Home > rant > People who obsessively exercise are boring

People who obsessively exercise are boring

April 14, 2014

I’m not saying anything you don’t know already. I’m just stating the obvious: people who obsessively exercise are super boring. They talk all the time about their times, and their workout progress, and their aching muscles, and it’s like you don’t even have to be there, you could just replace yourself with a gadget that listens, nods, and then says encouraging things like, “Way to go!” at the very end. Excruciating.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I’ve gone through bouts of obsessive exercise myself, and those bouts sometimes were pretty lengthy. And no, it didn’t ever make me skinny, just incredibly fit. I remember I trained for a sprint triathlon once, and man was I fit by the time it finally happened in the spring on 2004.

But then, when I got to the starting line, and there I was wishing I could reorder the events so the the beginning swim would 5 kilometers and the run at the end were a quarter mile – I’ve never been much of a runner – and I just looked around at myself and everyone else there, and I wondered how I’d become so incredibly boring and self-obsessed that I had paid good money and driven miles and miles just to obsessively exercise in front of other people.

What was going on with me? I became increasingly disgusted by my own boringness throughout the race. I think the worst part was how many people said “You go, girl!” when I jogged by. They were trying to encourage the fat girl, I get it, but it made it even more obvious that I was doing something that I honestly didn’t need to be getting public response to.

Look, I’m not against exercise, and I love doing it, or at least I love having done it because it makes you feel good, and I encourage everyone to be fit and happy. But I’m serious when I say I will no longer tolerate hanging out with people who obsess over it and want to talk to me about their obsession. Too frigging boring, people!

So if someone mentions that they went biking over this gorgeous spring weekend, then awesome, I’ll be happy for them. But if they want to talk about which bike they used, and what their time around Central Park was, and how they’re training for this or that event, then no. I will tell them “sorry but can we talk about something not incredibly boring now?”

Why do I mention this today? Because I finally figured out what my hostility towards the Quantified Self crowd is, and it’s this same thing. All those gadgets and doodads are essentially props to pull out and use to have that same boring conversation that I’ve already refused to give into. So please, don’t show me your sleep tracker or your step monitor and expect me to care. I don’t care.

And don’t get me wrong – again – I know some people will benefit from that kind of thing. And some people actually have illnesses or physical therapy and exercise and particularly quantified exercise might particularly help them keep track of their health! I get it!

But let’s face it, most people are not doing this for health. They are doing it for some other weird, narcissistic and anxiety-shielding coping-mechanistic self-competitive (or outright competitive) reason. And again, I’m not hating on them exactly, because I get it, and I’ve been there. But I don’t want to talk about it with them.

Categories: rant
  1. londenio
    April 14, 2014 at 7:04 am

    What about other obsessions? Imagine that I like making model planes, or cook the perfect pot-au-feu. We meet and I talk in too much detail about these activities. Would that generate the same boredom and animosity? Perhaps there something about exercising that makes it different from other activities. Or a correlation of the type of people who are likely to exercise and their inability to make interesting conversation.

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    • April 14, 2014 at 7:19 am

      I think maybe the other obsessions have a (temporary) novelty value that exercise obsession does not, Also, being obsessed with your own exercise results is inherently egotistical and inward looking in a way that an obsession with Civil War history or whatever can never be.

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    • April 14, 2014 at 7:34 am

      I agree with Travelling Actuary: exercising is inherently more conformist and status-seeking so it is extra boring. I’m really into talking to people about their interesting and unusual hobbies, especially when they do it for no particular reason besides that they find it cool.

      Having said that, anyone can make something boring if they try.

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  2. DJ
    April 14, 2014 at 7:42 am

    The academic version of quantification is page counts, citation counts, acceptance rates, and h-indices. Yes it’s boring too, but it’s a whole new level of suckage when your performance ratings depend on it.

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  3. April 14, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Exercise… phoooey… now let me tell you all about my colonoscopy… 😉

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  4. JSE
    April 14, 2014 at 8:44 am

    The thing is, I’ve never met anybody who does this in person. I see it a lot on Facebook; but when I see somebody recording their running times on Facebook, I think of it not as “this person is reeling off numbers instead of having a conversation with me” but rather “this person has a fitness plan that involves public posting of runtimes as a mode of self-motivation.” And if it helps them keep to their program, I’m OK with the pain of experiencing a non-interesting status update on Facebook, which is, after all, full of non-interesting status updates.

