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  #1  
Old 09-09-2010, 04:28 PM
DSeid DSeid is online now
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Define physical fitness.

Assuming that someone does not have a particular event or sport in mind, then what should be defined as physical fitness: better endurance, more strength, flexibility, anaerobic capacity ... and if one says "all" then in what balance?

Or to put it differently, would you prefer to have the fitness of a prime marathon runner, bodybuilder, basketball player, or manual laborer? And why?
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  #2  
Old 09-09-2010, 04:37 PM
ITR champion ITR champion is offline
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Why is any definition necessary? Let each person decide how he or she wants to pursue fitness.
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  #3  
Old 09-09-2010, 04:49 PM
Ruminator Ruminator is offline
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Originally Posted by DSeid View Post
Or to put it differently, would you prefer to have the fitness of a prime marathon runner, bodybuilder, basketball player, or manual laborer? And why?
To me, all physical activities seem to have tradeoffs.

You could run everyday and possibly achieve marathon endurance. Your heart would be strong but your knees and ankles might be damaged from the years of impact.

You could practice yoga everyday. Your breathing technique would be deep and your joints supple but your muscles do not have above-average strength. You wouldn't be the best person to help your parents move that heavy piece of furniture or defend your sister from bullies.

With all the contradictions, my answer ends up along the same lines as ITR Champion. Fitness is whatever a particular person needs their body to be in order to fulfill their particular goals.

I don't know if it's even possible to put together a fitness training regimen that has covers all areas and has zero tradeoffs. What I do know is that such a regimen if it existed would take more time than the 1 hour I can budget to exercise each day.
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  #4  
Old 09-09-2010, 04:59 PM
mhendo mhendo is online now
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Strikes me as more of an IMHO topic than GD. It really comes down to personal preference, and possibly also (at least in part), to body type. Some people put on muscle more readily than others; some find endurance exercises easier, etc.

I go to the gym 4-6 times a week. I'm not incredibly strong, and my muscles are clearly smaller than those of quite a few of the other guys i see in there on a regular basis. They bench a lot more than me, and lift more weight on most exercises. But i'm stronger and more muscular than i was before i started lifting again.

Also, some big guys at my gym combine large muscles with pretty large bellies. There are a few guys who can bench almost twice as much as me, but it's clear that if you asked those guys to run 5 miles, they'd be bent over and gasping after less than a mile. I run 5 miles comfortably in about 37-38 minutes, and i do it 4-6 times a week.

My body is partly a product of the types of exercise i do. If i replaced my afternoon run with an extra 40-60 minutes a day lifting weights, i'd probably be bigger and stronger, but i'd also probably be fatter, given that i like to eat candy and other sweet things.

Of course, i could run and do more weights, but i also want to have a life. In the normal course of events, about the heaviest thing i lift outside of the gym is an armful of books on the way to the library. It's not like i actually need to have great strength to get by in the world. To be quite honest, while i enjoy getting stronger, my reasons for working out are more to do with appearances than with strength.

For me, fitness is when i feel good about my physical condition. It means that, even if i would be happy to lose the bits of excess fat that still linger on my waist and stomach, i feel pretty good about myself when i look in the mirror. It means that i can climb the 122 steps from the beach in Encinitas to the carpark without needing to stop, and without losing my breath. It means that i can wear that shirt again, because the buttons no longer look like they're about to fly off like bullets from the pressure of my belly.

Last edited by mhendo; 09-09-2010 at 05:00 PM..
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  #5  
Old 09-09-2010, 09:41 PM
DSeid DSeid is online now
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ITR, necessary? No of course it is not necessary. But it has the potential for a fun discussion over what should qualify as fitness.

And I reject the answer that fitness is whatever the individual decides it is.

A bodybuilder can decide that big and defined muscles constitutes fitness, and that meets his goals, but I will still believe that a professional basketball player is more fit overall. Heck I would even argue that the Olympic weightlifter is more fit. To me it seems clear that muscle size alone is not a good measure of fitness. Functional strength, something an Olympic weightlifter has, seems to be a valid component.

