Redefining What Fitness Looks Like

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of fitness? Take a second to think an individual that defines exactly what being in shape means. Do they have a ton of muscle? Are they an ultra-marathoner? Maybe a sports athlete?

One thing I find is that most people associate fitness with being lean. That is, when most people think of fitness they think of someone with single-digit bodyfat. That’s the bodyfat that is required to see the highly sought after 6-pack.

Now is being lean healthy? Absolutely. You’ll carry less weight around, saving that stress on your joints. You’ll be able to work longer and move heavier weight because you’re not carrying around the deadweight of excess bodyfat. But there is a difference between being lean and healthy versus lean and unhealthy. If you’re 6% bodyfat but can’t do a pullup or jump more than a few inches, is that considered the pinnacle of fitness? Probably not.

It’s hard to define exactly what fitness looks like. In fact, everyone will have their own definition of what it is. But to me, the fittest individual is the one that has the best all-around capacity to perform. They might not be the fastest runner, or be able to push the most amount of weight, but they’re in the top 80-90% in just about any physical tasks that’s demanded of them.

Think about this in the first responder world. Yes, a policer officer needs to be physically strong, but they also need endurance for foot pursuits, flexibility to navigate obstacles, and a strong mental game to deal with unrulily subjects. The best responders are those that are able to handle any task above average, no matter what that tasks involves. They may not be the strongest, or the fastest, or the leanest, but they’re in the top 10-20% in each category.

Fitness involves may different aspects. When you start to specialize in one category you may be unknowingly detracting from other categories. Keep that in mind next time you start thinking about what fitness looks like.


Jon Griffith specializes in optimizing performance for firefighters & police. Jon is a personal trainer, firefighter, and former U.S. Army infantryman. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and 3 cats.

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