This week I encountered (virtually) two athletes. They are, respectfully, a world-recording holding stone-skipper, and a red-tailed hawk who faceplanted into a trash can to retrieve a rat.
The stone skipper was Kurt Steiner, the subject of this Outside Magazine profile. The entire piece is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time and you should read it all.
The red-tailed hawk is in this video.
First the stone-skipper: Kurt lives a relatively solitary existence that is mostly oriented around the activity of skipping stones; the labor that goes into finding and sorting the stones; throwing the stones themselves; going to various stone-skipping competitions.
If he has any big ethos as to what it means for him personally to be a stone skipper, where stone skipping fits in the grand scheme of his personal trajectory, he doesn’t mention it. What I really love about this profile is the immediacy of Kurt’s relationship with skipping the stones. There is Kurt, there are his rocks, there is Kurt’s earnest desire to skip rocks well.
Then there is the red-tailed hawk. As the video begins, the red-tailed hawk, an ostensible mighty hunter, is perched on the rim of a New York City trash can, a place it has really no business being (red-tailed hawks, in my experience, are always extremely far away from wherever people are, plus they can fly high and see far). The hawk stares intently down into the trash can. Then it dives in, face-first, or falls in with style, depending on who you ask.
A few seconds later, the hawk hops out again, flapping its wings for balance, a rat tangled in trash clutched in one foot. The hawk folds its wings and is again perched on the edge of the trash can, turning one eye toward the camera as the person holding it smartly backs away.
The world of working out has long been gripped by stereotypes: high school football player, part-time aerobics instructor, cheerleader, golfer. Now we have Peloton, CrossFit, Tracy Anderson, V SHRED, F45, 75 Hard. We are made to worry so much now about the why of anything we do, including about whether and why we work out. Is it to lose weight? If not, why not? Are you trying to be hot? Do you think you are some kind of athlete? What if you don’t get as good as most other people at your chosen athletic task? What if, in trying to say something about yourself in working out, you end up saying something Bad instead of Good?
You could construct an identity, a whole marketable personality, associated with “stone-skipping athlete.” It would even be kind of trendy: Kurt lives in a cabin he built himself (DIY homesteading legend); he is monastically one with nature (forest bathing icon); he is authentically himself and doesn’t exist for his employer or career (work-life balance king). But Kurt doesn’t have any of this; neither does the red-tailed hawk, though it is understandably less able. Kurt doesn’t have to skip rocks; the hawk doesn’t need to get its rats out of trash cans. But they do. And that's all there is. Do you have a problem with that?
The way both Kurt and the hawk exist feels like a necessary antithetical to, for instance, a Peloton marketing campaign hyping up the concept of “motivation” and “hustle” and “toughness” and “never giving up,” invoking images of an underdog football team; or a guy coming up to you in the gym and asking you “why” you lift. We don’t currently process these kinds of hand-wringing about moving around as similarly asinine to asking why we eat, why we sleep, why we breathe. But we should.
We have and will continue to spend a lot resources on reinventing the wheel of “why we move around.” But it really is that simple; it’s the the first-principles reason there are bodies. They have all the tools for not only moving around, but getting progressively better at it. There are no steroids or PEDs or protein powders or one weird tricks or special core-targeting moves or cork dumbbells required. Just because we’ve taken a lot of the need of moving around out of modern life doesn’t make this any less true.
It doesn’t require identities or values. Everything that suggests it does is a gross product of sweaty (literally, metaphorically) marketing. If someone only wants to skip rocks, or, in the red-tailed hawk’s case, fish rats out of trash cans, they don’t need hustle or motivation or “goals” to do that.
Marginalized people often receive a burden of having to Explain everything they do; at the same time, no amount of explaining they do can ever be enough. Feeling like you have to explain or justify working out is only a weird trap. You are allowed to have a first-degree, telos-based relationship with moving around. Nothing else needs to be explained, not even a broad-strokes “pleasure” or “purpose.”
I don’t think anyone should see this as an invitation to square up to anyone trying to nervously interpret our personality via what they see us doing and then logic them out of it; we’re all living in the same very tainted and screwed-up world. If you feel like it, you can receive them empathetically, and invite a “why not?” into their brain.
But for yourself: Be as the red-tailed hawk, perched in your little feathery pantaloons on the rim of a garbage can that is virtually the same size as you, staring with single focus on the rat at the bottom of that garbage can, not knowing it is yours, but that it is there, and you are here, and that what happens now or next holds no particular meaning. Be as Kurt, picking up the next smooth, flat stone and throwing it as beautifully as you can.
