Is exercise the new humblebrag?

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Being a workaholic isn’t cool anymore.

Once upon a time overachievers would casually, on purpose, drop into water cooler conversations how late they worked. If they were playing for bonus points they’d tell you how they’ve been so busy they haven’t seen their kids for a week. And if they were going all-out, they’d let slip they’d missed their partner’s birthday/anniversary/divorce proceedings.

But now the tables have turned. While many employers still expect, and even cultivate, a culture of overwork, it’s no longer acceptable for their employees to admit to it. Working all weekend now makes you appear hopelessly disorganised, just plain ineffective or a bit of a loser with nothing better to do.

This has forced overachievers to find another way of separating themselves from the pack. Over-exercising has become the new blag.

Instead of leaving Sunday brunch early because they have to go into the office, people are arriving late because they’d ‘die’ if they missed their morning 10k run. What used to be a mundane part of our lives has become the source of constant conversation, comparison and one-upmanship.

Until recently I had no idea how far and fast my friends or colleagues ran, rode or swam. How much they lifted and how many reps they could do was as unremarkable as whether or not they flossed after brushing.

But now, each morning I’m greeted with daily Facebook updates of training schedules, presumably so I can marvel at people’s dedication to do so much and so early.

My personal favourite was a photo of a friend lifting enormous weights with a caption below stating, ‘What were you doing at 6am this morning?’

Ummmm…sleeping. Thanks for asking.

This barrage of information about exercise is rarely about the fun of it or even the health benefits. Instead it’s framed within a series of corporate metaphors about metrics, goals, milestones, deadlines and winning.

It’s often hard to separate boasts about exercise from the boaster’s work ethic and moral superiority. New appointee to the Human Right Commission Tim Wilson demonstrated this recently in a profile in the Good Weekend.

Wilson told journalist Tim Elliott that he runs the popular running track that circles Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens, the Tan, anti-clockwise.

‘Ninety-five percent of people run the Tan clockwise, which is the easy way,’ Wilson explained to Elliott. ‘I do it anticlockwise, which is much harder, because it’s uphill nearly all the way.’

This was supposed to be a guide to his approach to life: he’s a non-conformist who bucks the trend and isn’t afraid of hard work.

What’s the point of exercising if you can’t boast about it and make your friends and colleagues feel inferior?

And for the overachieving overachiever, there’s even a movement for this kind of thing. It’s called the ‘Quantified Self’, and it’s about obsessively documenting every minute of your life including your sleep patterns. Yes, overachievers can now even win at sleeping.

Add charity to the overtraining mix and there are even more status points to be gained. People can pretend their obsessive training regimes are more about raising money in fun runs for sick kids instead of an unmet need in their own lives.

But let’s be honest, if raising money for the sick and disadvantaged was a greater priority than reaching a personal exercise goal then the 600 bucks spent on shoes and wet weather gear and the 200 hour of training time would be better spent going directly to those in need.

More disturbingly, overtraining and exercise addiction are often seen as a source of pride and accomplishment rather than a cry for help. Not dissimilar to thinspiration — but bizarrely, not condemned in the same way — people are obsessively pushing their bodies to dangerous extremes.

Words like ‘Rhabdomyolyisis’, a potentially fatal condition caused by overtraining — or Rhabdo for those in the know — are no longer buried in medical journals but have made it into mainstream media and conversation. And just like drink driving used to be, if you die of Rhabdo you’re a bloody idiot. If you survive it, you’re a bloody legend.

I’m not suggesting that exercise goals are bad. Just like eating well, sleeping, and maintaining functional relationships, exercise is critical to our physical and emotional wellbeing.

And for some people overtraining may be about beating back the clock. There’s nothing like approaching forty to motivate somebody to start training for a marathon. It is after all, a more dignified way of proving to yourself and the world that you’ve still got it than buying a convertible or shagging the intern.

But no matter how you dress it up or justify it, overtraining is just as dysfunctional as overwork if it's an addiction. And boasting about it is just as annoying. 

 

Kasey Edwards is the author of Thirty-Something and Over It. www.kaseyedwards.com

 

62 comments

  • The problem isn't dysfunction, the problem is through the latest exercise trend, (yoga's hot now, or is it HIgh intensity training...) their aspiring to be truly functional, to feel smug about hitting the middle of the road. In short, these people have become SHEEP. They know the latest fashion weather it's exercise, the 5:2 diet, being paleo, eating quinoa, whole local foods with a low carbon footprint. Their smugness knows no bounds. The smugness however is tinged with dissatisfaction as by the time they get to the middle of the bell curve the sheep have moved on the next lot of stuff has arrived. The sheep will be call themselves 'realists' as they then cut back on exercise to make time to sit down for a cold filtered, roasted on premises coffee, but not for too long lest they be left behind.....

    Commenter
    InnerNorthbourne
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    February 26, 2014, 6:51AM
    • Right on! look, it's great that people are getting out and getting fit, just no need to be a wanker about it! I see so many people updating their profiles with how much they have trained or how great their diet is, ... really i don't care! couldn't give a dam. It is a signal to me that these people really don't have a life, training is their life, and nothing else.

      Commenter
      jpss13
      Location
      Bris
      Date and time
      February 26, 2014, 8:39AM
    • Or they just like going for a run...

      Commenter
      JC
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      February 26, 2014, 9:15AM
    • You can always tell the non exercisers can`t you?

      Commenter
      Screamer
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 26, 2014, 10:45AM
    • There is ' weather fashion' now?

      Commenter
      Davo
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 26, 2014, 10:45AM
    • I road 45km this morning at an avg speed of 30 km/h. What were you doing at 5:00 am this morning... LOL ;-P

      Commenter
      Bogan Brouhaha
      Location
      Brighton
      Date and time
      February 26, 2014, 11:53AM
  • Spot on!

    Commenter
    GuasyJG
    Date and time
    February 26, 2014, 7:57AM
    • So if people who train/exercise don't tell anyone outside those need to know in your life peeps like partners, kids etc then it's cool right? As long as I don't facebook/twitter by daily efforts I'm not a dysfunctional, hollow, body hating, aspirational, trend following, ego driven jerk or whatever other insult you want to call me then? BTW I just exercise cause it makes me feel great and it is my "me" time in a busy life.

      Commenter
      Ray man
      Location
      bm
      Date and time
      February 26, 2014, 8:29AM
      • That is correct. No need to advertise everything you do. Would you like a medal?

        Commenter
        Bob
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        February 26, 2014, 12:55PM
    • Overtraining? Are you kidding? Do you have any idea how much training you have to be doing to reach that state? Or, more correctly, how little rest? That the word is now in mainstream media says little about how many people are suffering, let alone dying, from it. I'd be very, very comfortable in placing a large wager on inactivity still killing far more people than overtraining. This is coming from a background of working with elite athletes.

      This is a really disappointing article. If you're bothered by someone else talking about how much exercise they're doing, you might want to look a little deeper to see what the problem is. Is it bragging, or are you projecting your own insecurities onto it?

      The simple solution would be not to start your day by checking facecrack. But that's a whole other discussion.

      Other people exercising is good for me because on a selfish level, I'm surrounded by healthier people (physically, emotionally, mentally), and they are a lot more fun to be around. And on a social level, we would all be a heck of a lot better off if the government didn't have to pour so much of our tax into prolonging the lives of those who spend them stationary.

      (Also, for what it's worth, if the Tan is a loop running track, you're going to cover the same amount of rise and fall, whichever way you go around it)

      Commenter
      Kylie
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 26, 2014, 8:34AM

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