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What is "fitness"?

January 10, 2018

“I want to get fit!”


“Fitness”, one of the oft mooted buzz-words every January. But what is it? What is “fitness”?

Well, I’m here to tell you it’s not what most of us think it is.

I first looked at definitions of fitness a quarter of a century ago (that makes me feel old!) studying GCSE’s Physical Education and recall feeling that even then, at 16 years’ old that I thought the definitions we were reading weren’t conclusive, and different definitions seemed loaded or biased based on who or where that definition came from. Let’s look at and examine some definitions;


“The condition of being physically fit and healthy”
• But what is “Fit”?
• Against what measurement?
• What makes it so?
• What are the variables?


“The quality of being suitable to fulfil a particular role or task”
• What role?
• What task?
• How is it measured?
• What are the components?


“The bodies full potential for physical performance”
• Performance doing what?
• How is it measured?
• How do we know what “full potential” is?


“The physiological capacity to effectively deal with the daily demands imposed by one’s environment, and take on unfamiliar tasks while remaining in a state of wellbeing”

• What is “wellbeing”?
• What “daily demands”?
• Environments differ, what’s the base comparison?


These are just some of the myriad definitions available, and have been taken from sources as diverse as the Oxford Dictionary, Personal Training qualification material and industry bodies; but they are flawed. What are they measuring if anything? How? And what are the elements? I’m no academic researcher, but for me these standard definitions just don’t hold up to scientific rigor. They don’t answer the question, “what is fitness and being fit”?


As a coach and trainer, who focusses on endurance but also works on strength, conditioning and holistic fitness I am often discussing “fitness” and find that everyone I speak with has a different interpretation that suits their goal, and is often biased towards their strengths – a triathlete feels that fitness is the ability or desire to go further (long and steady) a bodybuilder feels it’s the ability to complete repetitions and sets of movements working on aesthetics, a runner views it as the capacity to run X-distance faster; you see the pattern here…


So, come on Chris, what is “fitness”? Well, its not just the ability to lift weights, its not just the ability to sprint or run a long distance or do back-flips. What it is all those things and more.
As I see it there are ten elements or domains that come together to make up fitness, outlined in the list below and graphic attached.

1. Cardiovascular respiratory endurance – deliver oxygen
2. Stamina – process, store and use energy
3. Strength – muscular units applying force
4. Flexibility – maximizing range of joint movement
5. Power – muscular units applying maximum force in minimum time
6. Speed – maximizing the time cycle for a given movement
7. Coordination – combining multiple movement patterns into a single distinct movement
8. Agility – minimizing transition time from one movement to another
9. Balance – controlling the placement of the bodies centre of gravity
10. Accuracy – controlling movement in a given direction and intensity


For many athletes or fitness enthusiasts, “fitness” is a variant of one of these elements and the remaining elements are ignored – often because they either aren’t viewed as important within their sport / hobby, or equally as likely are difficult to work on, and for that reason, when tested holes in fitness can easily be found. The result being, that if we look at the elements in the list above, “fitness” is the point in the middle where these ten elements meet and the fitter you are, the bigger that mid-point is. Simple!


So now we have identified what goes into fitness, how do we define it? Well thankfully I don’t need to worry about that, someone else has recently done that for me. Former gymnast and co-founder of CrossFit Coach Greg Glassman has defined fitness as;


“Work capacity across broad time and modal domains”


Make sense? Perhaps not, so let’s break down this definition.
• Work capacity – how hard can you go
• Across broad time – over a range of time periods from short to long
• (and broad) modal domains – across a range of domains (strength, stamina, flexibility etc etc.)


In simple terms, how hard / well can you perform across any and all of the elements of fitness over a range of timescales – we can identify the constituent parts, we can measure the performance and time – it’s a definition that works.


So, for me, when I’m talking “fitness” I’m talking about it in its holistic and true sense as we’ve outlined here. While focusing on an individual domain (strength for a weightlifter or cardio-raspatory for triathletes as examples) may provide specific gains in those individual domains, they won’t make you fit or fitter (in its true sense) and limits your ability to perform at your best.


If you’d like to know more about how we can help you get fitter and perform better in your sport or as part of a drive for better long-term health, get in touch and let’s work together to smash your goals.



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