    What’s more, it must be the case that people announcing their runs makes it more likely for me to run! In that it makes it seem like a normal human activity to, e.g., compete in races, or have a personal trainer, or whatever. So in that sense, it could be that I’m being usefully bored by reading those times!

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  5. lace
    April 14, 2014 at 9:22 am

    Yes! it had to be said…….thanks!

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  6. cat
    April 14, 2014 at 9:52 am

    I’m not saying anything you don’t know already. I’m just stating the obvious: people who obsessively procreate are super boring. They talk all the time about their children, and their kid’s progress, and their lack of sleep, and it’s like you don’t even have to be there, you could just replace yourself with a gadget that listens, nods, and then says encouraging things like, “Awww, How cute!” at the very end. Excruciating. /sarcasm

    Everyone’s life is boring to other people. Everyone should feel lucky to find other people who don’t mind how boring they are because they are interested in the same boring things. 🙂

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  7. April 14, 2014 at 10:13 am

    If possible, it’s preferable to obsessively do something exciting and fun that just happens to have exercise as a necessary side effect. Skateboarding, hiking in the woods, intense walking, etc. Exercise for its own sake is like doing mental arithmetic to “make you ‘smarter”’ — it’s much more satisfying in the long run to do mathematics research that has as a side effect that you do arithmetic (or whatever).

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  8. Min
    April 14, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Well, one’s obsessions are pretty much boring to everybody else — unless they share the same obsession. 😉

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  9. shebolt
    April 14, 2014 at 10:59 am

    You need to recognize the difference between talking about things that don’t interest you, and being boring.

    I happen to be a competitive cyclist. I also play tennis, have a cat, and love fantasy and sci/fi. I try not to talk to people who aren’t cyclists about my races and training, beyond mentioning a ride or race in the context of the question “so what did you do this weekend.” I don’t talk about being sore, unless someone asks why I’m walking funny. I don’t share every cat video or photo, nor do I go into depth about my thoughts on the upcoming Star Wars movie with people who don’t like cats or barely remember the first Star Wars movie.

    Yet, plenty of people insist on talking to me in-depth about their children, the football game this week, or their paleo diet. Does that mean people who have children, watch football, or each paleo are boring? No. It just means that some people don’t recognize when they are talking about something that doesn’t interest the other person.

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    • April 14, 2014 at 11:03 am

      That’s a really excellent point! Thank you.

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    • April 14, 2014 at 11:12 am

      But actually I do think that people who spend alllll their time exercising are intrinsically boring.

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  10. April 14, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Try going on a data site..everyone says “I work out and exercise and am fit”..ok there’s your boring as we now have everyone doing it or so they say:) Talk about something else maybe as you sound just like 99.9% of everything on the site:) Even a break telling me you brush your teeth everyday might be a welcome tidbit of information at this point (grin). So some work out as they say and I’m sure there’s a few that lie their asses off too but it’s like a template in the fact that you feel you have to say it:)

    I’m with you, sure keep working out and doing what works for you, but please a little less dialog as I really don’t care to keep hearing it over and over. I had a professional friend of mine who got soaked into the quantitated self move and went out and bought himself a fitbit and went after it. 3 months later, it sits in the drawer with the battery removed to make sure it’s not sending any more data:) It didn’t work but what is working for him is the fact that he now uses a “personal trainer”, gosh a human no less (grin) and he’s much happier with the human and he doesn’t talk about it all the time either:) Now this same person when he first got his fitbit was telling everyone, you need to have one…not any more:)

    I starting calling this confusion “The Grays” where people can’t tell anymore where the virtual world values are and where real world values are. Getting your butt in shape and exercising, that’s the real world but collecting data and salivating over it and telling us all about your data, well that’s pretty virtual to me.

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  11. JSE
    April 14, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    This comment gives me a good idea for Cathy — every time someone is boring you by telling you about their exercise, you should start telling them in detail about how many times you brushed your teeth in the last week, how long you spent on it each time, and how successful you were at getting your teeth completely clean!

