I’ve been baffled lately by the proliferation of electronic fitness gadgetry. Actually, I only pretend to be baffled. In reality, it’s pretty clear what lies behind this trend: it’s another example of the human tendency to want to outsource the work of health (or, at least, those uncomfortable or inconvenient parts of health).
This is the same phenomenon that began with the advent of motorized exercise ‘machines’, then heart-rate monitors, and now ….well, you’ve seen the ads.
We need to face the fact that the work of health (of which exercise is only a part) is hard and uncomfortable and inconvenient, and it is human nature to attempt by any means possible to make it easier, if not absolve ourselves of it entirely. The physiology of that is to never do more work than necessary, but we always want to retain what is necessary. The trick is in knowing the difference.
In nature, what is necessary is also exactly what is needed for health. In other words, no matter how strong our drive is to become more efficient (to the point of doing no work at all), survival in a natural environment never allowed us to do too little for an outcome of health.
Let’s use heart-rate monitors (my favorite digital whipping boy) as an example of how this fools you into thinking you’ve improved your workout time. You know the sales pitch: keep your heart in the “fat-burning zone” or some such; which was another way to suggest that the monitor was doing the noble job of helping you keep your heart rate up for an extended period of time. In reality, all heart rate monitors ever accomplished was giving people permission to keep their heart rate down to a point than was sustainable for their current condition and activity, and therefore lower than it should be for maximum benefit. When did any heart rate monitor—or a plan for using one—give you permission to experience maximum intensity. Never. When, in reality, maximum intensity is where the real benefit for your body is. And you don’t need a heart rate monitor at all for that. It is identified by the experience of a failure of capacity; a place we all need to go regularly if we want our workouts to mean anything. No heart rate monitor necessary for that. But then, you wouldn’t sell many heart rate monitors if you admitted that in your advertising. So they don’t.
I’ll leave it to you to extrapolate that example into today’s gizmos. I’ll just tell you right now that the outcome will be the same; a degradation in the quality of the outcome. The pleasantness of the experience will go up, but don’t ever confuse that with the quality of the outcome. They are typically diametrically opposed.