Hey Ninja-

Look, the world can be a crazy place to live, we all know that. And giving in to the fear that is endlessly manufactured by the media is a constant temptation on the path to fitness ninja greatness.

It’s also true that, sometimes, shit gets real and we need to be prepared to adapt instantly, because…

Life is a Battle!

But, and its a BIG fat booty BUTT,  just because life is a battle doesn’t mean you have to destroy yourself every time you go to the gym.

Any serious athlete knows that rest, recovering, and periodization (intelligently modifying intensity based on goals, performance, and ability) are absolutely crucial to optimal performance i.e. kickin’ ass in battle.

And yet, there is a massive trend in the fitness industry to glorify exercise as an all out war on the body. I call it the militarization of fitness – all the boot camps, Marine workouts, ridiculously intense body building routines, general glorification of pain, and yes, Crossfit.

Even our recovery and regeneration techniques are prioritized by how painful they are; got a knot in your hip flexor? Go roll that shit with a baseball!

Cultural Pathology: Glorification of War

This trend is a symptom of a much larger disease.

On a federal level, we see aggressive and violent foreign policy. On the state level, we see the militarization of the police. On the street level, we see violence – even in NYC car drivers can run over pedestrians, even if their on the sidewalk, and not receive so much as a ticket. The old “might is right” axiom is alive and well in the most “civilized” city in the world.

We live in a culture obsessed with aggression, and its found its way into every facet of our lives, even our workouts.

Exhaustion Is Not a Status Symbol

Well, actually, exhaustion IS a status symbol in our culture, and that’s the problem – we’re working and training ourselves to death. From a young age we’re bombarded with the message that to be successful we must work overtime, sacrifice our health, friends, even happiness and sanity to achieve what we want.



Being chronically exhausted is not the key to success, its a race towards disease and dysfunction. And in most cases, its suffering that is 100% preventable. First Nation peoples call this western disease “the hurry sickness” (and so does Dr. Meyer Freidman, the very same doctor who first identified the type-A personality trait.)

“I bet I can experience kidney failure before you!” Said nobody, ever.

And yet, that’s how everyone behaves. Who care’s if my liver fails, I’ll look hot in that hospital gown. Yeah, I’m not exaggerating, there are tons of people in the fitness industry who look strong on the outside and are weak as shit on the inside. And do you know what we call them? Leaders, because other people pay them good money to inherit their same warped and superficial understanding of fitness.

“It’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Krishnamurti

Our ‪#‎CulturalPathology‬ can be summed up easily: too much yang, not enough yin, too much doing, not enough being, too much work, not enough play, too masculine, not enough feminine.

How Does The Militarization of Fitness Affect My Workout?

In every way possible, it affects your workout,  your health, happiness, the sustainability of your program, and your ability to reach your goals.

Do you believe any of the following are true:

  • No pain, no gain. You have to suffer to get in shape.
  • More is always more. Duh.
  • Working out is not fun, its an obligation.
  • If I don’t throw up, I’m holding back too much
  • You’re only as good as your last workout.
  • I feel like a loser when I miss a workout.

If you answered yes, then you are at the “Exercise is War” understanding of fitness. And that’s fine, if you want to wage war on your body, please do. Many of us go through that phase, I spent a decade there, with plenty of joint casualties and war stories to prove it.

So I’m not belittling you – I’m just saying that this isn’t the only way to train, and it sure as fuck isn’t sustainable. And if you can benefit from my experience and mistakes, that that would be swell.

So What’s the Other Option?

Well, actually, there are many options. But one of them is to decide that learning about the body and what it takes to nourish, strengthen, and heal it is a life long process, adventure, exploration, and privilege, not a burdensome obligation, nor a military operation. Hell, you can even make up your own ninja principles like I did and create your own workout system if you like. Why can’t movement be an expression of creativity and joy?

It can if you stop trying to get your emotional needs met through suffering.

There are plenty of people who love dancing, and dance their way to a new body, or get a deep satisfaction out of practicing martial arts, and kungfu kick their way to super fitness glory. Then their are the yogis, who use movement as a way to make love to their body to manifest its greatness. (So hot, right?)

None of these perspectives are right or wrong – and all of them are susceptible to extremes – but they are all worthy of being explored if you truly want a sustainable, comprehensive, and balanced movement practice. Depth and breadth of perspective, my friends –  that’s why your here, on the “TrainDeep” website, and not one of those cheesy superficial robot fitness sites.

Using Intensity Wisely and Normalizing Discomfort

There is a huge difference between using intensity wisely and using intensity compulsively.

You will need to confront your limits and learn to handle discomfort to reach your fitness goals, so don’t use this post as an excuse to take it easy all the time. In fact, that’s just as much of a trap as working out hard all the time – our culture’s addiction to comfort and laziness and having to be entertained constantly.