I accept the argument that fitness consists of several dimensions, including but not limited to: cardiovascular fitness (both aerobic/endurance and anaerobic capacity); strength (both muscular endurance and maximal possible); balance; and flexibility. I also accept that a definition of fitness must include how the current condition affects long term health outcomes (thus including items such as bone density, heart and blood vessel effects, etc.).

I would argue that someone who is not fit to at least some significant degree in all of those dimensions does not really deserve to be called "fit".

An alternate definition that I have heard and that makes some sense is that fitness implies that you could successfully function if you were magically placed into a Paleolithic environment, with the demands of that time to have short bursts of intense activity including that of strength coupled with endurance hunting.

Meeting the needs of vanity does not seem like it should be part of the definition, even if that is a large part of why many of us work out. Vanity is different than fitness.
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  #6  
Old 09-09-2010, 10:05 PM
mhendo mhendo is online now
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If you had written all of that in your OP, it might have made sense as something to debate. But you didn't.

You asked people's opinions about what defined physical fitness for them, and then you asked what type of fitness they would prefer to have.

And your whole premise about who "deserves" to be called fit is completely pointless. What does it matter? The label you give someone doesn't change their actual level of fitness.
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  #7  
Old 09-09-2010, 10:10 PM
Ruminator Ruminator is offline
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Originally Posted by DSeid View Post
A bodybuilder can decide that big and defined muscles constitutes fitness, and that meets his goals, but I will still believe that a professional basketball player is more fit overall.
What goes into your calculations that the pro basketball player is "more fit" than a non-steroid bodybuilder?

Michael Jordan had knee surgery at age 39. Aren't good knees part of the overall health & fitness picture?

A bodybuilder can continue his strength regimen into his 60s or later as long he's using proper technique. On the other hand, pro basketball no matter how careful the player's technique causes tremendous wear & tear on the knees. Swimming avoids joint injuries but does not work the calf and forearm muscles.

If your standards of fitness are the graduates of NAVY SEAL academy then you win the thread. In any case, even those guys don't keep up their training intensity after they pass. All that physical torture was just to weed out the weak candidates.
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  #8  
Old 09-09-2010, 10:37 PM
Beware of Doug Beware of Doug is offline
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It's social. If you fit into the discourse that society accepts as physically fit - say: chest bigger than your waist, reasonably hard body, reasonably strenuous lifestyle - you can call yourself physically fit, because others do.

Of course, if you pitch over with a coronary during your morning jog, the thing needs to be looked at through different criteria.
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  #9  
Old 09-09-2010, 11:05 PM
DSeid DSeid is online now
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Originally Posted by mhendo View Post
If you had written all of that in your OP, it might have made sense as something to debate. But you didn't. ...
Well I didn't post the thread to hear myself talk. I was curious what thoughts others would have first.

And as to Ruminator's question - by the criteria I laid out: a basketball player is advanced along several of those dimensions (cardiovacular/respiratory, speed, balance, flexibility, anaerobic capacity, etc.); a bodybuilder is generally most advanced only in one interpretation of the vanity standard (if one accepts that as a standard at all) and is not even necessarily superior to the basketball player in the functional strength dimensions (power and muscular stamina). On other dimensions he barely ranks.

I confess to having been influenced by articles on the crossfit website (pdf downloadable there)
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  #10  
Old 09-09-2010, 11:06 PM
Wesley Clark Wesley Clark is offline
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Physical resiliency and ability to recover from trauma and physical stress should be pretty high.

Things like stamina, strength, etc. are nice but the ability to recover from an illness or to fall w/o breaking a bone are more important to me with fitness.
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  #11  
Old 09-10-2010, 12:28 AM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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DSeid, what on earth are you talking about? There's no definition of physical fitness. It's a totally subjective concept. People aren't even the same, and there's no way to determine the potential physical ability of anybody. I assume you are proud of your physical condition, and consider yourself superior based on the attributes you have selected because they make you look better. But this nonsense is very old. If you want to compare physical fitness between people, only a fight to the death will do it. So after you get into a fight to the death and survive, you can claim physical superiority to that person. After you have survived mortal combat with half the people on earth, you can claim some kind of physical superiority among all people. Until then, crawl back under your rock and stop bothering us.
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  #12  
Old 09-10-2010, 12:52 AM
DSeid DSeid is online now
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TriPolar who forced you to read or respond to the thread and "be bothered"? If you find the question trite then ignore it and read something else.

