This will be the first part in a three part series covering a few related issues that I think need to be addressed. Training and exercise is supposed to be about getting healthier and happier, and (as you all know by now) this site is all about keeping people on that path to health and happiness and away from damaging, destructive approaches to diet and exercise.
I barely even know where to begin in tackling this, so I’ll start with the list of issues I want to address and hopefully it will come together from there.
Topics within this topic.
- Definitions of “fitness”.
- Can an unhealthy approach ever produce results you will be happy with?
- Does “fitness” mean “health” and can people really be “healthy at any size”?
Hopefully I can pull this off and you’ll see how these topics all relate to each other.
Definitions of “fitness”.
For most people thinking about “getting fit”, they’re usually thinking about endurance related exercise and training. For example jogging, running, cycling, group fitness classes… anything where the object is to move a particular (long or middle) distance, or to perform at a level of intensity without break for a period of time.
I started thinking about this in response to a comment I read somewhere else. Kind of a derogatory comment to the effect of “so what if you have a great physique from weight training, if you can’t run for 10 minutes without stopping”. Now… ten minutes isn’t very much so that’s hard to take issue with, but let’s assume that such a small number was just to emphasise a point and what we’re actually talking about is endurance training of over… let’s say a half hour. Again, this seems to be the definition of “fitness” in most people’s minds… if you can’t run for x amount of miles or x amount of minutes, you are not “fit” no matter what other activities you participate or even excel in.
So let’s clear that up. As far as “sporting fitness” goes… being fit for a sprinting event is different to being fit for a middle, long distance or marathon event. Or for that matter, a swimming, strength based or team sport. It’s a bit like the analogy about judging a fish by it’s ability to ride a bicycle; if you’re training for a particular event, you are fit when you are physically able to participate in that event, not some other event with different requirements of endurance, strength or other ability.
Now as to general health and fitness… I always think in terms of being “fit and able to get through the day”. Since these days it’s possible to get through the day without really moving very much or expending much energy, let’s assume we’re talking about human beings in a traditional or primitive culture trying to survive in their natural habitat. This could be cave people, jungle tribes, or a primitive agricultural or hunter gatherer society, for example.
So… forgetting about modern sporting pursuits for the moment, what attributes would these people have, and what abilities would they require to get through a day? I thought about it for a while and here’s what I came up with.
- Appropriate Body Weight: Contrary to modern politically correct notions, people are actually designed to be within a certain weight range relative to their height and age. In traditional cultures there would be little potential to exceed these normal ranges.
- Movement: they’d be able to walk around, climb hills and so on without getting terribly out of breath.
- Range Of Motion, Posture and Flexibility: Obvious example, they’d be able to squat down to the ground to take a crap in the woods, or pick vegetables or something. Many modern human adults can’t do this.
- Strength: They’d have to pick up some heavy stuff and carry it around from time to time. Maybe a large animal they’ve hunted and killed, or timber to build a shelter. I’d expect that they would need to be strong enough to haul their own weight up into a tree to avoid predators as well.
- Sprints: Watching a few nature documentaries tells me that hunting is usually about sneaking up, and then a sprint to catch and overpower the quarry. So, either in hunting or escaping from a predatory animal, we’re talking relatively short pursuits. If you don’t get them quickly, it’s back to the drawing board.
- Distance running: actually not so much. I really can’t think of much reason why these early human beings would need to run long distances.
So… that’s my opinion on what constitutes basic human fitness. The level of fitness and ability one would expect a human being to have under normal conditions. With modern lifestyles, most of these very simple basic levels of fitness are not so common and as a Personal Trainer in the field of general health and wellness (I kind of hate that term, but it fits here since I’m not talking about training people to participate in competitive sports) this is what we’re concerned with. We’re talking about programs that bring a human being back to his or her natural condition, countering the effects of a modern lifestyle.
The point I am getting to (and will expand upon in the next instalment) is that anything beyond this level is quite literally beyond what would normally be expected of a human being. This is an important point to realise, as failing do so can mean the difference between improving your health through exercise, or merely trading one set of health concerns for another.