Charlie's Blog: Utilitarian Fitness


Utilitarian Fitness

America has got to be the only country in the world where people need energy drinks to sit in front of a computer.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a physician, a health professional, or a personal trainer. Do not follow any fitness advice without consulting a doctor first.

The dictum goes that form follows function. This wisdom is teleology applied to life. Everything exists for some end or telos. If you determine that end at the beginning, the design or strategy will usually create itself. Unfortunately, this sort of reflection is rarely done when it comes to fitness and exercise. When people do this reflection, I think that most of them will arrive at the strategy I call "utilitarian fitness."


Most people are familiar with aesthetic fitness. This is exercise done to look good. Bodybuilders are the epitome of this form of fitness. They work to sculpt their bodies into something like a statue. Unfortunately, aesthetic fitness is the most useless fitness that exists. A glance at statistics shows that the mortality rate of bodybuilders is only slightly better than the sedentary man but much worse than professional athletes. Steroids might be a prime culprit for this statistic. I don't know. I just know that performance enhancing drugs are bad for your health.

Looking good is not a substitute for feeling good. Which car would you prefer? A nice shiny sports car with a blown engine? Or, an old work truck with an engine that runs? The correct answer tells us why aesthetic fitness is worthless.


Athletic fitness is your ability to perform well at a sport. Each sport requires a certain body composition. This is why long distance runners don't look like triathletes. This is why football players don't look like cyclists. Each sport trains for its requirements which is why marathoners don't spend much time lifting weights.

Most people do not play sports on any serious level. Even professional athletes will leave their sports by middle age. There is no point training for something you don't do anymore.


Functional fitness is a concept made popular by CrossFit. On paper, functional fitness is the ability to do daily activities. For some weird reason, hauling groceries home requires that you do burpees and deadlifts. Needless to say, CrossFit is stupid. There is no functional fitness to be found in injuring yourself.

Functional fitness is a nice concept that comes close to utilitarian fitness, but it isn't the same thing. Functional fitness is an excuse for doing stupid exercises. You don't have to be a rock climber to climb a flight of stairs. You don't have to be a powerlifter to pick up your kids.


Utilitarian fitness aims at health and the ability to do work. That's it. It doesn't care if you have washboard abs and bulging biceps. Utilitarian fitness seeks to enhance cardiovascular fitness which is the most important for health and longevity. This is the engine in your car. The second aim is to be able to do work without injury or to rehabilitate an injury you already have. This is where strength and flexibility are vital.

What does a utilitarian fitness program look like? A prime component would be daily walks. Walking is the greatest benefit with the least risk of injury. The second would be strength training using bodyweight exercises or modest resistance. Push ups, pull ups, and air squats would be examples of these exercises. The third component is actual work. This would be manual labor activities like raking the yard or cleaning the house or chopping firewood. Work is exercise. I know. That is a mind blowing concept.

You don't need a gym or a fancy machine to achieve utilitarian fitness. You just need some walking shoes, a place to do some simple exercises, or tools for manual labor like a rake, a broom, or a reel lawnmower. The aim should be consistency and avoiding injury.

Some readers will scoff at my utilitarian fitness idea, but I think a glance at the basic US military is a clue to the effectiveness of this idea. Army recruits don't train to be bodybuilders or athletes. They train to become soldiers. This involves marching, doing calisthenics, and performing work like carrying packs or going over obstacle courses. When the recruits do run, they have injuries which the Army has noticed. If you replaced that running with walking or rucking, you would have a great utilitarian fitness program.

These ideas are also what inhabited the mindset of most people before the 1960s and 1970s when running and bodybuilding became popular. Before those fads, people kept in shape by walking, calisthenics, and working in the yard or on the farm. What happened is that people got used to sitting at their desks, in their cars, and on their recliners in front of the TV set. With a steady supply of labor saving devices, the general fitness level declined. Consequently, people pay someone to mow their lawn while they pay to go to some gym. This makes us a society of imbeciles.

I have this wild idea that we should cancel our gym memberships and get rid of our labor saving devices. We should turn off the sports, too. Then, we should spend that time doing manual labor, doing calisthenics, and going for daily walks. This saves time and money. And, it is more sustainable as a lifestyle. It beats those New Year's resolutions that end around March.

The downside of utilitarian fitness is that it doesn't do much for your vanity. There is no finisher's medal for walking your neighborhood. There is no trophy for mowing your lawn. I doubt you will ever achieve a sculpted physique with this program. But you should end up feeling better and living better. You may even live longer. Plus, it is fun living by common sense. This hits when you see someone hurting themselves with those other exercise programs.

Is there a future for utilitarian fitness? Probably not. There is no marketing campaign for this concept mainly because there are no branded products or services to sell. Utilitarian fitness is just an idea which is free for those who choose to embrace it. In a world where marketing competes with free, marketing is always going to win. Marketing is simply propaganda for the private enterprise.

Utilitarian fitness is for those people who see through the marketing nonsense to embrace common sense. This hit me after seeing those nasty injuries on the CrossFit failure videos on YouTube. Those things are not for people with weak stomachs. I asked the obvious question. Why would people send themselves to the hospital for the sake of this stupidity? The answer is marketing. Once you take the red pill of common sense, this marketing loses its grip on your mind.