The End Of Gyms As We Know It
Are gyms doomed once scientists create a solution to transform anyone into a superhero?
Every day we are seeing more robotic arms and futuristic exoskeletons showing up on the news that promise to assist and augment human strength so that one day soon we no longer have to risk doing backbreaking manual labour with old-fashioned manpower.
We are already seeing some of these robots take manufacturing jobs and the framework is being set for self-driving vehicles to knock out another large workforce in the not-so-distant future.
While the general public may see such things and think it’s great progress towards no longer suffering back strains and other work-related injuries, as someone who loves lifting weights and the physical challenge of hard work, I can’t help but shake my head at the sight of these robotic perversions of manpower. There are certain things where this technological progression will be seen as a boon to mankind, in medicine for instance, but when it comes to our physical activity we should not be so keen on developing such a crutch.
Our ancestors found little more satisfying than a hard day’s work, even if many folks had no choice as that was their only means of income. Yet even to this day, we see many examples of humans pushing far beyond what we conceived the limits of physical capabilities to be for nothing other than the pure joy of the challenge and the resultant physical flow state.
Look at the World’s Strongest Man competitors who also compete at The Arnold Strongman Classic each year; in the past couple of years, the bale tote yoke that these guys have been carrying across the stage has gone beyond a bone-shattering 1500 pounds. Look at Big Z hitting the 500 lb. log press mark and Eddie Hall deadlifting 500 kg. I certainly don’t want to see these accomplishments become a thing of the revered past. They should be the marks to beat, not the marks to crush with bionic limbs and superhuman genetics.
Despite most of us no longer depending on physical labour to make a living, many people are still making the trek to the gym to bust their asses and feel less like a mental cog in a physically useless body plugged into the technology matrix that is already encompassing our world. While for most of us fitness ‘lifers', this is a daily checkmark on the task list needed to feel complete, the majority of gym-goers are simply there for vanity and maybe because Dr. Oz told them that it would make them healthier.
With robotic augmentations already being seen and gene therapy entering into human trials, it leaves me to question, are gyms going to be doomed whether it’s 20 or 40 years from now when we have access to technologies that can make us all shredded with superhero strength without stepping foot into a gym? Hell, it might not even take 20 years to get to that point at the rate we are advancing the technologies to get us there.
Death to Planet Fatness
We might as well start celebrating now, as Planet Fitness will become nothing but a vague and distant memory in the future, with the occasional lunk alarm haunting your dreams. While we’re at it though, hopefully, we will see this as the end of the Shakeweight and other late-night infomercial products that make you look ridiculous and do nothing more than demonstrating how you’ve gotten sucked into the marketing gimmicks. Take this thing, for instance, jowls be-gone, this girl looks like she’s having a fantastic time:
Nobody that has a passion for lifting and fitness goes to Planet Fitness and so once those lemmings have a pill of perfection that they can take instead of, you know, putting in the hard work to get in shape, Planet Fitness will have an easy time with transitioning their marketing as the donut and pizza club where you don’t have to do anything physically challenging. They’ll probably even be the first to hand out the “shredded abs" pills like tick tacks and offer gene therapy booths right next to the tanning beds. It will be a club just like those healing Med-Bays the rich people get to use in Elysium.
Commercial gyms will become a thing of the past. Brand name gyms that take up an entire city block won’t be able to keep their doors open once the majority of members, who already only show up about 3 times per month, no longer need to show up at all. Rows upon rows of treadmills will collect dust or be used to hang towels on so that the staff can save money by not using the dryers since they’ll be struggling just to keep the lights on. The Jazzercise instructor will be able to hear a pin drop in the empty fitness studio that no one comes to anymore. At least if you are still lifting at these gyms you’ll never have to wait in line for a bench anymore and you’ll be able to take your mirror "ab selfie" in peace.
Serious lifters will have to band together like post-apocalyptic survivors to keep training and keep some semblance of community alive. It will be hard. Those who take solace in the getting stronger the "old fashioned” way will be picked on and hung up by their underwear on the pull-up bar by the new gym bros who literally look like the Incredible Hulk and can carry cars on their backs; not hollowed out cars like WSM competitors of today, but the whole car with the family to boot in the back seat, carrying it all to the mechanic when it breaks down on the road.
People who love to lift will always have a gym to call home, the “boxes" and garage gyms won’t be going anywhere, and hopefully, they will be appreciated more for the ass-kicking athletes that they are already helping to build. Bodybuilders, powerlifters, strongmen, and Olympic lifters will always be able to find a place to get in touch with the cold, hard iron.
But a future where all this is a possibility still begs the question: what will happen to the competitions which are already rife with competitors doing whatever it takes to win?
How will training and competition in sports make a stand against augmented humans that effortlessly surpass the limits of human physiology as we know it today?
Purists of sports will still exist regardless of external circumstances and opportunities. We see plenty of examples of athletes following the established rules by the book, but on the flip side, there are those who will do whatever it takes to win, even if it involves bending the rules with “cough medicine prescribed by the doctor".
There will have to be a more concerted effort to ensure that athletes are playing fairly, although, surely it will be apparent when John is throwing the hammer 80 m and Hulk throws it into the next city as if the fact that he calls himself Hulk wasn’t indication enough.
Will open competitions in strongman and powerlifting become tested competitions, with PEDs being acceptable yet gene doping and cyborg body parts banned? What are the new standards for fairness in sports going to look like?
Rather than try to strictly ban those looking forward to a cyborg future and the perfectly cleft chin (case in point: look how well the anti-doping efforts have been going to keep athletes determined to win by any means necessary out of sports thus far), we should be looking towards having a superhuman league for each sport where anyone who wants gorilla strength or rocket legs can still have fun doing their thing, while the rest of us compete in the traditional way. Of course, there will always be athletes who try to sneak through under the radar in order to get a “W,” but it seems to be going fairly well for the “natty” divisions in strength sports thus far.
However, catching athletes that are not playing by the rules after the trophies have been handed out, or years later when the technologies of testing have caught up does not do justice, as those athletes playing fair often miss out on their livelihood and endorsements to support their continued effort in their sport.
This also opens another can of worms as to how to treat little Hulk Jr. who may have inherited some of papa’s super-strength genetic alterations through no fault of his own other than by being born in a future time when a robot is flipping your Big Macs to prevent people from making WSIB claims over getting burned by the deep fryer. Anyone who is an offspring of a genetically-altered person may have an unfair advantage, so there would have to be new little leagues for young Juggernaut, just like Professor X’s School for Gifted Children.
How We Can Keep Moving Forward in Such a World
I think that the best chance that we as lifters have in moving forward in a world that’s going to make training for greater strength and health obsolete is to look to the past and reflect on the wisdom of the "ancient practical philosophers". Stoic philosophy has made a resurgence in popularity due to the appeal of simplicity and deeper reflection in a world where we are bombarded by notifications constantly that has reduced our average attention span to that of a goldfish. What Seneca said about remembering and learning from the past applies well: "We reflect upon only that which we are about to do. And yet our plans for the future descend from the past.” When the time comes, remember what the effort and accomplishment were like for the lifters of today and those that came before us.
Many lifters today have a hard enough time staying on the straight and narrow path of hard work, good nutrition, and lots of time spent recovering to build strength and muscle with all the options purported to speed up the process and it’s only going to get harder to stick to it as we evolve technologies to assist that further.
If you value the hard work, stick to your convictions and watch out when the future is upon us and robots and superhumans are setting the new standard of heavy lifting.
Remember the freedom for Neo upon unplugging from The Matrix. Don’t take the blue pill when the time comes.