WHAT IS FITNESS
For CrossFit the idea of leading a fitness program without clearly defining what it is that the program delivers is nothing short of negligence. The absence of a definitive authority has therefore necessitated that CrossFit’s directors provide their own definition of fitness. CrossFit makes use of three different models for evaluating and guiding fitness. There is a fourth model that gives us a framework to compare the results of any fitness program to another. Collectively, these three standards define the CrossFit view of fitness. The first is based on ten general physical skills widely recognized by exercise physiologists. The second standard is based on an individual’s performance in a broad range of unknown tasks, while the third is based on the energy systems that drive all human action. The fourth model was added in order to validate our program efficacy against all other programs. It is important for any program to establish results that are measurable, observable, and repeatable over the course of one’s life. This means we are seeking not only to produce the greatest results for the greatest number of people, but also that these results could be had at any age, and approached from any starting point.
Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy make up the ten skills in which we seek to competency. You are only as fit as you are competent in each of these ten skills. A regimen develops fitness to the extent that it improves all ten skills. Improvements in endurance, stamina, strength, and flexibility come about through training. Training refers to activity that creates a measurable organic change in the body. Improvements in coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy come about through practice. Practice refers to activity that affects the nervous system. Power and speed are hybrid adaptations of both training and practice.
This theoretical model views that fitness as performing well at any possible task. Picture a hopper loaded with an infinite number of physical challenges, and being asked to perform feats randomly drawn from the hopper. This model suggests that your fitness can be measured by your capacity to perform well at these tasks in relation to other individuals. The implication here is that fitness requires an ability to perform well at all tasks, even unfamiliar ones. Nature frequently provides largely unforeseeable challenges and rewards those most who are ready for anything. We choose not to specialize in a single area because this would dangerously impair our capacity in other areas. You can imagine how a swimming race with Michael Phelps would go or a tennis match with Serena Williams. I would bet on myself against Phelps on the tennis court and Serena in the pool. It is common knowledge that black people can’t swim, but what we will probably see in Phelps is a severe deficiencies in agility, coordination, accuracy, and balance since they aren’t tested in the pool.
Three metabolic pathways provide the energy for all human action. These “metabolic engines” are known as the phosphagen pathway, the glycolytic pathway, and the oxidative pathway. The phosphagen, dominates the highest-powered activities, those that last less than about ten seconds. The glycolytic, dominates moderate-powered activities, those that last up to several minutes. The oxidative, also known as the aerobic pathway, dominates low-powered activities, those that last in excess of several minutes and up to several hours. Total fitness, the fitness that CrossFit promotes and develops, requires competency and training in each of these three pathways or engines. Balancing the effects of these three pathways largely determines the how and why of the metabolic conditioning or “cardio” that we do at CrossFit. Favoring one or two to the exclusion of the others and not recognizing the impact of excessive training in the aerobic pathway are arguably the two most common faults in fitness training.
If we take any individual and have them perform a series of tasks at various time intervals we are able to clearly chart their output. We can measure how much work in physical terms they are able to accomplish in seconds, minutes, hours or any variable time constraint. If we plot this data using time and power we can see effectively what an athletes work capacity is by measuring the area under this curve. We can turn this object into a relevant 3-D picture by adding a third axis along which we plot age. At any age we can then graph work capacity and as the years go by and the data pool grows we have a very powerful three-dimensional picture of someone’s work capacity not just across broad time and modal domains but also over the course of their life. Fitness is no longer a term applied to athletes, but to everyone. Each person should seek the program that produces the greatest increase in work capacity as well as has the ability to produce those results at ever stage of life. CrossFit boasts a regimen that delivers the highest level of fitness to any individual with this fourth model we can examine this claim against the claims of any other program.
The term “fitness” isn’t meaningful to everyone. “Healthy” or “well” are terms that carry much greater emotional significance. Healthy is associated with quality of life so it would follow that we should strive for the highest level of health that we can achieve. We have observed that nearly every measurable value of health can be placed on a continuum moving from sick to well. We believe that fitness lies on that same continuum beyond wellness. An example of these three points on the continuum is blood pressure. Blood pressure of 160/95 is pathological, 120/70 is normal or healthy, and 105/55 is consistent with an elite athlete; for a female, body fat of 40% is linked to high risk of numerous diseases, 20% is normal or healthy, and 10% is associated with fitness. (Though tougher to measure, we would even add mental health to this observation. Depression can be mitigated by proper diet and exercise, i.e., genuine fitness.) We observe a similar ordering for bone density, triglycerides, muscle mass, flexibility, HDL or “good cholesterol”, resting heart rate, and dozens of other common measures of health. Many authorities (e.g. Mel Siff, the NSCA) make a clear distinction between health and fitness. Frequently they cite studies that suggest that the fit may not be health protected. A close look at the supporting evidence invariably reveals the studied group is endurance athletes and, we suspect, endurance athletes on a dangerous fad diet (high carb, low fat, low protein). Done right, fitness provides a great margin of protection against the ravages of time and disease. Where you find otherwise examine the fitness protocol, especially diet. Fitness is and should be “super-wellness.” Sickness, wellness, and fitness are measures of the same entity. A fitness regimen that doesn’t support health is not CrossFit. (Glassman, CrossFit Journal 2) If your program isn’t consistently pushing you further along the path to fitness it may be time to consider a change. Find out more about getting started with CrossFit.