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Fitness Theory and Practice. CrossFit's rationale & foundations. Who is fit? What is fitness?

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Old 12-03-2005, 02:22 PM   #1
Neal Winkler
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Recently I've been writing my own "What is Fitness?" paper for one of my classes.

In the paper I critique the ACSM's definition of fitness which is, "the ability to perform moderate-to-vigorous levels of physical activity without undue fatigue and the capability of maintaining this capacity throughout life."

Then I offer my own definition of fitness and argue that this definition is what we really mean when we talk about fitness. I claim that fitness is, "the ability to survive and favorably interact with ones environment." I make a distinction between fitness as described in biology and fitness as described in kinesiology. The above is fitness in kinesiology, although it is closely related to fitness in biology.

The superiority of my definion is supposed be that it gives a rationale for the prescription of high-intensity, random, functional exercises: such workouts facilitate better interaction with ones enviroment than non-functional exercises.

According to the ACSM, fitness covers cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility. It doesn't follow from the ACSM definition that one ought to do functional exercises: you can have good cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility, and do only non-functional exercises.

However, I realized that in the end the differences between the definitions and anything that may follow from them are most likely trivial.

The reason is this: In the everyday life of the regular Joe Schmoe office worker, the mode of interaction with ones environment rarely eclipses walking to ones car and getting up from a chair. Doing Crossfit type workouts, it doesn't seem, is really going to make a huge impact on Joe Schmoes ability to perfrom these activities. Whether he does Crossfit type workouts, or does the staple mon-wed-fri non-functional machine exercises and tue-thurs cardio on a treadmill, either is going to give him the ability to, "survive and favorably interact with his environment."

Would doing high-intensity, random, functional exercises make him more fit than standard gym fare? Absolutely. Are the ACSM recommendations for exercise therefore wrong? Not likely. Even if my definition of fitness is correct, it doesn't offer a rationale for doing CrossFit types workouts for everyone, because doing non-functional exercises will still give enough of the requisite abilities to favorably interact with ones environment. At best, it only offers a rationale for military, police, and athletic types for doing CrossFit type workouts (since they are the only ones that require optimal fitness). The ACSM recommendations were never meant to outline standards for achieving optimal fitness, only fitness good enough for Joe Schmoe.

The only reason I can think of for doing CrossFit type workouts is that you find it fun, or you wish for the ability to optimally interact with your enviroment.

In conclusion, I have been unable to give an objective rationale for the prescription of high-intensity, random, functional exercises, as one can be fit by doing the opposite of that by my definition of fitness. The only reasons I can currently think of are the subjective ones that I just gave.

So, now I hand it over to the rest of you. Are there any OBJECTIVE reasons for the prescription of high-intensity, random, functional exercises?

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Old 12-03-2005, 02:44 PM   #2
Matt Gagliardi
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First of all, I follow your logic and I can see what you're saying. If we stay strictly within the bounds of your argument...that is, Joe Schmoe is never tested in any way other than his "everyday life"...then it's hard to make a good argument against what you're suggesting.

I guess what I'd question is the assumption that "everyday life" is all Joe Schmoe will ever have to deal with. Anyone can suddenly have their world go to Hell in a handbasket. When (not if) that happens...will the "standard" fitness programming have you covered? Not likely.

I think if you consider that premise you come up with the answer. High-intensity, random functional exercises makes you "more fit" because in reality we all live in a high-intensity, randomized and functional world. Most of us just do our best to avoid interacting with it. But sooner or later the world will choose to interact with you, whether you like it or not.

I'm not sure if we can consider that particularly objective, but I'm going with it.
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Old 12-03-2005, 02:55 PM   #3
Neal Winkler
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Matt, I had been thinking the same thing. even if you are just an office workoer, you never know when something might happen which would require superior athleticism. You might need to fight off a rapist or kidnapper or whatever. In this event, working out becomes an insurance policy for danger.

Hmmm, what does everyone think?
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Old 12-03-2005, 03:14 PM   #4
Matt Gagliardi
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Exactly Neal. I'll give you another example...how about the good people of New Orleans? "Everyday life" didn't include what happened down there, right? But suddenly that was "everyday life" (flooding, looting, evacuating, etc.). I would argue that it was inevitable that each of those people would be tested in such a manner sooner or later. Mudslide, earthquake, mugger, flood, hijacked plane, etc. Sooner or later life will cast its eye on you.

I believe in your initial post you indicated that you thought CF (and/or CF-type activities and training) would bring on "optimal" fitness. I think that's true. As I see it, you then have to look at the cost/benefit ratio of both "good enough" fitness (if it is indeed "good enough"...I don't believe it is) vs. CF level fitness. Do we get more "bang for the buck" out of CF? Our "bang" is performance and ability to interact with the real world (not our illusion of it). Our "buck" is time in the gym, intensity level/perceived exertion, etc.

IMO, CF comes out on top hands-down.
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Old 12-03-2005, 04:44 PM   #5
Ross Hunt
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Is fitness necessary? No.

