Law in the Internet Society
-- WardBenson - 30 Nov 2008

Bifurcations Part I –

How capitalism (almost) killed strength training in America:

Until a generation ago, most gyms were run for the benefit of the community and with a minimal profit motive. This worked because the owners were usually current or former athletes who sought to create the kind of training facilities for others that they would have liked for themselves. As a result, they catered to those whose primary goal was improved strength and athletic performance. Indeed, they specifically tried to attract top athletes to enhance the gym's reputation, and so up until the 1980s many of the greatest strength athletes trained at YMCA's or other local gyms. With the rise of commercial gym chains run for profit, the nature of the fitness industry fundamentally changed. Increasing membership became more important than seeking quality members. Since those interested in serious training were few in number and already usually gym members, there was no incentive to try to attract more of them. Far more profitable was appealing to the much larger cohort who could be induced to purchase a one-year membership regardless of whether or not they ever came. As a result, because those only marginally interested in training found free weights intimidating and difficult to use, serious lifting equipment gave way to machines which eliminated the need to develop functional strength, coordination, flexibility and technique. More importantly, when personal training and classes surpassed membership fees in profitability, the gym floor ceased to be the primary source of revenue. Instead, it served to attract people to the building so that they could be convinced to sign up for those services. The demographics of those who paid for instruction and those who trained alone were markedly different. Specifically, the latter were and still are almost exclusively young men and the former were women. The women had to be made to feel comfortable on the way to the classes or during personal training sessions but were, as now, intimidated by young men grunting, screaming, dropping heavy weights and getting chalk everywhere. Given that they paid an order of magnitude more per month than the men, it is not surprising with whom the owners sided. Thus, gyms which once catered to lifters disowned them. They threw out their equipment and banned any behavior that intimidated the prized clientèle. Lifters toned down their training, found one of the remaining “hardcore” gyms, or simply dropped out of the iron game.

Enter the Net

Having been driven from public gyms, many lifters turned to the Net to satisfy their need for equipment, information and camaraderie. The Net solved the first problem by making it much easier to acquire cheap, high quality equipment or to find garage gyms that only advertised online. More importantly, the Net allowed anyone to learn all the most current information on strength training from the experts. This was of particular benefit to strength sports given their culture. Because there was never any money in competitive lifting, the belief that knowledge should only be distributed for pay never developed. Instead, one is expected always to mentor less experienced lifters and reveal one's methods to anyone who asks. Thus, the only obstacle to the dissemination of knowledge was that the market was never large enough to make it economical to distribute it in book form. With the Net's ability to spread information at virtually no cost, this final barrier fell. The result is that the resources available to athletes today are orders of magnitude larger and better in quality than before. The quintessential example is where there are several hundred articles posted by strength experts and at any one time there are at least two dozen elite lifters who post their daily workouts (often with video links) and answer questions. All of this is done for free in return for prestige, a feeling of camaraderie now lost because most lifters train alone or in small groups, and advertising for their lines of equipment and personal training services. Also critical has been Youtube on which it is now commonplace for professional trainers to post tutorials as advertisements for their services. Finally, maintains a list of every sanctioned powerlifting competition in the US, information that was almost entirely unavailable only a few years ago.

Going forward

For the above reason, the Net is now crucial to the development of strength sports. For those already involved, it creates a level of information sharing, networking, mentoring, and organization that would have been impossible otherwise. And for those not yet involved, it makes access to these resources and acculturation into such sports possible for many who would never have had enough local personal connections to become involved. However, the exodus from gyms which the Net enabled has negative ramifications for the future of strength sports. When most athletes trained in gyms frequented by members of the public, it was easy for the public to be exposed to them and later participate in strength sports. Now there are far fewer opportunities for none-participants to learn about the sports through face-to-face interactions. This is a problem for the sports because it may mean fewer participants in the future. More importantly, though, this is a problem for public health. Because the economics of the fitness industry militate against the wide-scale provision of quality equipment and training to the masses, one of the only barriers to the onslaught of weight machines and “toning” classes—serious lifters whose feats of strength developed through traditional methods provided the regular population proof that “toning” exercises were not the way to go—is disappearing. Thus, while the Net has yielded untold benefits to those already involved and those who in the future will have the initiative and know-how to use it, there is going to be an increasing divergence in the exercising population. Sadly, the majority will probably know increasingly less about fitness as time goes on even though better and better information is available at their fingertips every day.



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r2 - 21 Dec 2008 - 04:13:36 - WardBenson
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