Critique of “No Excuses”

Why do I take issue with No Excuses? It can be a well-intentioned sentiment, but all too often it serves the purpose of attempting to trivialize the complications of a person’s life. While a person may have made the decision, or at least the action, to accept various responsibilities into her life—job, spouse, children, bills, taxes, interests other than fitness, etc—it is not to her discredit that she puts these things before her own health or fitness. Nor is it to her discredit if she remains ignorant or confused about the components of simple everyday fitness. There is a massive system of dis- and misinformation in place, which, coupled with the unrealistic and harmful body images with which we are daily faced, leads to aspirations based on lies and navigated to with deliberately faulty compasses.

There are many good excuses to not being able to work out, but the best of all is probably that neither reasonable goals nor effective methods are understood by 9/10s of the population, including the oft-overlooked learned skill of incorporating fitness into one’s life with regularity. For those of us who are, for whatever reason, able to self-propel our fitness journeys, the gym is a place in which we regularly reinforce our self-esteem, our positive associations of ourselves: fitness, worthiness, sticktoitiveness. If and when we “fall off” a little bit, we know that we will get back on, because we have accepted that failure is relative, a part of success. But for the un- or under-initiated, the gym is often a place of absolute failure and negative associations: negative judgments, negative sensations, negative knowledge, so at variance with the comfort zones of the uninitiated as to be actually repellant.

While this “excuse” is in place, all others become subject to it, and then, even once it has been somewhat “grown out of,” a lack of comfort remains the prime dictator of whether this or that excuse will suddenly become valid. Only now, the discomfort that keeps a person from the iron is less with the gym and its methods and more with some other aspect of her life, often caused by one of the responsibilities I point to earlier. Because many people’s lives consist of more than one or two things—fitness and something else, say—but instead, three, four, five, or even more things, many of which are attended to compulsorily, they find it hard to dedicate adequate time to fitness to derive the types of results that we see depicted in magazines and movies.

For the folks in these images, there are truly “no excuses.” If they are a model, fitness is central to their lives, and if they are an actor in a Hollywood action movie, getting paid millions of dollars, fitness is MADE to be central. Personal trainers, nutritionists, life coaches, and “yes-men” of every kind surround them and urge them on to the inhuman edge of size and vascularity, pushing the envelope of physical prowess further and further with each year, each franchise, each sequel. The Hugh Jackmans, the Bradley Coopers, the Gerard Butlers, the Nomi Rapaces, et cetera, represent the life(style) “we all wish we had,” that of billboard-level fame and all the subservience and pampering that comes with that. It is a depiction of affluence which embodies our society’s ideal level of material and sensual fulfillment and its corresponding ideal level of physical perfection: absolute, constant, and beyond reproach. Perfect.

For those of us who aren’t movie stars or paid to be at 5% bodyfat all year around (which is not healthy), there is a reason we don’t live up to this ideal: it has nothing to do with our reality. Sure, if a person decides that fitness is the most important thing in her life, and it’s all she wants to do or think about, that’s fine. That’s better than fine; that’s great! But the reason personal trainers and nutritionists exist is that most people don’t think about fitness all that much and don’t want to have to think about it. They have other things on their minds.

I’m not advocating for the persistent ignorance of the population with regard to “how fitness works.” If gym and health classes in our school system were even remotely effective at teaching us anything useful, there wouldn’t be an obesity epidemic, heart disease epidemic, diabetes epidemic, and hypertension epidemic (not that school systems are the only culprit, of course). But people don’t get these illnesses intentionally. They don’t get unhealthy intentionally, they don’t miss workouts or stress-eat intentionally. They do so because they lack one of two things: adequate knowledge, or adequate self-esteem. They seek instant gratification, quick fixes, and painless solutions to problems that they are told on a regular basis are failings of character. Is it a failing of character to have mental pain? To have been body-shamed throughout childhood and adulthood? To have overbearing parents who created unhealthy attitudes to food? To believe that “good enough” and “healthy” only exist somewhere in the Jackman-esque vicinity of impossible? 

I say No. Any fitness professional who aims to help people transcend the excuses that place limits on their lives should try to understand why a certain excuse seems valid. Why is this keeping you from getting to the gym, or eating healthily? And that fitness professional should endeavor to undermine the validity of a false excuse and try to dismantle the excusatory mindset at its cause, until that point when concrete results are reached upon which to build a solid base of self-esteem and momentum. “Results” should not be limited to weight loss or strength gain, but should something as “simple” as reaching a weekly goal of workouts, successfully resisting a stress-eating urge, or reaching out for guidance in a moment of low motivation in the face of a difficult, trying task.

Yes, “mediocre effort produces mediocre results,” but remove the word “mediocre” and what do you get? “Effort produces results,” a principle that can be applied to suit the client’s reality, not some abstract ideal of what constitutes “mediocre.” Results of any kind represent a willpower and a conviction that was not there before. Only once this point has been reached, acknowledged, and surpassed can any novice client hope to make a lasting entree into fitness and to decide, based on her own growing level of comfort, knowledge, and belonging in the fitness world, where and to what degree she wants fitness to fit into her life, and what other habits and mindsets—perhaps some that formerly contributed to her vocabulary of excuses—she is ready to discard and replace with a healthy lifestyle and a more empowered, less excuse-prone approach to life in general.

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