Logan Strohl on exercise norms

(cw: exercise, shame)

(also relevant: Shame Processing)

Logan Strohl said some things about exercise (and shame, and aspiring to be better) on Facebook today that I found interesting. Minus some mostly-irrelevant parts:

[...] I definitely wasn’t trying to kick people who struggle with exercise while they’re down.

But I guess when I make this claim about exercise out loud, I am trying to do something sort of similar to that, which is kind of the opposite of saying, “oh don’t worry, exercise doesn’t matter anyway”. Exercise does matter.


Being difficult is part of the very nature of exercise; you don’t get physically stronger or gain physical endurance unless you work hard enough to be uncomfortable, and you don’t improve meaningfully in these ways unless you are uncomfortable over and over again frequently and consistently. So I think sentiments like “it doesn’t really matter, only do it if it’s easy and you like it” (which rarely pop up in those words but I think are nevertheless subtly pervasive in nerdier subcultures) are especially detrimental to exercise in particular. And that’s why I do sometimes bother to promote exercise explicitly.


I mostly don’t think people should be shamed for things, including not exercising. I think shame is a beautiful and powerful psychological process that probably ought to be treated as personal and intimate, much like recountings of first lovemakings. Trying to use it as a public tool to make people act how you want them to seems to break it.

What I think is that there are much, much better reactions to recognizing the goodness of something than shutting down and feeling bad about yourself for not instantiating the good thing. Such as, for example, re-considering whether you are allocating your resources correctly. I suspect that one of the reasons people tend to reject “X is better than Y” style claims is because they aren’t quite aware that there is a difference between “someone thinks I’m worse than I could be” and “someone is trying to make me feel bad”. Which seems like a great big dumb obstacle to people getting better.

I suspect that part of what’s going on here in our differing perceptions is… two things.

1. in general, nerds struggle more with exercise than non-nerds, nerds get bullied by non-nerds as kids (largely for struggling more with exercise), and then as adults nerds form sub-cultures where they’re more protected from the things that hurt them growing up.

2. if you’re an athlete, it’s pretty uncomfortable being in those adult nerd sub-cultures. the sub-cultures have developed strong immune systems against athletics, and athletes are not very welcome.

so i find myself, an athletic nerd, right in the middle of this anti-jock immune system, and sometimes i just wanna shout “look i get that you were hurt but can we please do this less self-deceptively and without deriding athletes???”

like for example i have a friend who does this jovial self-deprecating thing where he talks about my “dexterity privilege” whenever i do something that involves coordination or strength, or when he tries to do something like that and doesn’t succeed much. it’s mostly innocuous, it mostly doesn’t bother me.

but it’s also at least a little annoying and frustrating. because yeah, i almost certainly do have a genetic predisposition to be coordinated and so forth; but also, i started gymnastics training when i was in preschool, and every single year since then i’ve practiced some combination of gymnastics, soccer, dance, yoga, martial arts, running, weight lifting, swimming, cycling, hiking, and a smattering of more niche activities that require and develop physical skill. it’s not like i just woke one morning able to do backflips. i did not roll a natural twenty on “core stability”. i’ve worked hard for it my entire life, and that’s important to me.

this one little thing my friend says is really not a big deal, but i do think the mindset it comes from probably is kind of a big deal, when that mindset is shared by an entire community. and i think something like that is true of my community.

Duncan Sabien adds a description of Logan’s view (which Logan endorses):

[...] “Look, people who don’t exercise may be amazing in many ways, but they’re also just strictly worse on the exercise-axis, and possibly on related health or willpower or self-control axes, and we shouldn’t NOT-notice that specific badness even if we want to make sure we contextualize it along with all the other possible goodnesses.” [...]