and help inactive people get active tend to call it, to make it less intimidating).

I work for an organisation dedicated to helping adults of all ages, shapes, sizes, fitnesses etc. take up running with friendly, accessible, supportive running groups. In fact, we call them jogging groups, another attempt to make them more approachable. We have a Couch to 5K programme that progresses at half the speed of most (so after your first 10 weeks with us, you're running for 15 minutes; it takes another 10 weeks to double that). But we also have a programme you can do before our first learn to run programme, where over the course of 10 weeks, you build up gradually to be able to walk briskly for 30 minutes. That's our baseline for starting the beginners' running programme, and we discovered not everybody could do that, so we help them get there. It's like the couch to 5K, but you alternate slow and brisk walking, and gradually increase the proportion of briskness.

So many of the people who come to us were put off exercise by school PE. I always remember one jog leader telling me about some new joggers he'd started with, who were adults who had literally never been out of breath in their lives, and when they first attempted to jog for 30 seconds, they thought that the sensation of being out of breath meant they were having a heart attack.

The big problem is that most people who are keen enough on sports to end up coaching it, have never really experienced being totally, chronically unfit. They were sporty kids, who grew into sporty adults. They might have been injured, and had to rehab, they already knew the theory behind it all, they knew what they were aiming for, they knew they could do it eventually. They had muscle memory of the key movement patterns involed in sport, self-image as a sporty person, probably a lot of residual fitness in the rest of their body.

When I took up kettlebells, I had a big debate with the guy who owned the gym - a friendly, family-owned place that prided itself on helping people get into shape and motivating them to make progress. He refused to have a kettlebell lighter than 8kg (c.18lbs) in the gym. I still don't really understand why, he just wouldn't do it, implied that it was pandering to people, everyone needed to be pushed. As a small woman with no upper body strength, I could barely get through the sessions, and only stuck with it because I was so bloody-minded, but it was so blinkered.

So many people just don't comprehend at all where you have to put the bottom rung of the ladder, to enable people take their first step, so that they can then start to climb.
posted by penguin pie at 4:14 PM on April 29 [13 favorites]


penguin pie: Is your user name a reference to The Penguin Chronicles? Reading John Bingham's columns in Runner's World was my first ever exposure to the idea that running could be for fun and fitness, not for pain and winning. As a teenage competitive runner, that message didn't fully penetrate, because I still had a coach who judged successful practices by how many people vomited. As a chronically ill adult, the penguin way of thinking about exercising is my lifeline. Rereading his columns now, there is a lot of body non-positivity, fatphobia, etc. that is not helpful and would no longer be acceptable, thank goodness. But there's a lot of good stuff, too. Waddle on, friends!
posted by hydropsyche at 4:03 AM on April 30 [2 favorites]


Actually, it's not! I just happened to live somewhere that had a lot of penguins when I first joined MeFi* :)
I've come across John Bingham, though I must admit not read him in detail - he comes up a lot in inspirational quotes about running that I see peppered about my work social accounts. I really should have more of a read.

*Should add for clarity that I never ate a penguin pie. Though I will admit to having tried a penguin egg. Fishy.
posted by penguin pie at 4:18 AM on April 30 [2 favorites]


When I took up kettlebells, I had a big debate with the guy who owned the gym - a friendly, family-owned place that prided itself on helping people get into shape and motivating them to make progress. He refused to have a kettlebell lighter than 8kg (c.18lbs) in the gym. I still don't really understand why, he just wouldn't do it, implied that it was pandering to people, everyone needed to be pushed. As a small woman with no upper body strength, I could barely get through the sessions, and only stuck with it because I was so bloody-minded, but it was so blinkered.


They may aspire to be "a friendly, family-owned place that pride[s] itself on helping people get into shape and motivating them to make progress", but that attitude makes it sound like he's got a core of black-iron swole bro that just won't budge. That's why Planet Fitness has done so well, and why the bros hate them so much. If someone is that unwilling to even consider a direct request--and it wouldn't even be that expensive to get lighter kettlebells, since weights generally seem to be priced by weight--then he may as well open yet another CrossFit box.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:42 AM on April 30


Oh my god, that "Presidential Fitness Test" from elementary and middle school nearly scarred me for life. Luckily by the mid-late 90s they weren't doing weigh-ins (as a chubby kid that would have been humiliating beyond belief) but I couldn't do a single pull up or push up, was not especially flexible (sit and reach). I was ok with situps except for that one time the week of the PFT was during my very first time getting my period and my cramps were so awful I only managed 9, and then had to explain to my gym teacher why.

But the mile run is what makes me angry beyond belief. I always came in last, and we ran it on a muddy field (I grew up in the Bay Area, fog meant the field was always muddy). If you don't know - fields are harder to run on than pavement or asphalt. And mud? Forget it. I came in last every time, somewhere between 13 and 15 minutes, and everyone in the class who finished before me would be waiting impatiently, and I would always want to cry.

