What is Fitness?

January 3, 2011 § 6 Comments

by Jason Jaksetic

Is fitness the ability to lift up heavy objects and put them back down again?  Some would think so, I suppose.  There are quite a few individuals I see in the weight room who, in between looking at their biceps in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors, hoist some weights up and down.

Or is fitness about 30 hours of cardio a week?  Sure, your body fat is way down, but you are about as strong as a 12-year-old video game junky and you need to ask your neighbor to carry your grocery bags from the car to the house for you.

Let’s get literal for a minute.  The New Oxford American Dictionary defines fitness as:  The quality of being able to fulfill a particular role or task.

But what task?  Lifting up heavy objects is a task.  So is running a marathon in 2:08:00.

Obviously the merits of both can be argued.  That is not my point in here.  I’m going to suggest a task that acts as a good criteria for fitness.

Fitness should allow for you to fulfill the role of living.  Fitness should allow you to function and survive.

Now if your life revolves around bench-pressing 400 pounds, then by all means, focus just on that.  And if you are a pro marathoner, well, you know what you should be doing in order to get paid and eat.

But what about the rest of us?

In terms of functional fitness, survival suggests itself as our goal.  We need to be strong and fast in life.  Why not bench press 180lbs for multiple reps and run a 3.15.00 marathon?  Why not keep yourself solidly entrenched in cardio and muscular training?

These are the things that are going to offer the best benefits on all levels of, well, not dying.  Things like blood pressure, body fat, bone density, muscle and tendon strength, mental health, immune function, and heart vitality are proven to depend on both.

And also, in the ‘not die’ category, let’s step back 300 or 500 years. Before then, who would be most likely to pass on their genes to the next generation:  the body builder or the pro marathoner?  Maybe one, maybe both?  Maybe neither?

For sure, my money is on the person who is functionally fit.  He’s able to both run and scramble from wild animals and hostile people as well as wrestle them down and pound them to death.

This the holistic fitness that Spartans needed to have.  This is what they still need to have.  This primitive understanding of fitness is what Spartan Races cultivates.

In times of crisis, you won’t find yourself on a treadmill with a bottle of Fiji water watching Dr. Phil on a TV hanging from the wall.  You also won’t find yourself doing a bench press.

You are going to be on your feet, moving fast, and doing what needs to be done to survive.  You are going to have to be able to dig deep and push your limits of endurance.

So what is fitness?  I really don’t know.  What do you think?

Until a clear answers gets spelled out for me, I’m going to be fast and strong, full of both endurance and explosive power.  I’ll leave the extremes for the specialists.  I’ll take lean, cut, strong, and fast any day.

Anyway, this meets the alternative definition of fitness my dictionary describes:  the condition of being physically fit and healthy.


§ 6 Responses to What is Fitness?

  • Philip says:

    I agree. Fitness is functional. I don’t lift, I do bodyweight exercises, elite calisthenics is you will. A lot of the muscle buffs in the gym can curl massive weights, but couldn’t do a set of 5 clean chins if they tried. I find bodyweight training much more functional in the real world because you are moving your body through space, rather then weight relative to your body. In any case, if your “fitness” isn’t applicable outside the gym, you’re doing it wrong.

  • prepareyou says:

    Being physically fit is being able to physically achieve what you need to do to survive. It’s different for everyone, depending on their situation and environment.

  • Jeff says:

    But what is “physically fit and healthy?” Those terms are just as vague as the dictionary definition you’re trying to elucidate. Greg Glassman describes fitness pretty well. His is the best definition of fitness I’ve ever read, and the results are measurable and speak for themselves.


  • Fitness (in my opinion) Is stamina and endurance. Sure you can do all the reps you want to get your biceps pumping, but how long will you last when the occasion calls for a three day trek on foot through various terrain? Don’t get me wrong- it is fun to look at your biceps. Just try not to lose sight of what you cant see. The cardio vascular system!

  • Jim says:

    Functional Fitness is the only “true” fitness that exists. As a Martial Artist, Marine Veteran and Swimmer, my “functional fitness” includes testing myself continually to make sure that I can survive in any situation that presents itself. This could be running from a bear or defending my children to the next sparring match. I also think that the development of functional fitness includes weight lifting, body weight exercises, running, and other fitness techniques that will help develop you to accomplish your goal or maintain the level that you have attained.

  • Will says:

    It’s funny I was having this exact same discussion at work today. To me functionality is key. Running, jumping, climbing, lifting, punching, kicking, stretching, are all part of fitness. Being able to do all of the to some degree is essential. It all boils down to survivability. Be broad in your understanding. I’m not gonna be the person trapped on a car during a flood and not be able to pull myself onto the rescue chopper 🙂

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