the spaz of fitness has arrived

Functional in Formosa

In General, Rhetoric, Writing on May 27, 2012 at 10:52 pm

As fun as kipping pull-ups are, after I’ve incorporated more strict pull-ups into my regimen, I have to admit that they’re not at all the same beast as the real thing. One’s a conditioning movement, one’s strength…

Fortunately, I had a chance to return to Formosa Fitness, where I got to sit down and speak with the owner– Dave Chesser. To be honest, I was relieved to have a conversation in English for the first time in a significant while, and to talk about “functional fitness” which seems a foreign language in and of itself sometimes. Moreover, I was really impressed by Dave and the amount of thought and devotion he has put into his business. Though still somewhat of a niche market in America, CrossFit seems downright mainstream there compared to the fitness culture in Taiwan. When I tried explaining what I was studying to my aunt and uncle (the seminar paper I wrote last semester on CrossFit Sri Ram Ashram), they– very generously though misguidedly– brought me to a tour of the highly exclusive gym atop Taipei 101. There, we were given a small tour of the facilities (a glut of elliptical machines and some globo-gym weight machines). Our neatly tailored, three-piece-suited tour guide informed me that “weight training is not just for men” and “these days, women are starting to try strength training. Women should not be afraid of using the weight machines because they would not make you bulky.”

Anyway, Dave articulated to me precisely the reason I had a difficult time explaining to my aunt and uncle the philosophy behind CrossFit (though eventually I think I almost managed it). The concepts are so foreign here, there aren’t any terms for things like “metabolic conditioning.” Poor Dave first has to define his services before he can market them to the public. Nevertheless, it seems like he’s done pretty well. He talked about what limited access he has to equipment, but (as I mentioned in my last post) he has virtually everything a CrossFitter-away-from-home could hope for, and then some. All the equipment is in stellar condition, and though they’re not branded by Rogue or Again Faster, they’re damned more than I could have wished for thousands of miles from home.

It’s also worth noting that Formosa Fitness is not a CrossFit affiliate. In truth, that’s probably a good choice. The word “CrossFit” has virtually no value here– at least not in any of the conversations I’ve had, so there’d be no reason for Dave to shell out the affiliate fee. Moreover, Dave seems to exercise more freedom in his own programming, tailoring it to the needs of his clients in their setting.

For example, Formosa Fitness seems to make more frequent use of kettlebells– something I actually envy because I wish I knew more/had the technique to actually employ kettlebells to their full potential. KB’s suit Taipei rather well because they take up less space than fully-loaded olympic bars… and space is a rare commodity in this city. Moreover, it may just be my personal experience, but for some reason Taiwanese people seem more intrigued by kettlebells than powerlifting. When I showed CrossFit websites to friends and family, they were immediately curious about the black, steel bells.

I’ve also made no secret about the fact that I have certain reservations about some CrossFit practices. Heavy lifts in AMRAPs, for example, invite poor form and injury. It could be that my own technique and ability just aren’t there for these elements, but I tend to avoid movements that I think carry too much risk. Because Dave operates independently from any overarching “program,” he has even more room to breathe when helping his clients. Just from the materials around the gym, I saw elements of traditional CrossFit, Gym Jones, 4-hour body, Tactical Athlete, and of course Dave’s own approach.

Our conversation also gave me some more ideas about my dissertation research. I’m not going to go too in-depth here, but I’m thinking about looking at the various manifestations/interpretations of “functional fitness”– considering the physical practices as rhetoric and seeing what values are produced, performed, or resisted in different cultural settings…

Also, as a random note on “functional fitness,” I really haven’t done much CrossFit here– if any– but small moments here remind me of what I’ve gained in the past year. I’m certain that, before CrossFit, I couldn’t have cleaned and pressed my mom’s carryon luggage into the train’s overhead bin. I also couldn’t have deadlifted my grandfather in his wheelchair over the curb to get him from the hospital to the restaurant across the street when taking him out for lunch. I would’ve also possibly not made the mad sprint to the bus stop so that I wouldn’t have to wait another 20 minutes for the next one. Not quite the same as chasing mastodons and hunting sabre-tooth tigers, but still… functional fitness in practice :).

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