Father Andrew's Hot Body Gym

August 5, 2009

Some Thoughts on Doctrine…

Filed under: random, real talk — Tags: , , — Mara @ 2:10 pm

“Your body is a temple…” – Jesus
“…so make it hott!” – Us
It has come to my attention recently that we may need to evaluate our motto, not necessarily change it, but perhaps clarify what we mean there.
First, we should all know that it is meant to be sarcastic. Hopefully we have no illusions about Jesus wanting us to look sexy in our underwear. Likewise, CrossFit does not care one bit about how good you look with your shirt off, how tight your butt looks, or how big your biceps are when you flex in the mirror. The reason we chose the second half of our motto is because it is absolutely ridiculous and points out the misdirection of our culture at large and of the fitness industry more specifically.
For CrossFitters and Christians alike, hottness is meant to be nothing more than a side-effect to true health and fitness. If your priorities are stacked up any other way, you are missing the point, both phsyically and spiritually.
Now, I know we are all fallen human beings, and I too am certainly guilty of finding motivation in thoughts of smaller jeans, a better bikini body, a firmer stomach, etc. But I am convinced that as Christians and as CrossFitters, we must be very careful about the emphasis we place on appearance. Simple put, it is self-focused and therefore sinful. I hate to be harsh, but it’s true. Now, this does not mean that you should not feel good about your body and comfortable in your skin, but we all – girls and guys – need to reasses what makes us feel good. Are you going to base your self-worth on whether you have a visible six-pack or on your ability to do five pull-ups in a row? Is it more important to you to fit into those low-rise jeans or to be able to squat your body weight? As a culture, we need to focus more on what our bodies can do and less on how they look. Contrary to popular belief, looking good is not going to get anyone into heaven or prolong their lives on earth. Instead, we need to be concerned with what we can use our bodies to do on earth to further God’s kingdom. A firm butt never fed the hungry or clothed the poor. But a strong back can carry water to the thirsty or lift children into soaring arcs of joy, as Andrew demonstrated in Guatemala. Not only is this misplaced emphasis on appearance most certainly spiritually dangerous, it can also be unhealthy and actually interfere with our goals to become the fittest versions of ourselves that we can be. More on that later.
By our affiliations, we have committed ourselves to two sets of groundrules, those of the First and second Gospels. The First, is of course that of Jesus, who commands us to treat our bodies as temples of the holy spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20) and to worship Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). Our second gospel (which we understand only in light of the First) is CrossFit, which defines 10 aspects of fitness that all athletes should strive to attain: cardiovascular endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy. Nowhere in that list do you see anything about bodyfat ratio, being “cut,” or looking good in a bathing suit. In fact, the Training Guide states that a decrease in work capacity for an increase in any other measure of “fitness”, including bodyfat ratio, is anathema to their principles.
Some of you may be thinking, “I don’t need to be an ‘athlete.’ I just want to be healthy.” According to CrossFit, health and fitness are identical. Strength and diet are the foundations of both, with loss of strength being the primary reason people end up in nursing homes and a primary precursor to injury, and with poor diet showing a huge correlation with increased risk for disease as well as decreased athletic performance. According to the Training Guide: “athletes have greater bone density, stronger immune systems, less coronary heart disease, reduced cancer risk, fewer strokes, and less depression than non-athletes.” There is also evidence that the mental focus and coordination required by CrossFit movements helps ward off Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, they assert that 80-year-old athletes can be stronger and healthier than 25-year-old non-athletes. To be wholistically fit IS to be healthy, and you cannot be fully healthy without being athletically fit.
Thus, our Gospels demand that we become athletes in the fullest sense of the term, both for our physical and our spiritual well-being. As long as we are focused on our appearance, we are losing track of what God wants for our lives and bodies, and we are distracting ourselves from what our true goals as CrossFitters should be.
I’m not going to name any names, but I have heard a few voices expressing goals and beliefs that do not fit into this framework, including my own. Heresies generally fall into two categories, dividing often along gender lines. A third, basic heresy seems to be perpetuated by all, including me, which is that of being overly concerned with body fat ratios. While the most prevalent, this is only a minor heresy, as lower body fat IS an aspect of both health and increased work capacity. So while lowering our body fat ratio should not be our goal or at least not our only goal, it IS a reasonable measure of our progress toward healthy athleticism. Just like the joy and peace that come with loving Christ are fringe-benefits but not a reason to become a Christian, the improved appearance of our bodies is a bonus but cannot be our primary reason for doing CrossFit.
The other two heresies are less benign.
Let’s start with the girls. The most common thing I hear from the ladies is “well, I don’t want to get big,” or “I just want to lose some fat but not really gain muscle.” First, think about why you don’t want to gain muscle. Is it because your muscular thighs won’t fit into those skinny jeans? Is it because you want to look like the skinny-fat models and celebrities with “lean” sillouettes? You have been conditioned to conceive of feminine beauty as thin, smooth, delicate, and weak. None of those things make you healthier or more able to do God’s work. The notion that women aren’t meant to be strong is completely false. Pound for pound, women are actually stronger than men on average, and strength is just as important for women’s health as it is for men. As this archetype of beauty reaches the half-century mark, we are seeing the damage it has done to generations of women: high cholesterol, heart disease, high cancer rates, and most obviously osteoperosis. To be healthy, you have to have a solid amount of lean muscle. Period.