I find it an interesting abstract question, was expecting to read some interesting and intelligent takes on answering the question(and appreciate WC's in partiuclar so far), and do not believe Mortal Combat would define it adequately. You have no interesting or intelligent take on the question and don't think anyone else will. Fine. Why post then?

Last edited by DSeid; 09-10-2010 at 12:54 AM..
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  #13  
Old 09-10-2010, 04:17 AM
Candyman74 Candyman74 is offline
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The ability to undertake moderate exercise without undue discomfort?
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  #14  
Old 09-10-2010, 10:14 AM
ultrafilter ultrafilter is online now
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Fitness for what?
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  #15  
Old 09-10-2010, 10:36 AM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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I would argue endurance/stamina are the primary measures of physical fitness in humans, with "moderate strength" being necessary also.

Why?

Humans are endurance machines. That's our physical gift amongst all animals in the animal kingdom. Over a long enough distance, no animal on planet earth can out run a human. Not a horse, certainly not one of the great cats, no other primates, none of the large four-legged animals that are capable of much greater "top speeds."

Before humans started using weapons to hunt, it seems like we just used endurance to hunt. We were able to kill much larger animals by just simply chasing them. We'd run at them, they'd run way. Initially they had no worry of being caught as they could run 3+ times as fast as we could. But eventually they'd stop. We would catch up again and they'd burst away again. We'd repeat this over and over again for miles and miles, sometimes fifteen or more. Eventually our endurance started to overcome the animal's natural speed and strength. By the time it was over, the quarry was so tired that even a human (nature's weakest large mammal) was able to kill its prey.

I think to be fit, you essentially need to be able to run 15+ miles at a moment's notice, without stopping. I don't think you need to be able to do that every single day of the week, as that isn't a natural use case of our endurance. I do think you need to be able to do it whenever necessary, though.

I wouldn't say a marathon runner is a perfect example of what we're looking for, they potentially run too much. They also probably don't emphasize strength enough, as prehistoric humans certainly needed some "raw power" to do things like carry butchered carcasses and other activities.

As a general recommendation to everyone in the thread, I'd suggest looking at the 5BX Plan. 5BX stands for "Five Basic Exercises", it was developed by the Canadian Air Force some time in the 60s or 70s when there were growing concerns that some Canadian pilots were "letting themselves go." The five exercises are spread over various "stages", each stage has 5 "more difficult" variations of the initial 5 exercises. One of the key components of the plan is that unless you can complete a day's exercises in 11 minutes or less, you are not doing them fast enough and shouldn't move on to the next level (or you should move down a level if you aren't on the first one.)

They start off easy but get very, very hard eventually. The final chart comes with a note that basically says "only champion athletes will be able to do the exercises on this chart."

5BX isn't perfect or anything, but it's great because it:

-Takes maximum of 11 minutes (if you use more, you're doing it wrong)
-Builds moderate strength through "body weight" exercises
-Works most of the "core muscles", and also emphasizes flexibility
-Forces a vigorous aerobic effort

Obviously the one thing 5BX doesn't do is build up distance running type endurance, but the aerobic part of the exercise will eventually be intense enough that it will certainly help your endurance.

I think combining daily 5BX with a HIIT program (High Intensity Interval Training) would allow you to be "fit" without having to spend more than an hour a day on exercise. In fact you'd spend more like 40 minutes a day at the most. HIIT is basically a form of cardiovascular exercise in which you eschew the "slow and steady" exercises that people who run for miles and miles engage in, but instead you push your heart rate to 90%+ of its maximum for extended intervals. In the fitness community many people have found that doing 20-30 minute daily exercise in which you utilize "intense intervals" of 90%+ effort gives them as much aerobic benefit as they were getting from spending an hour a day on a treadmill or stationary bike or an hour a day jogging.
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  #16  
Old 09-10-2010, 10:46 AM
mhendo mhendo is online now
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Originally Posted by Martin Hyde View Post
I think to be fit, you essentially need to be able to run 15+ miles at a moment's notice, without stopping. I don't think you need to be able to do that every single day of the week, as that isn't a natural use case of our endurance. I do think you need to be able to do it whenever necessary, though.

