Fitness and Innovation

Posted: February 17, 2011 in Fitness
Tags: , , ,

Good evening dear readers.  I’ve been given a challenge and it’s a doozy.  It’s to prepare a proposal to speak on the topic of human innovation.  So, I’d like to take this time to organize my thoughts and would love your feedback on the topic.

Just the word innovation gets me excited.  It speaks of imagination, possibility, brilliance and human potential.  I get pumped just thinking about it.  Exploring human need, behavior and our individual and collective potential is where my passion truly lies.  And innovation – well, isn’t that the byproduct of need, behavior and potential?

Humans have made jaw dropping innovations from irrigation to airplanes to iPhones.  If you consider our accomplishments seriously – no matter how cynical you may be – you gotta be awestruck.  The only reason we are at the top of the food chain is because we are the only animal capable of taking complex ideas and organizing them into form.  We innovate – it’s a defining and exciting part of the human experience.

And yet…

If I view human innovation strictly through the lens and goals of my vocation as a fitness professional – it is plain to see that our greatest human innovations are failing the human body.  Our innovations have led us to a sedentary lifestyle and crappy food. You know the stats – obesity is an epidemic.  I’d be willing to go out on a limb here and say melancholia is also an epidemic.  I see a lot of unhappiness in this world – not agony as such – more a low level of enthusiasm and a high acceptance of mediocrity.  Very few people are really jazzed up and excited to be alive.   As a pretty jazzed up trainer, it is my opinion that collectively our bodies, minds and spirits are suffering.  Somehow our innovations have led to a buzz kill of the highest order.

And yet…

Every day some new diet/fitness trend/pill/book comes into the market with the hope and promise of fixing it.  But it doesn’t.  And it won’t because excessive product innovation got us here.

I think it started with irrigation – which was brilliant.  Irrigation made farming possible.  Which made city living possible.  Which made cleanliness possible.  Which made a growing population possible.  Which made specialization possible.  And every step we took made sense because our needs were still basic and we were taking care of them.  But as we raced up the hierarchy of needs we took our basic needs for granted and now our vitality and the health of our planet is failing.

The invitation I received asked the question: what innovations do we need now?  From the fitness perspective I know what we don’t need.  Please world – stop innovating fitness equipment.  We don’t need another Ab Buster.  We also don’t need another Something Something Diet or cleanse.  We don’t need another exercise video, or dare I say, another 30 minute circuit.  We need to innovate a new way of looking at health and fitness in a culture which demands nothing from us physically.  We need to understand that physicality isn’t an option – it’s not something that some people do – it’s part of being human and without it – we suffer.

Trainers can always try to innovate new ways to make training accessible.  Businesses and policy makers need to include the wellness and physical health of it’s employees and citizens as a top priority.  Here’s a nudge to the City of Victoria – make it easier for fitness facilities to do business please.  Don’t base your zoning requirements on how many parking spots a building occupies.  Cars shouldn’t have more rights than people.  Let’s get our priorities straight.  (Sorry – personal beef there).

But physical fitness always come down to the individual inhabiting their unique body.  In our heady rush to progress we have lost the sense of being/living/thriving in our bodies.   The innovation we need now is a new worldview that establishes ourselves as humans with bodies in motion in a technologically advanced society.  We need to see that as far as we’ve come we can’t thrive in a sedentary state.  We need to prioritize movement because it’s primordial and as much a defining feature of humanity as is the ability to innovate.  We need to understand that joyful active living in a technologically advanced society is possible.  And then we need to integrate that viewpoint into the core of our society.

But you know, if we can’t have that, I’ll totally settle for this:

  1. Hi Sandy,

    I ‘get’ your mixed feelings about innovation and I think the dilemma is very much at the heart of ideas I’ve been wanting to pull together in the context of
    a. current world events with respect to freedom versus stability
    b. education in this information rich age (it shouldn’t be about competition any more)

    So yeah, it *is* a doozy of a challenge 🙂

    Innovation can perhaps be described as taking what you have and doing different things with it (e.g. the wikipedia definition ” from the Latin innovatus, pp. of innovare “to renew or change”). Although innovation sometimes appears to be about acquiring new things — it may be much more about re-distribution.

    And what is it that needs to be redistributed in the world more than anything…? Well, I’d say it’s power. Obviously this is true in the dictatorships where people are being shot at while they sleep because they are part of a peaceful protest. But it’s also true also in countries that have democracy, because there has been an information revolution that leaders have not yet caught up to and the old, competitive model doesn’t really apply any more. And with social networking, wikileaks, etc., the way in which information is distributed has changed dramatically. That’s where education about information and the world events related to the quest for freedom come into play. Some leaders are struggling to retain the power to prevent their people from accessing information. By denying their population the freedom to know things these leaders believe (charitable interpretation) they can preserve stability. That struggle to hold power by withholding information will almost certainly fail, hopefully sooner rather than later.

    A more equitable distribution of power will be a huge change in the world and it will destabilize existing hierarchies. Ongoing innovation will be required because there are some big issues to resolve. For instance, slavery is not yet really abolished if we, in “free” countries are still dependent on goods where labour standards don’t accommodate basic human rights. The rights of women must also be addressed to achieve equity. In a world with more equity and less competition, we’d be more willing to help one another because we’d know there’s enough to go around.

    If we lived in a world like that, wouldn’t we be more emotionally fit and wouldn’t that make us more likely to avoid the epidemic of melancholia that you describe? Perhaps participating in a world like that would allow us to feel we have a purpose — a reason to keep mentally and physically fit that meant more than just revealing our arms in a sleeveless dress?

