I workout almost every day and have been a fitness instructor for more than 15 years. I am not particularly strong, though I use weights a couple times a week. I am not amazingly flexible, though I teach yoga 3 or 4 days a week. My strength and flexibility are average. My participants are sometimes fooled through no effort on my part at deception. They describe me as fit and strong. When I teach Group Groove or belly dancing or Organic Dance or sub for Zumba, participants often remark that they will never be able to move their hips like me. But, I have seen amazing dancers, and despite my love of fitness dance, I am barely an average dancer.
In the world of sport and fitness, "average" is to be avoided. No one wants to be an average athlete, and GNC's "Beat Average" campaign personifies "Average" as it speaks to our fear. Just check out all the trendy slogans on their website and their "Beat Average" commercial which makes all kinds of assumptions about motivation. Average is women who can't eat just one doughnut and men who meander on their treadmill or forget to exercise. We can "beat average" with the right supplements/mind set, and effort, GNC implies. They are, after all, our "health and wellness partner in beating average."
In the world of fitness, however, average can be a positive place to be. Fitness, unlike sport, does not demand perfection or elite athleticism. If we are willing to think of fitness as something different from sport or healthy eating, as a dimension of health and wellness that is not about the size we wear, the foods we eat, or the trends we follow, the possibilities of what fitness has to offer expand. We can pursue fitness activities because we love to do them. Because they make us feel good. And if we see health and fitness as maintaining an average, rather than beating it, our workouts will be more successful and our lives will be happier and healthier.
Consider, for instance, the American Heart Association guidelines for cardiovascular health: "At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150." The U.S. government suggests about the same and notes that about 80% of Americans do not get enough exercise. While I understand how these goals of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week might sound impossible to some people, these guidelines are actually quite achievable. Thirty minutes of moderate-intensity activity is far from the amount of activity and training needed to achieve elite fitness standards of athletes or workout gurus or the radical weight loss of game show contestants. If we can be average, we can also be healthy and happy in ways that a "beat average" mentality does not allow.
Working out, doing yoga, dancing--and fitness more generally--are really about being "average." These activities regulate our moods, keeping us balanced and mentally flexible, as much as they strengthen our bodies. No one has to be a body builder to be strong. Nor do we need to be able to contort our bodies into intricate shapes to practice yoga. We do not need to have any formal training to be able to dance. All of these fitness pursuits are beneficial even when we are only "average" at them. Movement, in and of itself, is powerful.
Sarah Hentges, PhD
Assistant Professor of American Studies
University of Maine at Augusta