I wouldn't say a marathon runner is a perfect example of what we're looking for, they potentially run too much. They also probably don't emphasize strength enough, as prehistoric humans certainly needed some "raw power" to do things like carry butchered carcasses and other activities.
I must say, i'm somewhat perplexed about why a definition of "fit," in the minds of some people, must be determined by the attributes required by our prehistoric ancestors to hunt down and butcher large animals. It seems to me that such a narrow or limited definition is silly, precisely because most humans no longer actually need to engage in those activities in order to survive.

I'm not arguing that someone who could pursue a deer (or whatever) on foot and kill it with a spear or club is unfit. I just think it's a pretty nonsensical way to define "fit" for a person in a modern society like ours.
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  #17  
Old 09-10-2010, 11:54 AM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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TriPolar who forced you to read or respond to the thread and "be bothered"? If you find the question trite then ignore it and read something else.
I wasn't bothered. I was hoping you would challenge me to mortal combat. Oh well, I'm cool with it. I hope you find others willing to discuss the subject. If you have something interesting to say, then explain why your definition would matter, or anyone else's for that matter. If we're not going to fight to the death, I fail to see the utility of the concept. That's the only reason I've ever stayed fit, except attracting women. Oh is that it? Why didn't you say so in the first place then? Perhaps you can enlighten me.
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  #18  
Old 09-10-2010, 12:04 PM
DSeid DSeid is online now
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Fitness for what?
That is sort of the question and the crux of the debate I was hoping to hear.

Once upon a time fitness implied that you could comfortably meet the requirements of day to day living. Our current daily living physical requirements are paltry. Being able to complete the activities of day to day living comfortably seems to be a very low bar.

Using the demands of day to day living that our bodies evolved to meet as the bar instead of the current demands has a certain attraction, mhendo, and does not seem to be silly to me. It makes a lot more sense to me than those who say that it is whatever you want it to be. You bowl? Then fitness is being able to bowl even if you are otherwise a massive MI waiting to happen and can't walk up two flights of stairs. I don't think so.

Most of us implicitly use multiple "whats" at the same time when we aim to increase our fitness. I think that it implies how well you could handle a variety of potential physical demands that are not skills based. Many of us are also either implicitly or explicitly also expecting that fitness, adequately defined, will also lead to beneficial long term health outcomes, a sense of physical well being, and an attractive physical form. I am not sure however if those outcomes are to be thought of as fitness, or as consequences of fitness.

Reading TriPolar on preview, well the evolutionary perspective probably does include attractiveness to potential mating partners, but then that indirectly was likely selecting for forms that correlated with the ability to succeed in those evolutionarily significant activities of day to day living. And that argues for that as an appropriate bar and default fitness goal (excepting a particular event or sports/occupation need) since the attraction to those forms is still likely predisposed in our wiring ...
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Old 09-10-2010, 12:16 PM
Acid Lamp Acid Lamp is offline
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15 miles running without stopping is absolutely absurd. There is a great distribution among humans in regards to physical type, and body proportions. Running is a lot harder for some types than others. I'm short and muscular with very short legs. I can walk all day without complaint, and I'm a fair short distance sprinter. Running tires me right out quickly. On the other hand, I can perform heavy tasks that require strength long after others gas out. I don't really train in any manner other than a general workout and martial arts. It's mostly the natural result of my activity level and genes.

Physical fitness should be measured by individual against a selected societal mean that excludes the top performers and terribly obese and out of condition. A good definition might be: "The ability to function at or above the average in any physical task, combined with the ability to function above the average in several categories for extended periods of time."

I would suggest the following as categories to examine: Cardio endurance, raw strength, strength endurance, flexibility, raw speed, hand eye coordination, raw endurance.

So someone who scored at above average in 4/7 and at least average in the other 3 would be Physically fit as compared to their peers.