Besides, the best way to lose fat is to gain muscle and thereby burn more calories. If you look at pictures of women who do CrossFit, you quickly see that even if appearance is your concern, this is a good way to go. First, you will never see a woman (or man for that matter) who does CrossFit who looks like this she-male in Exhibit A. This kind of bulk comes from isolation exercises, extreme loads, and artificial hormone therapy. Plus, a women with this kind of muscle usually has sub-standard abilities in most of our markers of fitness, not least of which would be flexibility and agility. Now, check out the elite CrossFit women in exhibits B, C, D and E. These are all women lifting more than their bodyweight on a lot of exercises, training at elite levels, and winning in CrossFit games. They are as big as you can get, and that’s if you go nuts. None of us are going to get to that level, or we certainly have a long way to go. Look at their arms and shoulders. That is what healthy, fit, strong women look like. Period. And they happen to be pretty hot. But they are not going to get modelling contracts, because our society does not value healthy women. So conform yourself not to the standards of this world (Rom. 12:2), but rather be formed by God’s plan for your body and your health. Remember, the bible says to love Him with your strength, not your spaghetti arms.

Winners of the 2008 CrossFit Games.

Nice arms!

She is a mother of 3 who has been doing CrossFit for only 2 years.

Other CrossFit Games contenders.

If you don’t think those ladies are hott, there is something wrong with you. Are they are about as healthy as you can get.

Now for the guys. Luckily for you, strength is considered attractive for your gender, so it’s usually not hard to get guys to work on building some muscle. The problem I see with you guys is more a mentality that fitness stops when you leave the gym (or garage or soccer field or bike trail). Fitness is not something you work at for 30 minutes 4 times a week and then forget, just like being a Christian doesn’t stop when you leave church. Rather, fitness, like following Jesus, is a way of life. What you do the other 164 hours of the week are just as important to your fitness as what you do for those handful of hours with the weights or pull-up bar or bicycle.

This means thinking about:

1) What you eat. An athlete needs good fuel, and that means lean protein, good fats, and lots of vegetables. You simple cannot progress very far or very fast as an athlete without proper fuel. I have recently heard some statements about calorie reduction as a nutrition strategy. This is not the thinking of an athlete. Simply eating less can have the opposite effect than what is desired if the quality is not what it should be: calorie defecits usually prompt the body to burn muscle for fuel, leading to regression in strength; sugars cause insulin to spike which leads to more body fat despite lower caloric consumption; excessively low caloric intake leads to starvation mode in which the body stores everything it can as fat, particularly around the middle; and a lack of sufficient vegetables leads to vitamin deficiencies, colon cancer from a lack of fiber, digestive issues, and non-optimal health in general. Also, don’t try to cram all your calories for the day into one or even two meals. Unless you are doing an intermittant fast, which should only be occasional, you need to be eating 3-6 meals a day, re-fueling every 2-3 hours. This places less stress on your digestive system, keeps insulin and levels more even, and helps keep you from binge eating.

2) What you drink. Alcohol is meant to be consumed rarely and in moderation. I’m not accusing any of you of being “heavy” drinkers, per se, but I think you ought to examine your alcohol consumption carefully. Not only is alcohol empty calories (beer has a ton of carbs with between 100-200 calories per beer!), it is detrimental to health in many ways, even in smaller doses. It is dehydrating, which you know is an athlete’s enemy. Moderate drinking can leach magnesium from your body, which leaves you low on an essential mineral. Even apart from any physiological effects, the simple fact remains that when you go out drinking, you often don’t make it to the gym in the morning! We all know that a glass of wine or a beer is perfectly reasonable and even perhaps beneficial, but when 1 becomes 2 and 2 become 5, you are not treating your body as a temple.

