“Making mistakes is something everyone does. Learning from them is not.”
My love affair with fitness is unquestionably one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. When it’s all going right, it feels like the fountain of youth, the perfect manifestation of physical expression, and the embodiment of health. But a relationship with fitness, like any relationship, carries with it a shadow, and at times, the possibility of a dark underside. As it is with any person, profession, or craft, a negative motive can thwart an otherwise noble pursuit.
In my lifelong commitment to fitness, our relationship has matured and evolved, as I have learned from the ‘sins’ I committed along the way. Sometimes, making mistakes in fitness is the only way we can truly learn and grow. Today I want to share my experience with the seven deadly sins in fitness, and how to correct them.
Back in the day, I frequently used to run with my shirt off. Not because I needed to, or because it was 100° outside, but because I wanted to show off. Running with your shirt off is not a sin, mind you. But flaunting what you have simply for the sake of it, or even worse, to throw it in the face of others that don’t have it, is. Thankfully, I outgrew my ego-driven approach as I realized I wasn’t so special after all.
As I became more entrenched in the martial arts and boxing, I learned that there is always someone better, faster, or stronger than can put you on your back. Even the greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali, got hurt, knocked out, and lost, on multiple occasions. One of my favorite things about the martial arts is the forced humility inherent in the process. While it may take confidence to step in a ring, there’s no place for ego once you’re in it.
In fitness, we should have the same creed. Someone is always fitter, bigger, leaner, more defined. As the saying goes, pride cometh before the fall. In short, get over yourself and be grateful for what you have, because you won’t have it forever.
As I first got started with fitness, I fell into an elusive and all-too-common trap: more is better. Instead of 10% body fat, why not 5%? Instead of one workout a day, why not two? Instead of a 250lb bench press, why not 300? The obsessive nature of some in their relationship to fitness is one of the most common and pervasive ‘sins,’ and it’s also one of the ugliest. Instead of feeling satisfied with reaching a goal, or seeking a sustainable level of fitness, some covet more and more. We all know wealthy people who never seem satisfied, complain bitterly about money, and seem ungrateful for what they have. Being greedy with fitness is not much different.
The way through greed is to seek qualities like grace, beauty, and flow. Truly flourishing in fitness means tapping into authenticity and sustainability. Finding flow is as much about giving as it is receiving. When you pursue qualities like flow and the expression of beauty, you will find the present moment and erase the sins of greed.
Similar to those that are greedy, gluttons simply can’t get enough. While gluttony is typically thought of in relation to food and drink, gluttony is also defined as an inordinate desire to consume more than one requires. In short, gluttony is consumption to excess.
Many people might think of too much exercise as a good problem to have. But overtraining and excess exercise consumption is no joke. The manifestation of gluttony in fitness is exercise addiction. Like its cousins, eating disorders and body dysmorphia, exercise addiction is a potentially serious issue. Addictions of any kind are not just vices, but carry harmful negative side effects, from failed relationships to severely compromised health.
The sad irony of excessive exercise is the literal manifestation of ‘running from your problems.’ Just like there are no answers at the bottom of a bottle, exercise is a solution and a healthy distraction, only to a point. The gluttony dilemma is best resolved by seeking balance in everything. In fitness, balance is naturally attained through an intentional practiced that will force you to sit with problems, instead of avoiding them. Good examples are yoga, martial arts, and Olympic lifting. In contrast, exercise as a means to an end, like mindless pounding on the treadmill, can lead to someone with an addictive nature simply wanting more and more.
Like many things in our culture, we have over-sexualized fitness. The pursuit of fitness for many has become a way to look, rather than a way to feel. Let’s face it: much of the desire to look a certain way has to do with desire itself. Yes folks, I’m talking about sex. But nowhere in the definition of fitness does it say anything about attraction, looking a certain way, or having a hot bod.
That said, we all look in the mirror and aspire to look our best, and the desire to feel attractive is biological. But an overtly sexual motive in fitness is sinful because it takes away from and runs counter to the true qualities of fitness: grace, health, and real beauty. The gym is not a meat market, and if your end goal is to simply look more attractive, you probably need to work more on defining what it really means to be fit and attractive. Attractiveness is ultimately a quality of genuine contentment and confidence, while fitness is ultimately a state of health and functionality.
I used to yell at myself on runs. “Step it up, man!” I’d yell out loud at myself. Many times, I put myself in boxing rings to spar with professionals because I was pissed, even if I didn’t understand what for. Anger as fuel is a strong motivator. Unfortunately, it’s a poor one, and unhealthy to boot. Several prominent studies link anger to a host of negative side effects.
Anger is known in Buddhism as one of the “three poisons of the mind.” If anger is a poison for your body and mind, than it’s most certainly a poor motivator in the long run, as well. The bottom line is that anger of any sort (self-directed or towards others) has no place in a health and fitness environment. The path away from anger is to seek its opposites, which are also optimal attributes for true wellness: peace, contentment, and serenity.
I was a scrawny kid, and not much of an athlete. Anyone who has ever felt judged for being a non-athlete, slight of frame, or too heavy can develop a fairly sizeable chip on their shoulder. For me, that chip was pretty substantial, and a strong motivator in fitness. While I couldn’t will myself to have the talent to be a star baseball player or the genetics to be 6’5”, nothing could stop me from being supremely fit.
But like anger, envy is a repulsive quality and is ultimately a dead-end as a motivator. Instead of envy, in fitness we should be seeking community; environments that foster support, diversity, and the common pursuit of real wellness. One of the best ways to rid ourselves of envy is to surround ourselves with people who accept up for who we truly are, not who we pretend to be.
Sloth is defined as avoidance of physical or spiritual work. As bad as exercise addiction or blatant vanity are, perhaps the greatest sin (and certainly the deadliest) is to be lazy. It’s always better to do something than to do nothing, and doing nothing as it relates to exercise or fitness is truly sinful.
The human body is meant to move, and it is everyone’s own personal responsibility to find purposeful, meaningful, and sustainable ways to move. Laziness has no place in the human experience. Avoidance of falling prey to the deadliest sin is simply about finding the fire to get off your butt and do something—anything. The spark for that fire is to seek inspiration in the form of purpose. Find your purpose, and you will find your fuel to move.
Grow From Your Mistakes
There’s nothing sinful about the desire for health and the expression of our natural physicality through fitness. But we must keep vigilant in the avoidance of flaunting our success, excessive and impulsive motives, and believing our own hype. We must be careful in seeking fitness as purely as a means to an end, for obsessive and egoistic tendencies can easily follow.
Many of us have committed these ‘sins,’ but the ultimate manifestation of fitness is to find the true humility necessary to grow by learning from our mistakes. In the end, authenticity in fitness is to gain wisdom, never give up, and keep moving forward.