Everyone wants to be fit.
In the U.S. the fitness industry pulls in billions and billions of dollars everyday trying to meet the demand for new and effective ways to get fit. Books, magazines & television programs are everywhere shouting the benefits of new exercise programs, eating plans or expensive gadgets.
Through all of it, the only single constant seems to be the inconsistency. One author tells you to do this, another tells you to do the opposite while yet another says to do both or neither. Adding to the confusion is the fact that you have no clear definition for what ‘fit’ even means.
Compare a world class marathoner to a world class sprinter and their bodies composition will be worlds apart, but society considers both fit. Match up a gymnast and a sumo wrestler, a basketball player with a linebacker or a bodybuilder with an Olympic lifter and you’ll find none of them have the same body compositions, but all are considered fit and all of them train, eat and live differently. So what do we do about it?
The lazy response would be to just throw the whole endeavor out the window and collapse on the couch with a box of doughnuts, but that’s not what we’re going to do. We need to come up with one solid working definition to work toward.
The easiest way to figure out what our definition for ‘fit’ should be is to go back to its original meaning. The original meaning had a handful of parts to it including: well-suited, adapted or appropriate, qualified or competent, prepared or ready and, lastly, in good health. I think we can distill that down into healthy and well adapted to one’s environment.
We’ll skip over the ‘healthy’ part for just a second and go to the ‘well adapted’ part first. If you’re well adapted to your environment, it means you can exist in that environment with relative ease and little to no stress or harm as a result of being there. We’re just talking physical fitness here, your psychological and emotional fitness is something you can discuss with a mental health professional, so that narrows things down to just your physical ability to operate in your environment as best as possible.
Since everyone’s environment is different, this gives a little leeway to account for differences in what people do. For example, fitness for a Marine is going to be different than fitness for a bodybuilder because they operate in different environments.
Now, here’s where we hit a bit of a snag. See, the majority of people are not professional athletes. Most people don’t have any specialized physical activity that they regularly engage in, even for recreation. On top of that, technology has advanced to the point where existing in modern society requires very little effort on our part. We have supermarkets, cars, plumbing, central air and a fantastic medical system. Overall, particularly compared to the rest of human history, survival takes almost zero effort.
To account for this, we divide fitness into two groups, specialized fitness and general fitness. Specialized fitness encompasses all fitness for people who are in a specialized field that requires certain physical characteristics. You know who you are and you know what ‘fit’ means for you, so we’re not going to pursue that any further.
General fitness is fitness for everyone else. People who don’t have a sport or activity they need to specialize for. These people can be tricky since, because of all those technological advances I mentioned, you can eat until you’re 400 lbs. and still live a halfway decent life. Even so, I don’t think a 400 lb. person could generally be considered fit – there’s that ‘healthy’ part to consider, and I wouldn’t bet on a long life expectancy for someone who weighs that much. We also have the problem of deciding which model of specialized fitness general fitness should mimic.
A Proposal for General Fitness
The way I see it, if you take away as much of that helpful modern technology as possible and simplify things down you find that everyone has a few basic things they all have to do:
- Move their own bodies – One of the basics that essentially every person has to do is be able to effectively move their own body around. For someone to be considered ‘fit’ then they should be able to move their own bodies in as wide a range of movements as possible with as much ease and as much control as possible. Movements should be quick and effortless.
- Move other things – This may seem like it should be lumped into the previous point but the two skills are actually appreciably different. A fit person needs to be able to pick up and carry their children, lift and move boxes or furniture or help pull someone up off the ground.
- Be healthy – If you’re strong and meet the first two criteria, but you’re constantly getting sick or eat Twinkies and french fries until you have a heart attack, then you can’t be considered fit. A fit person should have as few illnesses and injuries as possible and should be able to enjoy a long life.
One of my favorite quotes that I think sums up this whole ideal is ‘Être fort pour être utile’ which means ‘Be strong to be useful’.
You need to be strong and healthy enough that if something goes down, whether that something is serious business like a car accident or earthquake or whether it’s something minor like your kid falls asleep and you have to carry them to the car, you can do whatever needs to be done.
Who then should you seek to emulate to meet that goal?
How to Be Fit
Of all the different models of specialized fitness, gymnasts fit the above the best. They can move their own bodies around in an efficient and effortless way, they have the reserve strength to move other objects without any trouble, and they enjoy much stronger immune systems than the general public.
Most importantly, unlike some other specialized fitness models like bodybuilders, gymnasts tend to possess an extremely high strength to weight ratio. That means out of all the options they are the most versatile and that’s exactly what the average person needs.
The best way to get started down that road is a combination of clean eating and strength training. If you’re looking for a good way to build up your fitness while having fun, you may even want to give practicing Parkour a try.
So what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment for what most people should aim for to be fit? Do you have a better idea? Share it with us in the comments.