Reflections on The Definition of “Exercise”
By Gus Diamantopoulos
“Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize
till you have tried to make it precise.”
– Bertrand Russell
Recently, there has been considerable interest and discussion on some internet forums regarding Ken Hutchins’ Definition of Exercise. Although many supporters have championed The Definition, numerous diatribes have been written that question its validity. Some have tried to make a case as to whether or not it qualifies as a definition by isolating each individual component and questioning its logic, while others have asked: Why bother to redefine exercise at all?
We are sincerely heartened by the active-minded interest of our critics to rigorously challenge our assertions and we believe that the further we delve into such matters the more likely we all are to arrive at deeper understandings about the nature of human physical improvement.
Everyone is free to accept or reject the concepts within our philosophy but we believe that The Definition has aptly helped to narrow the focus within the chaos that is commonly called fitness and rehabilitation. The idea of The Definition has illuminated and provided a foundation for technological innovations within Renaissance Exercise. It is by way of The Definition that we have been able to create an uncompromising system that includes a dedicated protocol, an educational program and sophisticated equipment all within a comprehensive philosophy.
A definition by and large explains the meaning of something. One of the definitions of the word “definition” is: “An exact statement or description of the nature, scope, or meaning of something.”
Defining terms is a key step in establishing any new premise. Definitions help us when we want to discuss or debate a topic and they can help us to theorize and even apply practical behaviors. With a good definition, we can communicate more effectively and we can learn more about the world around us. A bad definition, on the other hand can impede understanding and create communication problems. Often, a bad definition is one that is too vague or ambiguous or diluted and, therefore, impotent. Regardless of if they are good or bad however, definitions are not always cut and dried.
For example, the word “bolt” can mean to jump away or to secure: The horse will bolt from the stable unless you bolt him to the stable. The word “overlook” can mean to inspect or to neglect: The window overlooks a garden, which is pleasant if you overlook the dead plants. These auto-antonyms are just the most basic examples of how definitions of highly accepted terms can be anything but concrete. In fact, common words like “set,” “run,” “go,” “take,” “stand,” “get,” and “put” can have literally hundreds of acceptable meanings.
Fortunately there are different types of definitions to help with the task of formulating and clarifying word meanings. Lexical definitions (the kind we’re most familiar with) explain how words are used in practical terms. These are dictionary definitions and are most often stated very simply. They describe the genuine use of a word. However, lexical definitions can be vague or ambiguous and even some of the most basic words can have multiple meanings.
When entire philosophies are contained in the definition of a word, such as “capitalism” or “love,” basic lexical definitions can often fall short of providing the kind of depth that is required to establish true meaning. We believe the word “exercise” falls into this category. Here is a common lexical definition of exercise: “Activity requiring physical effort carried out, especially to sustain or improve physical fitness.”
This is a vague definition that, in essence, has democratized a myriad of human physical activities as exercise. Today, almost anything can be confidently termed “exercise” from basic human locomotion, to playing a video game, to sex, to board games and beyond, including climbing Mount Everest.
At the other end of the spectrum are stipulative definitions where meanings are readily applied to new or existing terms within a specific context, like an argument or the presentation of an idea. Such definitions are usually designed to differentiate the nature of terms from their original meaning.
When vagueness in terms is unacceptable, we can combine lexical and stipulative definitions to make terms more precise. Such precising definitions can narrow the focus and reduce vagueness by adding more information but still containing the essential lexical meaning. Such definitions are what you might encounter in legal circles where focused, unambiguous meanings are critical.
If, however, we want push the boundaries of ideas to greater limits and have more descriptive leeway, there is yet another class of definitions. Theoretical definitions attempt to establish the use of the original term within the paradigm of a much broader philosophical or intellectual framework. In the proper context, such definitions can impart information that can help clarify concepts by revealing more abstract philosophies and truths about words, ideas, and even behaviors.
Theoretical definitions may make use of lexical definitions, but they also tend to have a specific purpose to fulfill. Like stipulative definitions, because they aspire to the new understanding of a concept/theory, theoretical definitions cannot truly be judged as correct or incorrect though they may be deemed useful or not. As hypothetical constructs, theoretical definitions attempt to comprehend a concept in a completely novel way.
[Note that theoretical definitions are not persuasive definitions that tend to attach emotional meaning to the use of a term and thus distort the term for some ulterior motive or agenda. Such definitions are extremely vague and ambiguous and have no legitimate use anywhere except, perhaps, in propaganda.]
