What is true fitness?

Many people think they are fit. Few people, outside elite athletes, truly are. However even people who work out regularly will not be ‘fit’ in the true meaning of the word.

For example, many people enjoy running or cycling. This is excellent for cardio-vascular fitness. Generally these people will have excellent heart rates, normal, strong blood pressure and be able to climb stairs easily without being out of breath. They will also have strong leg muscles, and a lean body shape. There’s nothing wrong with this type of fitness, but it is limited. Shoulders and arms, the upper body, are likely to be under-used. Any extreme lifting or repetitive upper body exercise – and these athletes will struggle. Their whole body is not strong and tested.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who enjoy lifting weights on a regular basis. They will have well developed muscles – throughout the areas exercised. But unless they run, climb stairs or cycle regularly, to really get their hearts beating, these people will have poor cardio-vascular fitness. Ask them to climb a big hill, and especially with the added muscle weight, they will struggle.

You only have to look at various athletes to see this principle in practice. See a long distance runner, an elite cyclist or a high-jumper and compare with a weight lifter or wrestler. Their body shapes are totally different. Now, of course they will both be very fit; but their fitness, body-shape and conditioning will be quite different. Some sports, for example swimming and rugby, involve a good combination of all-round body strength and cardio-vascular fitness. (See for example the broad and strong shoulders of the swimmer.)

I have often started to train excellent runners who quite quickly realise just how poor their overall body strength is, especially arms and shoulders. Likewise some clients come to me thinking they are fit because they’ve built up their muscles – but they quickly puff and pant as I put them through their burpees.

My goal with all clients is to get them to appreciate their whole body and the totality of their fitness. To discover muscles they didn’t really know they had (when was the last time in your office job you had to lift 10kgs above your head?) and to show people just how wonderful the human body is when we put it through its paces.

Another factor about selective fitness is that it stresses particular parts of the body. How many runners do you know whose knees are shot? Any cyclists with bad backs? Repetition in one sport is not ideal – our bodies are not designed to repeat the same exercise over and over. Which is why I vary my sessions – upper body one week, core the next week, legs the next. And also why flexibility, stretching and ensuring your body is supple and toned all over is very important.

So, when you next work out, think to yourself, am I conditioning my whole body, and am I really getting myself fit?

If you’re based in Edinburgh and/or the Lothians, and decide that a personal trainer might be for you, please get in touch.