Tuesday, July 24, 2007

How Fit Do You Need to Be?

A while back, I got into an online discussion with a well-known fitness coach. We had somewhat differing viewpoints, and while cleaning up the hard drive -- a way to relax after sprinting to make a book deadline -- I came across my last posting on the subject in the exchange. It still seems valid, so I thought I'd share it:

No question, sir, that you know more about building muscle and increasing fitness than do I, I'll stipulate that. But the how is not the same as the why.

Fitness can be a goal in itself, or a means to an end. You can increase your strength because you want to be strong, or because you have some associated need and use for it -- as a adjunct to a sport, or a job, or a hobby.

How strong you need to be is not the same as how strong (or fit) you want to be.

How strong do you need to be to sit at a word processor? Not very.

To buck hay bales? To enter the World's Strongest Man competition? Different needs. Being in shape can increase your quality of life, no question, but the best way to live a long life is still to choose your parents wisely. Nobody has yet proven that working out makes you live longer. Better quality, yes. Longer? No.

So unless it is a necessity, it comes to a choice. How much energy you are willing to spend to attain a certain level of strength and/or fitness? If it is your hobby -- or your profession -- you are apt to have a different attitude than if it isn't either.

Sound mind in a sound body -- mens sana in corpore sano -- but what constitutes "sound" is open to debate. Does everybody need to be able to run a four-minute mile or to bench press a Volvo? No. Not many people can do either, (and there aren't, I suspect, a lot -- if any -- folks who can do both.) I don't need either, I couldn't get there even if I wished, so there is no point in training for such -- the risks in trying, vis a vis physical damage? Too great.

Options are good, but what you have to pay to have them is sometimes more expensive than you can afford, and in some cases, not attainable in any event. Age takes away certain abilities and while you can fight the good fight, you can't beat gravity -- it always wins in the end. At least it always has so far on this planet.

As physical beings, we have limits. The fit ninety-five-year-old who runs is admirable, but he can't beat the fit twenty-year-olds, no matter how hard he trains, nor how much he can improve his baseline skills. It's the nature of the equipment. Fifty might be the new thirty, but ninety-five, as they say, is still eighty ...


Dan Moran said...

This one's easy for me -- I want to play basketball until I die. I need to be in good enough shape to do that --

I'm slowly morphing toward the half court game -- full court's getting harder for me, though I can still do it. But I can play half court all day, and until I get to be pretty old, I'm thinking ...

Steve Perry said...

Easy for me, too. I want to be a lot fitter than I need to be -- as a desk jockey, I don't need much, and even the garbage can has wheels on it these days.

As a guy who'd like to be able to run with my fictional heroes, the martial arts, rope climbing, and moving weights hither and yon are desirable. Plus they are fun, not only in and of themselves, but for the benefits they offer on the practical end.

It does wonders for your self-confidence to know that if somebody is in your face, and push comes to shove, you can show him the error of his ways.

I also believe the quality of life is every much better when one is fit and strong. I mean, I hate having to call my wife for help to open a jar ...

Stephen Renico said...

Too many people wrongly equate muscle and strength with fitness. While it's certainly better than being sedentary, the muscle types generally do nothing to increase their stamina.

Stamina is being able to generate high physical output over time. That's what wins fights. The average UFC champion, navy SEAL, or SWAT team member isn't going to win a bodybuilding or powerlifting contest anytime soon, but they can go for 5-10 hard minutes of maximum output, where a lot of bodybuilders and powerlifters are winded after climbing a flight of stairs.

Steve Perry said...

You're right, and a I agree with the premise, Stephen.

Used to be, you'd get bodybuilders who would move huge weight, but get winded climbing three flights of stairs.

These days, serious iron-pushers add an aerobic component -- they run, bike, use a stair-climber, etc., and they also stretch. It's pretty interesting to see a guy you think is musclebound drop into a full split. And all these kettlebell guys are much more so inclined to do aerobics and stretching along with the iron.

I think you need some of each.

On the other hand, endurance is much more a factor in a ring match than it is in a street fight. The average set-do in the local bar or road rage encounter lasts only a few seconds, the most recent statistics I saw, and seldom more than a minute. Don't get a lot of gassing in that situation.