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Monday, June 15, 2015

Fitness, now vs. then

You see a lot more people in their 20's and 30's who look fit than you did 40 years ago. It's not surprising, given the proliferation of various fitness routines.

There's CrossFit. Pilates. P90X "muscle confusion" workouts. Boxercise. Taebo. TRX suspension exercises. Kettlebells. Spinning. Yoga. Zumba and other "dancercise" classes. Various "boot camps." The Navy Seal workout (running interspersed with various calisthenics).

Triathletes have their own culture, as do runners and swimmers.

Forrty years ago, most of these forms of exercise hadn't been dreamed up yet. Forty years ago, guys used to actually be proud of their beer bellies. You'd see a guy put his hand on his belly, say something about his beer consumption, and look as if he thought he'd done something manly.

(Young people will hear this with disbelief, but old people will remember.)

Forty years ago, anybody who worked on his physique was regarded as either abnormally macho or a likely homosexual.

Today, it's just normal.

Forty years ago, people would talk about becoming "musclebound" as if it meant being placed into a cage, never to be able to move freely again.

Today, people understand the correlation between strength and athletic performance.

Forty years ago, the jogging craze was just getting started. Triathlons hadn't yet been invented, and athletes who competed for their schools were expected to give up their sport the moment they graduated.

Today, every other adult you talk to has some athletic goal in mind.

Forty years ago, you could aspire to either be a freakish body builder, or a skinny runner.

Today, you have a plethora of choices.

Forty years ago, the YMCA was, as the Village People suggested in 1978, often just a place to hook up with other guys.

Today, young people hear the song and don't really get the reference.

Forty years ago, for the few guys who did pursue strength and fitness as a goal in itself, the standard measure of how good you were was your bench press. These days, you rarely hear one guy ask another, "How much you bench?"

Forty years ago, you never heard anyone talk about "core strength."

Today, people are far more sophisticated.

Of course, part of the reason you see more guys who are really jacked these days is because of the prevalence of steroids. Forty years ago, a lean, muscular physique was a marvel of nature. Today, if you see one, it's likely there's something unnatural involved.

But even without the steroids, fitness -- in some form or other -- is pretty much a universal goal these days. Forty years ago, that was definitely not the case.

Again, young people will have a hard time believing this, but this post is only a slight exaggeration.


Shaun F said...

In the 70s the "Participation Program' and the Fitness Award Program were launched by the Government of Canada. The "Health Hustle" became part of our daily routine. Doing calisthenics in grade school class for 20 minutes to songs like "Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree" and "Bad Bad Leroy Brown." was really hip. Also we had the opportunity to compete for Gold, Silver and Bronze crests. At bare minimum we'd receive a participation pin for showing up (but it was mandatory as it was integrated into our physical education class with all the fanfare associated with the 1976 Olympics). This was more than 40 years ago, a tangible act of social engineering by the Government. It didn’t influence me at all, as I didn't start going to the gym until I turned 40. Most of young men that go to the gym are a bit too well put together to make me believe that they aren't taking something. In general the left coast (British Columbia) is filled with outdoorsy types that like to be active (all sorts of running, outdoor yoga, biking, kayaking, sailing, mountain biking, skiing and hiking clubs). Beer guts are still respected - but only in limited super elite circles.

John Craig said...

Shaun --
I remember the RCMP fitness program, too, which predated the 70's. There WERE such programs around back then, but they tended to have very few adherents. When I was in elementary school we had to do squat thrusts (I think they call them burps now), and stuff like that. But fitness was a long way from a universal goal the way it is now, and it was never something that was emphasized for people over the age of 25. by that point you were supposed to have "outgrown" such silly stuff.

Ha, I don't think of beer guts as an elite thing.

Mark Caplan said...

Among sidewalk joggers in Charlotte, girls seem to outnumber guys by 5 or 10 to 1. Female joggers were pretty rare 40 years ago. Also, girls don't run like girls anymore.

Even so, the rates of overweight and obesity are still climbing among young people overall, but I agree more people have achieved an elite level of fitness than previously. Social class and ethnicity play a big part here. Third World metabolic systems have not had time to adapt to the Western diet.

John Craig said...

Mark --
You're right, that is a dichotomy: while there are more people who are extremely fit, the numbers of the obese keep climbing. We're the second most overweight nation on earth, with one third of people being simply overweight and another third downright obese. (I was surprised to hear that Mexico ranked number one in obesity.)

And yes, as you point out, those Third World metabolic systems have something to do with those numbers, especially given that those systems often seem to be fed the sweetest, most calorific parts of the Western diet.