What is Fitness?

Perspective is an amazing thing. The other night I was watching the movie “Patch Adams” (if you haven’t seen it, go watch it – one of Robin Williams’ best performances), and I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid. It came out in 1998, and when I was a kid, I can remember not fully appreciating the situation. I think I may have watched the first 35-40 minutes and then ran off to do something else as my mom was watching it. Watching it now though, I have a whole new appreciation for why my mom enjoyed the movie so much. It spoke to her directly. Robin Williams’ character spoke to her. 

I can remember the very first time I heard the “What is Fitness?” lecture at my Level 1 training seminar for CrossFit. The instructor just started with that question. “Can anyone tell me, ‘what is fitness?’” he said. Sure, people started raising their hands. “To be in good health.” “To feel good.” All these arbitrary responses. He said, “Yea, those are great, but can I measure any of that?” We all looked at each other and thought, “Yea, kinda.” Someone said, “Well if my blood pressure has a good reading, that means I’m healthy, right?” The instructor said, “Well what about the 60-year-old in the nursing home who’s on blood pressure medication? They’re reading might come out great but does anyone think they could walk up a flight of stairs without assistance?” A resounding “no” came from all of us. 

That’s when the instructor said, “Did anyone give me a definition of fitness that can pass scientific scrutiny?” Another “no.” “Write this down. Fitness is work capacity across broad times and modal domains,” he said. What does that mean? The ability to do work in any amount of time in any situation. The ability to move a large load a long distance and quickly. 

I’ve been in the CrossFit community for 10 years now. That statement is still as impactful then as it is now. An actual way of measuring fitness. It changed the industry. But, having worked in gyms and having owned a gym for the better part of those 10 years when someone asks me, “What is fitness?” I don’t immediately think of the definition. 

I think of those arbitrary, but so incredibly powerful things: The ability of a grandparent to pick up a grandchild without pain. The renewed confidence of someone in their late 30s to go out and maybe start playing sports with friends again. The overwhelming joy of a mother the first time she fits in a pair of jeans that she hadn’t been able to wear since before the pregnancy. Fitness, and specifically CrossFit, leads to all those things. There is no greater hedge against sickness. 

So, what is fitness? It’s everything.


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