Fitness motivation comes from many sources. We all cast a sly glance to the side in the gym to see how much weight our neighbor is pressing. We scour fitness magazines and websites for images and ideas that inspire. We set goals and log progress, sometimes electronically monitoring our every move and heartbeat.
A new source of motivation for me is Young Adult Literature (YAL). Literature for teens emerged as a cultural force with the popularity of Harry Potter novels at the turn of the twenty-first century and exploded with the Twilight rage in 2005. Many readers criticized the novel’s main character, Bella Swan for being weak, whiney, and in need of rescuing. I was one of them. Bella was uninspiring, not at all a role model.
It’s 2014, and we’ve come a long way, baby.
Look at two of the most popular series in YAL now: Divergent and The Hunger Games. In these series, the female protagonists dominate, and their physical determination and strength drive my own workouts each time I return to the books. Take, for example, Tris Prior, the heroine in Divergent. Tris begins her life in Abnegation, one of five factions in a post-disaster Chicago. She makes a surprising choice to change factions and move to Dauntless, a group her father has described as reckless hellions. After a few weeks of training in Dauntless, performing physical feats she had never thought herself capable of, Tris notices changes in her body:
“I try to pull a pant leg over my thigh and it sticks just above my knee. Frowning, I stare at my leg. A bulge of muscle is stopping the fabric. I let the pant leg fall and look over my shoulder at the back of my thigh. Another muscle stands out there.
I step to the side so I stand in front of the mirror. I see muscles that I couldn’t see before in my arms, legs, and stomach. I pinch my side, where a layer of fat used to hint at curves to come. Nothing.”
Tris’s accomplishment is what many of us aim for. She didn’t choose to join Dauntless to lose weight or get in shape. She made a choice about the kind of life she wanted to live, one full of challenge and adventure. The by-product was strength and form. When we hear about “lifestyle choice” instead of “diet,” Tris is a perfect example.
Another YAL heroine, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, motivates me the way my Crossfit friends do. Katniss finds strength to provide for her family after her father dies and her mother withdraws into a coma-like state of depression. Katniss crawls under the fence that separates her dystopian society from the wild forest beyond, reclaims the bow and arrow her father had used to hunt game, and spends hours tracking animals, climbing trees, and collecting wild greens to feed herself and her mother and sister. Her daily routine mirrors training for competitive field archery, where almost every muscle in the upper body needs strength and endurance. Exercises recommended to improve archers’ skill include pull ups, push ups, bench press, overhead press, front and lateral raises, triceps dips, and core work. The list covers the basic moves weight lifters choose for upper body development.
Katniss, like Tris Prior, adopts the exercise regime not to lose a few pounds, but to survive, or in other words, she, too makes a lifestyle choice, since the alternative in The Hunger Games is starvation and death.
When I plan my active rest days, I consider what I can do to keep my motivation high. Yes, I take my dogs for a walk, or I play on the playground with my children, but active rest days are also a time for me to refuel mentally. Books with physically strong heroines allow me to relax and rebuild muscle and strengthen my resolve to push harder the next day. I don’t begrudge Twilight fans their admiration of Bella, but when I’m looking for inspiration to get out of bed and hit the iron at a quarter of five each morning, I want to be “Dauntless.”
Looking for more Fit Lit? Try these:
Pride and Prejudice (the original 5K racer, Elizabeth Bennet treads through fields to help her sick sister Jane)
Dune (Jessica Atriedes and Chani the Fremen adapt to life traversing the desert planet Arrakis)
Little House on the Prairie (Caroline Ingalls homesteads alongside her husband; her physical strength is subtle, but watch for all the hard work she performs daily)
Z for Zachariah (Ann Burden survives on her own after a nuclear holocaust)
Percy Jackson (Annabeth Chase is hardcore)
The Lord of the Rings (note for Eowyn, a warrior princess)
Julie of the Wolves (Julie/Miyax, an Eskimo teen, travels the frozen tundra alone)