2013-03-25

Fitness State Of Mind

While we're on the subject of identifying with comic book heroes, take a moment to imagine what you might feel like if you yourself were injected with Captain America's marvelous serum.

One moment, you would be you, the you we all know and love, lumps and all. You'd be the you that plops down on the couch after a long day, the you that eats a second helping of pie, the you that jokes that you never run "unless chased," the you that considers Olympic athletes to be amazing quirks of human biology, born that way. You already know what that feels like. It feels exactly the way you feel right at this moment. No need to imagine it.

But the next minute, you'd wake up at a higher level of human operation. You'd feel like an Olympian, your muscles would be large and powerful, you would be capable of running speeds, jumping heights, and lifting weights greater than anyone else you know. Your immune system would be more resilient against infections. Your energy level would be higher than it is now. Your mental alertness would be on average much more advanced than your current operating state, even if you are already a very intelligent and alert person. You would be the best possible incarnation of you: same personality, but physically superior in every conceivable way.

If you were capable of speaking the truth to yourself, even when the truth sounds vain, you might feel something like this:
"When you push yourself to the limit in the gym, you begin to get feelings of vigor and power and self-esteem," he told a visitor in 1989, as quoted in the New York Times. "Body builders don't walk on their powerful legs — they float. They actually feel a little sorry for the average person, struggling to feel worthwhile, wasting his vitality, watching his body deteriorate."
That's from an article that appeared two days ago in The Los Angeles Times, covering the recent passing of fitness icon Joe Weider. Fitness amateurs, and those who have never been truly fit in the whole of their adult lives, will find Weider's comments insulting and off-putting. But those of us who have spent any time in our adult lives in a state of real physical fitness know that Weider wasn't being uncouth.

If you've never been fit, then let me assure you: Being fit feels much different - and much better - than anything you have ever felt before. One who has experienced this feeling cannot help but feel a little sorry for those who - by their own choice, understand - have never taken the time to show themselves what it feels like to be that physically superior version of themselves.

Please understand, it's not as though anyone thinks you're a lesser human being. It's more like being at a party where everyone is laughing and having the time of their lives, and then over in the corner, you notice that poor Walter is stuck in the corner, suffering from a cold. You have to feel sorry for Walter - he's not having any fun. He's got a terrible headache and his nose is running. He's coughing so much he can barely think straight. The room is kind of swimming. You do feel sorry for Walter, and it's not as if you look down on him.

But still, you're not going to stop having fun at the party just because Walter has a cold.

Walter's lucky, since he will eventually get over his cold and come out to the next party, ready to beat everyone at the karaoke competition or whatever. People who refuse to exercise are more like people who pretend that they are genetically predisposed to suffer when everyone else is having a good time at a party.

Joe Weider knew this, and he capitalized on it. His marketing genius drove him to promote fitness as a way of life, a way to make yourself feel better, floating on your powerful legs and taking advantage of every precious moment of your vitality. We are all a little worse off with his passing, but think how much he did for us! Weider helped make the fitness world is what it is today, and is responsible for a good chunk of my own physical fitness. (I owned a Joe Weider lifting machine for a few years in my mid-20s, on which I trained every single day.)

In a completely unrelated conversation that happened the day before I learned of Weider's passing, my wife, having just returned from a particularly fruitful workout, asked me whether people who don't exercise know what they're missing out on. I told her no.

The analogy I gave her was that it was like dying on the planet Neptune. All of us know that if we were to travel to Neptune, the temperature, gravitational force, and toxic atmosphere would conspire to kill us. We know that on an intellectual level, but we have no idea what that would actually be like, because it is an event that is totally foreign to the human experience. There is only so far that deductive reasoning can take us with that image, after which our mind blanks. We know it would be death, we have no other understanding of it.

So it is with people who don't exercise. They understand that it makes their bodies feel good. They understand, logically, that this feeling amplifies and increases as they continue to pursue greater and more challenging fitness goals and exercises. They are aware of the many descriptions we give about our heightened mental clarity, the feeling of complete agility, of resilience to infection and physical shock. They've read the magazines, they know what we've said. But aside from the verbal descriptions it is a physical sensation utterly foreign to their own life experience. They have a vague notion of what exercise-induced mental clarity is, but they do not know what it means in their own lives.

No one will ever come along and inject you with a magic serum that turns you into the physically perfect version of yourself. But, lurking just beneath the surface of your mind, just below the mental puddles left by those things you tell yourself to justify not exercising, below the fear and the procrastination... There lies your inner Captain America, the person inside of you who reveals himself or herself when you invest good time and effort to feeling fit.

And that's not just fit enough to walk around the block a few times a week or fit enough to run a 5K. Your inner Captain America is the person inside you who, with proper training, could reach the top of Mount Everest. Your inner Captain America is the person who could win a 5K or a body-building competition. Your inner Captain America is the person who walks with such poise and confidence - won by years of dedicated exercise - that a roomful of people cannot help but marvel (pun intended) at how good you look.

It's just a fun motivational concept. Use it, if you like. Use it if it motivates you to push yourself harder. But if you don't exercise, you might never make it to 93 years of age like Joe Weider, and even if you do, you'll otherwise never know what it feels like to run 100 miles in a week or bench press more than your body weight. What are you waiting for? The serum is your spirit. You were born with it.