First of all, fitness is not health and it isn’t a measure of attractiveness. Fitness is a word that can be broken down into several components. It is a word that describes a group of components. In exercise terms, we most often describe someone that is fit as someone who is aerobically fit. They might be a good runner, a good cyclist or just someone who doesn’t fatigue easily in a team sport. But aerobic fitness or cardiovascular fitness is only ONE of the 10 commonly recognised components of fitness. The other 9 components are:
- body composition,
- reaction time and
- muscular endurance.
It would be quite rare to find someone who is highly capable in every component of fitness. In fact, to be part of the elite group of athletes that are the best in the world in a chosen sport it can be detrimental to excel in an area that is not in your chosen field. E.g. Sprinters don’t have a much need for muscular endurance or aerobic fitness and too much aerobic training can decrease fast twitch fibres and increase slow twitch fibres, affecting performance.
Therefore, use of the term ‘fit’ should be sport or task-specific. Being fit for a particular activity, depends on what that activity is. A cricketer might require high levels of many of the motor components of fitness: reaction time, balance and agility. They also require many of the physical components like speed and strength but this also depends on their position and role within the team. A marathon runner would have little need for reaction time or agility and only a moderate level of competence when it comes to balance. There modus operandi is aerobic fitness training, recovery, followed by more aerobic fitness training.
Sport scientists have spent years breaking down the physical components of sports to develop typecast shapes and sizes for specific sports performance. Some common examples include:
- Swimmers have a wider arm span than their height:
- Michael Phelps has an arm span 3 inches greater than his height and if you extrapolated his lower body he would only be 5’10” instead of 6’4”. The result is less drag and more pulling power through the water.
- Potential NFL players are put through a range of tests as part of the NFL combine, which is pre-eminent to the NFL draft. You can view the tests here: (http://www.nfl.com/combine/workouts) but they include 40m sprint time (reaction time, power and speed) and vertical jump (strength).
The take home message for all of us is that if you want to be fit, the first question you need to ask yourself is what would you like to be fit for? Once you have decided this, you can then break down the most important components of that sport and train specifically for them. It requires dedication, perseverance and patience. The pay-off is the greatest high you can experience when you see the results of your hard work.
The alternative is to train to improve your all-round fitness and enjoy being physically fit in all of the components of fitness. My advice here would be to combine cardiovascular training, strength training and sport to elicit the best outcomes. This includes training in multi-directions, combining interval training with steady state cardiovascular training and strength work that includes high rep, low set training with low rep, high set training as well as choosing a sport that has a balance and co-ordination component. This is the “Jack of all trades, master of none” approach but it is a lot of fun and provides great variety.