Has anyone stopped to think for a moment about the role of the personal trainer in today’s society? It’s a rather fascinating occupation, if you ask me. It purports to serve a key purpose: to individually whip a customer into shape. Hiring a personal trainer certainly seems to increase one’s chances of becoming fit. Instead of bumbling through endless racks of dumbbells, countless machines resembling spacecraft prototypes, and the gauntlet of treadmills, one simply plunks down a chunk of change and–presto!–fitness comes to form. It’s a very personal transaction, one that reflects a culture seemingly unable to simply exercise at the same rate everyone else is. No, we’ve got to get there quicker than the rest, and so we hire the trainer to walk us to the endless dumbbell racks, onto the spacecraft exercise machines, and towards the treadmill with its foreboding digital designs promising “programs” of extreme physical ardor.
This all came to mind today when I observed a teenage boy, looking rather soft and quite well-kept, going through a number of exercises with a college-age female trainer. It was an interesting partnership to observe (observation being the most common weightroom activity, just ahead of exercising), as the boy seemed to require almost second-by-second direction from the young lady. While I soon found some reason to suspect the seeming hunger for instruction from the high schooler, I also ruminated on the absolute reorientation of physical exercise this country has undergone. Recreational activity has gone from being centered in practical tasks to the opposite pole. For example, much of the fitness I get each week has nothing to do with the enhancement of the performance of physical tasks. Furthermore, this idea that one would pay somebody to help one exercise is antithetical to fitness mindsets of past ages. I can imagine a person of yesteryear observing perfectly capable people, able to research proper fitness techniques at the drop of a hat, trailing some sleek specimen and scoffing. After all, the refrain might go, physical fitness is one of the few qualities one can attain for free–who in their right mind would pay for it? All of it seems to point to a society that is increasingly self-focused, spending-crazy, and, well, helpless. Here’s a good fitness program: situps, pushups, and 3 miles a day. There. Feel free to take my advice–and even hire me. My going rate is 40 bucks an hour, and if you want me to actually pay attention to you as you exercise, that’ll be an extra ten per hour on top of that. Happy exercising.