There’s No Such Thing As “Fit”

You’ll have to excuse the inflammatory title. It’s meant to be eye-catching, but not entirely misleading.

I’ve been on an interesting journey this winter: I have been exceptionally busy, and with limited time (and lousy weather) I didn’t run as much as I have in previous years. As a result, my running fitness is pretty poor by comparison (see my time from the recent Chilly Half-Marathon). And I’m heavier than I’ve been in a long time. But, does that mean I’m currently “un-fit”?

I am winding up a person training contract that had me going to the gym 3-times a week. If I hadn’t pre-paid I would have often rolled-over and given up. But, I went dutifully, because I didn’t want to waste my money. We did a lot of strength training. In fact, I actually started to enjoy the “powerlifting” element of it. SBD (squats, bench, deadlift) became a common acronym for me. By the end of that “periodization” I had the following one-rep max levels:

Squat   275 pounds
Bench Press  180 pounds
Deadlift  295 pounds

Are these good? I think so. says I’m a “beginner”, so objectively not super. But I still feel rather proud of this. I think it’s much more than I ever did before. But, does that mean I’m “fit” or “unfit”?

My blood pressure, cholesterol, resting heart rate, are still quite optimal. Even though I’m not that old yet, I still have some health indicators of someone much younger.

So, what does it actually mean to be “fit“?? I don’t think I’m being nit-picking; I think there is genuine ambiguity here. There is a multi-billion dollar industry trying to make people more “fit”, but what does that actually mean!?


Multiple Definitions


This seems good and dandy, but impossible to quantify

Crossfit boxes seem to think they have it all figured out with their “10 components of fitness”.

10 components of fitness, according to CrossFit

So you’d get a graph kind of like this showing how you “perform” in each category.

This is pretty clever, but you’d have a hard time judging one for value over another. Is Speed more important or desirable than Stamina? And flexibility more important than balance? And if you were even on all of them, what would you be “fit” for?


Google’s definition of “Fitness”

I think Google’s second definition of fitness is the most useful: “the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.” It means that you must be “fit” to do something. And that makes it specific to the task.

So, if you’re competing in the CrossFit Games, you better be pretty fit in CrossFit’s 10 components of fitness. I can’t help but reference an often heard joke that “CrossFit doesn’t make you healthy; CrossFit makes you good at CrossFit.” And I suppose that’s true of all



Futility of the Uniform Definition


For example, would you judge the fitness of multi-olympic Gold Medalist swimmer Micheal Phelps by his fortitude on a balance beam? Or the fitness Gold Medalist Gymnast Simone Biles on the weight she can deadlift? Or the fitness of World’s Strongest Man competition winner Brian Shaw by how fast he can run a half-marathon? No, that’s ludicrousness!

“For a fair selection everybody has to take the same exam: Please climb that tree.”

It reminds me of this quote from Albert Einstein:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” 


So, is there such a thing as “fit”? No, not in general. But, you can be “fit” for a certain role or task. I guess I am just not as “fit” for running half-marathons as I was in previous years. C’est la vie.

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