Regulars and Shorts, Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center: The Evolution of Exercise

By Dennis Hinkamp

The world is getting so fat and crowded that the planet is probably starting to slow down and tip on its axis. Any type of exercise program would be welcome, but which one?

The idea of exercise is pretty straightforward; it can be just about anything that involves moving parts of the body with more vigor than it takes to send a text message. We buy multiple cars and appliances designed to rid ourselves of physical labor yet force ourselves to go to gyms, pools and bike paths for exercise. Our dogs beg us to go on walks, and we hire someone else to do it. Is it any wonder we are confused?

I know I will spend a cumulative hour showering and changing clothes twice to get in a four-mile run then come home, jump in the car and drive two miles to the grocery store. I could have burned the same amount of calories walking there and back and maybe even got some weightlifting depending on how much stuff I bought to carry home. I also have this little gadget on my indoor bike that measures my speed and how many miles I accumulate. This is emblematic of our exercise conundrums because, in reality, I’m not moving a single yard and my speed is a constant zero. The only thing moving other than my imagination is the rear wheel on my bike.

In the old days, exercise was more or less limited to those activities represented in the Olympics and major league sports. We either ran, biked, swam or walked. We threw things or lifted things of varying weights and sizes. We competed in games and sports. I’m not sure when that changed.

Well, there was something called calisthenics we did in the grade school assembly hall when it was raining. Then there was something in the ’70s called Jazzercise which had nothing to do with jazz or exercise. It was like dancing by yourself in a 2×2 foot disco in the company of a roomful of people doing the same thing.

Things have gotten progressively weirder since then. Now people do the same thing on stationary bikes in spin classes. It’s like riding on a crowded street only nobody is going anywhere, and all the while a perky person yells at you to go faster. The theme of many new exercise regimens seems to be going nowhere while being yelled at.

There are all sorts of variations of “boot camps” to bring the brutality of training for war to the tranquility of suburbia. A boot camp of any kind does not appeal to people of my generation because we spent too much time trying to figure out how not to go to Vietnam. I’ve also seen just about every evil drill sergeant movie ever made, and few of them end well.  

I’m not sure when we stopped playing and started doing all these group exercises, but I like some of the silly names. Zumba, for instance, sounds akin to that tiny robotic vacuum cleaner. Remember Tae Bo? It crammed a bunch of people into a room and had them pretend to kick box; what could possibly go wrong with that? Pilates is a real person’s name, but it lacks a certain masculine oomph and descriptive call to action. Cross-Fit, despite its unintended religious allusion, is brilliant because it can include just about any variety of exercise without fear of copyright infringement.

Like I said earlier, we are confused. We want the social and the private; the static and the kinetic. I like the idea of using group exercise to harness peer pressure. Using this logic, spending an hour watching people come and go from any fast food restaurant should also work as a negative motivator. 

Dennis Hinkamp would like to invite you all to Zumba with your Roomba.

This article was originally published on November 30, 2011.