It’s very rare that I will write, comment or otherwise vent online but after thinking the idea over I’ve decided to share a few of my thoughts with you about what fitness is, what it’s really about and who should be considered fit. Of course this is only my opinion at this point in history, but it deserves being mentioned nevertheless. I’m writing this, admittedly, out of disappointment. I read fit people’s articles, newsletters and blogs constantly in order to learn and improve myself in this industry we call fitness but lately I’ve come across a number of very fit people drawing lines in the sand (regarding what fitness is), that, in my opinion, don’t really need to be there.
Now you’ve heard me say it a million times! Fitness (technically) is usually defined in a way that has something to do with having optimal levels of:
- cardiovascular endurance,
- muscular endurance,
- muscular strength,
- body composition (fat vs. lean body mass)
While this is true and I certainly agree, I think what we are talking about is a quantitative way to look at a qualitative issue. Yea sports are quantitative. How much, how many, how low, how high, how strong, how far, how big, how long – these are things we associate quite often with sport. In America we tend to be a quantitative society. We want to know how much money a person has, who has the most friends, who spends the most on clothes, who has the lowest body fat percentage, who can bench press the most weight and who can run the longest distance in the least amount of time. We are obsessed with numbers, quantities and keeping score.
So I raise the question: Is physical fitness really a quantitative thing? Or could it be that physical fitness is a qualitative thing? Maybe a combination of both? What do you think?
The only thing I can say about this is that (to me) physical fitness is more than how many times you can lift a weight, how far you can run or if you are flexible enough to put your feet behind your head or not. To me physical fitness is about things that cannot always be measured with numbers, it’s about more than a number, a weight, a distance, a score.
I tell my clients that we all have strengths and weaknesses at various points in our lives. At 24 years of age I had 9% body fat year-round, I could squat 700 pounds and bench press 405 pounds for reps. I can’t do that anymore. But I can do 35 pull-ups, stand on a stability ball for just about as long as I want and touch my face to my knee when stretching, all things I could not do as a beast-boy 24-year-old. So was I more fit then or now?
Take a look at the people around you. What’s their story? What are their experiences? Are they fat? Are they too skinny? Maybe they’re really weak and can’t lift much weight. Maybe they have a low-level of endurance and can’t run very far before getting winded. Think about it for a moment then ask yourself: if perhaps their current level is better than it was previously, does the fact that they don’t live up to your idea of what fitness should be really matter? If you think about any of these things they all depend on one thing: your perception of that person. I take the stance that fitness evolves as a person passes through life. What you thought about fitness early in your life may not be the same idea you have about fitness later on. I encourage you to embrace fitness throughout your life no matter what face it currently has.
Improve! Get better in some way. You may not always be able to do what you did as a young person but there are ways where you can become even better than you were. And I’ve seen people who were very sedentary as young people who have steadily improved their physical fitness level as they’ve aged. One client of mine, Lisa, told me she’s (in her 60s) in the best shape of her adult life. Isn’t that what fitness is about? If you really think about fitness, isn’t it about getting better, improving and doing what you need to do to feel better about yourself and your physical body? Aren’t those things mostly about quality and not quantity?
I think so. I think fitness has an infinite number of faces and takes on an unlimited number of characteristics. I encourage you to try not to see fitness in such a narrow scope that you forget that fitness, above all, is about people. It’s about people getting better, not being the best. Fitness is not a sport, it’s not a race and no one is keeping score. Fitness is about you as an individual. You may be a phenomenally successful athlete like Lance Armstrong or Drew Brees (both fit people) or you may be like my client Lisa (also a fit person) who in her 60s decided she wanted to walk with more energy, feel more stable and be able to play with her grandchildren.
Now I encourage you to consider this: Lisa can honestly say that she is in the best shape of her adult life, can Lance Armstrong currently say the same thing? So which person’s fitness level serves them best? I’ll let you decide.
Try to think of fitness as something that is inclusive, not exclusive. Sports are wonderful and in order to have a winner we have to keep score and compare one against the other. I encourage you to leave the score keeping to the athletes on the field-of-play, and only on the field-of-play, and not in the day-to-day activities that people lead in their pursuit of fitness.