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Lift: Fitness Culture, from Naked Greeks and Acrobats to Jazzercise and Ninja Warriors Hardcover – July 5, 2016
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From the Publisher
Searching for the New Frontier in Fitness
by Daniel Kunitz, author of LIFT
The ah-ha moment came while I was drowning in a snowdrift in the Andes. I'd gone to Argentina trying to keep up with a group of elite skiers who had mostly given up on resorts and chairlifts in favor of climbing up mountains before skiing down them. The problem, I realized as I swallowed snow, was that I was nothing like these athletes: they climbed and worked out every day; I lived in New York, drinking and smoking every night. Like many young people, I had an entirely one-sided relationship with my body: I took it for granted. The only reason I was in the mountains at all was that, having started skiing very young, I'd acquired just enough skill to stay within sight of these elite skiers in the chairlift-and-gravity-assisted form of the sport. Now I was trying to hike through deep snow with sixty or more pounds of gear on my back, at altitude.
So I began running and then swimming, and soon ventured into a gym to try the weights, and that's where things got weird. Almost nothing there made sense to me. How would cable lat pulldowns or bicep curls help me climb mountains? I was skeptical of the machines too, the leg presses, the ab cruncher. Something basic seemed to be missing from the gym, something vigorous and athletic.
My confusion about the traditional gym came at a propitious time, the early 2000s, when various new approaches to fitness began appearing. Foremost among these groups was CrossFit, which emphasized functional movements (those that mimic actions done outside the gym). But there were also calisthenics crews doing gymnastics in playgrounds and parkour practitioners running, leaping, and climbing through cityscapes across the world. These small tribes proliferated online, providing a much-needed infusion of fresh thinking about how we use our bodies. And it was from them that I learned that the routines I'd encountered in the franchise gyms were in fact comprised of bodybuilding exercises, those designed to achieve a particular look, not to perform better athletically. I was astonished. And I doubted that many people in the gym knew the origins of the exercises they did each day.
This awakening led to a whole other set of questions. Why, for instance, did people begin working out solely for aesthetic ends? Where did the notion of functional fitness come from? When in history did gyms get their start, and why? It was these lines of inquiry that led me to write LIFT. Early on in my research, I recognized two things. The first was that history of fitness is one of innovation and amnesia: much of what we know today has been known for a very long time, but at times cultures swerve away from attending to the body. The second was that we have recently entered a period of remembering and advancement, that the alternative approaches I'd come across represented the first exploratory steps into entirely virgin territory—a New Frontier in fitness, as I call it in my book.
So what has changed in this New Frontier? Put briefly, participation in exercise has expanded to include women, older people, and those from every class (instead of just men with leisure time); and the focus is on performance rather than aesthetics, meaning intense effort and strength are embraced rather than feared. Both the causes and effects of these changes are numerous—touching on politics, class, and gender, as well as exercise science and health—but we are increasingly the better for them.
“An elegant book with literary qualities that suggest George Plimpton. An excellent contribution to the literature of athletic performance and of interest to anyone with a penchant for self-improvement-and not just physical.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“A thoroughly researched and highly informative account… This thoughtful, accessible, and remarkably insightful cultural history of fitness will appeal to anyone who has set foot into a gym or laced up running shoes while wondering, ‘Why am I doing this?’” (Booklist (starred review))
“An illuminating compendium… Writing in lucid anecdotal prose, Kunitz is a master at creating a compelling narrative.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Kunitz concludes that the most effective tools are already at hand and successfully shows how classic methods of conditioning can still be effective today… This book will be of interest to cultural historians and fitness enthusiasts.” (Library Journal)
“An inspiring read for all shapes and sizes.” (Marie Claire, Health News Page, July 2016)
“Kunitz artfully narrates the history of physical conditioning and our ever-shifting understanding of what it means to be fit.” (Wall Street Journal)
“[An] insightful premise.” (Washington Post)
“A thorough history of the activity and business of fitness.” (New York Times Book Review)
From the Back Cover
In this riveting cultural history of fitness, from Greek antiquity to the era of the “big-box gym” and beyond, Daniel Kunitz explores the ways in which exercise and physical ideals have changed through the centuries, and what we can learn from our athletic past.
In Lift, Kunitz takes us on an enlightening tour through time, from the ancient Greeks, Asian martial artists, and Persian pahlavans to nineteenth-century German gymnasts and the bronzed bodies of California’s Muscle Beach. He uncovers the roots of the modern gym in the late nineteenth century, following them to the ultimate game-changer: the feminist movement, which kicked off the exercise boom of the 1970s and helped create the big-box gyms we know today.
Reflecting on his own decade-long quest to transform from a fast-food junkie into an ultra-fit—if aging—athlete, Kunitz argues that another exercise revolution is under way now—a new frontier in fitness, in which the ideal of a bikini body is giving way to a focus on mastering the movements of life.
An intelligent, skillfully narrated book, Lift is an insightful look into the history of what it means to be fit.--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
You WILL like this book if you already like Crossfit.
You will NOT like this book if you hate Crossfit.
You MIGHT like this book if you're just interested in the history and philosophy behind fitness trends.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I own a gym based on functional fitness and was excited to dive into the history but I couldn't...Read more