3) How much you sleep. The average adult human needs around 7 hours of sleep. Per night, not per week, Andrew. Athletes need more. The recovery processes happen most effectively when we are asleep, so it is essential for us to get adequate rest. This means at least 8 hours a night on average, sometimes more. I know for some of you, just 7 would be a good goal to start. Studies show that people who get more sleep have less bodyfat on average and live longer on average. A lack of sleep causes your body to release cortisol which is a stress hormone that prompts abdominal fat storage. Sleep more, feel better, perform better, get hotter. It’s that simple.

Basically, if you do not approach fitness as a lifestyle you will be cutting yourself off at the knees and you will not achieve the strength of which you are cabable. You also will not be hott.

In conclusion, I know we all have our hearts in the right place, but sometimes we need a reminder to get our heads back in the game as well. I’m talking to myself as much as anyone here. These concerns do not go away as we get fitter, either. As we begin to see improvement in our appearance, it’s easy to focus on that as proof and motivation, which it is and should be, but only to some degree. The challenge is to find more meaningful, and more counter-cultural, markers to serve as goals in our race toward complete fitness.

Yes, CrossFit is fun, it is social, and we can get pretty silly, but this is serious stuff we’re working on here. Fitness is not occasional, and it is not optional. It is part of the mandate from God to become the people He designed us to be, and we would be wise to approach it as such.


  1. Great post! I think we all need a refocusing and pep talk every so often. I do find myself obsessing over my size, I was 20 pounds heavier in high school and I think one of my greatest fears is looking that way again. I tend to get especially focused on size since my skinny jeans use to fit fine in October of last year and now are so tight in the legs I can't even bend over to tie my shoes. Mentally I know my legs are getting bigger because I gaining muscle but when I just want to throw on a pair of jeans and it takes a valiant effort to 'throw' them on, I get rather discouraged. Besides wanting to look better and be stronger, the main things that sold me on our health overhaul is the health aspect. I love reading up on nutrition now and things have so completely changed in my daily eating habits I loath a lot of bad habits. I don't like the notion that when you get old you will eventually become totally dependant upon loved ones and I think we are on a great path to not having that happen. I think anyone who reads this blog will get the health and spiritual aspect about us in a heartbeat. Thanks for your post, it has helped me to refocus my priorities in my goals.

    Also, whoever said we should rethink our motto needs a swift kick in the nads, they obviously don't get the humor aspect of it.

    Comment by Abby — August 5, 2009 @ 5:44 pm

  2. Thanks, Abby!

    It really is hard to fight the urge to focus on appearance and to define beauty the way our culture does. When I dropped a jean size last week, I was shocked at how much attention and respect that got me at the office (Deni told someone and word got out). Suddenly everyone was congratulating me and wanted to know what I was doing to lose weight. And it felt really good. I was also glad that some people noticed the muscle definition in my arms at the same time, but that was when I got the comment that shocked me the most. Deni said, "but you probably don't want to keep gaining muscle cause, you know, you don't want to get bulky." I hope I wasn't too harsh, but I said, "No, I DO want to keep building muscle, because it's healthy and anyway Josh likes it." That's part of what made me write this post. That experience at work made it so clear what women in our society value in terms of exercise and appearance: thinness and smallness, which usually means weakness. And part of the silly thing is that they often are doing this for some imagined suitor whom they think won't like them with more muscle. There may be those few guys who want a skinny-fat, bean-pole, imitation of a woman. Personally, I suspect those dudes of having their own self-esteem issues that they project onto their girlfriends; the "as long as I'm bigger than her then I'm not too small and un-manly" mindset. But most guys you ask will tell you they like girls with some muscle definition and meat on their bones! So we end up trying to be thin for this imaginary male population or for each other, yet we talk about the need for healthy body-image. It makes me crazy.

