Tuesday, September 25, 2012


I find the notion of ‘fitness’ interesting.

In my world, people mention the word with a fair degree of frequency but never really talk about it. Fitness is used more as a catchall term – I can run faster than I could last year because my fitness level is higher. I can swim more lengths because I have better fitness.

But what the heck is fitness? And why am I all of a sudden thinking about it?

Monday morning masters’ swimming is what triggered the whole thing. It was a busy morning at the pool and we had 6 people instead of the usual 3-4 in our class. There was a girl that I have not seen since the summer class whom I knew to be fast. Our assistant coach Jamie joined the workout and there was a new guy I had never seen but figured out from the way he did his warm-up that he had been in the pool once or twice before...

Then there was me and two other regulars who have been swimming hard three times a week for several weeks or more.

In other words, a bunch of people one might describe as ‘fit’.

After our 1200m warm-up, Christine has us do 12x50m followed by 3x(150m, 100m, 50m). Towards the end of the workout, you could tell we were all exhausted. The recovery period no longer felt long enough and our times were getting slower. Some people would groan every time she said ‘go!’. I mumbled ‘shit’ under my breath more times than I care to admit and the guy in my lane who seems to spend his life doing one activity or another was gasping and looking pretty humbled by the end.

Despite the grumblings and the heaping serving of humble pie, we all survived the workout because we are ‘fit’. We will all be recovered and ready for more on Wednesday morning because we are ‘fit’. Yet I found it interesting that, no matter what our overall activity schedule is – we were all struggling at the end of our swim. There are hard-core, competitive swimmers in our group. There are triathletes (me!). There are people who do a wide variety of activities in a week (running, cycling, swimming, weight lifting AND yoga). No one seemed immune to swimming exhaustion.

So I looked up fitness in Wikipedia. First of all, there are apparently two kinds of fitness: general (which refers to our overall state of health and well-being) and specific (which refers to our ability to perform specific aspects of a sport or activity).

The general health part takes into consideration things like: flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, muscle endurance etc. The specific skill part deals with things like: agility, balance, coordination, speed, reaction time and power.

Ok, that makes sense. But how do I know how fit I am?

I then went on to see if I could find ways to measure my overall fitness and found some pretty entertaining websites. One wanted me to power walk for a minute and then take my pulse. Then they wanted me to do as many pushups as I could. Powerwalking would be fine but the pushup thing would place me somewhere close to the nearly dead part of the fitness scale. I can’t do one – never have been able to.

Another site told me to get a stopwatch, measuring tape and a scale. I stopped reading at that point so I’m not sure exactly what I was going to be measuring. The distance from the couch to the fridge perhaps and how quickly I could get there and back? Followed by a quick hop on the scale to see what sort of damage the cheese tray caused?

Then I found some other sites that describe the fitness tests that those in the military have to pass. Scary stuff that is.

Fitness seems to be this umbrella terms that covers many things. The 100m dash runners in the Olympics have superb muscle strength and the ability to perform anaerobically. Marathon runners, on the other hand, have muscle endurance and the ability to perform aerobically. Is one more fit than the other?

I don’t really know.

What I do know is that, last year, when I was running five days a week I was exhausted and sore all the time despite having two days off to recover. This year, I am working out 6-7 days a week. I am working out harder and for longer periods. I should be more sore and more exhausted but I’m not. The opposite is true.

I might be exhausted after a hard workout in the pool but I can complete it and keep up with everyone else. I recover enough to run the next morning and swim again the morning after that.

Last year I was fit. This year I am fit. But my fitness level is better. I’m still not exactly sure what that means but I can sure feel it to be true. 

1 comment:

  1. I spent my entire degree trying to define and standardize fitness. It's way more complicated than people think!