With so many sports and physical activities in the world being created we have come to a situation where it is becoming harder and harder to define what real fitness is. This paper will cover the concept in its holistic term.
Read time : 7 minutes.
Defining the concept.
Fitness by definition is the ability to FIT into a situation or circumstance. It can be applied to any role we have to take up in life wether that be parenthood, a profession or a hobby.
However when we think of the word the first thing that comes into our mind are athletes They are very fit and their performance of highest quality.
All of those individuals are not created equal. There is sports specific fitness – cycling, weightlifting, soccer etc. All demand different energy systems, skills and movement patterns.
Therefore there isn’t a clear cut way or a blueprint for fitness that applies to everyone. By definition it is a relative concept. Put the same person to another sport and they may not be as great. They lack the fitness so to say.
That is the problem with specialized fitness. They make people fit for only their activity – the moment when they snatch the weight over their head or transition from swimming to cycling in a triathlon.
These approaches are worthwhile only for professionals – who get paid to do so. They are put into these situations because of their love for that activity or the money. Is it wrong? Definately not. They are fit for their sport and role and that is what matters.
However such specialization is not what our bodies were made for. We were made to be generalists not specialists.
The environment in which our ancestors lived did not favour big muscles of the bodybuilders or the ability to do backflips like gymnasts. We didn’t get to choose something to become great at.
There isn’t one specific thing our bodies are made to do. Unlike fish we can move around in water aswell as on land. We are great runners, climbers, sprinters, throwers, crawlers, swimmers, jumpers, we have both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems which we can use in certain situations – we thrive to a certain extent in all of those things.
Fitness in the savannah meant to be able to do everything. Each situation and circumstance was different requiring various skills and capabilities from the body.
A hunter didn’t give up the chase after his anaerobic limits had been reached like the cheetah does. Instead our ancestors continued their pursuit until the animal was caught. It demanded a lot of endurance from us to which we conditioned ourselves with. It wasn’t voluntary but something we had to adapt to.
In other situations we had to be more flexible – when climbing trees to gather food. Or more explosive when sprinting away from predators. Or strong when lifting boulders and logs.
Traditionally the ancestors of our species were jacks of all trades.
Our current situation.
In our contemporary society we have deviated from such holistic abilities. Our environment doesn’t demand a generalised approach. We don’t have to run after dinner and climb around trees all at the same time. Frankly not even ever. We can even get away with doing no physical activity at all.
It has allowed us to specialize. There are numerous sport activites that have been created. All are distinctive from one another and require different abilities from us creating a situation where we are fit for only specific circumstances.
Fitness to me is not only the ability to run a marathon, deadlift 600 pounds, or do backflips EXCLUSIVELY. Infact it is all of them combined – the ability to do all of those things to a certain extent.
It is not possible to excel at any of them at once – to be a world class cyclist and at the same time an Olympic weightlifter or a gymnast. It is the price we have to pay when specializing. Again there is nothing wrong with that. The professionals are still moving and being healthy – at the end of the day that’s all that matters.
What fitness really is.
If we were to use only the word fitness without anything preceding it like acrobatic or strongman then it is a holistic term. The ability to be explosive, enduring, resillent, strong, flexible etc. – all of those things.
It entails following the footsteps of our ancestors and being jacks of all trades. This approach is not advisable for someone with professional ambitions. Mastery requieres specialization.
But mastery isn’t the purpose of fitness – it is about appropriateness to any role we are thrown into. Not falling from trees because of weak grip strength and shoulder mobility nor drowning because we don’t know how to swim.
Again there isn’t nothing wrong with sport specific fitness but excelling at only some activities while failing at others isn’t ideal aswell.
To be honest it doesn’t matter for survival because our environment isn’t as demanding as it used to be but by following specialization we are neglecting a whole lot. We are deviating from the other end of the spectrum or much rather what makes up the whole of it – generalization.
This means being strong, enduring, flexible, explosive, agile, mobile, resillent, well coordinated, balanced – all of the things that can be described as physical fitness.
The purpose of a holistic approach.
What is this all about then?
It is not a manifesto to stop professional sports specific activities.
Nor is it an attempt to claim that specialized athletes are lesser of human beings.
Or that their mastery in one area necessarily means incompetence in others (a lot of the strongman activities requier both power and endurance).
Instead what I am trying to convey is that fitness in the real world doesn’t put us into a box or a competition. The situations we encounter are not being supervised by judges or spectators. There are no weightclasses or rules in the jungle so to say.
Traditionally being fit was detrimental to survival. Without it the one would die of hunger or to predators.
However in today’s environment where all of that isn’t requiered (a big pitfall of the society) physical activity has become a means of health. There are several paths to reaching this goal.
Wether that would be cycling or weightlifting – they all promote vitality in their own way. There are several paths to this. We have the opportunity to choose according to our liking. Fitness ought not to be a chore but something we enjoy.
- Specialization comes with a cost – it makes some edges of the diamond more pristine than others.
- Generalisation also comes with a cost – it makes the diamond all around smooth but not one edge is more profound than the other. They are all similar yet beautiful.
The purpose of holistic fitness is to not specialize but generalize. It means that we are great at everything but experts of none. It doesn’t entail professionalism but the ability to manage at any situation we are thrown into. Moreover it means that we are masters of our own bodies not one activity – the foundation of self-empowerment.
Following ancestral generalization.
If by now you have created a desire to break free from the modern and imprisoning gyms then continue reading. Information on how to become a generalist will be shared.
Generalisation doesn’t mean that you have to pick up any sport imaginable – this is not the purpose and is counterproductive. There are far too many activities out there and doing all of them will yield no results.
The thing with generalizing is that we can reach mastery to a certain extent even though we are not specializing.
Holistic fitness doesn’t entail the incorporation of different activities that are similar in nature but the usage of all patterns, energy systems, movements, skills etc. Strength, endurance, power can be cultivated in many ways.
Instead we dedicate ourselves to only a few that give us access to holistic fitness. This means doing some sort of work that promotes aerobic aswell as anaerobic conditioning. Moreover not neglecting speed nor flexibility.
With different approaches a lot of these things can be achieved by doing only one activity. That is a pretty good solution – we are getting fit in all areas while at the same time specializing to a certain extent.
However this may lead to pattern overload. To prevent that from happening we need to change things up. To really become a generalized mover we need to actually put our body into new situations. This way we are forcing ourselves to always be adaptable.
So the takeaway would be as follows.
- Pick up an activity that promotes both strength, endurance, power, flexibility – all of them. You can do this by just working differently every time.
- Instead of going for a long run every time do hill sprints. Instead of working in the lower rep range on the squat go a bit higher.
- What is most important is to not follow the same patterns all the time – cultivate strength with weights aswell as with your own body.
Fitness in its holistic term promotes generalization – the ability to be strong, enduring, powerful, flexible, mobile, conditioned, resillent etc.
For our ancestors it was a must for survival. They didn’t get to choose their sport. Being conditoned by their unpredictable environment they had no other option than to adapt to it by generalizing.
Today however we are in a completely different situation. We have the possibility to choose our practice. We can make a decision wether we want to be a specialist or a generalist.
Both approaches promote health and vitality while at the same time have their pros and cons. The former means being a master of one thing while the latter means being great at everything.