Last edited by Acid Lamp; 09-10-2010 at 12:18 PM..
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Old 09-10-2010, 01:03 PM
ultrafilter ultrafilter is online now
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Fitness for what?
That is sort of the question and the crux of the debate I was hoping to hear.
The point I was going for is that it's very rare to talk about general purpose fitness, and I don't think this is an exception. Rather, we ask whether something is fit for a particular use. So what's the use? That will determine the answer.
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  #21  
Old 09-10-2010, 01:06 PM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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Reading TriPolar on preview, well the evolutionary perspective probably does include attractiveness to potential mating partners, but then that indirectly was likely selecting for forms that correlated with the ability to succeed in those evolutionarily significant activities of day to day living. And that argues for that as an appropriate bar and default fitness goal (excepting a particular event or sports/occupation need) since the attraction to those forms is still likely predisposed in our wiring ...
Why didn't you say you were talking about evolution? This has suddenly become an interesting thread!
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Old 09-10-2010, 01:42 PM
Blaster Master Blaster Master is offline
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Fitness has a heavy social interaction. Society has some basic standards about what a fit person ought to look like and ought to be able to do, and if you don't fit those standards, you may not be "fit" to the general public. Unfotunately, I think most of these societal standards are based almost entirely on appearance rather than ability. However, you take that same individual and put them in another situation, like power lifting or running a marathon, and he may be horribly unfit. Similarly, you take a champion power lifter or a marathon runner and put them up against normal standards and they'd probably fall short too.

The unfortunate thing is that many people don't really need any amount of physical strength, endurance, flexibility, or balance to perform their jobs or live their lives, at least not the way we did in generations past where we could easily judge fitness as someone who is successfully able to perform whatever tasks they need to do.

But if we're aiming for a general definition, I'd just say someone that is able to perform at some percentile in multiple categories, and that the most fit people perform overall the best in the most categories. To this point, oddly enough, I think this is where a competition like World's Strongest Man is somewhat successful because it doesn't just test raw strength, but also muscular and cardiovascular endurance, balance, quickness, etc. Of course, it's skewed with a certain perspective, but if you could take those sorts of events, turned down a few notches, and also include some serious endurance type tests, you'll probably find the fittest people doing that.
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Old 09-10-2010, 02:12 PM
DSeid DSeid is online now
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Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
... Why didn't you say you were talking about evolution? ...
Because that is only one possible take on the question. I am attracted to it as a definition and as a result of consideration during this discussion to the confluence of physical and evolutionary fitness that it represents - but it obviously is not the only take possible.

ultafilter - I would say that I am asking about "general fitness": absent a particular goal - such as running a marathon, or completing a half ironman, or hitting a personal best time in some distance of cycling or running, or putting on X amount of muscle mass, or losing Y amount of fat - what would you think should be default "general" physical fitness targets?

Is fitness just a social construction, as Blaster Master appears to initially propose?

Acid Lamp yes, some are not built to be as fit in some dimensions than others. I too have short legs ... I'll never be the elite swimmer, and while I have trained up to the level of running a marathon, no amount of training will get me fast at it (my motto was "Slow ... but stubborn.") I do not have the genetic stuff to be an elite fit. I can merely satisfy myself by being more fit than I have been in the past (which is hard to judge without a workable definition of fitness). In your proposed categories, what is the "raw endurance" as opposed to "strength" and "cardio" endurance?
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Old 09-10-2010, 02:41 PM
Acid Lamp Acid Lamp is offline
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Raw endurance would be the ability to sustain a moderate level of varying physical activities for a substantial length of time. For example a test might include a survival scenario. Say walking a few miles, then digging/ clearing a shelter area, cutting/ gathering wood to build a fire. All continuous and broken up frequently but without breaks. A long obstacle course with multiple challenges is another sort. This is different to the other types of endurance as it is a lesser, but combined effort that must be exerted for a much greater length of time. It may seem redundant, but I know a lot of people who can go all day working, but fail horribly at exercise type tests. This is a different sort of non specialized physical activity that certainly should count when discussing fitness.

