Introduction: What is Fitness?

By Alan Frost, updated November, 2013

This section, and in a broader sense this entire site, is all about fitness. But what is fitness exactly?

In this introduction, I am going to try to answer that question, and then I will present the layout of this section. The goal is to provide you with an overview to navigate through our articles, and also to help you on your way towards defining your fitness goals. If you think you do not need to read this, by all means jump right in.

So what is fitness? The word combines two concepts: health and physical performance. However, being "fit" can mean entirely different things to different people. For instance, how often have we heard something like this on television: "Serena is back at the US Open this year, but due to her injury she lacks fitness." In this fictitious scenario, Serena is not considered to be physically fit for her chosen vocation. However, if an office worker had her level of fitness (even right after her injury) he/she would be considered to be exceptionally fit.

What is Fitness? — A Definition

Clearly, how you define fitness would depend on several factors. These are:

  1. Your daily challenges: Whether you are a professional athlete, an accountant, or a postman, fitness will mean something entirely different.
  2. Your age: It goes without saying that fitness is measured differently for a 20 year old than in for 80 year old.
  3. Your gender: Men are naturally stronger on average. Fitness therefore for a man or a woman in terms of physical performance (particularly at the elite level) is defined differently.

I came across a great definition by one of the top experts in fitness and training, Dr. Frederick Hatfield, who said:

"A lay definition of fitness that I think really applies is the ability to meet the exigencies of everyday life with ease... with a little room to spare for emergency situations" (Fred Hatfield speaking at "Condition Unlimited", 1989)

The definition of fitness varies greatly depending on who you are and what you do.

What are the Components of Fitness?

As previously mentioned, fitness has both a health and a performance or skill-based component.

Health factors consist of:

  • Aerobic fitness
  • Muscular fitness
  • Flexibility
  • Body composition

Performance or skill related factors include:

  • Power
  • Agility
  • Speed
  • Reaction time
  • Balance

On What does Fitness Depend?

soccer player

With that in mind, ask yourself what fitness means to you. Going beyond the health aspect, what are the physical demands of your everyday life? Are there things you would like to do in life, from a physical perspective, but cannot? Once you have done that, you are ready to set specific goals.

The last question I want to address is: What are the factors that affect your ability to become fit? Below I have included a few of the most important:

  • Your genetics: The extent to which this influences an individual is debatable, but there is no question that it is a significant factor.
  • Your history: How well or how badly have you been treating your body?
  • Your environment: I.e. all the external conditions that affect your way of life, including climate, access to proper nutrition, pollution, etc.
  • Your motivation: How badly do you want it? How much willpower do you have to make it happen?
  • Personal setbacks: These are factors that may or may not be in your control (or they may be partially in your control). E.g. Injuries, illnesses, etc.
Your ability to attain fitness is affected by your genetics, history, environment, and personal setbacks.

The Fitness Section

The rest of this section will be organized as follows:

The next couple of articles continue the introduction to fitness by looking at the benefits of exercise, your fitness goals, and the different kinds of exercise. Then you will be ready to begin formulating your very own fitness plan.

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