Like most people, my workout path has had many turns, bumps, ups, and downs. I'm not even sure you could call it a path—more of a partially cleared trail, really. Lots of valleys, occasional peaks, and more than a few long roads to I'm-not-sure-where. I may never find the "perfect" fitness activity, but it won't be for lack of looking.
I grew up in a sports-crazed family, so being strong and fast was always in the front of my mind. But in the '90s, the small town I grew up in didn't take girls' sports seriously, so I never got much direction on how to "make gains." The weight room was a place I primarily used to strut around in short-shorts and talk to football boys. Even so, I learned enough to know that I wanted to be a chick with muscles, not a weak one.
Since then, I've been a basketball player, runner, yoga novice, beach volleyball aficionado, HIIT freak, trail junkie, wanna-be cyclist, and Zumba-class dropout. Most recently, I've been hanging around a bodybuilding gym. Predictably, I've seen my body go through a broad range of shapes and sizes with each activity and training style. I've been kinda pudgy to a little too skinny, pathetically weak to surprisingly strong, a cardio beast to a sweaty mess, flexible to inflexible and back to flexible again.
Right now, I'm feeling pretty good. Just the other day, a guy told me my arms were "too big." Since the peeps at my gym, Armbrust Pro, consider my muscles to be newborns, I took this as a compliment of epic proportions!
The Age Of Haters
Anyway, throughout this detailed quest for athletic nirvana, I've been given a lot of unsolicited fitness advice. To be clear, I'm not a great lover of advice. But lately, it seems like it's becoming more common—and more judgmental. Everywhere I go, someone is talking about the style of exercise that I should—or more specifically, shouldn't—be doing for optimal results.
I'm not talking about the "all exercise is good, but this is what works best for me" person. I'm thinking more of the runner or CrossFitter who says (in so many words), "Curls? Those are for vain bodybuilders. You might as well start eating six meals a day." Or the bodybuilder who calls CrossFit a cult that causes you to lose gains, forget proper form, and snap your spine within minutes.
All this talk set me to wondering: How come everyone seems to care so much how others get fit? What's behind all the hate? Is it friendly competition, insecurity, or some kind of particularly nasty groupthink? I want to know.
And, for the record, I encountered this in person before I ever saw it online. But once you glimpse how nasty and pervasive it is in forums and comments sections across several popular fitness sites, it's hard to forget. And oddly, the two camps that seem to be beefing the most are CrossFit enthusiasts and bodybuilders.
Forgive me, but I just don't get it. These two disciplines have far, far more in common than they differ. For one thing, my CrossFit instructor and my bodybuilding coach both think I suck at deadlifts—so that's one bit of common ground, right? But the two camps—and all other strength sports—share plenty when it comes to lifts, programming, and lifestyle. The difference is one of dialect, not language.
And even though no one following either methodology seems to want to admit it, there are some pretty serious similarities between paleo-style eating and the classic, "clean" bodybuilder diet. I've eaten both plans, and it's a whole lotta protein and no Doritos either way.
Have Your Wod And Big Arms, Too
Of course, I'm not the only one thinking about this. Check out this video where professional physique competitor and Bodybuilding.com athlete Steve Cook takes on CrossFit Games star Brooke Ence in a bodybuilding and CrossFit-style workout:
Physique Meets Fitness With Steve Cook And Brooke Ence
Watch The Video - 12:15
These two seem to be getting along pretty well, huh? Impressive. There are lines being crossed all over the place, yet everyone involved is having fun getting crushed and feeling strong. Just don't read the comments. Never...read...the comments.
OK, I admit I read the comments, both on that video and everywhere else. And what I found was no surprise: 10 negatives for every positive. Hater A says Steve is a traitor who joined the cult. Hater B says bodybuilders are human mannequins who lack functional strength and agility. When the apocalypse comes, the zombies will catch them easily and feast on them first. Hater A counters with his squat PR, and says CrossFitters have no regard for form.
And so on and so on, until both people log off and head back to the gym—to do more or less the same thing.
The Real Villain! The Couch
Instead of losing sleep over the well-being of some of the fittest people on the planet, let's talk about what we all should really be worrying about: health. Yep, I'm going there. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reports that 2.1 billion people—nearly 30 percent of the world's population—are either obese or overweight. In the U.S. alone, Let's Move estimates annual health-care costs of obesity-related illnesses at $190.2 billion—that's 21 percent of annual medical spending.
Those stats are big, scary, and getting scarier. To me, they show that we're all on the same team—and that we need to be helping as many people as possible to join that team, rather than worrying which position they play.
Who cares if you do your pull-ups fast or slow, when there is a global health epidemic going down all around us? Stop hating, and start moving. It's that simple.
Hey Arnold, Wanna Sit With Me At The Games?
Instead of spending our time tearing down our fellow athletes, we could put that energy—and we have plenty of it, because we are fit as hell!—into an overall movement toward healthier people everywhere. For the rest of this year, let's give our fellow athletes a pass. Even better, let's become fans!
CrossFit-style workouts are killer for burning fat and making you feel like you've seriously accomplished something—because you have. We can all appreciate intense, fat-incinerating cardio that doesn't require plodding away on a boring machine! And clearly the majority of the CrossFit crew loves a heavy lift.
Know what else they like, whether they'll admit it or not? Looking good, and looking like they lift; feeling good, and feeling strong. We all like that—and we should!
I follow Christmas Abbot on Instagram. I follow Pauline Nordin, too. I can't decide whose feed is more inspiring between those two, and the great thing is, I don't have to. They approach fitness in very different ways, but in both cases, seeing their results gets my ass off the couch every day. And that's what counts.
If you're looking for a program that combines aesthetics and performance, check out Aesthetics Meets Performance, an 8-week program to help you both look and perform like a pro. If you like that elite fitness edge but want to pack on more show-stopping muscle, True Muscle is the program for you. And if you crave the ultimate performance challenge of an Ironman but don't want to lose any of your hard-earned mass, follow Kris Gethin as he dares to put his bodybuilder bod to the test in Man of Iron.