I was told by a very wise teacher at school that the starting point for any essay is to define the key terms, so I suppose when starting out a blog, project, business, whatever, it is important to define what it is you are planning to do. In my first blog post I defined the aims and intention of this blog, essentially improving humans fitness, however the concept of fitness itself remained undefined. Various dictionaries provide definitions for fitness along the lines of “the condition of being physically fit and healthy” But what does that really mean?
I had a cold last week, more specifically man-flu, for anyone who has had the misfortune to suffer such condition, I feel for you. I felt run down, miserable, I made it through hundreds of tissues, complained endlessly, and spent more time than I usually do in bed. I felt unhealthy. At the same time I had a resting heart rate of around about 45bpm, could run a 10k with little effort, lift 150kg off the ground, do a series of pull ups, and touch my toes, so I’d like to say that I consider myself physically fit. So by the dictionary definition I met one criteria but not the other. So do I have fitness? well to establish whether I do or not, we need to obtain a better definition as to what fitness is.
Crossfit has done fantastic things in the world of health and fitness, one of such things is to attempt to provide a definition and measurement of fitness. It defines, quite nicely, fitness as “work capacity across a broad range of time and modal domains.” let’s break that down.
Work capacity, the ability to do work, is essentially power output. Power can be exerted in a multitude of different ways for example a Cyclists will gauge their power output by measuring the wattage at which they are cycling to determine the effort they are putting in at that present time or simply the work they are doing.
When we think of power in terms of physical effort, we often think of strength. A powerful athlete is strong, dynamic and can exert a large force, whether that force be pushing or pulling an object (the object may be distinct from the body, or indeed the body itself). The association between power and strength is for very good reason, just ask Isaac Newton. Power, in Newtonian physics equals Work / Time. Work is force, applied over a distance, so the powerful athlete in the small distance domain, such as the distance it requires to move from a squat position to a standing position, is one who can apply a great force i.e move a greater load. But this application of force relating to strength only really applies in the small distance domain, such as the domain just described. Which brings us onto the second part of the Crossfit definition “across a broad range of time and modal domains.”
As a side note, it is interesting as to why Crossfit opted for “time domains” rather than “distance domains” I suppose it makes measurement easier. for static movements. Before every workout involving squats, who wants to go round the class measuring the distance the bar is to travel from the bottom to the top of the squat position, multiply that by the number of repetitions, and record the distance the bar has travelled in a given time, rather than just the number of reps in a given time? In not doing so, it does give the shorter athlete a slightly unfair advantage, but that all changes when we consider leverage…but I digress.
A broad range of time domains, in this context, means the ability of a person to do work over varying amounts of time.
Crossfit is a class based experience (in that it is in a class environment, lesson, coach etc. I do not mean social hierarchy) it is limited by the time people are willing to invest in the experience given the multitude of other commitments people have in their daily lives, so a class is generally an hour-long. This means that a workout is rarely more than 45 minutes, given that a warm up, stretch, cool down, and a workout brief should also fit into the hour. when looking at competitive Crossfit workouts, from the games, regionals etc. this 45 minutes maximum rule also seems applicable. Personally I think this is the major flaw, not of Crossfit’s definition, but by Crossfit’s implementation of its definition. 3 minutes to 45 minutes for a workout, is not that ‘broad’.
When you think of fitness, people often directly associate fitness with endurance. We think of marathon runners, or iron distance triathletes as the fittest people on earth. Crossfit’s definition and methodology values endurance, but not that highly it seems. As a hypothetical example, if you took the great Great British distance runner Mo Farah, and threw him in as a guest at the Crossfit games, he would undoubtedly come last, and come last in every singe event, his domain is limited to running, using his own body weight and over exceptionally long distances, whereas an Olympic weightlifter, let’s say Dimitri Klokov, would almost certainly win a few events at the games, as there are often one rep max events and single modality Olympic lifts. Olympic weightlifters are also incredible dynamic fast and agile, so may win other events which test these skills too. By many measurable parameters Mo Farah is fitter, he probably has a lower resting heart rate, he can exert power (do work) over exceptionally long periods of time (certainly more than 45 minutes) and by the man in the street definition, having the greatest endurance capacity is probably one of the fittest in the world.
