greg dahlen

Alumnus, academy of achievement

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Could exercise be about acquiring grace rather than strength?

Before, I was thinking exercise is largely about becoming stronger. For example, you watch a guy bench 400 pounds, it looks like he's trying to get stronger. But then I thought, what really is the use of being able to bench 400 pounds, you never do it in real life. Similarly with getting "six-pack abs," is there really much practical use for a stronger stomach? But then I thought maybe these exercises are more about acquiring control of your body, body-sense, balance, dexterity, grace.

  • May 30 2013: It actually is being used for this purpose.

    Of course, you still get the image of the strong man lifting heavy weight. That is the stereotypical image of the person who exercises. Most people simply want to get into better shape or lose weight.

    Core strength has taken the forefront of fitness recently as important. Programs have altered their workout regimes to increase core strength rather that lift heavy weight. Shoot, even football players have taken ballet for this purpose.

    Many sports require what you are describing rather than heavy, strong muscles.
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      May 30 2013: Thanks for replying, Everett. I probably didn't write my explanation very well. What interested me is when a guy works his arms until he can lift several hundred pounds, could it be that even for that man the main thing he gains is greater control, dexterity, skillfulness with his arms and hands, rather than strength. Because in real life, there's hardly ever a call to lift things weighing several hundred pounds, but dexterity with your hands and arms is a real good thing to have. What do you think?
      • May 31 2013: There are a few people in the world that do lift to excess. Mainly for the purpose of "body building" or creating a body that they believe is perfect in some image that they have in their mind of a large, well muscled human being. Most people don't lift to that excess in life. They just don't have the time, energy or desire to do so.

        I don't know the research specifically on increased muscle mass and control, dexterity, skillfulness etc. But, if you are lifting for power and strength, you are not increasing flexibility or dexterity you actually decrease it.

        Most people lift to gain health benefits, increase muscles mass a bit, increase lean muscle mass, and increase flexibility as well as other benefits. In that type of lifting, done correctly, you would see more of a benefit for what you are looking for.
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          Jun 5 2013: So here's what I want to know, Everett, is there any job where having the kind of strength that can lift 400 pounds would be useful? Would it be good for a garbageman who needs to push dumpsters around? How about for a construction worker who has to hammer nails all day?
      • Jun 5 2013: Greg, the ability to repeatedly lift heavy weights, like 400 pounds, is a facet of body size, strength training, and muscle mass. At times in our history, yes, this was a useful ability, such as garbage men, construction workers, etc. But now, with technology, we don't need that same kind of heavy, bulky muscle mas on our body.

        We need less to lift heavy weight than to maintain our physical body to do tasks repeatedly safely. Rarely do we have the need to lift incredibly heavy weight for a job. We rely on the help of others or technology to assist us in those tasks. If we do attempt to do heavy lifting with our body, we injury our body in the long run.

        A strong, inflexibly body with high muscle mass is not as useful as a flexible, less strong body that has the ability to do tasks and not get injured. Those who do repeated injury type jobs, like construction workers, need to pay special attention to their body so that they can maintain their health. While they will be "strong" massive muscle mass in not as useful as flexibility, muscle endurance, and the ability to prevent repeated injuries.
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          Jun 10 2013: Well, Everett, I was asserting to ZX that I believe that when we perceive beauty in something, it is partially because we see it as having practical purpose. Would you agree, or can you separate pure beauty from practical purpose? Thus, when I look at, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger from his bodybuilding days, when he achieved male beauty, I assert that there is some practical use for those muscles, that partly he looked good because we consciously or unconsciously saw some enhanced ability to perform, to do something practical with those muscles. Am I right or wrong here, and what would be the enhanced ability?
      • Jun 11 2013: I agree in part with your thought here. We do enjoy, as a human species, the human body that is fit and healthy. Though in the case of body builders, such as Arnold, this is excessive. There are those who appreciate his massively muscled body, but they are the exception, not the rule.


        For most people, to achieve that level of physical ability and muscle mass, they must work out hours a day, eat right, and that becomes their life more or less. For us normal people, an hour or two every day or other day is more than enough. A fit body can be achieved working an hour or two frequently without going to an excessive level. A fit body is also practical and useful. No early human could have achieved the physical level of perfection that Arnold did because they did not have the time to do it. They were more worried about surviving than lifting heavy weights.

        There are practical purposes for muscles. Increased strength and endurance, resistance to disease with an increased immune system from a healthy body, reduction in the likelihood of injury, and hey, we look good too. But the level of the professional body builders does not serve a purpose in this regard. It simply is too excessive. We can tell fit people from not fit people. They are more attractive and potentially seen as a more likely "mate" than someone who is not fit. I don't know the science behind that.

        I also would not say that Arnold was a "male beauty" just that he was excessively muscled.
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          Jun 12 2013: Thanks, E. You know, I was thinking this morning that even though it is true that we really don't need the ability to lift 400 pounds, because we rarely do it in real life, whatever one has to lift, it is easier the stronger one is. For instance, if you and I are moving a table and each of us has to lift about 20 pounds, our end of the table, we can do it without being super-strong, but if we were super-strong, it would be easier. Ditto on all kinds of things. Does this work for you, I rather like it.
      • Jun 12 2013: I agree with your sentiment Greg. Muscular strength is valuable for a person to have and does make things easier. But often neglected is flexibility or aerobic capacity in the pursuit of strength. Your heart is important and so is the ability to move your joint through a full range of motion. If you can't move your joints fully, you can injure yourself more easily.

