What is “fitness?”

“Fitness” is commonly defined as “the condition of being physically fit and healthy.” – I think this definition is too broad.

The biological definition of fitness is “an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment.” I think this definition is more helpful as it contains a way to measure whether it exists in an organism or not.

The CDC defines ‘physical fitness’ as: “a set of attributes that people possess or achieve that relates to the ability to perform physical activity and is comprised of skill-related, health-related, and physiological components.” – I find this to be a good place to start when thinking about fitness and whether a decision is truly contributing to it or not.

Regardless of how you define ‘fitness,’ when thinking about your own fitness goals, they usually will fall into one of the following three pillars: aesthetic, health, performance.

|| Side tangent: I was recently reminded of the difference between features and benefits. Features are defined as “a distinctive attribute or aspect of something.” Benefits are defined as “an advantage or profit gained from something.” Simply, features are something that definable things. Benefits are outcomes or results that people will likely experience by doing a particular thing. For example, a ‘feature’ of a drill bit is that it’s hard, cylindrical, and made to not break easily when used. The benefit of using it is that you now have a hole to insert a screw in order to hang a picture. ||

Each of the main pillars of fitness expresses unique features and can lead to particular benefits. Aesthetically-based goals include anything that isn’t a required outcome for survival, like fat loss beyond physiological needs or muscle hypertrophy. One benefit of achieving an aesthetic goal is improved confidence. Health-based goals are focused on quality of life or longevity, like insulin control, stress management, or sleep hygiene. The benefits can include clearer thinking and decreased stress. Performance-based goals improve the ease with which you perform everyday activities, execute specific skills or your level of performance in a competitive environment. The benefits include improved physiological adaptations and social status. It’s important to note that the benefits of progressing through each of the ‘fitness’ pillars are interchangeable, depending on cultural values and individual drives.

As you can see, there are many different ways to express ‘fitness.’ Similarly, it can be measured in numerous ways. The trick is to understand what benefits you’re working towards and tailoring your measurements to track meaningful milestones as you progress through a program – or life.

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Chris Gaines

I help people discover the impact of athleticism in their everyday life. With that clarity, they navigate misconceptions around fitness. With that focus, they pursue movement skills with intention and a larger purpose. All so they can face life's everyday challenges and grow with confidence.

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