Defining fitness


What the heck is this thing we call fitness? That thought was going through my mind this morning as I was completing my semiannual physical readiness test. This is comprised of 2 minutes of maximum reps of sit-ups, 2 minutes of maximum reps of push-ups, and a 1.5 mile timed run. I did great in the sit-ups, not bad in the push-ups, and passed, but slowly in the run. While many people would consider this fine for a surgeon (most of us medical types are not out on the front lines), and many more people figure out the bare minimum they need to do to avoid the “Fitness Enhancement Program” and just do that, I have always striven to give 100%. I want to leave everything I have out there. That way I know what my capabilities are and I do not have to be embarrassed about my effort.

But why is it that I can engage in a variety of CrossFit workouts that would make most people bail out, lead the pack on a few, trail on some, but keep up, and yet I do not crush this PRT the way I would expect I should? I think it is because there is more to fitness than general physical preparedness (GPP). Actually, a better argument is that I am not generally physically prepared (exhibit A being my PRT performance) and therefore I have not been training optimally for my body and my life. The model says that if I work out correctly, eat correctly, and rest correctly, my body should respond by getting leaner, stronger, faster, and more powerful (and more flexible, coordinated, and all of the other modes that the CrossFit founders focused on). I have seen CrossFit work for so many fellow athletes, but for me personally, it has not had the overall effect I would have wished for. That is what I want to talk about today.

First, a few comments.

Understanding all of these principles and knowing how to train is not easy. Many very smart people have dedicated their lives to it. That is why I have two coaches. My head coach at my CrossFit gym programs the general workouts, but given my deployment schedule (frequently out of town for a week or two, a month or two, or longer), I needed someone who could help me navigate fitness in a constantly changing environment. That is where coach Chris comes in. He lives the same lifestyle and has been responsible for training some of the most elite warrior athletes in the world. So he gets it. Not everyone is so lucky as to have these kinds of resources. This brings me to my first principle.

Principle #1. It is not laziness if you do not know what you are doing. This is one area that really upsets me. I see so much lack of fitness around me, but I know that many of those people are not intentionally avoiding what they know works. They have given up. They have in many cases tried some form of fitness or diet strategy and either seen no progress or have been unable to sustain it. In other cases, they never found the way to fitness at all. While I certainly do not feel that giving up is the right answer, I understand why people do. The answers, while straightforward, are certainly not simple in that they often run counter to our natural tendencies…especially in the modern era of instant gratification. The idea of putting in small, consistent deposits and eventually reaping a reward is becoming a very foreign concept in our society. That having been said, the secret truly lies in consistency and making small improvements over time.

A second comment is more about my background. What have I tried, and why do I think it has not worked yet? The short answer to the second question, especially if you ask my wife, who is also a CrossFit coach, is that I have not stayed with something long enough to really give it a chance. I have dabbled with working out at various times throughout my life but my first forays into CrossFit started in 2007, in the fall, after reading an article in a Navy Reservist magazine about special operations fitness. They mentioned as a popular site for a short duration varied workout. I tried it and was hooked. The first couple of years I spent just doing the best I could at my home gym. Once I graduated in 2010 and moved to Virginia, I joined a gym briefly, but was out at sea so often that I had a hard time developing any momentum. In 2011 we moved to upstate New York and I joined another terrific gym, but the workload during fellowship limited my ability to work out. Finally, in 2013, we came back to Virginia, found our current home gym of CrossFit Great Bridge, and I started developing some momentum working out there. Early in 2014, I deployed to Afghanistan, and again struggled to maintain consistency. I had several gyms to choose from, but not having the community made it easy to grow complacent, or if I was working out, to not push myself as much as I could have. The result was that 2014 was not a great year for fitness. During 2015, I was in and out of town a great deal due to working with the new team I am now part of, and again, I found it difficult to maintain that consistency. And while it was challenging to be consistent with workouts, it was even harder to be consistent with eating habits. Sleep considerations had not even occurred to me yet.

Just before I deployed a second time to Afghanistan in late 2015, I joined CrossFit Fort Bragg as a drop-in guest. I got the chance to meet Dan, a prior special operations guy, who later introduced me to his business partner Chris, also a guy from that community. They talked to me about training for “tactical fitness” and that caught my attention. The other thing that was appealing is that this is all done remotely, on-line. Chris and I talk almost daily over text, email, and occasionally the phone. He programs based on what I have available in my environment. If I am at home and want to do 2 – 3 CrossFit workouts at my home box because I like the programming and I love working out with my friends, he works that in to the plan. If I am out of town, he will program workouts based on what I have available. If I am stuck in a tent in some small country somewhere, he will come up with a plan using sandbags and rocks, most likely. But I have a partner in this effort who knows me, knows my weaknesses, and can keep me on track.

So this brings me back to the original question. What is fitness? And am I there yet?

A good place to start, in my opinion, is  definition put out by Greg Glassman.

The idea is that fitness is a measure of the ability of the individual to meet any physical demand presented while maintaining good overall health and wellness. This method of achieving fitness can be summarized thus: focus on improving in the ten major categories of movements, prepare for meeting unexpected challenges by challenging your body in unexpected ways, and train all of the energy systems, focusing more on the short, high-intensity intervals.

Am I there yet? No way. I sent coach Chris a text today with my PRT results and he asked me to send him all of my results. I looked them up and made a table which I then sent back to him. In doing so, I noticed a few things. My core strength as measured by sit-ups is great and has been so for awhile. My upper body strength as measured by push-ups is not bad, also about where it has been for awhile. My run time slightly improved in the past six months but is up from a few years ago, as is my weight and body fat estimate. What this tells me is that my body composition has gone the wrong way which has definitely impacted my cardio endurance and possibly my upper body strength.

So how do I attack these problems? My plan is to train with intensity, improve my sleep to ensure that I can bring that intensity, and optimize my nutrition to support these efforts.

More to follow on nutrition.


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