Figuring Out Fitness

The first time a trainer works with an athlete the conversation usually goes something like this:

Coach: “Hi, glad to see you’ve come in to check us out, what brings you here?”

Client: “Thanks, well I used to workout all the time and I played sports back in college, but I’ve been really busy at work and I feel sluggish and my weight has gotten out of control. I really just want to get back in shape.”

That phrase in shape is like someone saying, “I’d like to have money.” Aspirational statements without actionable goals don’t get you abs or a seven-figure bank account. A person walks into the gym and says, “I’d like to get in shape,” “well sir or Madam what shape would you prefer, a triangle? Perhaps a rectangle or some other polygon is more your style, why, can we interest you in a rhombus?”

Geometry jokes aside, what new clients are expressing is an interest in fitness. Fitness has become so much a part of the industry lexicon that it’s even in the name, the “health and fitness industry.” Unfortunately the overuse of the term has made fitness little better than get in shape as far as goals are concerned. This though is the redemption of the fitness goal.

Turning to the dictionary provides little help as it defines fitness as, “the condition of being physically fit and healthy.” While lacking in any meaningful detail, this definition at least points fitness in the direction of physical performance. It is through the other definition of fitness, “the quality of being suitable to a particular role,” that more substance is added to the phrase. Fitness then can stand to mean the ability of one’s body to complete a chosen task. Fitness is achieved through training and practice.

The role of the coach or trainer is to recognize that fitness is different for each client or athlete. My grandmother doesn’t have the same thing in mind when she expresses an interest in fitness as does a 24-year-old former collegiate athlete who has missed a few workouts and enjoyed a few too many beers since his playing days. This is why it is imperative for coaches to sit down with athletes and find out their what and their why; what do they want to accomplish and why do they want it? Every success story stems from a strong why, a good plan and a strong commitment from trainer and client.

Fitness is completely dependent upon the goals or needs of the athlete, which is why one-size-fits-all training programs often fail. Not to harp on my grandmother, but she doesn’t need to be doing 40” box jumps to improve her max vert, this modality is relevant to her goals. (If my grandmother reads this then her new training protocol will probably include frying pan swings) That exercise would be best used for a high school football player looking for attention from colleges. Procedure follows goal; fitness is defined by goals.

Fitness then can take many forms. It could be a parent’s ability to chase after their children without getting winded or for a football player to shave a tenth of a second off their 40 time. A grandma practicing burpees to ensure that she can get up off the floor without help if she falls is pursuing fitness. A firefighter doing steps ups to prepare for flights of stairs is pursing fitness. Every athlete and client is working towards a different definition of fitness and it is important that trainers and coaches design personalized programs towards these goals. An athlete’s accomplishments should always be celebrated within the context of their goals; never forget that achievement is relative.

So what is fit, what is in shape? As an athlete or client you must ask yourself what you want and why you want it. Answer these questions and a good trainer or coach will handle they how; they will provide the fitness.

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