In Support of Technological Advancement in Exercise

I’ve been knee-deep in school work since the semester is only 1 month long but I’ve been thinking about tech, specifically how mainstream health and fitness are effectively neo-luddites. I think this has to do, in part, with the relative youth of exercise science. While the teaching of physical education at the University level “officially” began in the early 20th century, it wasn’t until the 1930’s that someone thought, “Hey, we should do some experiments to determine mechanisms of action, rather than just teaching people handstands.” Not that I’m hatin’ on handstands, it just doesn’t explain COX-2 -> PGE2, for instance.

But the handstands bring up a good point, which is that sport has existed far longer than exercise science. Exercise science is a very young discipline, one that few people can totally agree on what is required study. To demonstrate this, take a look at the department names at universities for programs pertaining to exercise science. You’re going to have a hard time finding any titles that are similar. Juxtapose this with the accounting departments at all universities and you’re going to see they’re all named the same thing. Until everyone can agree on the content, the context will remain divided.

Perhaps this is because, as mentioned with the handstand above, so much up what is considered exercise comes from sport. When it was figured out that “something” in athletics contributed to health and vitality, they asked the athletes what that was. The athletes, of course, had no idea what made them healthier on average than the average joe, they just knew what they did. How, not why. These people eventually became the exercise scientists, and thus we are here today.

My rub is regarding tech in exercise, or how coaches will argue that the barbell is the end-all exercise tool, perfection in motion, never to be replaced. This is because it is required for lifting sports, so their point of view is correct: in order to squat well, you need to squat. However, a skill-based activity that happens to give an exercise effect does not mean that it is the only thing to give an exercise effect. While we should be advancing, those whose background is sport/athletics continue to pound home the need for the barbell to be included in all training programs. Really?

While I’m questioning whether or not advancement should be pursued at all, these folks seem to think the zenith has been reached. They have a hammer and everything is a nail.

Take a look at the Hagia Sophia:


The Byzantines built this in 537 AD in the absence of modern technology. An architectural achievement by any standard,  the precision construction is still impressive to this day. Since they were able to do this 1500 years ago, does the remarkable nature negate advancements in building tech since? It worked so well and stands so majestic today…should we just use the construction methods they used and blow up every Lowes from here to North Carolina? Of course not and nobody would argue otherwise but this is exactly how exercise science by way of sport argues…the barbell is the zenith, how dare anyone attempt to think, trying to find something better, more efficient, safer…better. The meat

The facts support advancement in nearly all aspects of life. When it comes to exercise, however, we are stuck with a fucking barbell. Why? Is it a worthy pursuit to discover or invent something that improves the exercise stimulus? Is it a worthy pursuit to take the science from the meatheads whose gift is a genetic hand that they use to “prove” the effectiveness of their program? Give me a break. While people have achieved a lot with all types of training tools, there are a host of corpses strewn to the side of the highway along the way. This is the graveyard fallacy of exercise science. Someone might say “99% of the guys I have expierenced over the years who were HUGE were doing a split routine…” ignoring that 99% of the small guys in every gym are using the same routines. It’s like the argument about conjugate periodization: “Oh yeah, all the winners use the conjugate method.” So did all of the guys who lost. So for every Hagia Sophia there are a bakers dozen of those whose buildings didn’t make it off the foundation.

None of this is evidence that the exercise stimulus has been maximized by the current tools or methods of delivery. 5×5, 3×10, singles…maybe these are required because the barbell is imperfect. Perhaps a better methodo of delivery would negate such schemes.

It’s too bad the meatheads run the funny farm, because there would be a whole lot less criticism of those trying to find a better way. Maybe exercise science would be taken seriously if its proponents didn’t insist that using an ancient tool is the zenith of technology in the field. Give me a fucking break.

16 thoughts on “In Support of Technological Advancement in Exercise

      1. Oh yeah, also great article and great analogy. I assume you are partly (or mostly) referring to the ‘machines are for pussies’ crowd.

  1. The Hagia Sophia was built on the orders of Byzantine Emperor Justinian in Constantinople (today’s Istanbul). Constantinople was the capital of the Roman Empire, Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire, and the Latin Empire. It was Europe’s largest and wealthiest city throughout most of the Middle ages.

    The Ottomans didn’t conquer Constantinople until 1453. They converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

  2. I’m late to the game here, but just wanted to say that this is spot-on, my man. This coming from a guy who loves his rusty barbell and old-school fixie. Ahh, but I do love me up a fine Nautilus machine and that oh-so clever ARX equipment, too 😉

  3. sometimes we think way too much. looking for the perfect way.
    there is beauty in simplicity, beauty in the act of just DOing.

    I think too much. the barbell keeps me from thinking too much.

    I think my quest for “optimal” is ending and the reign of “good enough” is beginning.

    1. While “good enough” works for many, I abhor the mindset. We would not have reached where we are as a civilization if “good enough” was accepted. It is one thing to be comfortable with plateaus; it’s another to accept them forever.

      The barbell was invented before exercise received the critical eye of science. Any biomechanics 101 text exposes the limitations of a barbell and they are many.

      1. I hardly consider the acceptance of good enough as a surrender. In fact I consider it one of my greatest victories to date.

        That said, I deeply respect and appreciate where you are coming from.

        Keep fighting your fight. Thanks for the great resource.

      2. If we had accepted the early ’80s as good enough, we could all be working only 2-3 days a week. Quality of life hasn’t improved much since then to justify 60 hr work weeks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s