Are Subway Squats A Good Idea?

A Russian video is in the news again, but it’s not for their persecution of the LGBTQA community or from dashboard cameras.  No, this one was actually pretty cool.

Last week’s viral explosion covered a genius promotional program from the Russian Olympic Committee to draw some positive attention to the upcoming Sochi games.  (I. Can’t. Wait!)  In Moscow’s Vystavochaya Station, they installed a motion-sensor ticket machine that rewards a free one-way ticket to customers who complete 30 reps of body weight squats.

“The Olympic officials wanted to get regular people thinking about the importance of sports in everyday life. “We wanted to show that the Olympic Games are not just an international competition most people watch on TV every two years,” said Alexander Zhukov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee.” Source.

Check the original video below.  Turn on captions in YouTube for English subtitles:

Last week, this video was everywhere I went on the interweb.  I saw it scattered hundreds of times on Fitocracy and Twitter.  It was e-mailed to me, and my friend Jon was the first of several to post it to my Facebook wall.  My fitness friends were talking about it, and my less-fitnessy friends were talking about it.  I was surprised, as it’s infrequent that fitness videos go viral.  While videos go viral on a regular basis, it’s infrequent that they’re fitness videos.  Physical movement is one of the few universal unifiers of our species, yet it’s becoming increasingly difficult to discuss.  When it comes to fitness, we all love to hear about it, but we hate to talk about it.  Why is this?

We hate talking about exercise because we talk about it factually, not emotionally.  The human brain is great at learning, interpreting, and analyzing facts.  It’s also great at experiencing emotion.  It’s awful and differentiating between the two.  When we discuss physical activity, we enumerate the essentials of exercise physiology; VO2 Max, momentary muscle fatigue, postural imbalance.  These facts and the ensuing conversations fail to address the inherent emotions of exercise.


When we address the emotional component, we realize that people rarely care about specific measures of fitness.  We instead care about the emotions that we associate with them.  Nobody gives a damn about their VO2 max, and they may not give a damn about their 5k or marathon time.  They care about the sense of success that comes with that.  Nobody gives a damn about how much they squat, or how many times they swing a kettlebell.  They care about the body type associated with that.  When we do care about specific exercises, it’s because we’ve learned to associate them our broader goals.  It’s far easier to quantify a 400lb squat than “having a great butt” or set the goal of running two 5k’s each month than it is to say, “I want to feel healthy.”  What the fuck does healthy even feel like?

Thinking economically, the Russian deal isn’t all that good.  30 reps of squats seems like a rather large payment for a one-way ticket valued at $0.91.  Somewhere in New York City an economist is thinking, “Oh golly, we should try this here! A single-ride ticket is $2.50, I’m sure that will work!”  It won’t, you ass-clown, because nobody gives a damn about doing 30 squats.

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I would venture to say that very few of the people who squatted their way to a free ticket did it for economic value.  Instead, I believe that it was for the emotional reward.  We crave novelty, excitement, and challenge; we want to be excited and successful.    The text in the video asks the following questions:

Are there a lot of truly happy people?  Are there a lot of places that inspire us to do something new?  It begins to answer its own questions:  “Seems like there is something we always miss…Respect, Strong sports passion, Happiness of being active, We all need some changes.”

The concept behind this Olympic Committee publicity stunt was an aspirational one to encourage regular physical activity.  The video is superbly done and it’s getting a ton of media attention.  Everyone is talking about the “Russian Subway Squats” but very few people are talking about the Sochi Olympic Games, or about exercising more in general.  Interesting.

If you’re looking for the biggest impact on your health or wellness, I’d say skip the subway all together.  Walk to wherever you’re going.  It will likely take more energy than those 30 squats will.  If you’re taking the train, buy your ticket and keep moving until it arrives, and stand once you’re onboard.  These are strategies to burn more calories, but I don’t think that’s what you’re after.

Nobody wants to do squats on the subway.  Instead, we want to feel connected to something bigger, we want to feel inspired.  We want to feel comfortable and confident in being active, and enjoy the time spent with ourselves and with each other.  The machine in Vystavochaya Station represents our inherent human aspiration to move and connect more with each other.  Let’s do that.


It’s easy to read an article, watch a video, and say, “That’s pretty cool.”  It’s harder to experience it on your own, but that’s what I want you to do.  Be your own inspirational video.  Find the things that you to that inspire you to do more.  If you love walking, walk with friends.  If you love your dog, take them for a walk.  Scientists will tell you to walk from the back of the lot because you’ll burn more calories.  I’m telling you to walk from the back of the lot because you will feel better.  The Vystavochaya Station video isn’t about exercise; it’s about the human spirit.  Let’s measure success in more smiles, not more squats.

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