So find the middle ground. Be ok with discomfort, and learn to interpret your bodies language, sensations, and signals, so you know which days your can/should push, and which days you need to back off and recover. This is something you can’t outsource, and the better you get at listening to how your body feels, the easier it is to train hard, reach your goals, and avoid injuries and disease.

I Wonder…

Are you willing to destroy your body to look super hot at age 30? Or are you willing to take a deeper look, explore the “less is more” philosophy, let go of your “no pain no gain” programming, and let your health, strength, and goals evolve in a natural way, so that you are having new adventures and movement experiences well into your 90’s?

No matter what your health and fitness goals, they require sustained motivation. It’s an adventure, not a destination, and you’ll enjoy the adventure way more if you make it your own instead of following the herd.

Now drop and give me 20 pushups mother fucker!

As always, TrainDeep.



Photo Credit: SWNS

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  • Eleartemis .

    Sooooo true!!!

    • Jonathan Angelilli


      • I have been trying to convey this message in my own words for quite some time now. This article has been extremely helpful. I’ll share in my health and fitness groups. Very nice Jon. Found this via Greatist btw. Let’s chat sometime!

        • Jonathan Angelilli

          Ahhh, I know that feeling. Like having a scratch in your mind that you can’t quite itch. And then someone helps you itch it, and it’s an amazing release. Happy to be of service, yes let’s chat soon! Thanks for your comment and gratitude.

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  • JohnnyO

    “Too much work not enough play, too much doing not enough being, too much masculine not enough feminine.” Yes! Best of luck with your work to help correct this imbalance…

    • Jonathan Angelilli

      Thanks for sharing Johnny!

  • Agreed. So sick of this trend. It may positive serve a minority of individuals who get motivated or off with this approach, but this militarization (good term) is detrimental to many more. In light of that, I would emphasize the responsibility that sits with those leading these types of classes. They are perceived as the “experts.” They are potentially promoting self-destructive habits and thought patterns for many of their clients/students. It’s an ethical issue that needs to be discussed among fitness professionals. On another note, is life really a battle? That seems pretty militaristic 😉

    • Jonathan Angelilli

      Ha ha! Well played, friend. And I love your avatar. Super cool 🙂

  • Jonathan, Great article and so true it is. Scary but true. What happened to having fun? Play? Moving because it feels good? Adventure and exploration without barbed wire, burning logs and mud pits? As children we all lived in a beautiful world. The world (internal not external world) we enjoyed was about exploration, play, fun, laughter, making friends, running and relaxing, games, no fear, no pain, no limitations, pure joy. Then most of us lost that world and entered the world you describe above. But it is possible to regain the world of play, fun, love, peace and enjoyment. It starts with a change of mind. I help people do make this change when they come in to see me with chronic injuries and pain. It’s so fun to see people lose the fear and regain the joy of life. You can check out what I do here: http://www.oregonexercisetherapy.com and here’s a good article about the 3 things you must do to be pain free for life: http://www.oregonexercisetherapy.com/blog/the-3-things-you-must-do-to-be-pain-free-for-life
    Thanks for the great article Jonathan!

    • Jonathan Angelilli

      Thanks for your comment Matt, I really appreciate it. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes of all time.

      “Preteens and teenagers have a strong need to go exploring, to have adventures, and to
      establish an identity via interactions with peers that reference this exploration and adventure…. Today, one rarely finds groups of kids roaming around, whenevery bit of land is fenced and marked with no-trespassing signs, when society is obsessed with safety, and when children are overscheduled and driven to perform. Technology and culture have robbed children of something they deeply need—and then, in the form of video games, sold it back to them.” ~ Charles Eisenstein

      • Jonathan, Great quote!

        Hopefully we can together help change the way our children engage with the world and how parents view childhood and the purpose of it. With my kids I model the behavior and attitude I want them to have. When they were babies I would get on the floor and kick, roll, crawl and explore with them. As they grew into toddlers I would explore the world by picking up bugs, throwing rocks, doing summersaults, and playing tag. As they because older I would play their favorite sports with them, climb trees with them, and go on hikes looking for creatures and cool rocks. I never exercise for health, or weight loss, or muscle gain, or because I’m supposed to. I play because it’s fun. My play might be a 20 mile trail run, mountain bike ride, basketball in the street, swimming at the neighborhood pool, or making up animal moves with my kids. It’s all about fun. And look at the results me and my kids are healthy, strong, lean, agile, athletic, fast, flexible and happy. How easy was that?

        I think you know what I’m saying!

