We’re missing the forest for the tree poses

I’ve been having too many “seriously?” moments lately. I recently had one that warranted a capital S; one that gave me pause about the absurdity of the fitness industry and how people weigh in on it (no pun intended.)

It happened, of all places, while my husband and I were visiting Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota.

We’ve vacationed at many of the national parks and monuments before; the landscapes and natural wonders they deliver to hikers, rowers, and drivers are second to none. We excitedly squeeze every drop of daylight and every bit of movement our legs will give us to explore as much as we possibly can.

Due to its relatively small size, we allotted only a few hours at Rushmore. In addition to the obligatory gift shop, restaurant, and museum-esque type amenities, there is also a .6 mile trail that offers more unique views of the presidents than you’ll see at the main viewing areas.

We nailed our itinerary like champs, and before heading off to our next destination, bought a few bottles of water to sit in the shade and “take it all in.”

And boy, did we.

Seated all around us were dozens of people whose only snapshot of the memorial would be from this vantage point. Not by choice, but because they were not physically fit enough to make the .6 mile walk.

The worst part was that I had to assume this was normal for them. Their vacations were not hands-on experiences like ours, but rather consisted of barely getting from the car to the scenic overlook and back. Perhaps stopping to partake in the less-than-desirable meals offered in the parks’ restaurants. Except that for them the meals weren’t less-than-desirable; they were normal. (There is no coincidence the parks sell this food — people keep buying it…but that’s a topic for another day.)

Intellectually I understand the obesity rate is out of control in this country. But you tend to live in blissful ignorance when you’re not witness to it every day.

This observation led to a sad realization for me: I live in a bubble. A health bubble. By default, nearly every part of my day is filled with people who take their health somewhat seriously. Colleagues, clients, friends, family, and especially my online communities. For the most part nearly everyone in my circle registers above average on the give-a-damn meter for diet and exercise.

Sitting in the shade that day, I was humbled. I felt guilty. I was ashamed of living in my sheltered little world. I hurt for all the people who don’t have a clue what it feels like to live in health and enjoy the basic things our bodies are designed to do.

At the same time I felt incredibly lucky to live in a part of the country where fresh menu items are staples, and the words “vegetarian friendly restaurant” don’t induce gasps or blank stares from the crowd.

Driving on to our next destination that day I was burdened with a colossal question: What can one person (me) do to even begin to help make a dent in this huge health crisis? After all, it’s not like people aren’t trying already — the government, influential organizations, even reality television. But what can a single trainer like myself, who spends her days (in person and online) amongst the already fit, do to help the cause? 

I had no idea where to start, but I knew one thing: Staying in my sheltered bubble won’t get me any closer. I decided I would make it my mission to somehow contribute in a more meaningful way to the fitness industry so that people like those I saw at Rushmore would be able to experience life beyond the visitors center. 

My determined optimism lasted about 4 minutes.

In the airport waiting to go home I plugged back into my online communities and was immediately witness to several high-octane fitness fights. 

I might as well have been a viewer of “Jerry Springer; The Fitness Edition,” wincing as virtual chairs were hurled in defense of beloved diet and exercise principles. It was ugly and it was relentless. As if hidden in the answer to whether or not CrossFit® sucks was the cure for every human disease and the key to world peace.

No one was left un-insulted: pro-grain/ no-grain, vegans/nearly vegans, cardio haters/ cardio lovers. I even witnessed trash talk between the Zumba® and Jazzercise® tribes. No joke.


There are people who can’t walk .6 of a mile and we’re arguing with each other about how much is too much time on a treadmill? Is that really where we want to be directing our fired-up-ness?

Why are fit people arguing with fit people about the best way to get fit?

We’re wasting energy fighting with people who already care; people who already take their health seriously. Whether or not you agree with their methods — they are not the real crisis affecting the health of this country. They, like it or not, are actually on your team! You’re both trying to make a difference the best way you know how. 

Shouldn’t we be directing our collective passion and knowledge toward educating and helping those who really need it? I swear to you the men and women who had to view Mt. Rushmore from a bench aren’t going to be rescued from their walkers, oxygen, and daily medication by us declaring a winner in the HIIT vs. steady state cardio debate. 

Why do we spend so much time bickering with each other? Is it because we all live in the same bubble and don’t realize there are bigger fitness fish to fry? Or are we aware that there are much bigger health issues in the world but the thought is so overwhelming that it’s easier to puff out our chests about the things we know, rather than attempting to figure out the things we don’t? 

I’ve been back in my bubble for a while now, training people who also live in the bubble. I still don’t know the best way to make a meaningful difference to the people I saw at Rushmore that day. 

I do know, however, that there are plenty of talented, dedicated, passionate, enthusiastic and brilliant minds in our industry. And if they collectively spent less time squabbling with each other over whose method is better, and more time focusing on what they have in common, amazing things could happen. Things that could mean the world to people who are teetering on the edge of an early grave. Things slightly more consequential than beating a squat PR or getting into a bathing suit by summer.

Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely believe there is value in what we’re doing now, even inside of our bubbles. Our clients that we’re helping on a daily basis certainly think so. And we have every right to voice our opinions about all aspects of the industry; checks and balances are crucial to the integrity of our products and services. I just feel there has to be a point where we step back, look at the bigger picture and begin to rally around our commonalities rather than our differences. 

Once the obesity crisis in this country is solved, then we can all happily return to our respective corners and resume bickering over details. 


So, cheers to those who understand we’re all in this together — fighting for one cause. And even bigger cheers to anyone who has figured out a way to keep one foot outside their bubble. What are you doing to make a difference? I want to know because I want to help. 

About Kristin Dowell

Kristin is a group fitness instructor and personal trainer with certifications from ACE and AFAA, is qualified to coach over a dozen specialty programs, and is the creator of 3 exercise DVDs. From creating physical training programs for fire academies, to teaching preschool dance, (and just about everything in between)...
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