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    • April 14, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      I see my typo up there and I meant to say dating…too many things going at once, so excuse me for not being able to properly type about the topic here:)

      Sometimes I ask what are we calling science today? I mean outside the science we all know that is really science. Anything that becomes complex, they call it a science today it seems.

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  12. April 14, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    I’ve always found the “quantified self” crowd annoying for a different reason. It’s not just that the conversations are boring, it’s that they are discussing numbers that don’t matter and pretending that they do. Someone telling you about how they need to walk 500 more steps to make the day’s goal is boring. But worse is that they seem to think it is science. Random data, misapplied, with unknown variances and spreads being taken seriously, sometimes in light of half assed research, is just annoying.
    As for talking to exercisers, the trick is to ask them why and about what their training means to you. When someone is obsessed, their obsession can be boring, but their motivation can often tell you who they are.

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  13. Shirin
    April 14, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Hi Cathy, excellent point. I find myself often times engaged in such boring conversations and I don’t deny that many times I initiate them myself. I’d love to know what topics would interest you most to have a conversation about or to engage others in a conversation.

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  14. April 14, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    how do you know if there’s a triathlete in the room ?
    he or she will tell you..
    I can tell this joke, since I are one.. but try not to do that..

    My guide is Viscount Grey, who wrote of fly fishing:
    “When a man has a hobby it is to be hoped that he will learn reticence; that he will never go into the world at large without a resolve not to talk about what he cares for most; that in society and places where they talk, he will carry his delight within him like a well guarded treasure, not to be unlocked and disclosed in all its fulness on any slight or trivial inquiry. Rather let him not use his own key for himself, being sure that the test of any really kindred spirit will be the possession of a master key which will open this special door of his mind for him. It is seldom enough that this happens.”
    The whole introduction to that book is worth reading,
    http://www.forgottenbooks.org/readbook_text/Fly_Fishing_1000004038/17

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  15. Thomas Nyberg
    April 14, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Unfortunately a lot of people who exercise can’t shut up about it, but it really goes beyond just exercise. You always need to know your audience. If you really care about something and someone else doesn’t, then don’t bore them with it. I try to talk about my running to people who actually care and try to talk about other people about things interesting to them (assuming of course that we have shared interests). If you run a race, you don’t need to tell everyone about it. The people who care will ask you how it went anyway.

    This is the main reason why I find facebook so boring. There’s only a small minority of the stuff posted that I find interesting and it’s hidden amongst loads of shit. I post my runs to strava.com so my strava-friends (like 5 people) can see, but I see no reason to post them to a site like facebook which is so general.

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    • approximateidentity
      April 14, 2014 at 2:08 pm

      Though I’m starting to wonder if maybe I’m one of those idiots now that I realize my gravatar image is a picture of me after a race…I guess we can’t practice what we preach all the time…

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  16. shebolt
    April 14, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    Cathy O’Neil, mathbabe :
    But actually I do think that people who spend alllll their time exercising are intrinsically boring.

    That’s more a reflection on you than on their inherent boringness. I am bored by math. You blog about math. Does that mean you are intrinsically boring? No. It means math bores me. There’s a difference.

    One is a self-absorbed way of looking at the world: you do something that doesn’t interest me and therefore you, yourself, are boring.

    One is a self-aware way of looking at the world: just because I’m bored by something, doesn’t mean anything bad about someone who isn’t bored by it.

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  17. Jim Birch
    April 14, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    My informal discussions with chronic exercisers suggests that more than a few of them are doing it to ward off depression. Which would be a good thing.

    However, I’m with you on the self-obsession part. Under more normal evolutionary survival conditions – hunger, predation risk, disease – narcissism was a good idea but there wasn’t a lot of time to indulge it. We’ve arrived in a post-scarcity world; not all the effects are easy to tolerate but I guess it beats being torn apart by a sabre tooth tiger.

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  18. April 15, 2014 at 12:32 am

    I think people who obsessively don’t exercise are probably just as boring, if not more.

    And then there’s people who obsessively quote snippets from the media that you couldn’t possibly not know yourself.

    Like “Now they think the pilot did it”.

