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

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Old 01-28-2006, 03:08 PM   #1
Neal Winkler
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Introduction

“What is fitness?” These words were asked by Greg Glassman in the now famous October 2002 issue of The CrossFit Journal. It is my intention to
evaluate the CrossFit definition of fitness using the resources of possible world semantics. I will explicate CrossFit fitness and find it lacking, then attempt to formulate a more defensible notion of what fitness is.

What is a “Definition?”

Before we get directly into the notion of fitness, it will help to talk about what exactly a definition is. According to the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, a definition is, “specification of the meaning or, alternatively, conceptual content, of an expression.”

There are a number of different kinds of definitions, for example, there is what is termed the contextual definition. A contextual definition arbitrarily defines the meaning of a term within a specific context. Imagine that you are part of a special forces unit assigned to terminate a particular individual hiding in a foreign country. Any time your unit goes on a mission you use the code name “the target” to refer to that particular person. For every mission the person defined as “the target” changes – it’s arbitrary and changes from context to context.

However, this is not the sort of definition that we are after. We don’t want to say that CrossFit’s definition of fitness is arbitrarily assigned - no, it is something more. It’s something that everyone ought to think is true because it’s what fitness really is. What we are after is what Locke refers to as the “real essence,” or in other words, the real definition. The real definition is the, “specification of the metaphysically necessary and sufficient condition(s) for being the kind of thing a noun designates.”

So, how does someone judge what the necessary and sufficient conditions of a definition are? Typically, definitions are judged by rules like: Broadness. “Unmarried adult” is too broad a definition for “bachelor” because not all unmarried adults are bachelors. Narrowness. “Unmarried adult male police officer” is too narrow a definition for “bachelor” because some bachelors are not police officers. Finally, I will add that a definition must apply to all “possible worlds.”

Possible Worlds

What then, is a possible world? A possible world can be thought of as the way that the world might be, or could have been. Very often we talk about how things could have been different, for example, “It’s possible that the Yankee’s could of never won a world series,” or how things could end up being, “it’s possible that we will someday colonize Mars.”

Possible world semantics help us think about is possible (contingency) and what is not possible (necessity). To use the former example, we would state that, “There is a possible world in which the Yankees never won a World Series.” What that means is exactly what I said above, that, “It’s possible that the Yankee’s could of never won a world series.”

But we must be careful by what we mean when we say “possibility.” In one sense it is impossible for us to build a spacecraft that can accelerate up to the speed of light because the laws of physics prohibit such a thing. This is what might be called “natural possibility.” However, in another sense accelerating up to the speed of light is not impossible because we when we assert the proposition, “I accelerated up to the speed of light,” we do not violate any of the laws of logic – it is logically possible to accelerate up to the speed of light. This is what philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls “broadly logical possibility.” To give another example, it is naturally impossible for me to jump over a tall building in a single bound, although it is broadly logically possible for me to do such a thing. When philosophers speak about what is possible and what is not, they are speaking about the broadly logical possibility.

Back to necessity and contingency. If something is necessarily true, then that means it is true in every possible world. An example of this would be “2+2=4,” there is no possible world in which 2+2 does not equal 4. Alternatively, we might say that it is broadly logically impossible for 2+2 not to equal 4. A distinction can also be made between what are known as de dicto and de re necessity. De dicto necessity is necessity that is true of a proposition/statement, like, it is necessarily true that, “there are no circles with four sides.” But de re necessity is necessity of a thing, that is to say that something holds some property essentially or necessarily. For example, “Necessarily, Socrates is a human being.” While it is not necessarily true that “Socrates exists,” it is necessarily true that in every possible world in which Socrates exists, Socrates is a human being. I have already given examples of contingent truths, so I will not give any more here.

Finally, I should make quick mention of the difference between the actual world and merely possible worlds. Quite simply, the actual world is the world that we are in. It is the world that actually obtains, and it describes the world that has actually taken place, not merely a world that could of taken place.