Theoretical definitions seek to extinguish vagueness and ambiguity by specifying how and when the particular term should be applied. This is why theoretical definitions prevail in science and philosophy. Having said this, theoretical definitions rarely merely describe a term. They most often present an opinion about it as well.
RenEx: Theoretical / Stipulative
It is within this broader context of trying to achieve a new and greater understanding that the Renaissance Exercise Definition exists. Technically, it is a theoretical, stipulative definition.
Ken Hutchins chose to appropriate the word “exercise” and to redirect its meaning precisely to shake things up and challenge the establishment. (He deliberately chose not to create a new term.) The purpose was to elevate the word “exercise” to a new standard so that it could represent the RenEx protocol and philosophy as a guide to successful human action in physical conditioning and rehabilitation. There is nothing tacit or self-effacing about The Definition. It is not meant to fit in as one of the many formal or informal definitions of “exercise,” lexical or otherwise. It is designed to reconstitute the entire premise of the word, “exercise.”
Perhaps this idea is too preposterous for our detractors to abide, and this is why there has been such fallout since The Definition was coined. Maybe there is fear or anxiety that the new Definition may actually have staying power and that it may usher a new era of understanding, not only for the layperson but also for the medical community and for future research.
The Definition has been rejected on grounds that it is not really a definition but rather merely a description of the way we’d prefer things to be. But we have already established that a theoretical definition can quite legally do exactly that. If our critics wish to falsify The Definition, then the theory that it supports (Renaissance Exercise protocol and philosophy) must first be invalidated.
Our critics have tried to do this with opprobrious line-by-line breakdowns of The Definition. Each section of The Definition has been tactically segmented in an attempt to reveal inconsistencies, circular opinions, and redundancies. Here are some examples:
- Why must exercise be of a “demanding nature”?… Activity that is not demanding can produce results, too.
- Why say “in accordance with muscle and joint function”?… Every human physical act is in such accordance.
- A “clinically-controlled environment” is not necessary for exercise.
Since each the above statements/conditions are necessary parts of the theory of Renaissance Exercise (protocol), they must be considered true and so the theory is not falsified. That is, each of The Definition’s defiens* fully supports the theory of Renaissance Exercise upon which The Definition is based. The Definition may be deemed not useful or it may be rejected, but it is not false. As such, these objections to The Definition remain obtuse.
[*Definitions are made up of two parts, the definiendum and the definiens. The definiendum is the word being defined. The defiens are the words used to do the defining.]
IF the Renaissance Exercise protocol produces the effects that we claim, in the manner that we suggest, and IF this pattern of events (protocol) consistently produces these effects in human physiology, THEN we have established the protocol’s validity. The theoretical Definition merely describes and standardizes the premises and concepts of the protocol. In other words, within this context, this is what we now stipulate as “exercise” and anything that is not this, is NOT exercise by our standards.
By redefining the word exercise, Hutchins has drawn a line in the sand. Some have said that this is pretentious but this is how professional fields build paradigms of agreed-upon theoretical definitions. (Creating a new word might truly have been pretentious.)
The Definition was not created in an intellectual vacuum. It exists within the context of Hutchins’ robust and thought-provoking Exercise vs. Recreation argument. When we can clearly distinguish exercise from recreation we can narrow the focus of what constitutes exercise and also recognize the physiological significance of non-exercise activities.
We acknowledge that recreational activity is at least as important as exercise (only for different reasons) but exercise stands alone from recreation, regardless of characteristics that they may share. Exercise is good; recreation is good. Renaissance Exercise protocol is “exercise” and everything else is not. Do not confuse the two. Use exercise to improve your body so that you may better perform and enjoy any recreational activity that you desire.
The Definition remains as the most valued edict within our philosophy. We stand by it. We staunchly believe that any activity outside of The Definition is NOT exercise. Further, if The Definition is accepted amongst researchers and the medical community, there may finally be hope in creating the kind of studies that can validate or perhaps refute the claims we have made about the nature of inroad, strength building, recovery ability, and every other aspect of human physiology that can be affected by exercise. In fact, we submit that without acceptance of The Definition, any hope for performing truly meaningful tests and research will remain lost to the miasmic mess that has, up to now, been called “exercise.”