    Really? I had not heard that. Thank you for that valuable status update. What other factoids have you got for me.

    Mind you, if it’s good enough for the media to talk obsessively about events without adding anything new, then it’s good enough for the rest of us, I guess.

    Or more likely, one is equally as boring as the other. (Perhaps it’s less boring when the media does it, because the presenter is more likely to be an obsessive exerciser, therefore is more likely to look attractive while they deliver their meaningless sound bites than an obsessive non-exerciser).

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  19. Kiki
    April 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

    It feels to me like most commentators are missing the point or I have such a history with these obsessed people that I’m reading more into your post than there is. My mom and sister happens to be obsessive exercisers and dieters and everything – the most important thing – in their lives is how good they look. It disgusts me frankly. I don’t live with them anymore and I used to be the one who spent time with my baby brother reading with him, counting, solving all sorts of weird problems and playing all sorts of physical and mental games. It’s 7 years since I’ve moved out and his mental growth is stagnating since everyone is just always at the gym. He struggles in school but no-one puts in extra effort because that would interfere with the gym schedule. A child is being wasted, potential just chucked away, because mommy wants a nice ass. I honestly despise these obsessive exercise types of people.

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  20. Savanarola
    April 16, 2014 at 1:28 am

    There are two problems at work here. First, “conversations” are supposed to be of mutual interest. It’s impolite to go on about yourself for too long in a conversation because it sucks life out of it. If you really can’t see whether the person you are talking to has dead eyes and is desperately scanning the room for an escape, you are entirely too self-absorbed and you are no good at conversation.

    Second, “exercise” like “colonics” or any other self-improvement is not a polite topic of conversation. If you don’t naturally have abs of steel, for Cripes sake don’t admit it in public. There is something about these exercise types that is extra boring, and that is they come off as vain and insecure and don’t even seem to know it – they think they come off as dedicated and virtuous. But flaunting your virtue, in particular, is indeed one of the very most boring things a person can do. Not only should you never talk about your own body in public, but you should never crow about how virtuous you are to any and everyone.

    In short, you better know someone really well before you start in on talking about your fit bit.

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  21. Cynicism
    April 16, 2014 at 5:09 am

    I am close to unbothered by exercise chat in general, but I am significantly bothered by the “game-ification” of exercise. I think that exercise, like dating, is a fundamentally human activity and so trying to turn it into something mechanical feels to me uncomfortably like Pickup Artist stuff.

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  22. April 16, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. People going on about their routines reminds me of people going on about their bowels. We don’t care about your regularity!

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  23. bgg
    April 17, 2014 at 12:11 am

    To rebut this post, I present the incomparable Jón Páll Sigmarsson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWUcHKAj_tc

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  24. Robert
    April 23, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    As a former coach, a trainer of group and individual exercise, yoga instructor, former competitive runner…..whoops! I am blabbing about exercise!
    Seriously though, I am not 100% sure of the types of obsessive exercisers you mean, but in my experience it usually belongs to the “aerobic crowd.” These are the runners, cyclists, …any exercise that is at a low enough level that allows them to go for hours on end. In the coaching world the old saying for years has been……”A triathlete is nothing but an injured distance runner.” (said with my tongue slightly pressed into my cheek). Just wanted to get that one in.
    If it helps anyone better understand what these people are REALLY doing to their bodies. Endless hours of aerobic exercise is generally NOT all that healthy, teaches the brain to root out and lose basic movement patterns, ages the body through all the free radicals being pumped in, stiffens up joints, and may even be unhealthy for your heart. Lots of research on this and personally well………ask me how I know all of this. Because I was in the midst of all that crap at one point!
    Anyway, everyone I have known who takes this tack for a supposedly “fitter and healthier body” who I have either met or worked with has a body that is a mess! So next time they go on and on in front of you keep that in mind. It will either cause you to throw your hands up in frustration, walk away, or tell yourself silently….yeah sure, whatever. Or (insert your own inner or outer response here).

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    • April 23, 2014 at 5:47 pm

      Interesting. With vert skateboarding (what I do), instead of it being something “that is at a low enough level that allows them to go for hours on end”, I find I often have to face down fear to continue doing it at all, from minute to minute.

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