the quantified body

Whenever I hear or read about the quantified self—a lifestyle obviously deeply influenced by the heritage of cybernetics—I am reminded of conversations I led and overheard while I still was visiting the gym regularly, three times a week. Already when just eavesdropping I was amazed by the topics the real bodybuilders talked about. The weights lifted almost aren’t a topic at all—with the exception when they spot somebody they care about using too heavy weights. This not only has negative training effects but greatly heightens the risk of injuries, too. Then, somewhat related to the former, there is the topic of correct execution of the exercises. But, roughly estimated, almost eighty percent of the conversations the big boys lead is filled with training plans and nutrition en détail. This was corroborated once I could take part in the discussions, after having been socially accepted by the circle of the big boy regulars at my gym—doing ten repetitions in the fifth set with 90 kgs on the bench is the threshold, I guess. Not that I myself was a big boy then, far from it, but to their satisfaction they had seen that I was serious about their sport and cared for it. Exactly the same experience I had with all communities of practice I ever had to do with, be they composed of hardcore gamers, game modders, Karatekas, or whatyouhave. Once you have demonstrated respect, prolongued interest, and willingness to invest, you’re in.
    Anyway, back on topic. It’s obvious that the quantified self movement has its roots not only in cybernetics, but also in flight medicine, sports science, and the like. I always thought that sooner or later the practices and scenes of the gym will be reconnected with the quantified self. Bruce W. Perry’s book ‘Fitness for Geeks’ (2012) does it.
    Unqualified addendum: You people must have time …

PERRY, BRUCE W. 2012. Fitness for geeks: Real science, great nutrition, and good health. Sebastopol et al.: O’Reilly.
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  • klandestino Thursday, 18th October 2012 at 18:37

    ” but to their satisfaction they had seen that I was serious about their sport and cared for it (…) Once you have demonstrated respect, prolongued interest, and willingness to invest, you’re in.”
    This is so right! Water on my mills ;-)
    And your anecdote about bodybuilders is so right, too. As Kai Greene [in my view one of the most interesting bodybuilders (in the strict sense of the term!!) because of his mental strength] – once said:
    I’ll never be a weightlifter.” So, it’s not that important how much weight you lift, but HOW you do it. In this case it’s the quality, not the quatity (recurring to your headline).

    • zephyrin_xirdal Friday, 19th October 2012 at 11:56

      Completely agreed. As everything which has real worth (in my opinion), serious working out at the gym, or bodybuilding as a sport, can not be reduced to numbers. All quantifying the big boys do is understood as a mere tool. Above that bodybuilding is not just about results, it also very much is about the experience of the practice. As you said: “it’s not that important how much weight you lift, but HOW you do it.” It’s about the precision and quality of every move, and the experience of it. Same with the intellectual understanding of the geometry and mechanics of our skeletal muscular apparatus: It is a step to something far more important, to feeling it, to ‘understand’ it on a deeper, embodied level. All this is just a hint towards what a rich and multilayered set of practices or lifestyle bodybuilding is.