Last edited by Acid Lamp; 09-10-2010 at 02:42 PM..
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Old 09-10-2010, 02:50 PM
ultrafilter ultrafilter is online now
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ultafilter - I would say that I am asking about "general fitness": absent a particular goal - such as running a marathon, or completing a half ironman, or hitting a personal best time in some distance of cycling or running, or putting on X amount of muscle mass, or losing Y amount of fat - what would you think should be default "general" physical fitness targets?
I'm not at all certain that this is a coherent concept.
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Old 09-10-2010, 03:21 PM
DSeid DSeid is online now
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Raw endurance would be the ability to sustain a moderate level of varying physical activities for a substantial length of time. For example a test might include a survival scenario. Say walking a few miles, then digging/ clearing a shelter area, cutting/ gathering wood to build a fire. All continuous and broken up frequently but without breaks. A long obstacle course with multiple challenges is another sort. This is different to the other types of endurance as it is a lesser, but combined effort that must be exerted for a much greater length of time. It may seem redundant, but I know a lot of people who can go all day working, but fail horribly at exercise type tests. This is a different sort of non specialized physical activity that certainly should count when discussing fitness.
Actually it does not seem at all redundant and seems to me that the ability to perform well in that sort of test is closer to what I am thinking of as fitness. Anything more than a very minimal level of fitness may be minimally functional for most of our current activities of daily living, but it seems to me that the more fit individual is someone who could be placed into any of a wide variety of hard manual labor environments, both current and historic back to Paleolithic times, and outwork others.

ultrafilter what part seems less than coherent to you? I am not asking about fitness for a specific goal but rather asking how we should, or even if we can, define general fitness. I am conceding that fitness is sometimes goal specific, as you put it "for a particular use", but what about those of us who have no "particular use" in mind other than the vague notion of "being fit" - how should we define our target more precisely? And why?
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Old 09-10-2010, 03:27 PM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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I think to be fit, you essentially need to be able to run 15+ miles at a moment's notice, without stopping. I don't think you need to be able to do that every single day of the week, as that isn't a natural use case of our endurance. I do think you need to be able to do it whenever necessary, though.

I wouldn't say a marathon runner is a perfect example of what we're looking for, they potentially run too much. They also probably don't emphasize strength enough, as prehistoric humans certainly needed some "raw power" to do things like carry butchered carcasses and other activities.
I must say, i'm somewhat perplexed about why a definition of "fit," in the minds of some people, must be determined by the attributes required by our prehistoric ancestors to hunt down and butcher large animals. It seems to me that such a narrow or limited definition is silly, precisely because most humans no longer actually need to engage in those activities in order to survive.

I'm not arguing that someone who could pursue a deer (or whatever) on foot and kill it with a spear or club is unfit. I just think it's a pretty nonsensical way to define "fit" for a person in a modern society like ours.
I mostly discount our current society entirely, mainly because it represents less than 1% of the human historical experience and also because in the present context physical fitness has no meaning at all. While the military hasn't actually allowed it yet, technically a 350 lbs gamer who gets winded walking up a flight of stairs can fly a drone and kill hundreds of people with the click of a button, a far more deadly soldier than the toughest and best trained knight or samurai could ever dream of being.

Our society doesn't require you to participate in sports, and even most manual labor jobs don't seem to require physical fitness. I have an extended family with a decent bit of people in it who work tough, manual labor jobs (construction, coal mining etc) and well, most of those guys are a bit fat and probably wouldn't do too well in any sort of endurance contest. They aren't weight lifters either, so while they have some "strength" they certainly can't perform well by any sort of lifting metrics.

Someone can be quite "strong" in the normal sense but when it comes to weight lifting if you haven't done the specific lifts over and over again to build up your ability at them, you'd be shocked at how little weight even a big, strong guy can lift. For example a good number of big, strong guys who never work out probably can't bench over 150 lbs.

So since there is no present-day utilitarian argument for fitness we can either just say "it's all your opinion" and the thread is pointless, or we can point back to what meant "fitness" for 99.9% of human existence.

Last edited by Martin Hyde; 09-10-2010 at 03:28 PM..
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  #28  
Old 09-10-2010, 03:35 PM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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Originally Posted by Acid Lamp View Post
15 miles running without stopping is absolutely absurd.
Ever tried it? All this "distribution of body types" stuff is absolutely bullshit. I can guarantee you unless you are physically disabled or in some way have a medical condition, you can be short and broad or tall and lean and you can easily work up to running 15 miles at a time (I don't mean sprinting so hard your heart rate is over 90%, I mean running.)