Now, what does all this have to do with definitions? Remember that we said a real definition of something was a definition that specifies the metaphysically necessary and sufficient conditions for being the kind of thing a noun designates. What we want is to think about what characteristics does fitness have in every possible world, not just the actual world. If we can demarcate the properties that fitness holds in every possible world, then we will of found the real essence, or the real definition of fitness.

CrossFit Fitness

According to CrossFit Journal #2:

“CrossFit makes use of three different standards or models for evaluating and guiding fitness. Collectively, these three standards define the CrossFit view of fitness. The first is based on the ten general physical skills widely recognized by exercise physiologists. The second standard, or model, is based on the performance of athletic tasks, while the third is based on the energy systems that drive all human action.”

As stated, the first standard is based on ten general physical skills:

1.) Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance
2.) Stamina
3.) Strength
4.) Flexibility
5.) Power
6.) Speed
7.) Coordination
8.) Agility
9.) Balance
10.) Accuracy

Collectively, fitness demands that we show proficiency in all ten of these physical skills. Second, is the ability to perform athletic tasks:

“The essence of this model is the view that fitness is about performing well at any and every task imaginable. Picture a hopper loaded with an infinite number of physical challenges where no selective mechanism is operative, and being asked to perform fetes randomly drawn from the hopper. This model suggests that your fitness can be measured by your capacity to perform well at these tasks in relation to other individuals.”
Thirdly, is the use of the metabolic engines:

“There are three metabolic pathways that provide the energy for all human action. These ‘metabolic engines’ are known as the phosphagen pathway, the glycolytic pathway, and the oxidative pathway… Total fitness, the fitness that CrossFit promotes and develops, requires competency and training in each of these three pathways or engines.”

While CrossFit never actually gives a succinct definition, I imagine that one is fit to the degree at which they are able to utilize the ten physical skills, the three metabolic engines, and perform tasks. So, fitness is, “the ability to utilize the ten physical skills, the three metabolic engines, and perform tasks.”

Socrates and the Snub-nose

Remember that earlier I stated that a necessary property of Socrates was that he is human – in every possible world in which Socrates exists Socrates is human. But some things also have properties that are not necessary to them, they have some properties which are merely contingent. In the case of Socrates, besides being the greatest philosopher of all time, he is also known for having a snub-nose. This snub-nose seems to be just such a contingent property. It seems odd to say that if Socrates did not have a snub-nose then Socrates would not of literally been the same person. The same goes for things like the color of ones hair or eyes – they are not properties that are essential to us. So, using possible world semantics, one might state, “There is a possible world in which Socrates does have a snub-nose.”

Herein lies the problem for CrossFit: CrossFit has given us properties of fitness which are merely contingent, and thus have not explicated the true essence of fitness. Imagine a possible world in which there are organism who, just like us, participate in sports. These organisms are far different from us though, in that they have evolved on a world in which there is no oxygen, thus, they have metabolic systems which that are different from our own in that at the very least they do not utilize the aerobic pathway. Furthermore, the laws of physics in this world are such that every object moves at the same rate of .001 m/s. This peculiar fact makes it impossible for these creatures to display what we would consider noteworthy skills in speed, power, and agility. In fact, for them, speed, power, and agility will be completely inconsequential no one would ever even think of them being factors in ones fitness. So, since these creatures are lacking in the ability to utilize all of the metabolic engines, and are lacking in speed, power, agility, and cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, according to the CrossFit definition of fitness they seem to have deficiencies in their level of fitness.

But that hardly seems fair. They can still display different levels stamina, strength, coordination ect. Maybe they just have a different kind of fitness. Maybe their definition of fitness would be the ability to utilize the physical skills and metabolic engines that they do have. Maybe there are many different definition of fitness for all types of possible worlds.

