By Kevin Hirose – BHK, CSCS
What is fitness? More importantly, what is your definition of fitness? In my experience, for many people it means being at a particular weight. But what if the person is already at a normal or healthy weight? What’s next? Losing more weight? Is that fitness – becoming as skinny or as light as possible? For some people, it seems like it is. Perhaps this thinking is limited and quite possibly an unhealthy perspective on health and fitness.
Many gyms, certain personal trainers, the media and just society in general focus so much on weight that it becomes the benchmark of health, which it can be for some, especially for people with obesity. However, I believe there is much more to health and fitness than the weight scale. In fact, the gym that I co-own does not emphasize body weight at all, unless requested by the client or an athlete has to make a weight limit for competition. Success in the gym or an “exercise” program can be measured in many other ways that are more important than weight, in many cases. Can you think of other methods that can measure success? Waist measurements? Bigger biceps? Getting a “six-pack”? Those are some that may have come to mind but there are some other important ones I should mention and discuss…
Regardless of age, gender, occupation MOBILITY is vital in the ability to move with adequate Range of Motion (ROM). I mean what is the point of all that strength and/or size built up in the gym when one doesn’t have the ability to bend over to pick something up or reach overhead without major compensation or even injury? Developing or actually restoring mobility is the first thing that I look for in a client or athlete. For example, someone who has limited ROM in their shoulders may not be able to reach overhead or even above their shoulders and therefore may not be functioning well at their job, sport or even their everyday life. Improving ROM of the shoulders and upper back will improve functionality, in addition, reduce the likelihood and severity of injuries of the neck and lower back. Often people will compensate poor shoulder and upper back mobility by using their lower back to create extra ROM and as a result often ending up with recurring lower back issues.
In the world of sports and performance STRENGTH is often vital for success. However, there are many types of strength ranging from maximal strength to speed strength so the type of activity will determine what kind of strength(s) will be necessary for success. For example, maximal strength is absolutely necessary for a sport such as powerlifting, where in the squat, bench press and deadlift the heaviest loads are lifted. Whereas, in Olympic Lifting, the Clean & Jerk and Snatch requires more explosive strength (more SPEED required and more POWER is produced) and the weights lifted are not as heavy as in powerlifting.
Strength is the physical quality which contributes to other physical attributes including speed, agility, and even durability. If you think about it, a weak athlete or person who is will not be as fast, agile or even as durable as a strong athlete, whether the strength is trained or natural. Strength is strength. This also translates to the average person. Stronger people tend to be more functional and healthier than their weaker counterparts because everything physical they do is less of a strain on their system because of their greater strength and often higher energy levels. So it is imperative that one increase strength, especially as one ages, as natural strength levels decrease over time, especially after 50. I think most people need to become stronger in some way, whether it be upper body, lower or pillar (core). And this doesn’t mean everyone needs to become a strong man or powerlifter; they simply need adequate, balanced strength to allow them to comfortably live their life and job, if he or she is still working. A line by strength coach, Mark Rippetoe:
“Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general.”
Nothing could be more true. The bottom line is that improving/maintaining strength is more important for most people than “losing weight”.
Pain and Injury Reduction
Not surprisingly, many adults in the Western Society live in chronic pain and/or have recurring injuries, especially lower back, neck and shoulder due to our lifestyle. Excessive sitting and generally sedentary lifestyles make for a formula for poor posture and chronic pain due to muscle imbalances and asymmetries. Particular muscles become weak and lengthened, while others become overused and shortened often causing muscle and/or joint pain. This also increases the potential for injury in those areas also; this is often seen when an individual begins an exercise routine or does an activity he/she is not accustomed to. Another common sight is that formerly active people return to exercise or sport and don’t understand they aren’t the same person physically they were 10, 7 or even 5 years earlier and push themselves as such and sustain a major injury. But with proper soft tissue work such as foam rolling and mobility/flexibility work and balanced strength training can reduce/eliminate pain and reduce the likelihood and severity of injuries.
However, there are additional ways of measuring success and physical development that will be discussed in conclusion of this article, “What is Fitness? – Part 2”.