Body image has been a hot topic over the past several years. Recently, many companies have run advertising campaigns to promote healthy body types in reaction to the extremely thin models who have been so prevalent in the media.
The recent video of dancer Misty Copeland has had a huge impact on the dance world and has made us think about the concept of an ideal dancer’s body. I remember not too long ago, when “athletic body type” was considered a euphemism for “thick” or “heavyset.” I hope you agree that while Misty is certainly athletic, she is neither thick nor heavyset.
Beyond the notion of an ideal body type, I’ve recently been thinking about the concept of fitness. I blame this partly on recently reading The Sports Gene by David Epstein, and also having just returned from a continuing education class filled with practitioners who each work with a different clientele, including college athletes, golfers, yoga practitioners, and the general population, some more active than others. As I thought about the baseball pitchers, cyclists, runners, and CrossFit participants with whom we each work, I could easily identify ways they are fit, but I also thought of areas where they may be deficient. I began to wonder about fitness.
When someone is decribed as “fit”, what does that really mean? Does it mean the same thing to everyone? There are different dictionary definitions of fitness, some of which brought a smile to my face:
1. The condition of being physically fit and healthy (I’m going to need a little more here…).
2. Good health or physical condition, especially as the result of exercise and proper nutrition (ok, we may be getting somewhere…).
3. The capacity of an organism to survive and transmit its genotype to reproductive offspring as compared to competing organisms (well….I bet you know plenty of people who have the capacity to transmit their genotype to reproductive offspring who you would not call fit).
So, we’re back to the drawing board with defining fitness.
Is a body builder with bulging biceps and massive quads more fit than a marathon runner?
Is Tiger Woods more fit than Serena Williams or Michael Phelps?
What does it mean to be fit? Ah…what I would do to take a camera out onto the streets of San Francisco and ask people this question (stay tuned…).
As we think about each of the athletes and their respective sports, it quickly becomes clear that fitness is hard to define and describe. While the bodybuilder might have larger muscles that allow him to lift heavy weights, the marathon runner would certainly show greater cardiovascular endurance across those 26.2 miles. Tiger Woods and Serena Williams both demonstrate amazing muscular development and precise hand-eye coordination, but if he had to run around the golf course like she does the tennis court, could Tiger keep up with Serena? Michael loves the game of golf and, like Tiger, has an amazingly strong core, yet I wouldn’t want either one of them representing the other’s sport in competition.
This is an important topic to me both personally and in my work with athletes of all ages, skill levels, shapes and sizes. To me, there is no one definition of fitness. I believe that fitness is a balanced combination of strength, stability, balance, flexibility, and endurance…and maybe even mindfulness. What the general population thinks of as an ideal of fitness may actually be a person who excels in the sport in which they train, but has severe and potentially harmful imbalances in some of the categories mentioned above. The fittest people with whom I work are those who enjoy a variety of exercise and sporting activities. These are the folks who are rarely in our studio for treatment, except for the occasional tune up after having changed their routine. Often, the people who appear most physically fit are those who are plagued with injuries related to imbalances in overall fitness.
I’ve learned that there is no one ideal body type just as there may be different ideas of fitness. I encourage my clients to be successful in their rehab and develop and improve their fitness by recommending a three key steps:
1. Move well and move often.
2. Find something you enjoy doing.
3. Mix up your routine—your body will thank you for it.
So, what does fitness mean to you?
And, in case you were wondering where “Fit as a fiddle” came from…