On to the final component, ‘modal domains’ what does that mean? Well Mo Farah who we just touched on, is an exceptional runner, running is one modal domain, one very important domain, but can only really be considered one, and fairly limited at that insofar as the stride length is limited, it is linear, single directional and many parts of the body remain locked in position eg. the spine, the elbow etc. Modal domains are the various ways, in various directions, the body can move to exert force (do work). Another way of looking at it is the movement of a joint propelled by muscle power in any direction.
The body has an almost infinite number of ways it can move. My personal favorite practitioner of human movement is Ido Portal. The man can move in ways not many people would have thought possible, this serving a great function of exercising the widest range of muscle fibers possible. I don’t really have much of a critique of this aspect of the definition, exercising as many muscle fibers, in as wide a variety of ways is a hugely important component of any definition of fitness, so well done Crossfit on that one.
These factors are components of the physical aspects of fitness. But fitness can also be viewed in the contexts of fitness for purpose which leads to a more philosophical component of fitness – what is the human purpose, and therefore how can fitness be applied to the successful undertaking of the human purpose.
To look at this, Merriam Webster provides an interesting definition of fitness as being: “the capacity of an organism to survive and transmit its genotype to reproductive offspring as compared to competing organisms.” So a fit human is one that can reproduce, and not die. A fairly sound and reasonable biological purpose to human existence. The expression ‘survival of the fittest’ comes to mind in this regard.
The obvious issue with this is that it does not eliminate the plethora of variables which should be considered in the ability of humans to reproduce and not die, so physical fitness is not viewed in isolation.
They say that Genghis Khan had over 500 wives and consorts, and his immediate offspring could be in the region of the 1000’s. Interestingly, there is a huge amount of evidence to suggest that there are millions of people currently living in Northern/Central Asia who are descendent from Ganghis Khan, so he is obviously demonstrated his capacity (for his genes) to survive. So Genghis was undoubtedly a fit human. However, some factors to this equation should be eliminated to bring us to a suitable definition for physical fitness, such as the use of force (either personal or that of an army), to impose yourself on the opposite sex against their will, or non-physical factors such as social status or wealth.
Humans have the uncanny ability to perceive the health of others, and this perception of health or fitness, is actually what we consider to be attraction. When you see an attractive person, the signal ‘they are attractive’ your brain receives, actually means ‘that person would be useful in fulfilling my biological purpose of transmitting my genes to ensure their survival.’ Why is a slim body on a female more attractive that an overweight one? Well being overweight presents fertility issues – lower chance of reproduction. Why is a muscular physique on a man desirable? Well they appear to possess the strength to fend off attackers – less chance of dying. Keeping in mind the principle from the outset of this blog that to understand a species you have to understand the environment in which the species evolved. Being strong and muscular was very useful in the environment in which we humans evolved and therefore is desirable to our subconscious minds.
There are many other issues this definition presents, which are beyond the scope of this blog posts, so please wait for future posts on ‘fitness, survival and beauty’ and ‘survival and sexuality’ which will hopefully cover issues on evolutionary health which address apparent inconsistencies in the theory that to be fit is to be good at surviving through generations.
The ability of a species to survive, is also in its ability to adapt. The world is ever-changing, so equally I should be prepared to change the subject of this blog, maybe it should be called “how to human – a guide on how to improve the things humans genes were required to do in order to survive the conditions humans evolved in” or “sex, pull ups and not dying”. I think both still need work.
In conclusion, it seems that for now, we can settle on the definition that physical fitness is ultimately “the ability to do physical work appropriate for human gene survival.” The goal of this project is therefore to improve the humans ability to do physical work which is appropriate for humans gene survival.
More to come….