Fitness Culture: History, Icons, Waterfall Effect

For the Fitness Culture: Preface click here


The Culture of Fitness. I have to admit, this topic has been on my mind for quite sometime. I began writing on the subject and quickly found after a month of tediously writing, I was tackling a behemoth. A single article would not suffice. The more I researched, the more the articles stacked up, combine that with running a gym, and I soon fell behind. So, that is why The Culture of Fitness must be broken up into a series of chapters. I’m currently staring at…(let me look) 40+ chapters. As the research continues, I’m sure the series will grow. So think of this series as a book that continues to grow.

Motivation to Introspect

I recommend that you absorb all that is written in Reembody’s blog on 6 popular Fitspiration photos. There is a lot to be said about what we put out there as professionals. The images we use to motivate have much more to say about our culture than simply what is written on the photo. Now the floodgates are open, and more and more health professionals are stepping forward with their concerns.

The recent sense of urgency within the fitness industry for change is what really lit a fire under my ass to work on this series. Suddenly fitness enthusiasts set their targets on themselves. And for each blog posting that had some sort of critique of our (fitness industry)methods, I ate it up like a post workout shake. Personally, I love the topic. Questioning is the first step of growth. We can’t fix problems that we don’t believe exist. And there are problems. There are a lot of problems. This is concerning because it sets a tone for the fitness industry, it speaks volumes of our culture and our society. To question is to allow ourselves to be wrong, it is okay to admit it. We can be wrong, but we learn from it. This is adaptation, evolution, and maturity. This is one of the reasons I have a lot of respect for coaches like Mike Boyle, he is not attached to the methods he teaches and if the science says so, he will change what he is doing to better himself, his clients, and the industry.

The Essentials

If you have a passion for fitness and health, then you should have an understanding as to where it came from, how it evolved, where we are today, and where are we headed. You will see why so many health professionals have come to be concerned for the direction that fitness is headed, and asking some pretty deep questions about our culture. Lets set up some essential laws of nature before we get into this. I’m sure almost all of us can agree on these.

  1. Cultures are an expression of a society and are portrayed as a representation its people. It tells a lot about the current ideals, influences and expressions.
  2. Cultures evolve, sub-cultures and counter-cultures branch off and become the norm. This is a natural process.
  3. Evolution is a process of random trial and error. Because something evolves does not mean it is better. It is strictly change.
  4. Environments have a direct influence on the subconscious.
  5. The conscious mind is heavily influenced by the subconscious mind.

I suggest you let that list sink in, re-read it. Understand that cultures are a reflections of all of us. Cultures grow and change, subcultures branch off as a counter to the norm. These subcultures can grow to become their own cultures. Cultural evolution as with any form of evolution is not always for the better. Sometimes change is two steps forward, sometimes backwards, sometimes just different(to the side). The environments we create reflect who we are, they also deeply effect our subconscious. The subconscious mind makes the decisions giving the illusion of free will.

What we have found is that as cultures evolve they reshape the environment and what can emerge are the symptoms of its people ill adapted for the current environment. Example: the effects of agriculture, manufactured foods, desk jobs, constantly connected to the web, etc. But because the mind has been built in this culture, denial of these influences are the norm.

Brief History

I don’t want to spend too much time on our past, I’d much prefer to focus on current events. So I will give you a very brief list of some quick points I’d like to bring up about how our industry has progressed forward.

  1. 1950’s brought in a concept of preventative medicine. ACSM was born.
  2.  In the early 60’s Fitness in modern society became popularized from Jack Lalanne. He created the foundation of fitness as defined by exercise and nutrition to improve health also known as preventative medicine.
  3. 1960’s brought in a slew of fads and gimmicks for making people healthier/fitter.
  4. The 70’s brought in aerobic classes and jogging which quickly caught on in the competitive environment switching ‘jogging’ to ‘running’
  5. The late 70’s and 80’s brought in the icons of fitness. Aerobics had Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons. Bodybuilding had Arnold.
  6. Bodybuilding became increasing popular thus boosting the production of gyms.
  7. The 90’s brought in the popularity of bringing fitness home to us, in the form of treadmills, ‘as seen on tv’ products, and videos.
  8. The turn of the millennium brought in the popularity of Crossfit, High Intensity Interval Training, and Functional Training.