Is health necessary? Yes.

Do you need to do CrossFit in order to be merely healthy? Probably not: Eat right, be active, and you'll probably be pretty healthy.

But fitness is more than health. Your definition of fitness is pretty vague. 'Favorably interact' could mean any one of a number of things. If the things with which you want to be able to interact favorably are anything more exciting than a chair, a PC, and a bed, then the utility of many if not all of the things encompassed under the CrossFit umbrella of fitness is more or less manifest.

Summary: We need not suppose that fitness is necessary for survival in order to be able to claim that it is good or noble. Are there not objective standards of fitness (peak hip extension power and hip extension power endurance, for instance)?
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Old 12-03-2005, 04:58 PM   #6
Mikael Všlitalo
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I had raised the exact same issue a while ago in another thread. My point was that "elite fitness" wasn't necessary for the average person. Fitness is, but not elite fitness. Example: if someone is not able to do one proper squat, then that is a problem that needs to be addressed for the person's health. Otherwise the person might have problems performing certain day-to-day activities when he gets older. However, squatting 300lbs?? Or getting a score of 20 at tabata squats? Probably not necessary for the average person.

I came to the conclusion that the fitness freaks on this board (me included) are just a bunch of perfectionnists and "bodybuilders" (a large group of people including me believe that functional training WILL give a more healthy appearance to the body). Besides, there is Matt's good argument that you never know when your routine might break unexpectedly...
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Old 12-03-2005, 05:28 PM   #7
Neal Winkler
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Ross, if the definition is vague it can alternatively be defined as, "the ability to overcome enviromental stressors." I don't know if that helps. I think this and the other way of putting is what we really mean by fitness, but the rub for a CrossFit like mentality comes when, once again, we realize that most peoples' greatest enviromental stressors are "exiting a chair."

Would I want to say that someone is fit even though the only physical activity they can undergo is a squat every now and then (i.e. getting up from a chair every now and then)? Hardly, but according to my definition they would be fit.

I wonder if adding to the definition, "the ability to favorably interact with the environment for which ones gennome is adapted," would help any. Being that out genomes are adapted for a hunter-gatherer environment, this would certainly raise the standards. But would the standards be too high?

Also, I too recongnize the distinction between health and fitness. Consider the case of a paraplegic who has no cardiovascular risk factors, cancers, ect. I would say this person is perfectly healthy, but obviously they have drastically reduced fitness.

That gives me an idea. If the paraplegic has drastically reduced fitness, he would offer a counterexample to the ACSM definition, since the ACSM definition could not account for this: even if you are paraplegic you can still have the ability to perform moderate-to-vigorous levels of activity (e.g. a paraplegic that can do 100 pull-ups).

Health doesn't necessarily imply fitness (the paraplegic) and fitness doesn't imply health (the steriod abusing athlete).

What to do? What to do?
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Old 12-03-2005, 05:28 PM   #8
Ryan Atkins
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It doesn't follow from the ACSM definition that one ought to do functional exercises: you can have good cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility, and do only non-functional exercises.

This part doesn't sit well with me, especially when talking about muscular strength. I'm of the firm belief that the isolation machines found in most gyms will contribute to muscle imbalances and eventually lead to injury outside of the gym. Sure, certain muscles get stronger, but the stabilizers are disproportionally weak and more prone to injury when lifting something in the real world. Is this really the kind of 'strength' we want.

I suspect that training only nonfunctional exercises would have a negative impact on flexibility as well. If the majority of my physical training involves segmented sessions of training on machines and stretching, then its extremely doubtful that any sort of strength at range is being developed. Sure my flexibility might increase, but my body hasn't learned how to stabilize in certain functional positions. End result, injury. Is this the kind of flexibility we want?

The more I think about this, the more flaws I find. Let's talk about cardio next. Do you have the CFJ 'What About Cardio.' IIRC, it talks about how VO2 maxes will differ from one activity to the next. Developing a good VO2 on the bike will have little transfer to running and vice versa. One of the results of playing with the black box has been the realization that one can develop a strong cardio base that is more transferable to other areas by performing functional movements at high intensity. Is developing good cardio on an elliptical really the kind we want if we can't apply it anywhere else. Can this really be considered cardiovascular endurance?

Just some thoughts,

Ryan
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Old 12-03-2005, 05:34 PM   #9
Ryan Atkins
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Hey Neal, just saw that you posted the same time as me. I think your thoughts toward the end helped to clarify some of my own. My conclusion is that if I'm using nonfunctional movements and end up injury prone and a cardio specialist then I'm neither healthy nor fit.
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Old 12-03-2005, 05:38 PM   #10
Neal Winkler
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Ryan, obviously we wouldn't that kind of strength or endurance. But the ACSM never makes any distinctions between "machine strength" and "functional strength," and the same with endurance. They never say a word about it. In fact, I would venture to guess that much of the information they get from studies were where strength and endurance tests were done on machines. So, going by what they most likely mean when they say "strength" and "endurance," yes you can be strong and have good endurance without doing functional exercises.
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