What infuriates me about this is that I assumed from this experience that I was too fat/inept/not built for running. 20 years later, my marathoner friend told me about Couch to 5K and told me gently to give it a try, and she'd give me tips on proper running form and what shoes would work for me and what types of surfaces were good for beginners (hard surfaces yes, avoid fields and trails for now to start). And it turns out... I am a decent runner. I was running races within 3 months, and at not too shabby paces.

The difference is, I HAD AN EXPERT RUNNER WHO TAUGHT ME HOW TO RUN. Running, like any sport, has proper technique to avoid injury. It requires a mastery of skill. No gym teacher EVER taught me HOW to run. Posture. Arm placement. Toe strike vs heel strike. How to improve speed gradually and safely.

But mostly, for me: posture. Posture, posture, posture. And firm running surfaces. And in races: don't start too fast and run out of gas 3/4 through. Know your pace and he realistic.

No gym teacher taught me how to run. They didn't teach us running technique. They assumed all kids run around, so let's time them. Except I didn't run around. I did theater and played music and was sort of good at pickup 3 on 3 basketball mostly because I could shoot well, not because I was fast.

So I ran that mile twice a year on a muddy field with my chubby self hunched over and starting way too fast slipping and sliding trying to keep up with these athletic soccer playing kids who could run 5-7 minute miles, ended up walking half of it, and then being the last one in while everyone thought "she's too fat to run".

I wasn't. I was still fat when I started running as an adult. I would still be running if I hadn't injured my knee during a gig in a bar with a slippery floors.

Learning how to excersize is important. You can't excersize without learning basic beginner techniques. I recently had to drop out of a "beginner" Pilates class because it was aggravating my knee and also causing a sciatica flare up. The teacher had no modifications for someone like me who wanted to improve core strength and flexibility at a beginner pace. None. She was confused as to why I needed modifications. "It's a beginner class." No. No it wasn't.

Oh well.
posted by nayantara at 9:58 AM on April 30 [13 favorites]


No gym teacher taught me how to run. They didn't teach us running technique.

Almost none of them teach any technique. Very rarely, a gym teacher or someone else would try to coach me on how to throw a ball or something, but by then I'd already been pretty well indoctrinated in the mindset that I Wasn't Athletic and mostly I just endured it until they left me alone and I could go back to the serious business of daydreaming about being aboard the starship Enterprise. The exception? Riding a bicycle, which was oddly considered less of an athletic endeavor and more of just a standard kid transportation modality, and which I did learn (with many crashes) because otherwise how would I get around? And that's still, by far, my favorite athletic activity to do in public, my more-or-less-daily walk to get a cup of coffee notwithstanding.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:39 AM on April 30 [4 favorites]


Oh, god, that mile run. I would run for about thirty seconds, immediately get weak and dizzy, and just drag-walk the rest of the mile while the other kids watched and jeered. In my twenties, I was diagnosed with low blood pressure, but when I was a kid I was just lazy and incompetent.
posted by LindsayIrene at 10:39 AM on April 30 [3 favorites]


Since we're all sharing PE experiences... I grew up a gay, unathletic nerd kid in Houston, TX. All the same PE misery folks have been sharing here. Then came junior year where I did not want to play tackle football.

So I signed up for Dance instead. And got three friends to join me. We were the first boys to take dance in years. The asshole football coach who was doing assignments literally called me a fairy after I left the room.

That dance class was amazing! I was terrible at dance and the mix of ballet and jazz and modern made no sense to me at all. But the teacher was great! She taught us to move! How to stretch, how to pose, how to transition gracefully and be creative and be strong. It was a serious workout too. Great for flexibility but also awareness of how your own body moves in space. It was literally the only physical education I got in years of school and I'm grateful for it.

(Also that was the year that I figured out I was, indeed, a fairy. Fuck you, bigot football coach.)
posted by Nelson at 10:46 AM on April 30 [15 favorites]


I have always said “Math shouldn’t be taught by people who love math, because they think everyone should love math, and they just haven’t found the right approach for making you love it. When they fail to find the right approach, they assume there’s something wrong with you, or you’re doing it on purpose.”

We say the same thing about yoga in our household. I want to be taught yoga by someone who hates yoga.

Also - although I’ve never been particularly athletic or fit, my experience of aging and trying to get active again is that my muscles are like painted furniture that I’m trying to repaint - exercise just slides off. There’s no grip - I’m not sure how to rough up the surface first.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:49 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


Anyone in this thread who's looking to get very mild peer pressure to exercise a bit: I'm scheduling a few light exercise workout videocalls in the next week where everybody does a light exercise video together. They'll be on IRL as PaperworkAndBodywork. Please feel free to join me!
posted by brainwane at 11:31 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


For those wanting a longer routine: he just linked this today.
posted by Bee'sWing at 4:49 AM on May 12


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