It is important to understand that Fitness as a culture came to be as a result of our society’s shift of thought and attention being brought to preventative medicine. Jack Lalanne became an icon because of this. While gyms existed for decades, the driving force in their popularity was the shifting of fitness from  health and aerobics to aesthetics and bodybuilding. That trend has held strong ever since. Crossfit was the first to successfully stand up to the classic gym ideology. A counter-culture is created. The fundamentals around Crossfit are built around being just that, a counter to the popular culture (gyms, machines, bodybuilding). When you read the old material that Crossfit was putting out, it highly revolved around being separate from the typical gym. They critiqued, poked fun, and developed an elitist sub-culture. A Sub-culture develops its own strong community, language, images, and icons turning it into its very own culture. It is important to understand that a huge success to Crossfit goes to the advent of high speed internet. It has a giant role (as we will come to find out in a future article), not only in its success but also in setting its underlying structure and social dynamics. Today we stand between two behemoths in the fitness industry. On one end we have machines, isolation exercises, and bodybuilding. On the other we have garages, chalk, high volume-high intense workouts, and elitism. In between these you find trainers and coaches like myself, gyms like Spartan Fitness, and many others promoting a different strategy, usually taking from bits and pieces of various methodologies. You find the large corporate gyms are very rigid in their design. Crossfit is much the same, just in different terms. CF is very structured in its methodologies. As Bruce Lee would say ‘Be like water’. Essentially meaning, you need to adapt yourself to the situation. Bruce Lee developed the first Mixed Martial Arts, it lacked the rigidity of the standard forms at the time. It was about being adaptable. In relation to the Fitness Industry, this is neither Crossfit nor the Corporate Gyms. It’s an entirely separate sub-culture, that has taken bits and pieces of various ‘schools’ and applied it to each client when needed. Its an adaptable program. Very different from the mainstream.

Networking the Industries Best Professionals

As I research and network, I find more and more of these middle-ground guys(and girls). As I explore their articles and chat about fitness, I’m finding a lot of concern for the fitness industry. There is a lot of concern and frustration of the current status, but also a lot of hope for the future. Sometimes we have to make mistakes to learn from them, and that essentially is what the mainstream fitness industry is going through right now. A mistake. Like a species trapped by its own genetic code and limitations, its only way to survive is to adapt, to pick up and move. Instead you find ‘fundamentalists’ which would rather not change, and ride the sinking boat till the last breath.

Where are we now?

It has been over half a century since the first gym opened, over 30 years since Pumping Iron brought bodybuilding and gyms to our communities, and almost 20 years since Crossfit was created. So the questions exists, where are we now? Is fitness and health going in the direction we want it to?

Before onto the concerns that I have, lets speak about the progress and the good that has come along in recent years.

  • There is an incredible amount of science and research going into all aspects of fitness, health, and nutrition. More research=better science=better decisions and programming
  • Alternatives for exercise-No longer is it just gyms and aerobic studios. We have yoga, Crossfit, exercise classes, better at-home equipment, etc. Each with pros and cons
  • The Internet has granted us the ability to step outside books (written by popular coaches) or articles in popular fitness magazines. Now the playing field has been leveled. There are more trainers and coaches that you have never heard of writing some truly insightful articles
  • High speed internet allows us to watch training videos, exercise tutorials, and the like. This has opened up our creativity.
  • Crossfit at its roots steps us away from the comforts of a gym and into a garage. Emphasis on big movements, barbells, high intense training, rowers, Olympic lifting, and women in the weight room are all very very good things Crossfit has given us. Crossfit was a huge influence with the direction that I took with my training and opening of my gym. No we are not an affiliate, there were too many red flags for me to be associated with that model(more on that in future articles).
  • Corrective Exercise techniques are becoming better understood and popular. Fixing pain or preventing injury is now a well studied science, also interesting to note, popularized post Crossfit’s popularity. A methodology to fix pain post a methodology that creates pain.

