Defining ‘Fitness’

Defining ‘Fitness’ for yourself can be what makes all the difference…

How we define Health and Fitness, and how we embrace these definitions in our day to day lives can be what makes positive, sustainable and lasting change for ourselves, and the lives of those we surround ourselves with.

When I was 6 or 7, I remember spending all day sifting through the tall grass on our farm in search of a four leaf clover.  With which, I would make three very important wishes.  I remember finally finding one, or at least, convincing myself I had found one, and began to list what was most important to me, at the time.

Wish 1: I want to be the strongest person in the world.

Wish 2: I want dinosaurs to be alive!

Wish 3: … I did not get to make wish 3, as my dad ushered me into the car for something he deemed more important.

Before leaving in the car, I left the clover in a special place, intending to return for my final wish. I remember telling my father about my wishes thus far.  He shared his concerns on both of them with me.

Wish 1: I don’t know if you want to be the strongest person in the world son, they are often too inflexible to do anything functional in regular life, they may look good with all their muscle, but you won’t even be able to reach your nose! I deliberated this for a while, and we settled on me being the strongest boy in the world as a suitable adjustment.

Wish 2: I don’t know if having dinosaurs alive would be the best thing either, my boy. With dinosaurs running around we would always be having to hide, or protect ourselves from being eaten.  We are the top of the food chain right now, life would be pretty challenging if we weren’t. Again, I considered these points, and decided that for my third wish, I would undo this request, and adjust my first wish…

… Unfortunately, when I got home, I never did find that clover again, so my third wish never happened. Perhaps I can attribute my sustained strength to his fact, also, if the dinosaur thing ever eventuates, I guess you know who to blame…

Unbeknownst to me at the time, our discussions around my first wish were quite an influential moment in my ever evolving understanding of strength, how it contributes to fitness and that actually what I wanted wasn’t just to be strong, but to be fit. 

Growing up as a young boy in the 80’s and 90’s, ‘strong’ was muscle bound, bodybuilding physiques we saw in Stallone and Arnold on screen, or through Lex Luger and the Ultimate Warrior in the WWF. Fitness was more about how fast you were (Speed), and/or how long you could go for (Stamina).  You might have a strong fit person, or a fit strong person, but they were two separate adjectives. Whether or not you were flexible, wasn’t even in the same discussion. The rest of CrossFit’s 10 General Physical Skills weren’t even on my radar.

Crossfit has built its trademark on refining fitness. See an early article by Greg Glassman from 2002 here.

As outlined in their Level 1 study guide found here, Crossfit will measure Fitness across a 2 dimensional X and Y axis, as above. Where the X axis represents the duration of the effort (Time) and the Y axis represents the amount of output (Power) generated. This combination of Power over Time is your ability to do Work and the average of these efforts across broad time and modal domains is your Work Capacity.  

In order to complete more Work, we need to move efficiently, across a full range of motion using our body as effectively as possible to generate the most power possible for the intended movement we are completing. We need to do this fast, and be able to sustain this for as long as possible, minimizing mechanical breakdown. This can be applied to everything we do in sport, and in life. What is Fitness? Well it is directly related to your Work Capacity, why wouldn’t we define ‘Fitness’ this way!?

In an effort to define ‘Health’, Crossfit have added a 3rd dimension to the graph representing Age. In the same way we can build Work Capacity across broad time and modal domains at a particular point in our lives, we can build Health Capacity across our life span by building and maintaining our Work Capacity as we age.  As I get older and now have children of my own, this is what has been the more recent evolution in my appreciation for what it means to be ‘fit and healthy’.

Another defining moment from my youth which contributed to my understanding and passion for defining and achieving health and fitness came when I was 11.  My father was a wonderful storyteller, and my friends and I would often revel in the tales of his exploits as an adolescent.  Whether it was stories of performing front flips in bars for free beer, free diving into quarries to avoid a confrontation from his ex girlfriend, or building their own skateboards to ‘land surf’ down hills, I was always in awe of his exploits.  That was, until the day my friend and I came home with my own skateboard, and my father decided to give it a go. 

These graphs are from an interesting article published on the Crossfit website found here which explores the notion of how we lose fitness capacity as we age. The more consistently we can continue training our Work Capacity, and the higher level of training we can attain, and maintain, the more we can mitigate this loss in performance. But, more importantly as noted in Figure 3 we can also alter our training to move up a level of fitness at any time. 

My father did not train his Fitness Capacity, in fact, by that point in my life, he had been ‘Untrained’ for at least 10 years.  The moment he took his weight off the ground and transferred it to the skateboard, he toppled, crashing onto his wrist, injuring himself, but also destroying the legend he had created in my imagination through the stories he shared. When initially handing my dad the skateboard, I had imagined in that moment, for him to be able to take it and cruise around as he told us he could in his youth. Immediately, for me, the credibility of his stories diminished and I never listened to them with the same unquestioning reverence as I had before.  

Similarly to our father/son discussion regarding 6 year old Craig’s wish to be the ‘Strongest Person in the World’, another seed had been planted at this moment. I do not want to just be a father with the stories of his youth. I want to showcase what fitness can be, I want to experience the full potential of human movement with my children. I want them to see me active, to see that play is not just something an adult talks about doing when they were younger. I want to inspire my kids, and I want to be a participant in their active lives, not just an observer. 

Revisiting the 3 dimensional graph depicting health. The better we eat and recover, and the more consistently and effectively we can train our Work Capacity, as we get older, the greater our overall health, and conversely the less likely we are to die from disease. Ultimately, I want to be seen through my children’s eyes to enjoy the life I am living right now, and I want to be around to see my children become parents themselves and to experience the joy of being a grandparent. A dream which neither my father, or my mother were fortunate enough to experience themselves.

So, when you see me giving everything I have in a workout, you would be wrong to think my only motivation is to win, although that is always nice! There are far more intrinsic layers beneath that single extrinsic factor driving me to do as well as I can in that present moment. 

That’s a little bit behind what drives me. My hope is that it helps contribute to what drives you too!

Craig Halonen – Coach – H1 CrossFit