Kunitz expertly weaves anecdote with evidence in this narrative of fitness over the ages. Upon first glance at the title, Lift appears as a well-researched account of the ever-evolving methods of exercise, from Olympic sports to aerobic dance to television show competition. However, Kunitz’s own opinions and fanaticism overshadow the plethora of fitness facts presented in this book, causing it to read like CrossFit propaganda under the guise of a history lesson for the majority of the pages.
From ancient Greek society and German nationalism to the first Parisian gyms and the American feminist movement, Kunitz chronicles hundreds of years of social, political, and economic forces shifting attitudes surrounding health and fitness. Unlike other accounts of exercise history, he focuses not on each and every innovation in equipment or style, but on changes in ethos and formulating an argument for the current state of fitness. His most novel contribution to the field lies in his assertion that the women’s liberation movement changed the face of fitness by increasing participation in health and democratizing the domain. At the heart of this book, though, is his definition of a New Frontier of fitness which he characterizes with functional movements, democratization to all participants, and a holistic structuring of one’s life. By pairing historical fact with stories from his own fitness journey, Kunitz illustrates this argument with conviction and authority.
Kunitz’s new-found passion for fitness shines through his emotionally laden language, sometimes to the point of clouding the book’s purpose as a historical report. Though each chapter takes on a new time and place in fitness history, each example undoubtedly returns to CrossFit and Kunitz’s high-and-mighty opinion of NFF. His ardor for health is exclusive and borderline derogatory to forms that do not meet his definition of a New Frontier activity. He denigrates aerobics and SoulCycle to nothing more than “leisure activities” while simultaneously romanticizing CrossFit to an exercise in morality and ethics as well as physical strength and stamina. Additionally, though the facts presented in this book are based in cited research, the extrapolation of his own motivation onto each and every person involved in the NFF regime seems romantic. It is hard for me to believe each practitioner of CrossFit is exercising to “temporarily withdraw from the rush of existence in order to rehearse its most fundamental aspects—movement, the interplay of neuron and muscle, the presentness of oblivion and concentration” and not at all for aesthetic reasons.
For those already invested in CrossFit, lifting, parkour, acroyoga, or other New Frontier-esque activities, this book, and all of the arguments presented in it, are an easy sell. Runners, swimmers, and other frequent practitioners of aerobic exercise likely swing to either side of the pendulum of appreciation for Kunitz’s report and interest in his version of the story, or offense and opposition to his portrayal of anything beyond his extreme definition of “working out.” However, for those already outside the fitness community, this book is liable to further ostracize them due to Kunitz’s CrossFit-heavy focus and off-putting tone.
Despite the niche lens through which Kunitz writes, Lift left me with a greater understanding of fitness as a cultural mirror and allowed me to reflect on the role of exercise in my own life. Kunitz’s teachings on practicing for life reframed my view of working out from spending time in the gym because it is “good for me” to maximizing each session to get better, both at both the cellular and the skill levels.