The Three Icons


Lets go back to Jack LaLanne. If there is anyone we have to thank for the fitness industry it is him. I believe that each Fitness Culture has its own icon. For the corporate gyms it is Arnold Schwarzenegger. For Crossfit you have the founder Greg Glassman. For us, it is Jack Lalanne. He is the perfect package, because he promotes health better than the other two. More than that Jack Lalanne had done some amazing feats. It wasn’t all health and feeling good. He set records, and he performed ridiculous feats of strength. I believe that is the perfect balance, and a fine representation of what my business and methodology represents. Health first, then cool feats of strength. Bodybuilding is more aesthetics first, health/strength second. Crossfit is more intensity first, strength second, health third (we’ll talk about this more).


More on Jack LaLanne and Greg Glassman comparison

It is crucial to see these two godfathers/founders of fitness. It trickles down into what we will call the ‘Waterfall Effect’.

Waterfall effect

The waterfall effect in business occurs when the actions of the owner reflect that of the upper management and right down to the staff. It’s always been said that if a business owner can bring positive energy, effort, and a desire to be apart of the team, that trickles down to better management, and staff that actually want to be there. In fitness, I have definitely been on both sides of the waterfall. I’ve been apart of teams of trainers that really put their best foot forward because the owners were actively looking to better themselves, the company, and the employees. I’ve also worked in gyms where the owners were hardly around, never engaging with anyone and cared little for negligent behavior, that trickled down to piss poor management, and staff that hated the environment. In Crossfit you have the founder, Glassman who has repeatedly displayed himself as arrogant, elitist, non-caring of others, and in it for the money. This trickles down into ‘Boxes’ that are built around quantity over quality and money over health. This trickles down into over priced certifications that evokes a more quantity over quality approach (weekend of education vs months or years of learning) and turns over a flooded market of half-ass ‘coaches’ which then results in injured CF’ers. Even worse, the injuries are just accepted. Sometimes touted as a badge/accomplishment. Waterfall effect at its best. If the developer of the program concerns more about the money and less about the quality of service, then the result is a flooded market of under qualified ‘coaches’ and injured athletes. You find the injuries are a crossroad for many, either that of acceptance(‘daddy doesnt care, why should I?’), or they step back, leave, and seek a better methodology. Crossfit has a safety net for those that choose to ‘jump’, mostly strategies that cults elicit to retain members.

Is Crossfit Really a Cult?


The Other Guys

Include Arnold in this mix, and you see the trickle down into the continuation of corporate gyms, bodybuilding, and isolation machines. More than often the training is built around aesthetics, even the trainers tend to come from a good looking crop.

If you take the opposing party, Jack LaLanne, you have fitness as a method to health. Preventative medicine through exercise. Jack Lalanne’s style is health first. Glassman’s approach is money first. Crossfit is more of a business to make money than it is a business to improve health. This is far from speculation. Once you start to talk to enough CF’er’s that have been injured from the poor programming, you begin to see the trend.

Cash Flow vs Health- A Personal Experience

A few years back I got to step into a local Crossfit gym that a friend of mine owns. We chatted for a bit. He wanted me to get out of training individuals, there was ‘more money to be had doing large classes like Crossfit’. And right there, is the driving force. Money. I prefer to train individuals because the programming works the best that way. Individual voices are heard, goals are set and a plan is explained out, faulty movement patterns are corrected. More time is spent with the individual. This fits into the health block more than the money making block. It’s not as efficient in terms of making money but it is effective at reaching goals and improving health.

What Will I Do Differently?

They should make What Would LaLanne Do? bracelets, because I would rock one. As the constant reminder that my strategies towards fitness are founded by Jack LaLanne. Health always comes first, that isn’t new for me.

Remembering the Waterfall Effect has a deep impact on the environment of my gym. If I care for the health of my clients, I invest in them, I care for them, I do whatever I can to make them happy, and improve their lives to the fullest. My fellow coaches and trainers, share the same passion, and in return our clients have more self respect. They listen to their bodies, which is for more important to me then putting up massive weights (health first-function/strength second). They stick around because they are happy, they are healthy, and they no longer have pain. I’ve done my job. Waterfall in full effect. A negative attitude, or an ‘us vs them’ mantra is just poisonous.


coming soon- Fitness Culture: Pseudo-Crossfit