Fitness 101: What is exactly is fitness?

If you’re reading this post, then chances are you’re just starting a new fitness regimen. You’ve decided that enough is enough, and the time to better your health is right now.

Great! First question: Do you know what you’re getting into?

The question is not meant to scare you. Rather, it is meant to make you think long and hard about how best to attack this lifestyle change. That is, of course, what this is – a lifestyle change. Do you understand the level of commitment it’s going to take to reach your goals? If you don’t, then you might want to step back and re-assess how you are going to get where you want to be. Transforming your body is hard work, and that transformation doesn’t happen overnight or without some serious dedication. When talking to people who wish to get healthier, I’m oftentimes reminded of a quote from Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks: “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”

You need to be prepared for what is to come. You need to know that the road will not always be easy. However, you also need to know that it will be worth it. Soon, maybe not tomorrow or next week, but soon, you will begin to enjoy the hard. Why? Because, all that effort, dedication, patience, sweat, and sacrifice – a.k.a. “the hard” – will culminate in a change that is as great as any you’ll ever physically endure: a change that you and you alone made happen.

Are you still interested in making that change? Are you still interested in taking back your life and becoming a fitter, more physically and mentally capable person? If you are, the first thing you’ll want to do is know where to begin. There are several different ways to become what many consider to be “fit,” and so you need to decide where exactly you’re going to start. Perhaps the best way to do so is by first defining what fitness is.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, fitness is simply, “The quality or state of being fit.”

… Okay? While that is technically a proper definition, it doesn’t really do much to explain what one might be looking for at the start of their fitness journey. The United States Department of Health and Human Services defines physical fitness as “a set of attributes that people have or achieve that relates to the ability to perform physical activity.”

This is certainly better, but physical fitness and general fitness are not exactly the same thing. For example, someone can be physically fit with the ability to run a marathon, play sports, and lift heavy weights, but still be at high-risk for a heart attack.

Personally, I think the 100-word definition of fitness from CrossFit is broken down in much simpler and explicit terms (Yes, I am aware of the controversy that surrounds the sport of CrossFit, and how gym-enthusiasts either love it or hate it. Still, the definition of fitness by their standards is absolutely one of the best you’re going to find):

“World-class fitness in 100 words: Eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: deadlift, clean, squat, presses, clean-and-jerk and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climbs, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstands, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc. – hard and fast. Five or six days per week, mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.”

Alrighty then. Feeling overwhelmed? That is a lot to unpack for 100 little words, especially for someone new to all of this. There are terms and phrases here you probably don’t yet understand, or maybe you do understand and are thinking about how there is no way you’ll ever be able to do some of these movements.

Relax. Let’s take this thing one step at a time and simply address the three things someone just starting out needs to address.

  1. “World-class fitness in 100 words.” Again, this is a lot to digest in 100 words, but, in some ways, that’s the point. Fitness isn’t just about lifting weights, looking good, or being able to run a marathon. It is about becoming a healthier individual overall, both in the gym and outside of it. The things you eat, the amount of time you engage in physical activity, and even your hobbies all play vital roles in your overall fitness level.
  2. “Routine is the enemy.” There are plenty of reasons to mix up your workout routine, but the biggest may be that your body needs to be prepared to perform in everyday situations, and everyday situations are typically unpredictable. Think about it – truly fit individuals are ready to take on all different types of physical activities at any given time, whether those activities are rock climbing, running a 5K, ice skating, or even walking the dog. Will your muscles be better prepared to handle the variable nature of unplanned physical activities by training in different ways every time you exercise, or by doing a three-rep bench press routine every Monday evening after work?
  3. “Keep workouts short and intense.” You don’t need to spend hours upon hours in the gym to get good results. In fact, working out for too long can actually do more harm than good in the long run. Keep your routine relatively brief, but still efficient. You’ll see better results and have more time to do the things you love to do, like learning and playing “new sports,” as the 100-word definition also notes as important.

If you’re still having some trouble understanding exactly what fitness is, fear not. The CrossFit definition isn’t a definitive definition, but rather a summary that proves just how loose the term fitness really is. That’s all you need to understand, especially in the beginning. Practical experience is the true key to obtaining knowledge; no great scientist ever got his doctorate by simply reading about things others were testing in a lab.

Soon, you’ll begin to realize that certain exercises make you feel certain ways. You’ll understand that certain foods make you feel groggy and others give you energy. Overall, you’ll find that certain aspects of your journey come with ease, while others will present unique challenges that you’ll have to overcome. This is all a part of the learning experience, and every learning experience is different. That is why it is the greatest teacher of all.

Trust your body, trust yourself, and stick with whatever process you’ve decided to act upon. If you can do that, you’ll realize that the question of what fitness is will become easier and easier to answer with each passing day. That, my friend, is where your journey begins.

For more advice on how to better your physical and emotional self, check out the other fit tips from Frankie.


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