Star Trek: Exercise in the 23rd century, why it matters

Christina Chong as La’an in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Best Possible Screengrab/Paramount+
Christina Chong as La’an in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Best Possible Screengrab/Paramount+ /

Exercise isn’t a central focus in Star Trek, it does have a purpose.

Star Trek has always touted a high-tech future loaded with interstellar travel, molecular transporters, phasers, tractor beams, and a whole host of other high-tech wonders.  We’ve come to expect it.  But there’s an interesting sideline that doesn’t get a lot of airplay, but we’ve been watching it on Star Trek for decades.  What people do on their “off time” is – well – very physical!

Now stay with me for a moment.

Early on in Star Trek TOS, we saw Captain Kirk working with Sam, a judo expert, demonstrating to “Charlie” in “Charlie X” ( a few Kirk-fu moves.  Captain Christopher backs up physical activity in “Tomorrow is Yesterday” by saying,  “I see physical training is required in your service, too.”

Yes, exercise makes a difference.  But how might that work out in a galaxy where you can dial up your own physique and be genetically modified with the best body this side of Antares?  The answer, as anyone fully engaged in the act of exercise will tell you, it is also “holistic”.  Team sports, regularly engaged by TNG (Parrises Squares) and DS9 (Baseball) provide recreational outlets – emotional as well as physical.  Individual sports; running, archery, and swimming allow personal development and achievement.

Depicting physical activities can feed plot development.  Let’s not forget the saddle-dragging Picard in “Starship Mine.” No one knows he’s the actual captain of the Big E in his futuristic equestrian outfit.  We also show our Starfleet officers as passionate about health and fitness too!  As Worf once said, “If winning is not important, then, commander, why keep score?”  These TNG folks are competitive and serve on the flagship Enterprise. In other series, people work in the wild and remote frontiers and we know one thing for sure, they can’t afford to be couch potatoes!  A shuttlecraft or transporter isn’t always a short communicator bleep away.  Dramatic hiking, anyone?

In Star Trek, red alerts and corridor running go hand-in-hand!

Also, more than once, we’ve seen Kirk and Co. running corridors on “red alerts.”  They have to be fit to do that.  They are confident in their learned combat skills too.  Think about marksmanship and aiming a phaser.  Sure we could make the phaser automatically “aim at the enemy” (yes, I’m assuming such devices have “AI”).  But what if we have a “Captain Tracy” type who “goes off the deep end” and our smart phaser won’t fire at a certified starship captain – even though he’s off his rocker?  We’ll need “manual control.”  Enter Kirk’s many hours shooting at a target to “wing” our erstwhile commander. Also, remember Picard and Riker (and Guinan too!) did a few gigs in the holodeck with target practice.

Finally, and here’s one anyone who’s into exercise knows, it builds confidence, sharpens focus, and rewards you with a healthier body.  There’s something else to all this as well, and we can all take a lesson from it; the sheer act of improving one’s health can be its own goal too.

So, what’s the takeaway?

Star Trek always introduced us to some very interesting people, but if we pay attention to their everyday lives (besides saving the universe), they also engage in very human and very beneficial physical activities, too. These moments on screen were used to humanize our characters or drive storylines, but maybe storytellers were telling us something else; physical activity is really good for our crew and maybe for us fans too!

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