Kunitz tracks the rise of weight lifting culture from its origins to what it looks like today. He starts with the ancient Greeks and Romans, moving through all the different manifestations of the fitness culture, including those time periods when weight lifting was seen as too strenuous, unattractive, or the purview of the less intelligent, up until today when we have a veritable smorgasbord of choices for our weight lifting pleasure. He himself is a CrossFit aficionado and so comes at the topic from that perspective. He tells of the connection between fitness training and the military, gymnasiums and the political, and fitness regimens originating in certain spiritual traditions. He does a deep dive into all of this, intricately detailing a history probably not known to many. He describes early gyms, their development, and their various apparatuses. He talks of cultural stances on weights and weightlifters and how those stances have changed over centuries. He discusses the original masculine bent of the programs and examines the rise and acceptance of training for women. And he discusses how strength training has undergone a renaissance from simply exercises meant to build muscle to “training for life,” with movements designed to mimic and augment real life situations which call for strength.
The book can be overwhelmingly in-depth, especially for those who approach lifting in a much more casual manner, and his cavalier dismissal of dangerous outcomes like rhabdomyolysis, which is in fact on the increase and not as rare as it once was, is a bit troubling. But his research is quite extensive and the historical roots and philosophy of fitness is interesting. When he describes certain training moves, especially historical moves using outdated equipment most people have never seen, it can be tough for the non-visual to visualize what he’s telling the reader but perhaps visualizing ancient pieces of equipment or the moves practiced with them is not ultimately all that important and so this difficulty is minor. The writing is a little bit dry although those pieces where Kunitz inserts his own experiences offer a more interesting spark to the general reader. Those with a keen interest in the way that the fitness industry, and specifically the weight lifting community, has changed over time and the way that perceptions of the importance and efficacy of this type of training have changed back and forth as well will find this jam packed full of information.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.