I was preparing to leave the gym after a sweat-producing workout the other day. I gave my forehead one last wipe with the bottom of my t-shirt. In the act, I exposed my midsection. When I dropped my shirt, I heard someone say, “You’re pretty fit!” How did he know (yes, sadly, it was a “he”)?
Confession: I’m the least active I’ve been, perhaps, in my entire adult life. (Shh, tell no one.) That doesn’t mean I’m the least fit (but it might), nor does it mean I’m the fattest (as evidenced by the gym-goer’s comment). Am I fit? God, I sure hope so.
This gym-goer assumed I was fit because he could see what is, admittedly, a well-defined midsection. So, to him, is lean fit? What are other people’s definitions of fit? What’s yours?
The ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) measures physical fitness by assessing the following five components: body composition, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, and muscular endurance. Based on these criteria, I’ve maintained some level of fitness throughout my life. But by default, i.e., my genetics, training, and nutrition, my definition of fit has constantly changed and evolved—based upon my goals, my health challenges, my life, and my priorities. It had me thinking, when have I been my most fit? Am I there now?
At the age of 18, I reported to basic training at Ft. Benning, GA. I remember taking my first APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test). The drill sergeant—whose likeness to Samuel L. Jackson’s was uncanny—testing my sit-ups said to me something like this: “As skinny as you are, you should be able to do a lot of sit-ups (which is a measure of muscular endurance)!” I needed 52 to pass. I did 24. Fail. I needed 42 push-ups (muscular strength and endurance). I did 12. One bright spot, of the 120 soldiers with whom I trained, I ran two miles (cardiovascular endurance) faster than any of them. By the end of basic training and AIT (Advanced Individual Training), I could do 62 and 52, respectively. And my two-mile time was now the sixth fastest. Was I fit?
At the age of 24, I was a full-time personal trainer, and in the last year of my enlistment. We did physical fitness testing, following the guidelines set by the ACSM. I could still do as many push-ups and sit-ups, if not more, and I was now six years into weightlifting, which resulted in a greater increase in muscular strength. What I couldn’t do was touch my toes. It was painful just to sit with my hips against the wall, legs extended. I was still running. As a matter of fact, I ran my first marathon that year, completing it in a time of 4:41:52. Was I fit?
At the age of 34, I was now a self-proclaimed marathoner. Save first entering basic training, I was nearly the lightest (but not necessarily the leanest) and weakest of my adult life. My fingers had yet to meet my toes. I was lifting, but for cross-training purposes to support my running, which was taking 5-10 additional hours weekly to complete. It was this year, 2011, that I completed the St. Louis Marathon in a time of 3:09:40. Was I fit?
At the age of 39, I’m now a husband, father, coach, business owner, and fitness enthusiast. I’m again stronger than I was at 34, but not as strong as I was just two years ago when I weighed in at my heaviest and fattest at nearly 200 pounds. I never run more than a few hundred meters at a time, which may or may not have resulted in a loss of cardiovascular endurance (I just know I couldn’t run a marathon under a half a day, currently). I no longer “train” the sit-up, so I’ve no idea how many I can do, but I’d guess not many since it’s a very specific movement to train. It has been only within the last year, through purposeful training, that I can now comfortably touch my toes. Regarding my body composition, I’m nearly the leanest, if not the leanest, I’ve been, ever, in my adult life. So, am I fit?
If instead of opening Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, I was to open your dictionary, would your photo be next to your definition of fitness? If not, why not?
If, to you, being fit is seeing your abs, are your training and nutrition helping you achieve that? If being fit is running a sub-30-minute 5k, are your training and nutrition doing that? If being fit is lifting your body weight from your chest or floor, are your training and nutrition reflecting that?
I guess I never really shared my definition of fitness, did I? Well, I want my training to address and improve the five components of fitness, as measured by the ACSM. Here’s the cool thing about purposeful exercise and supportive nutrition. If you do it, improved health and fitness will happen. It need not be perfect, just consistent. And if you do it long enough, well enough, maybe someday someone will take notice and say, “You’re pretty fit!” . . . even if it is just some dude at the gym.
*The only records I have of my APFT are what (and how) I remember them to be, so they may be inaccurate. More “ballpark” than actual. My marathon race times are accurate. I make note of this in case I ever decide to run for political office. I don’t want anyone saying, “He lied about his APFT results.”