EDITORS’ NOTE: The opinions expressed in this column belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Dragon Door Publications, its staff or its affiliates.
As you may know by now, I am not one to get bogged down on semantics. Progressive Calisthenics, bodyweight training, and street workout are all terms that I use more or less interchangeably to describe the way I train. I believe that the tendency to over-categorize things is not a worthwhile pursuit. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
“Ice cream maker” or “front lever curl”? Say what you like. “Shrimp squat” or “skater squat”? Both work from where I stand. “Aussie pull-up”, “bodyweight row”, “plank pull” and on and on and on. They are all very fine to me.
Numerous items, concepts and phenomena can go by several different names. We often find that the same material has many monikers. Most of the time I encourage folks to use whatever word they are most comfortable with. Danny Kavadlo doesn’t care if you “train” or “work out”—as long as you do it!
But despite the flexibility of linguistics and my openness to expression, words do in fact have meanings. I am a linguist, a grammarian and a fan of proper syntax. I believe in using words correctly, even if many terms are synonymous and phrases overlapping.
In fact, there is one word in particular, that I do feel is used inappropriately in fitness circles, to the point where it’s losing its actual meaning. Perhaps it’s lost its meaning already. The word is “athlete.”
The American Heritage Dictionary defines athlete as:
To me, someone who exercises, even if they train with great intensity and frequency, is not an athlete. Not even if they hired a trainer. Not even if they’re really, really, really good at exercise.
To be clear, I myself am not an athlete.
Yes, I’m trained. (I’m definitely NOT gifted.) I have a good degree of physical strength, stamina and agility. I’m committed to my fitness. Perhaps I’m a motivator, even a role model to some. But I’m not an athlete. I do not compete in any sport, organized event, or other such game or contest. Nor do I train to do so.
I am a guy who works out – and I’m proud of it!
Like many of us, athletes dedicate themselves to their craft. But unlike us, their craft is athletic performance – not physical fitness or health. They prioritize their sport. Athletes train and work in extreme conditions to the point where they risk their own well being for a single competitive goal. I most certainly don’t do that.
Yes, I dedicate myself to my craft, but my craft is not a competitive sport. My craft is preaching the word of fitness, writing books and promoting health. My goal is not to out-perform anybody at any specific discipline. An athlete’s is.
That’s the key difference between someone who trains and someone who is an athlete. To us, the training is its own pursuit. Placing in a competition isn’t.
I have tremendous respect for athletes. Most of us do not have the desire to allocate our time the way they do, and I praise them for what they’ve given to the world. The fact that I can perform clean muscle-ups or that I have a well rehearsed human flag does not render me an athlete. We can revere our own outstanding performances while still employing correct language.
In Other Words
I’ve cooked thousands of meals for my family and friends. Preparing food with my own hands is one of the greatest sources of joy in my world. It feeds my soul as well as my body. But cooking a meal doesn’t make me a chef. My career does not consist of making food for paying customers, designing menus, sourcing ingredients and managing a kitchen staff.
I grow my own tomatoes, garlic, basil and cilantro. I harvest it, slice it, dice it and prepare it. But growing herbs does not make me a farmer.
I sing in the shower, but I’m not a singer.
See where I’m going with this?
The same culture that awards children who place last with trophies for participation wants to dub anyone who ever hits the gym an athlete. Well, they’re not. And that’s not a bad thing. I applaud each and every person in the world who makes fitness a priority. I am proud of everyone who works out. Our achievements are to be celebrated! But let’s not lose sight of the big picture.
Because of misuse, the word “literally” can currently be used to mean “figuratively.” The word “humbled” is now used in place of “honored.” These words have changed to include definitions contrary to how they were originally purposed in language. Let’s not have the same thing happen to “athlete”.
The fact that we are not athletes is what makes our achievements in progressive calisthenics so cool anyway. We are just people who want to work hard and earn something, while having fun doing it. No one here is willing to get a concussion or a pill addiction to do so. Our goals are not about winning; they’re about improving!
And, yes, I’ve done more pull-ups than most. But if you beat my record, I’m happy for you. It’s not a loss. Maybe you’ll inspire me to do more, not so I can beat you, but because we help each other be the best we can be. It ain’t a game. It’s life.
Keep The Dream Alive,