Surf-Head

Psychiatry in waves.

Cross-Training for the Apocalypse

Fitness for Right vs. Happy

Diligent plotting vs. engaging in a story for fitness
William Blake - "Newton"
Inundated with New-Year’s-resolution-fueled exercise regimens, most crammed into the 45-minute-or-less-quantum-packet permissible for analog, physical health in the digital age, I can’t help but ruminate on what might be the single most verifiably effective training plan.  Just kidding… that’s totally disingenuous.  Not because I don’t care about physical fitness.  I spend at least equal time in the physical, emotional, and intellectual realms.  And not because it’s not an interesting debate.  I love eavesdropping on virtual Ivan Bragas’ (Dolph Lundgren’s iconic machine/State-monitored Soviet boxer in Rocky IV) comparing notes on Fit Bit’s, Fuel Bands, and Goo nutrient breakdowns.  The only reason I’m not obsessed with validating the objectively best regimen, is because I’ve had the fortune of stumbling upon the one true regimen for all things:  CTA  (Cross-Training for the Apocalypse).

After years of mixing and matching elements of cardio, strength-training, yoga for flexibility and in-roads towards gym-based mindulfness, all in the preparation for the few, actually decent days of New York surf, I was first introduced to CTA during super-storm Sandy at home on the Brooklyn waterfront.  Without water, heat, or elevators, and with a 3 and 7 year-old in tow, I finally found a practical and a narrative landscape for physical fitness:  dragging my innocent progeny across a barren, dystopian landscape, towards hope and survival. CTA, not actually a thing, was comprised of 9-story piggy-back climbs, 3-5 times daily, 30 gallon duffel-bag-hauls, and anticipation of starting-block-sprints, should the whole building blow in a Die Hard finale. Not to mention fantasies of paddling my children to the Jersey mainland on a longboard, should the sea-surge swell.

Despite the fact that CTA never really existed, at least in the form of a manualized, scaled, and marketed regimen, it sank in deep as the first, viscerally sound reason I’ve had to attain and maintain physical fitness.  In high school and college, sports had always seemed like fetishized, closed systems, in which training and winning pertained to the forum of the game alone.  Clearly, for millions, and myself sports have held both nostalgic and metaphoric value (recall all corporate targeted “Teamwork” posters of 8-man crews at dawn from Sky Mall or elsewhere).  But, more recently (back to the digital age), sport and fitness have veered towards an obsession with being right (data, efficiency, proof) rather than being happy, or at least emotionally engaged and communally connected (narrative, metaphor, gut, grit) (Tough-Mudder, Crossfit-esque models notwithstanding).

I get the novelty, draw, and even the obsessional satisfaction of collecting, measuring, trending, self-analyzing physiologic data point towards a more efficient machine.  But isn’t that a closed-system video-game without a higher, (at least narrative) purpose?  Even Ivan Braga’s Polit-Bureau-puppet-masters sought the higher purpose of fronting a social-realist-living-doll.  Otherwise, Soviet-super-strength to what end? Smug, self-satisfaction?

While I’m not saying that CTA, again not a real thing, or visions of an Armegedolympics is for everyone, I will suggest that a narrative motivation for fitness (physical or mental) may be as if not more effective than a narrow, scientific proof, which, P.S., becomes a whimsical narrative in it’s own right when trumped by the next, new data. For now, I'm going with fantastical drive to defy almost certain death over box-checking as a motivator. GD

Greg Dillon, M.D., is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health at the Weill Cornell Medical College. more...

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