~Discord Pick of the Week: My probable favorite basketball player, Kawhi Leonard, is pulling up to the new NBA season with two absolutely enormous, rippling T. rex legs (below). He owes these two baby elephant seals to, apparently, lifting weights for well over a year in order to rehab his knee during his time-mostly-away. Kawhi has always been a man of the iron game; here is a good story about him breaking a belt squat machine. But I’m excited to see the big boy frighten his opponents before flattening them on the court Wile E. Coyote style, knees intact as ever. Klay Thompson is already praying for his life. All of the good links in here were surfaced by the good people of #general-chat. ~
Some guy is pushing, basically, calf raises as the solution to raising metabolism. Now, before we all run off on our tippy-toes in the name of “burning calories,” let’s keep two things in mind: Single studies don’t prove a lot, and this kind of thing always, always, ALWAYS rests on the degree of the effect. For instance: doing the “soleus pushups” of this study (essentially, lifting your heels up from the floor and putting them down again) under your desk for the entire eight hours of your workday means you metabolize, like, an additional 50 calories? I’d say that’s not worth the mental bandwidth it takes to try to keep remembering to do them all day long. But publications that don’t know how to read scientific studies love to run away with something like this, writing articles with all-caps headlines like “TO BOOST YOUR METABOLISM, JUST RAISE YOUR HEELS!”
So let’s look at the actual study:
These studies focused on understanding the responses from local contractile activity of slow oxidative muscle when the total energy expenditure was relatively close to resting metabolic rate (∼0.5–1.5 kcals/min above rest, or ∼1.3–2.0 metabolic equivalents [METs, 1 MET = 3.5 mL oxygen/kg/min]…In Experiment I, the SPU contractions increased the rate of total body energy expenditure from an average of 0.93 ± 0.04 METs to 2.03 ± 0.08 METs during the acute activity.
In other words, participants burned an additional half-calorie to 1.5 calories per minute they were doing this, or 30-90 calories per hour. Is that worth it to … anyone, to burn one Oreo’s worth of calories with an HOUR of little calf pulses? I doubt it. Calorie burn is a terrible metric to focus on in terms of health, but even an hour of walking burns 300 calories.
There is one more broadly interesting thing here: Typically when muscles are used, the energy they have stored in them in the form of glycogen gets used up, which eventually leads to fatigue and cramping. The researchers found that the soleus seems resistant to this kind of fatigue. (This feels like it kind of makes sense; we are adapted to walk quite a bit, so if our main walking muscles started cramping after only, like, an hour of using them, that would really limit how much we could get around.) The soleuses of the participants stayed pretty flush with energy and seemed to draw power from elsewhere, until the participants reached the point of having done the calf-raises for over four hours. A cool, if somewhat intuitive, human body fact!
Now to sit back and wait for this study to get overinterpreted, become the next big “fitness” solution for workers trapped at their desks that ultimately wastes everyone’s time and attention, and then fade back into the “human biological oddities” swamp whence it came.
For suburban men, a workout craze with a side of faith. This is kind of … sweet? And more power to them? Unless it is in any way bad, racist, or a cult; then I wish ill on the people who started it.
High-value reddit thread: everyone’s favorite cooking channels.
Posing woman out of the shot, please!
“If you can’t be free, be a mystery.”
“The I Am Screaming My Head Off” Corner: Tracy Anderson is selling a four-thousand, five-hundred-dollar kit of tiny little wooden (!!!) dumbbells and other wooden accessories. She is enticing people to go into debt using a*“buy now, pay later” lender that can only negatively affect one’s credit so that they may own a bunch of sticks. “Take your muscle confusion to another level,” says the website. I’m definitely taking some kind of confusion to another level!!! “They’re vile, they’re literally vile,” she says of regular gym equipment. Something’s vile, no doubt about it!!!
Not unrelated: Choice feminism is an alibi.
I loved this whole Whoopi Goldberg profile, but god damn if Jazmine Hughes isn’t one of our wisest writers:
In my early 20s, I would take the B train from Prospect Park to the Upper West Side, where I would unleash my myriad anxieties on a junior therapist … the thing I hated most about her was that all she ever seemed to tell me was that I was normal. That wasn’t what I needed to hear … I liked feeling different from everyone else, and I had felt that way as long as I could remember. What I wanted was to feel OK about those differences, to feel their power instead of their weight.
Ada Lovelace begging Charles Babbage not to mess with her math.
The enduring allure of Choose Your Own Adventure books. I logged my hours with these guys, but what I find fascinating about them in retrospect is that they often had an overly strong moral calculus to them, either punishing readers for being too bold or not bold enough, in ways that felt right or wrong (depending, of course, on whether you died). And of course, there was no consistency to this from book to book. I feel like I can attribute a very small corner of my disorganized attachment style to this.
That’s all for this week! I love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—