What is fitness?

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What is fitness?

The words fit and fitness have multiple and varied definitions. At its most basic – if something is fit, it is suitable quality, standard, or type to meet the required purpose. This is important, keep it in mind.

When referring to fitness of a person, the Oxford dictionary defines fitness as being healthy or in good physical shape. Okay, but quite basic really. In sport, this term commonly refers specifically to one’s physical endurance, but when considering the meaning of the word fit, this is quite limited. So let’s think about this a little more deeply.

Do we think of Olympic marathon runners as fit? Yes.

Do we think of professional footballers as fit? Yes.

Do we think of professional golfers as fit? ….Yes?

 

Shane Lowry via Irish Golfer magazine (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

 

Fit for purpose.

There are many elements to fitness, from the obvious ones – endurance, strength and mobility, to one’s we wouldn’t naturally think of – perhaps technical skill, strategic knowledge and specific awareness/experience of the task would fall in there.

Endurance is often the obvious charcteristic associated with fitness. If we take Eliud Kipchoge for example, we can conclude with some ease that he’s fairly fit. Kipchoge holds the world marathon record at 2 hours and 1 minute. (1:59 under certain conditions). To gain some perspective here, that’s like running 100 metres in 17 seconds, 422 times in a row, or running 5km in just over 14 minutes, 8 times back to back with no rest. Unfathomable fitness. Very fit.

On the other hand, if we can imagine Hafþór ‘’Thor’’ Björnsson, a 205kg powerlifter who can deadlift 500kg, we wouldn’t immediately think he is very fit, because he (probably, hopefully) can’t run 5km in under 25 minutes, but this is wrong. He is one of the fittest athletes in the world. He can do exactly what his sport requires, lift heavy weights – better than most. He’s fit for purpose.

 

Eliud Kipchoge via medium.com

Various sports and tasks have various requirements, and to fulfil these, the we must be fit for purpose. For sports performance, we may need to be at an optimal level of endurance, strength/power, technical skill or tactical knowledge or a blend of them all. To be a healthy functioning person, we must hold a certain level in them all. What’s vital here is to define what qualities we need to have, before we start working towards them. We also must establish how we’ll know if we are at the desired level too, clear and measurable goals, getting this right makes all the difference but you’d be surprised how often it’s gotten wrong.

The two previous examples are at contrasting ends of the spectrum of physical abilities, and are clear in their requirements to be fit for purpose, so imagine someone like ex-New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. In NFL, like many other sports, speed is a highly coveted quality. Brady couldn’t run faster than half of the NFL quarterbacks, in fact in the 40 yard dash, a heavily weighted test used in the NFL combine to determine if an athlete is fit for their job as a football player, Brady ran 5.28 seconds. This was the second worst time in the 2000 combine among 18 other quarterbacks that took part that year. Brady was subsequently picked 199th, in the Sixth round, as a compensatory pick. Perhaps being fit isn’t exactly what we (or they) may think as Brady showed he was the fittest man for the job when went on to become the most successful quarterback of all time. In this instance, it’s a case of not understanding what makes someone fit, and shows the need for thinking deeper about it Had they of been able to conduct a valid test of perhaps, pattern recognition, resilience or leadership, then perhaps Brady wouldn’t have placed so low in 2000.

 

Tom Brady via TIME

These are examples of high performers in sport, but fitness isn’t reserved for elite athletes. Take a carpenter for example, he/she must be able to elicit a certain level of specific strength, endurance and movement efficiency, have a deep knowledge and understanding of how to work with various tools and machinery, to be healthy and effective at their job. This too is fitness, but not what we may define as fitness. 

The array of tasks a human may encounter in their lives require a myriad physical and mental qualities. Being effective at these means establish what exactly they are, then working towards achieving them and through trial and error, making them work best for us to be effective. 

We may not all need to hold elite level endurance, strength or specific knowledge on how to get a ball past a number of people and into a net, but for every person on the planet, we must be healthy. To maintain our health and to execute the tasks that we face, every human on the planet must be complicit in each area both physically and mentally. Whether you run marathons, play football or aim to just be functioning human being, you must be fit for life. This is sometimes referred to as functional (fitness), but that term has been attached to too many dysfunctional things so we’ll avoid using that.

Being fit does not strictly mean being in good physical shape, but maybe more appropriately means being capable of doing what their life and task/sport requires. This may be strict and refined for sports like marathon running or power lifting. It may be more complex and involve more variables, perhaps like field sports or mixed martial arts, or it may be more broad and general, to be healthy and fit for life, but one thing is certain – every person must hold a certain level in each of these qualities, firstly and most importantly to maintain their health and secondly to be the best version of themselves at whatever it is they do.

No one has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for one to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which their body is capable.”
― Socrates

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