    I also remembered today that part of the reason I decided to focus more on losing weight was that I realized that losing weight and looking fitter would be my best tool for evangelism. Seriously. For a while there, I was just gaining muscle and not losing much fat. But I remember thinking, "I need to start matching people's ideas of what really fit, attractive, athletic people look like so that they will want to do what I do." And that meant losing weight. After a bit I lost track of that goal somewhat, and I only recently remembered it. But how true it has been. It's when people see change, change they perceive as positive, that they get interested. They ask questions, and I can tell them how CrossFit and zone/paleo has helped me lose weight – and gain muscle and feel stronger and be overall more fit (which they don't really hear).

    So my question becomes, how much should we buy into the appearance obsession of our culture in order to recruit people to a better, more truly fit lifestyle? We want to "meet people where they are" as the saying goes, but is it right to attract people by telling them how much better they're going to look and only later trying to really change their thinking about fitness and health? Deep down, we all want to be sexier, just like we all want to be self-absorbed and sinful, but to we accept that and use it as a tool or confront it head-on right at the beginning?

    Anyway, Abby, I want you to know that I have noticed a huge improvement in you regarding this issue over the last few months. I used to hear you talking about not wanting to get big and kind of dipping out of using heavier weights or really pushing yourself sometimes. Not so anymore. Recently Josh and I have both noticed a huge improvement in your attitude and work ethic at the gym. And I have noticed you really pushing yourself with heavier weights and not worrying about how it might make you look. I'm really proud of you! And I think if you stick with your diet and 3-4 workouts a week, you will soon start to see some of that fat falling away. Your jeans will fit again soon, only a little differently than before!

    So, I'm thinking breast implants should be my next step. You know, it's all for the cause, right? 😉

    Comment by Maravilla — August 5, 2009 @ 9:41 pm

  3. I hear what you're saying about the bulking up. Our culture would rather see skinny fat girls, waif thin and running on an elipical than lifting big weights. I think though that through time and women seeing other women, like you, losing weight yet gaining muscle and looking fantastic all at the same time that their persecption will slowly begin to shift. I feel that way about Christianity as it is today. There ahas been so much negativity towards our faith because there are a lot of Christians who don't act like Chirst. I see the grimmace on people's faces when I say I'm a Christian, yet I know the only way their persception will change is how I live my life and display Christ to them.

    Thanks for the compliments. I can be a complainer sometimes but I'm slowly getting the hunger to push myself. I guess I get frustrated sometimes because I am really consistent with my diet, throughout the week I eat very well and balanced but not seeing as big a difference as I would like. Although, something I did think about today is that I tend to look at myself everyday like, "Ok, where's the muscle? Why is there still so much fluff?" and it occurred to me that a 'watched pot never boils'. So, I'm going to try and stop waiting and watching so much and just focus on my health and strength.

    Thanks for all your encouragement today! It makes it so much easier when you have someone rooting for you to push yourself.

    Comment by Abby — August 6, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

  4. I found your essay on google while doing a search on crossfit. I do that from time to time to get inspiration and to help push me on the days I just don’t want to work out. What you wrote is exactly what the doctor ordered. Faith is such a huge part of my life. God in interconnected to everything, and this should be no different. I’m not a crossfitter just yet. I’ve got some work to do before I attempt it. But thank you for the inspiration and a fresh perspective as to why I’m doing this. When I initially started to exercise and made a REAL commitment to eating properly and treating my body right, my goals were selfish. Looking better was a part of it, and my vanity still wants to be admired for the physique I’m trying to cultivate. The videos and pictures of crossfit women served to inspire me to want to be strong, to be able to run as long as I want, play with my son as long as he can without getting tired. You are right when you quote vigorous exercise as being integral to maintaining cognitive function, overall health, and injury prevention as we age. I am a nurse, and one of my saddest moments was assisting a patient to end his life support. He was completely mentally intact, just like you and me, but his body was done. He had to have a hole cut into his neck to make room for a permanent breathing tube (tracheostomy) because he had already been on the ventilator for such a long time. To know that he was concsiously terminating life support because his body could no longer go on is heart breaking. There are countless stories of elderly people whose health goes into steep decline after a fall. Conversely, I had the privilige to care for a woman who is 110 years old. One Hundred and TEN YEARS OLD!! And she is amazing! Her mind is still clear as a bell, and she still has full use of her body. She attributed it to always trying to be useful and eating simply.
    In short, thanks for helping me to renew my dedication and commitment to attaining my goal to be as healthy as God will permit me.

    Comment by Zoema — July 9, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

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