        Muscular strength improves the quality of life and ability to to basic tasks. Especially in old age and should be encouraged in folks to improve their quality of life. I feel it has value, just maybe not on the level of the heavily muscled men we see, like Arnold.
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    W. Ying

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    May 30 2013: .
    .
    Yes!
    Certainly, could.

    But we can not separate it completely from strength
    due to strength is a component of grace, even for females.
    .
    Grace (beauty) means good for keeping our DNA alive.
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      May 29 2013: Thank you for replying, LaMar. I just wonder if exercise might not be overrated, I see many people who I don't think exercise and yet I think are leading reasonably happy, healthy lives, they're not terribly overweight, they're able to meet the work and play demands of their lives, etc. Am I right here? Do you yourself exercise, and do you think life would be okay if you didn't?
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      Jun 10 2013: Thanks, ZX. Well, five years ago I moved from Los Angeles to Glendale, and I hired a moving company to move my single apartment. They sent a duo of guys, these guys were very skillful and professional. I noticed they did not have obviously big arms, they were more sort of wiry. So maybe a mover doesn't need the big arms. I think you had said that these days the trashmen don't need the big muscles, well, I've never studied my trashmen's arms to see how they're built, I only catch a glimpse of them now and then, it seems to me they don't have remarkably big arms either.

      Here's the thing: you assert that there is rarely a practical use to huge muscles. I tend to think that when we find something to be beautiful, it is largely because we perceive a practical use to it, not just sheer aesthetics. Would you agree, or do you think there can be pure beauty apart from any practical use? When I see a bodybuilder who has sculpted his body to male beauty, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger years ago, I always think that there must be a practical use to that muscle, that we perceive beauty there in part because we feel there is some kind of enhanced ability to perform. But you and I seem to be agreeing that there really isn't much use for those muscles, at least in terms of sheer strength. So what might be the use?
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          Jun 10 2013: well, I think a sculpture is practical, it teaches us something about the form of whatever it is depicting, if it depicts a person it teaches us something about how people look, as the sculptor has to consider the form of a person more than does the non-sculptor. But I have to think about how this applies to a bodybuilder, because a bodybuilder is more like a "re-sculptor" than a sculptor. Do these statements seem true to you?
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      Jun 10 2013: By the way, what does the "ZX" refer to?
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      Jun 15 2013: ZX, I reached an answer to my question that I liked. I realized that there are many things in life where one does not have to be strong to do them, but if one is strong one can do them better. Even something simple, like moving a light table or chair, if one is strong it will be easier to do the task. Would you agree?
  • May 29 2013: Looking at a definition

    exercise: -bodily or mental exertion, especially for the sake of training or improvement of health: Walking is good exercise. Something done or performed as a means of practice or training: exercises for the piano.

    grace-elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action: We watched her skate with effortless grace across the ice.

    Exercise could be a series of movement practice solely with the intent of achieving grace. Perhaps female gymnastics, dancing, or exercises done by models might fall in this category.

    Relative to fluidity, a golf swing, swimming stroke, or a baseball pitching wind-up and swing of the bat are activities where fluidity of motion and controlled acceleration are practice goals. There are strength building, flexibility building, and edurance building exercises. Perhaps a similar feature is the desire for fidelity of control, as in putting a golf ball.
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      May 29 2013: Well, then my question is, what is the advantage of "staying fit," ZX, in other words, there are people who don't exercise and yet can hold down a job, even a physical job, they can make it to work, they aren't terribly overweight, they're happy, they have relationships and activities.

      Why actually do we think a muscular person "looks better"?

      What is the advantage of "discipline" if we see that some people who don't have the discipline of exercise still do okay, as I said above. What is the advantage of strength if we see that people who don't lift weights are able to do all the daily activities, chores, work expected of them.

      I'm sorry to pepper you with questions. This is a new thought for me, I always assumed exercise was good for the same reasons you are naming above, and then I suddenly started to wonder, are any of those great reasons for exercise?
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          Jun 1 2013: ZX, partially inspired by your comments, I stopped at my local YMCA and talked to a kickboxing instructor. I was interested if he thought lifting weights would make one a better fighter. He said he didn't think so, that the best boxing comes from working your arms other ways where you get lean muscle mass, not the big "magazine cover" biceps. When I think about it, though, the guys who scare me on the street the most are the guys with the big, "magazine cover" biceps. So was the YMCA instructor wrong?
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          Jun 5 2013: Oh, sorry, ZX, I thought you were American, yes, more or less Young Men's Christian Association is health club, although you don't have to prove you're a Christian, other religions can go. What I want to know, is there any job where it would be better to have those big biceps, that ability to lift 400 pounds. For example, garbagemen have to push trashcans around all day, and construction workers have to hammer nails all day. But would they do better with lean muscle? In other words, those men who get those huge muscles, is there ever a practical use for them, or is it always all vanity?