    Best of luck with your proposal. TED talks are amazing!

    • hitgirl says:

      Hi – I’ve been thinking about your response for most of the day. Obviously I’m looking at it through a narrow lens but it doesn’t take long before power (who has it/who needs it) enters into the conversation. In regards to fitness – I’m looking at the average North American consumer, if there is such a thing – and wondering who has the power to raise their/our fitness level.

      In America, Michelle Obama is using her influence to try to create policy change around food and exercise in the school systems and is being criticized by those who believe the government has no place in individual choice. Yet those same people don’t blink an eye when big business corrupts our food supply. Who’s got the power to take the power Elizabeth? Should anyone have it? How much power does a North American have over their health and fitness?

      And speaking of education and TED – check this out.

      Thanks for engaging with me – appreciate it.


  2. Hi again Sandy,

    My quick response to the question of who should have the power for making decisions about fitness (or pretty much anything else) is that such power should be in the hands of all of us.

    BUT — we should be making those decisions on an informed basis and therefore there’s a responsibility of society to educate its citizens in such a way that individuals will make appropriate decisions. And in this fast-changing world, people need to learn to continue learning after formal education is completed. That means more time spent during the ‘formal education years’ on evaluating information and creative/critical thinking and less time on rote facts.

    As for the role of government… it’s very important to have policies and a coordinated approach. So a policy that requires labelling food and maybe even taxing some of the less healthy choices so that those tax dollars can go towards, let’s say, health research, seems completely reasonable and not intrusive. I get infuriated at those (like Sarah Palin) who accuse Michelle Obama of developing policies that block people’s choices.

    And thanks for the Sir Ken Robinson link. He’s awesome!

  3. hitgirl says:

    Elizabeth – fantastic response – thank you. As far as individual health is concerned I feel we are living in a co-dependent society and the question of who is responsible for individual health is at the crux of topic of health innovation. I agree with you that government’s role is around accessibility and education. And I am in complete compliance with your idea that food should be labeled to reflect the quality of ingredients. It is already, unfortunately, most people don’t understand the language being used – so it lacks relevance.

    And regarding innovation – my dear friend Penelope pointed out that there must be made a distinction between PRODUCT innovation and HUMAN innovation. What the world needs now is human innovation – we have everything we need and even more of what we don’t need. What we need are leaders, thinkers, policies and citizens who take a long-view approach towards a fit, strong and healthy society.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful response. Sandy

  4. Jess says:


    Now I know that I can’t speak for everyone but on the level of the individual person I’d be willing to bet that much of the typical experience one currently has with health and fitness consists of a high level of guilt mixed in with what people perceive to be little to no rewards. This is a perception. It may be ‘truth’ for those that live by it, sure, but like all perceptions it is open for interrogation and tweaking. Here is where innovation needs to come in, in my opinion.

    If my ‘guilt and no rewards’ perception is a correct one, we should ask ourselves why this may be true for many people. Let’s begin by being honest with ourselves. We as people really enjoy those instant rewards as is evidenced through the difficulty we all have in delaying gratification. Now, I don’t mean to say that our deep love for instant rewards are a bad thing; on the contrary, it is probably an inextricable part of who we all are so if anything we should embrace it. But our love of instant gratification in health and fitness is severely hindered when we are constantly viewing the most important thing to be something ‘happening’ sometime way off in the future, and this isn’t helped by the fact that we work from a sort of ignorance or devaluing of bodily feeling – in fact, our futuristically obsessed mind may be fuelled by it. It is my belief (based on a book called “Absent Body” by Drew Leder) that people are effectively blocking out all of those very real and deeply satisfying (yes instant) rewards that happen in the moment, in the movement. But before we add even more unnecessary guilt to the pile, Leder suggests that it is simply a characteristic of mind-generated consciousness that makes the body feel ‘absent’ for the practical purpose of our functioning in the world. But this doesn’t mean we cannot become more conscious of a subtle, yet beautifully rewarding thing. The only thing people need to catch on to are the instant rewards in health and fitness and many would be sold. People need to start feeling good about this stuff, it is that simple.

    Okay, so now innovative ideas. Whereas many would see technology as hindering innovation or health and fitness more generally, I say technology may be the best place to start looking. I say this because I see technology as rich and varied organic reflection of our deepest selves, and not, say, some inorganic supermind that has great power over us. Think about how the manufacturing process is ignored and so not well understood and how the end product is always on people’s minds not to mention how we can see so much of our need for instant gratification in and through technology: frig the basic essences of ourselves are screaming at us from many directions in all sorts of reflections – all things that can be strategically used to innovate in the area of health and fitness. And so in the end, I see technology not complicating innovations for health and fitness, but rather directly informing it.

    SHORT VERSION: We need innovations that cater to the most basic aspects of the human character, especially our deep want and need for genuine, consistent and frequent rewards. Also, technology, could be mined as a rich source for innovative ideas if we take it as a reflection of ourselves rather than something we ought to fight against.

  5. hitgirl says:

    Jess – very interesting and well-thought out response. I agree that we have had enough guilt and the ‘this time sucks, it was better when…’ thinking isn’t going to work.

    We need to be where we are now with a renewed and relevant focus on health. Can’t wait to see what you come up with. 🙂


  6. jessica says:

    I’m on it! I’ll keep you posted and we should keep brainstorming together.

    And I’m still glowing from my workout this morning, just sayin’ 🙂

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