One of 2018’s most “2018-ish” fitness trends was jogging while picking up litter. In Sweden, it’s called “plogging,” a charming, Anglicized mash-up of “jogging” and plocka uppa, the Swedish word for “picking up.” In the U.S., it’s called “trash running.” Or “pick ‘n’ run.” Or “trashercize.” Which, honestly, sounds like fitness for goblins.
Plogging first emerged in 2016, started — or at least branded — by Erik Ahlström, following his move from a resort town to Stockholm. Ahlström was reportedly struck by the amount of trash he passed by during regular runs - so he began picking it up along the way, often sporting medical gloves. Soon Ahlström was organizing community runs throughout the city, marrying environmental advocacy with sensible amounts of exercise.
The practice supposedly grew from the long-standing Swedish philosophy of lagom, the Goldielocks of lifestyle tenets. Meaning “not too much, not too little,” lagom values moderation; it heralds the pleasure of existence, without being seduced by the lure of consumption. In plogging, those tenets translate to picking up some trash (not every single piece), while jogging (not sprinting). It’s about being out in the world, while accepting that it’s become a world beset by trash.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before Americans found a way to ruin this objectively charming pass-time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, once plogging made its way across the pond and onto our trash-filled shores, the focus moved from communing with nature to the flexibility and ab workouts one gets while bending over to snag lipstick-stained coffee cups. It evolved from “a little of each” to “more of both.”
Other plogging communities seem to have retained the vibe outlined by Ahlström, and indeed groups have begun popping up in England, Thailand, India and Australia, as well as the United States. It’s a workout that’s reliant on the existence of litter, which, in 2019, means pretty much everywhere. And it’s an exercise that marries several of the major global fitness trends expected for the next year. Group fitness and functional fitness (workouts that serve to condition us for every day activities) have both been highlighted as top worldwide trends for the upcoming year by ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. Walt Thompson, president of the American College of Sports Fitness, told Inverse that the recent rise of group fitness can be attributed to the herd mentality of one, particular generation.
“My psychology professor friends have told me that the millennial generation is attracted to large group training because they can still work out but also can get lost in the crowd,” said Thompson. “Which they tell me is a millennial characteristic.” And with trillions of pieces of plastic currently floating in our oceans, picking up handfuls of trash feels pretty heckin’ functional.
Besides, showing off your trash haul in creatively arranged mosaics makes for really good Instagrams. And if we do a workout and there’s no Instagram post to document our accomplishment, did we ever really exercise?