On the application of geek theory to physical fitness

Nick Stirling wants to be a writer, photographer, and artist, but he only gets paid to be a teacher.  Luckily, he enjoys being a teacher enough that he is able to keep blogging at Exercising Monsters on a regular basis. Topics include (but are not limited to) his adorable daughter, social justice, and video games.

(This post is written for mindyourmind, one of my favourite websites and an outstanding resource for youth mental health and wellness.)

Simon Pegg (Scotty from the new Star Trek franchise) has a healthy attitude about being a geek.

“Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.”

As a lifelong geek (across many genres, including - but not limited to - Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Halo, and the aerial front of World War I), I feel that Simon Pegg has it, well, pegged.  This is what geeking out is.  It is the application of shameless glee to something that makes you happy.  It is the joy of little details, hidden surprises, and all the nuts and bolts of your favourite things.

Now, admitting that I am a lifelong geek is also admitting that I haven't had a great relationship with physical fitness.  It's a cliché, but it's absolutely true in my case.

It has taken me a while, but I've started to bring my body and my brain together.

The first step was realizing that my phone could create and record an astounding quantity of data when I went for a run.  Full disclosure: I hate running.  But I do like geeky things that track my progress.  So when an app like Zombies, Run! can give me a compelling zombie story and a moment-by-moment assessment of my speed, elevation, GPS-tracked location, and when zombies tried to eat me, I start to feel like running might not actually be that boring after all.

Somewhere in there I started making my own geeky Excel spreadsheets and line graphs to track my lifting progress.  When I began the Starting Strength program, I spent hours making charts to keep careful track of every incremental gain.  I followed my changes in body weight the same way.  At the 3-month intervals I calculated the exact percentage increases in my big lifts (currently a 76% increase in squat performance over the last year).  I built my own dipping station out of 2x4s and pipe (and then a heavy-bag stand and a plyo box with clear grip tape).  I made a set of Lifehacker cup speakers so I could watch Community and Family Guy while I worked out in my garage.

The numbers became my XP.  Adding another set of 45lb plates to a lift was leveling up, as was moving up an Old Navy shirt size.  The geekiness of my approach did nothing to diminish the real physical benefits of the exercise. Treating fitness like a beloved videogame just made me all the more excited to do it regularly, and my whole person benefitted.  I took something that was outside of my nerdy, awkward comfort zone and geeked-it-the-heck-out until it felt like it fit the part of my personality that gets excited about detailed maps of Westeros.

I'll never be a power lifter.  And based on my recent re-entry into running this season I will also not be competing for world titles in the 5k at any point, ever. But it has made me better able to take on new challenges in the future. 

+5 confidence, self-image, and strength.