In order to better address the needs of our fitness-obsessed readers, we are introducing this semi-regular column, "I of the Tiger," to address vital hardcore fitness issues of our time. Today: a reminder that the only winner in fitness is you. Dig it.

Do you want fitness? Sure you do. I know the problem, though: you are intimidated. You are intimidated because when you go to the gym, there are people bigger and stronger than you. When you run, there are people faster than you. When you play sports there are people better than you. But guess what? Fuck them. Fuck all of them. This is not a competition.

Oh, I can hear the objections. The objections from all sides. "Whatever, pussy," say the hardcore people, who are the hardcorest dudes at their gyms, even though if they went to a better gym they would not be. "It is too a competition. A competition that we are winning. The big dudes."

"Of course it is a competition," say random people who hate going to the gym. "Goals. Aspirations. My personal trainer. Motivation. Blah blah blah."

Quiet, all of you, be quiet. There is one very clear advantage that "fitness" has over actual sports: fitness is not a competition. Whereas sports are designed to be a competition, with all of the hurt feelings, ego, and loserness-inducing that goes along with that, working out only has one winner: you. How do you win? By working out. Boom, you won. Have a protein shake.

There can only be one numerical champion of anything. Even if you're the strongest person at your gym, there is someone stronger than you in your city, or your nation, or in the world. Even if you are the strongest man in the world, one day you won't be. If you are motivated by competition, guess what: you will always, always, forever, be a loser. Again: you will always be losing.

There's good news, though. Everyone is different. That means that it's impossible to compare two people with complete accuracy. Oh, we're in the same weight class? Yes, but you are genetically gifted with a greater concentration of fast-twitch muscle fibers. You have a bone structure more advantageous to performing a certain athletic action. You began working out earlier in life than I did, giving you a long-term advantage.

Any of these excuses may be legitimately employed to make ourselves feel better about our own objective fitness inferiority to someone else.

This is not some Up With People bullshit to make you feel better. This is real. A bookish 40 year-old woman working her way up to lifting 100 pounds may well be a far greater athletic feat than a 25 year-old male former football player lifting 400 pounds. Me lifting however much I can lift is still more hardcore than you lifting more than me, because you cheat. But if me or old ladies got intimidated as soon as we walked in the gym simply because you huge mindless brutes are looking "stronger" or "in better shape" than us, well, we would stop before we started. And that's when you lose: when you don't try. You can look it up on any number of inspirational wall hangings.

Blessed are the meek of fitness. Blessed is he who gathers the courage to walk into the gym, full of swollen meatheads, for the first time, for he shall inherit the power cage. Sure, it's intimidating. It's intimidating because you are subconsciously comparing yourself to those around you. Stop that. Stop that at once. As you enter the gym, acquire tunnel vision. Concentrate only on what you, yourself, have to do today. And repeat this mantra:

"If he's in better shape than me, he's probably dumb. If he's in better shape than me and not dumb, well, he's probably a jerk." Adjust this formula as necessary to maintain your own pride.

It does not matter what shape you are in today. It does not matter if you are pathetic fat weakling, or a champion powerlifter. All that matters is that you are slightly better tomorrow. If you are slightly better tomorrow than you are today, then you have won. You have won the fitness. And everyone else can go to hell.

Previously: Work Out Alone

[Image by Jim Cooke]