Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images
Hot Bod is a weekly exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent oddities.
Time spent working out is time spent considering the very nature of time. Time gets so devious during exercise! How can two minutes of push-ups last a full-blown Mesozoic era? And how does a half-minute recovery take only four seconds? And of course, there’s the eternal question: How can I somehow do this for longer but spend less time making that happen?
In early spring I noticed the escalation of an editing aesthetic that seemed to answer this question: the sped-up workout video. My most reliable gym-class friend began sending me fitness videos that lasted only a minute, but that promised to contain the outline for a full cardio routine. Shantani Moore, one of my favorite instructors in Los Angeles, filled her Instagram stories with quick time lapses of her practicing yoga. Now the aesthetic of the human body at hyperspeed is unavoidable; a 19-year-old CrossFit icon with 13 million subscribers (also Lizzo and Britney Spears) often cranks the speed through a cardio session or a weight-lifting burn or a yoga flow.
And while this aesthetic may have something to do with our desire to move quickly past this bad era of history, it probably has the most to do with TikTok. The app maintains a strict 60-second time limit, meaning many maximalists choose to condense their showmanship rather than cut anything away. As Miran Miyano recently wrote in Vice, downloads of the app skyrocketed when quarantine began, and now FitTok — “short workout and wellness videos that are equal parts exercise and viral internet trend” —has emerged. Pent-up energy found its outlet on the TikTok platform’s countless fitness challenges. What’s most interesting to me about FitTok culture is not the hovering graphics, the meme-ificiation of workouts, or the pseudo–community building of challenges, but the play with time. It’s the language of the quick hit, even when it’s showing a full workout routine. These videos play out one of humanity’s greatest exercise fantasies: doing 30 minutes of cardio in 60 seconds. Doing 100 push-ups in the time it usually takes to do four.
From one vantage point, these quickened videos crystallize the fantasy of immediate gratification; from another, they confidently include all the imperfections that would have been edited away. Jen Selter, a distinguished founding member of the fitness social-media strata, tells me, “I’ve been using speed in my videos for years,” but TikTok has been the most natural platform for sped-up clips of her squats. She says she likes to slow down her videos when she’s introducing a new pose, but loves to speed them up “to emphasize the intensity….