One of the first things Scott told me was that we would never do anything like bicep curls, one of the most common workout techniques to give a person big arms. The reason? That exercise isn’t functional; you never do an isolated curl in your everyday life or sports. The only reason why a person does bicep curls is because they want to look good. Emphasis on the word “look”.
This is one of the reasons I am attracted to Crossfit: it’s functional and not expressly image-focused. Most guys who go to the gym only workout their biceps, chest and abs. Why? Because these are the muscles you want to show off when you take off your shirt. (Haven’t we all known people with a massive upper body and chicken legs?)
The truth is, a big upper body can be a decoy. Having an out-of-proportion upper body won’t really make you that much better at performing everyday tasks and can actually inhibit performance in a lot of sports.
In a society that is so image-focused, it was refreshing to discover a workout philosophy that concentrates on all around fitness first. “Looking good” is simply a byproduct of good fitness rather than the ultimate goal. Perhaps it is an indication that people are looking for deep fitness, something beyond the facade.
I tell my students all the time that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good. The problem is that for most of us it has become too important – an obsession, an idol. Culture tells young men that abs and biceps make the man, and so millions of young men go to gyms and stand in front of mirrors, worshipping. This is the way they know who they are, that they know they matter. Bicep curls.
Our problem is that we take secondary things and make them primary things. In workout world, looking good is a secondary thing and actually being healthy and fit is primary. When we take looking good and make it a primary thing, the result is that our fitness is a mirage.
When we do this in the larger world – take secondary things and make them primary -the result is that our identity becomes a mirage as well. Beyond the surface level, we don’t know who we are or what the heck we’re supposed to be doing. But we keep doing bicep curls.
C.S. Lewis writes that if we let primary things have their place, we get secondary things thrown in. When we aim for secondary things, we get neither.
Simple lesson: Is looking good the goal, or the byproduct of something else more important? Apply it to how you dress, how you do your job, how you present yourself in front of people. What’s the goal? Image is nothing, and it’s not enough.
For all our fascination with the superficial, somewhere in the soul, humanity craves depth.
Here’s to making primary things primary.
Wednesday: Church of Crossfit (4): The Local Crossfit Church
Question: Any funny stories about people consumed with their image?