Fitness Defined

However, that can’t be the case. Just to say that, “there are many different definition of fitness for all types of possible worlds” presupposes that there is something that all the fitness’ have in common, otherwise it doesn’t make sense to subscribe to them all the notion of fitness. What could this common element be?

Quite simply, I propose that fitness is something like, “the ability to overcome physical demands.” In all possible worlds where there are organisms that require fitness, they all have one thing in common - they need to get things done. They need to perform tasks. Whoever is the best at performing the most tasks is the most fit. Really, this is nothing more than CrossFit’s second model of fitness. The first and third are contingent, only the second describes something that is necessary to fitness.

The Value of CrossFit Fitness

Does this mean that CrossFit standards are completely useless? They are hardly useless, their only fault is that they were not philosophically precise! We can once again put it into terms of possible worlds. In every possible world a creature’s fitness depends on its ability to overcome physical demands. What sorts of physical abilities, metabolic pathways, or whatever if they have any, depend on the nature of the demands in the environment in which they live. The nature of the tasks they need to perform will determine the physical abilities they require for fitness.

Remember that I briefly outlined the difference between possible worlds and the actual world. What CrossFit has done with its first and third models of fitness is describe the physical capacities that are required to perform tasks in the actual world. These physical capacities are themselves not necessary for fitness, but merely describe what is contingently required for fitness in the actual world. Too bad contingencies are not candidates for real definitions, but luckily for us they seemed to the first to realize what those contingencies are.
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Old 01-28-2006, 03:50 PM   #2
Mike Yukish
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The nice thing about (1) and (3) is that we can actually test for them, while (2) is pretty much untestable. As you say, in our world (1) and (3) are probably necessary to be ready for the hopper contents.
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Old 01-29-2006, 08:06 AM   #3
Neal Winkler
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Hmm, I notice that my presentation got kinda weak towards the end there. I wanted to get this done so I started to hurry things. Defintely could of went into a little more detail in those last two sections.

Mike, what do you mean (2) can't be tested? One could simply devise a test where you have randomly selected physical demands in hopper and draw them out and have people compete in them. Furthermore, the real world is the ultimate testing ground for this.
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Old 01-29-2006, 08:21 AM   #4
Mike Yukish
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Because the definition is Picture a hopper loaded with an infinite number of physical challenges where no selective mechanism is operative, and being asked to perform fetes randomly drawn from the hopper. This model suggests that your fitness can be measured by your capacity to perform well at these tasks in relation to other individuals.

In the real world we would have a finite number of tasks which were selected via some means. Randomly? What would you do if you got the analogy of 20 flips of the coin = heads, and all the tasks favor Kev from the P&B board? :-)

So purposely choose a broad spectrum? Then you're immediately biased.

And the measure of how well you did would be in relation to other unidentified individuals. As I tell my folks, "You never stand so tall as when you've just kneed the guy next to you in the groin." Tough to get an absolute measure in that situation. With (1) and (3) you can get cold, hard numbers.

Having said all that, I see (2) as the true vision, the definition to return to when you're mind is clouded with the detritus of on-line arguments about who is "fitter", to remind you of what crossfit is all about. The Polaris of crossfit from which to navigate by, if you will.
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Old 01-29-2006, 08:36 AM   #5
Neal Winkler
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Well, my definition isn't that exactly. It just, "the ability to overcome physical demands."

But yes, you coudn't have a hopper with an infinite number of demands, because that would require an infintely big hopper in a finitely sized universe. It doesn't really matter though as you could just replace the infinite demands with an arbitrarily large finite number.

And the measure of how well you did would be in relation to other unidentified individuals.

I'm not sure what you mean by this.

With (1) and (3) you can get cold, hard numbers.

Indeed, but (1) and (3) are merely a means to an end, they are not themselves the "goal" of fitness.

Having said all that, I see (2) as the true vision

Oh, well I guess we agree then. :happy:

By the way, thanks for reading this whole thing, you will probably be the only one. :lol:
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