22 mar

[En] Fitness culture has become extremely dangerous to public health

Name a culture that can be blamed for destroying lives and killing people through starvation, disorders such as anorexia. Name a culture that invents fad diets and lavishes wealth upon its leaders while making its followers increasingly fatter.

Name a culture that torments its followers and drives people who suffer from eating disorders mad. Name a culture that makes people hate their own bodies.

Just what is this belief that leads people to suppress their physical need for food while simultaneously giving the pharmaceutical industry the chance to make billions selling appetite suppressants?

What perversion of consumerism has paved the way for demoralizing workouts that torture and injure gym goers, causing most people to detest physical activity?

These and other questions are comprehensively addressed in the book The Muscle of the Soul, The Key to Physical Wisdom, and in the follow-up Manifesto in Defense of the Body, the results of a 12-year study by Nuno Cobra Junior. 

And the mystery culture to which all of the introductory questions refer is the culture of the perfect body, the culture of being in shape. Or should we say of being unwittingly shaped? This is the authoritarian model we have come to accept as the ideal standard of beauty.

The original mission of the fitness industry was to safeguard our health, but commercial and profit-making interests have led the industry astray. Picture a basket of perfectly good apples that slowly go bad after tossing in a single bruised Gala. That’s where we are: a basket filled with bad apples; and the longer we take to accept the situation, the more pernicious it becomes.

So how did we end up here? How did the fitness industry become a serious public health issue? To answer, I’ll do my best to summarize a 12-year study in a single article. We clearly can’t just generalize; millions actually do benefit from the fitness industry, but even those best served by it could stand to gain from an increased awareness of what it is they are actually doing.

Since gyms are so wildly popular, most workouts worldwide fall into what we could classify as aesthetic or “cosmetic” training. The more pressing the quest for the perfect body, the faster you damage your joints and cartilage. Health and performance lie at opposite ends of the workout spectrum. In fact, the closer we get to the performance side of the spectrum, the less healthy our training becomes. I’ve met athletes who have undergone a dozen orthopedic surgeries by the time they’ve turned 30.

Nearly everything the general public knows about physical training is actually a limited understanding of physical health. The general view of physical fitness has been tainted by the bodybuilding lobby and the military legacy of training per se. The concepts and vocabulary conceived and used by bodybuilders, those ubiquitous musclemen, dominate the workout world. It was these bodybuilders who were front and center when the fitness industry exploded in the 1980s.

Bodybuilders believe suffering through painful workouts translates into bigger muscles in the shortest possible time. The misunderstanding lies in this model’s becoming the standard now prescribed for the general population. Fast training, like fast food, is harmful to our health and physical integrity. In marketing terms, our bodies have become consumer goods, sculpted clothing we wear to increase our social status and power of seduction.

Fast training is contraindicated for over 90% of the population, including those who are sedentary, overweight, obese, senior citizens, sporadic gym goers or just unsuited for such a radical workout model.

The “no pain, no gain” philosophy leads to injuries and fills doctors’ offices. The most common outcome of embracing this workout strategy is physical injury or giving up on physical activity.

– Dr. Diego Leite de Barros, physiologist at the Cardiology Hospital (Hospital do Coração)

Nowadays, we regularly see millions of 14 to 35 year olds lifting heavy weights, following radical training programs, taking steroids, throwing out their backs and damaging their joints before they’re out of their thirties. And they do this so that they can live up to the standard of beauty pitched by the fitness industry.

There is scant mention of the impact that high-intensity training has on the body. The inevitable side effects of fast training include elevated free-radical production, early aging, increased risk of cardiac arrest and cardiac diseases, increased risk of orthopedic injury, elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol, immunosuppression and other well-documented complications that have been tested in numerous clinical trials.

Today we can confidently say that the practice of fast training runs afoul of the most basic principles of physical health. The best exercise is not the one that burns the most calories, but the one you enjoy doing most. That’s the activity that will deliver results. The biggest leap we must make is to start forming a relationship with physical activity that is inherently enjoyable. But how is that even possible within the current model of physical discomfort and suffering?

Here’s the big secret: in order to be effective, physical activity needs to be part of our routine. When it is enjoyable, entertaining and sensible, it becomes more accessible and more inviting to so many more people. But keep in mind that there are no good guys and bad guys here; we are all both victims and enablers in this culture that venerates the ideal body.

The first recorded training in history dates back to 3000 BCE, when the Chinese emperor Huangdi realized that physical training would give his army a strategic advantage. Physical training grew out of military practice, and these early training concepts ultimately formed the basis for physical education the world over. It is not easy to change something that has reigned supreme for over 5000 years. Only through regular campaigns and all of us – gyms, teachers, the market, media – working together will we succeed in transforming out current fitness culture.

If you’d like to be part of the change, start by reading the first manifesto. It provides a detailed explanation of how the fitness industry came about and how it has affected public health. We can no longer endorse a culture that is harmful to our physical health. Find out more in Manifesto in Defense of the Body and manifest your willingness to make a change!

And take heart in knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel. After 40 years in physical education – a cause first taken up by my father, Nuno Cobra – I can unflinchingly say that health and awareness will ultimately defeat a culture of self-imposed suffering that is so harmful to our health

I recently received a deeply touching message from Nilza Assad. It was like an emancipation proclamation against the abusive consumer marketing behind the perfect body. She said:

“I’ve read, reread and am now again rereading your manifesto…. I can’t get enough of everything you’ve written. It’s wonderful! I’ve started to accept my body the way it is….  Thank you a thousand times over for your explanations!!!!”

– Nilza Assad, nurse, age 42

What percentage of the population actually has the so-called perfect, ultra-muscular body found on the cover of Fitness magazine?

If we take a good look, the answer is less than 1%. Do you think it’s fair that this tiny minority holds total sway over the other 99%?

The time has come to give a voice to the billions who have been excluded worldwide. We can no longer condone a training culture that encourages us to mistreat our own bodies.

Awareness is freedom!


*This text first appeared in Veja, the most influential and widely distributed magazine in Brazil, on September 5, 2018.



Nuno Cobra Júnior is an integral training consultant and integrative health specialist. He has been teaching the Cobra Method since 1984

Alongside his father, Nuno Cobra Sr., one of Brazil’s most renowned physical and mental coaches, he coached the legendary racing driver Ayrton Senna and numerous professional tennis players. He lived in England to physically and mentally train F3 racing drivers Rubens Barrichello and Pedro Paulo Diniz. 

The Cobra Method has been used to train well succeed professionals in over ten different sports, helping to bring to Brazil seven world titles in sports like basketball, karate, surf and motorsport.

For the last 40 years, Nuno Cobra Jr. has devoted himself to studying quality of life and human behavior and is widely regarded as a leading specialist in habit changes and integrative health. He currently designs physical and mental training programs for a number of business leaders and athletes, including pro surfer Italo Ferreira, world champion and Olympic gold medal.

With the publication of The Muscle of the Soul: The Key to Physical Wisdom, Nuno Cobra Jr. established himself as one of the primary spokespersons for the sweeping makeover of physical training as we know it. He is the founder of a new method that applies a combination of Eastern and Western philosophy, psychology, and wisdom from other fields and cultures to our knowledge and understanding of the body.

The Cobra method is a pioneer in bringing philosophy to physical training in a profound way, creating dozens of concepts that guide conscious professionals, through a transdisciplinary and truly integrative approach.