How do you define fitness?
Fitness: The quality or state of being fit (Merriam Webster)
Synonyms: health, healthiness, heartiness, robustness, sap, soundness, verdure, wellness, wholeness, wholesomeness.
I’ve taught over 3000 fitness classes…in just the past 4 years alone! Before, during, and after almost every class, I typically have at least one conversation about fitness – goals, nutrition, and how to get faster, leaner, or stronger. The conversation is almost always the same - people wanting simple ‘bullet point’ answers to complex questions and me attempting to provide them.
Last week, after the end of one of my exercise classes, I was sitting on the floor chatting with a couple who came and took my class for the first time. We started a typical conversation and I asked the couple about their goals and presented my ‘pitch’ about how our program can benefit them. Then the conversation took an unforeseen turn. I was asked a question that I don’t think I’ve ever been asked in my 15 years working in fitness. The man looked me straight in the eye and asked me “How do you define fitness.” I was dumbfounded. What a great question. Fortunately, I had an answer…
“Fitness is a state of being well and a state of grace. To me, fitness is about the identity of feeling fit, not the identity of looking a certain way. Fitness is demonstrating your optimal physical functionality.”
Had he asked me in my twenties, I would have stated that “fitness is getting bigger and stronger” or “fitness is benching 300 pounds.” Had he asked me in my thirties, I would have said “fitness is having courage in a boxing ring, running faster and farther,” or “fitness is being the toughest s.o.b. I can.” Those were short-lived answers. After tearing my rotator cuff in my late 20’s because of too much lifting, I learned that for me fitness isn’t about bigger muscles or being strong. After getting my ass kicked too many times in my 30’s - rupturing two ear drums in the ring, and then getting my ass handed to me in the game of life – professional failure, divorce, and physical pain - I finally got the message: Fitness isn’t about being the toughest, or out training anyone, or literally running from yourself. Fitness is aging gracefully, not foolishly. Fitness is using courage of a different sort - For those fit and lean that cant stop moving, having the courage to sit still and in turn finding the willingness to face yourself. For those sedentary, having the courage to get uncomfortable through movement and in turn finding the willingness to face yourself.
Someday you’ll look in the mirror and not like what you see. Someday your wife, doctor, or kids will tell you need to take better care of yourself. Someday you’ll start a path towards your next goal - A new exercise program, a new diet, a better body. You’ll ask a doctor or a trainer or a coach “How can I achieve better fitness/feel better/look better/get more toned/run faster?
Certainly you can find convenient ‘bullet point’ answers to those questions. Some will tell you to drink more water, take a pill, wear better shoes, do intervals instead of steady state cardio, do steady state instead of intervals, drink protein powders, and take supplements. But deep down you know that ‘bullet points’ are only temporary or quick fixes to the questions of health and wellness, which know no quick solutions.
What ultimately matters is starting with the right question. The question of how you define fitness is such a question. When you define what it is that you are truly seeking, you will then find your answers beyond just the bullet points. Look, if you want ripped abs bad enough, you will find them. If fitness for you is simply how you look or how fast you can run, fair enough. I’m guessing though that you will learn, as I have, that there lies another question at the end of that answer.