        • Jonathan Angelilli

          I know exactly what you’re saying brother, and I’m grateful you’re saying it! I just became a father and will be following in your footsteps. I plan on creating a Temple of Movement School/Retreat Center that is designed to encourage movement, nature, and adventure as a means to supreme self-empowerment! I think you should be involved 🙂

  • JC Harris

    What a great post. I just wrote a blog post on my site (fatSlowTriathlete.com) about the dumbest things a trainer ever told me and “No Pain No Gain” was first on the list. Now, I come from a football brackground, and played in the late 70’s, and the culture back then was practice was not over until we did wind sprints until someone threw up. It was a culture ingrained in me from an early age, so coming through that has been a challenge. I thought most had come through this unil I join a fitness group recently and the first email I got from my coach had, at the bottom, “NO PAIN NO GAIN”. I also spent ten years in the military and the mere fact that they call these groups “bott camps” annoys me. Boot Camp is 3-4 months of mental and physical training 24 hours a day. To liken it to an hour of someone yelling at you while doing squats does it no justice. Thanks for this article. I also co-host a podcast for the “back of the pack” athlete called “Ironman: Year One”. If you would ever like to come on as a guest and discuss this we’d love to have you.

    • Jonathan Angelilli

      Thanks for your generous comment JC, and for your kind words, I really appreciate it. It’s amazing how ingrained “no pain no gain” is in out culture, thanks for illuminating that further. I’d love to be on the podcast sometime!

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  • shelley greenaway

    good thoughts!! i don’t get why people should feel bad because they are unable to go for a jog due to the heavy rain or if their exercise consists of a daily walk, it’s as though the media expects us to be chained to the gym like conforming drones. i mean it’s become about looking fit rather than having a healthy body, but no, you have to have a perfect body, sheesh, what happened to having good health or is it not enough? i mean most people are students who have to study they can’t be expected to look like fitness models,

    • Jonathan Angelilli

      Truth! Thanks for sharing Shelley!

      • shelley greenaway

        another thing- i believe fitness is about enjoying yourself, not being a treadmill slave, i should know as i took part in netball where i study, yes it is exhausting, but at the end of the day, i prefer netball to slaving it in a gym!!

  • shadow

    No kidding my past is a battle field

  • Rupa Pai

    This trend reeks of guilt &punishing oneself to fit in with a media generated image of what a fit person looks like not feels like.All a punitive fitness routine leaves one with a feeling of being inadeqete &small.There is a need to find routines which leave one with feelings of joy,lightness in the being &feeling empowered.

    • Jonathan Angelilli

      Well said Rupa!

  • Why do we not encourage innovation within Military Fitness as opposed to broad brushing the whole lot? The Military have a unique method for tapping directly into CNS and with short infrequent workouts (cleverly formatted) I think we can all learn a thing or two.

    Any fitness instructor, whatever their background, can run poorly formatted, high intensity workouts that break people. It takes a professional to be different.

    • Jonathan Angelilli

      I do agree that there are some things we can learn from the military in regards to fitness. My point is that we don’t have to automatically adopt a culture of self-violence and self-destruction when it comes to health and wellness.

      • Agree with that. I’m fighting to change the perception of how the Military train. They do get it wrong and i’m evidence to prove it. Terminology like ‘militarisation’ doesn’t help.
        There is a very popular UK outdoor fitness company that delivers Military Fitness and it’s all very old fashioned. Turning the tide is proving to be difficult, but not impossible

        • Jonathan Angelilli

          Very cool. I wish you the best of luck with your work Jon!

          • The more people I tell the easier it should be. Thanks for listening!

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  • Raj Gurung

    Hard is the word I don’t use to train my clients or when I am training, Intensity is a better noun, less use of adjective is better. Everyone is different in their approach towards exercises. I see it like this, the physical body that we have has a desire to express itself and try to go unbound, it can be dancing, Swimming, watching TV or exrercise, the common theme is our physical body being involved, a complete involvement in the activity is what intensity for me is, it is pushing exploisively for the reps in push-press or making sure my spine is tall and my hips are open and extended in Warrior pose, complete involvement, complete awareness.

  • Oh this is soooo GOOD!!! You’ll be happy to know that my site at fit2b.com reflects this. Gentle fitness, starting small, progressing to harder things at each person’s pace, education on modifications that are easily transferrable to other classes and schools of movement. Slow is the new fast. Listen to your body. All that! Keep up the great encouragement!

    • Jonathan Angelilli

      Beautiful Beth! Thanks for sharing and your sweet comment.

  • Yolanda Rooney

    I love this philosophy. Not only should we not be destroying our bodies, but let’s step back and appreciate what they do for us instead of focusing on how we’re never good enough. StrongCalmSexy.com agrees with you!

  • Nancy Bonczyk Coyne

    But what it the only way you can maintain a healthy weight is to exercise hard an hour and a half a day and eat no more than 1600 calories because your metabolism sucks. Then what?

    • Jonathan Angelilli

      Allow me to translate your question…. “But what if the only way to be healthy is to act unhealthy?”


      Start by asking a question that is actually possible to answer. A better question always leads to a better answer.

  • danmazz2001

    Agree, and wrote something similar a few weeks ago http://www.danmascola.com/fomo-november-project/

  • Seikon Ultragear

    Hi Jonathan, This is on so point and so many people are put off making their bodies better because they think it requires a militant mindset. We should be encouraging health, slow and steady progress. I would love to re – publish this on our blog with full credit off course if you would give your permission. http://www.seikon.co.za