One of the questions that people often neglect to ask is, why get fit? It’s often assumed that any amount of being fitter is automatically to be desired. But without being clear about your goal it is difficult to know how to set about the process to achieve it. If you go shopping with a goal of buying new clothes it will help to be clear about what you are dressing for. New pyjamas will not serve you the same way as a wedding dress or a wet suit.
When you want to answer the question, how do I get fitter? There exists a vast range of suppliers, from magazines to websites and even governments get in on the act. There are sources that will tell you how to be thinner, bigger, stronger, faster, leaner, sexier etc. Whether you want to have the perfect godlike proportions of a modern-day Adonis, or the stamina of a modern day Pheidippides, someone will tell you how.
If you start looking for instruction before you have a clear goal you may get caught up in whatever is the current trend or fashion within the fitness industry; yes it is an industry.
I’ve been intrigued to see a recent rise in events and training regimes, aimed primarily at men, for the ‘Hard Man’ the Spartan, the Iron Man, the Tough Mudder. No longer is running a marathon impressive, instead, the question is, can you swim the Chanel, cycle the length of Britain and then run up a mountain? How about 30 marathons in 30 days? The fitness zeitgeist is geared towards the superhuman. It challenges us. It asks “are you man enough?” Is this a reflection of a generation of men lacking clarity for their gender identification? Is this modern man searching to find an archetype for manliness without the hunter/warrior figure to draw upon? That architype is not really so ancient. Its only a generation or two ago, in Britain at least, that men, typically, went to war and were the sole income provider for their wife and half a dozen children. It’s an image of what being a man meant. I’m not considering the virtue of that view, or indeed whether it was even an emotionally or mentally healthy idea to hold, it simply was in fact the archetype or definition of what it meant to be a man. It is perhaps a reflection of this search for a new gender identity that has prompted this drive to the super fit, endurance athlete. This trend appears to be aimed at men, though women will get caught up in the flow, I haven’t noticed it being a significant factor within the industry. The general point of knowing your gaol still applies however.
Until you can answer the question “Fit for What?” it isn’t really possible to begin any sort of meaningful exercise regime and particularly difficult to find the motivation to keep going. For example, do you also want to be healthier? Make no mistake, fitness and health are not the same. For a completely sedate individual, a small increase in almost any exercise and its increase in fitness will invariably instigate an increase in health. However, any serious improvement in fitness will have a potential cost. The cost might be nothing more an increase in the risk of injury; almost inevitable with any physical activity. Some levels of fitness for some particular activities will require a major sacrifice in health. There is a ‘minimum effective dose’ for exercise; enough to cause an improvement to a particular functionality. There is also a level of exercise, that, while causing a short-term functional improvement, will cause excessive wear and tear and therefore a long-term reduction in functionality.
So, I want to ask you the question, “for what purpose do you want to be fitter?”
Do you want to be able to continue everyday activities for as long as possible? Being an active independent person into your 90s?
Do you want to appeal to the opposite sex?
Do you want to take part in a sporting activity at a competitive level?
Do you want to consider yourself the worthy inheritor of your genes? Someone that your hunter/warrior ancestor would be proud to call his descendent?
Are you seeking a high level of self-esteem through comparison with your peers?
The answer, “I just want to be fitter”, is wholly inadequate.
So perhaps start to give some thought to why you want to be fitter, ‘for what purpose?’