I'm not a runner at all in fact I can't remember the last time I ran over a few miles in a stretch, I ran a marathon some twenty years ago just because it was one of those things I had always wanted to do to see if I could. I wasn't much of a runner before building up to the marathon and I wasn't much of a runner after, and it didn't take me years of work to get to the point of running one.

At the time I ran it I weighed 215 lbs (on a 6'5" frame.) That's technically overweight if you go by BMI, but I didn't feel overweight or have "visible" fatness, I was at a point in my life where I was lifting weights a few times a week and I was not what anyone would think of when they think of a stereotypical distance runner.

When you get into running for a bit, you invariably meet a lot of people. This was 20 years ago before running became as popular as it is now, but I met short, heavyset men who were able to run a marathon and really tall, lanky women, and everything in between.
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Old 09-10-2010, 03:39 PM
mhendo mhendo is online now
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Originally Posted by Martin Hyde View Post
I mostly discount our current society entirely, mainly because it represents less than 1% of the human historical experience and also because in the present context physical fitness has no meaning at all.
And yet it's in "current society" that we are being asked to find a definition of fitness, and it's "current society" where our level of fitness actually matters. The very term itself requires context, and what better context that the time and place that is of most relevance to those of us actually discussing the question.
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While the military hasn't actually allowed it yet, technically a 350 lbs gamer who gets winded walking up a flight of stairs can fly a drone and kill hundreds of people with the click of a button, a far more deadly soldier than the toughest and best trained knight or samurai could ever dream of being.
So what. The question was not "How do you define 'lethal'?" Ir was "How do you define fitness."
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Old 09-10-2010, 03:41 PM
Acid Lamp Acid Lamp is offline
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Originally Posted by Martin Hyde View Post

I mostly discount our current society entirely, mainly because it represents less than 1% of the human historical experience and also because in the present context physical fitness has no meaning at all. While the military hasn't actually allowed it yet, technically a 350 lbs gamer who gets winded walking up a flight of stairs can fly a drone and kill hundreds of people with the click of a button, a far more deadly soldier than the toughest and best trained knight or samurai could ever dream of being.

Our society doesn't require you to participate in sports, and even most manual labor jobs don't seem to require physical fitness. I have an extended family with a decent bit of people in it who work tough, manual labor jobs (construction, coal mining etc) and well, most of those guys are a bit fat and probably wouldn't do too well in any sort of endurance contest. They aren't weight lifters either, so while they have some "strength" they certainly can't perform well by any sort of lifting metrics.

Someone can be quite "strong" in the normal sense but when it comes to weight lifting if you haven't done the specific lifts over and over again to build up your ability at them, you'd be shocked at how little weight even a big, strong guy can lift. For example a good number of big, strong guys who never work out probably can't bench over 150 lbs.

So since there is no present-day utilitarian argument for fitness we can either just say "it's all your opinion" and the thread is pointless, or we can point back to what meant "fitness" for 99.9% of human existence.
With all due respect, those guys probably would do poorly at a traditional "cardio" type test. What they are superiour at is doing moderate activity for a long period of time. You are making the mistake of judging general fitness against specialized athletes. Only marathon runners have the cardio endurance of our paelolithic ancestors; only the cream of weightlifters could compete with a Neandertal. A bench press test is only one measure of raw power. What about squats, or mil presses? What about deadlifts or curls? I know a few mechanics who would struggle bench 150, but can curl 60 to 80 lbs because they do it all day.

Our modern era may be soft, but insisting that only the most elite are "fit" is just silly. We have loads of measures and benchmarks for human physical performance. We should be able to come up with a reasonable definition of "General Fitness".
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Old 09-10-2010, 03:50 PM
Acid Lamp Acid Lamp is offline
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15 miles running without stopping is absolutely absurd.
Ever tried it? All this "distribution of body types" stuff is absolutely bullshit. I can guarantee you unless you are physically disabled or in some way have a medical condition, you can be short and broad or tall and lean and you can easily work up to running 15 miles at a time (I don't mean sprinting so hard your heart rate is over 90%, I mean running.)

When you get into running for a bit, you invariably meet a lot of people. This was 20 years ago before running became as popular as it is now, but I met short, heavyset men who were able to run a marathon and really tall, lanky women, and everything in between.
snip.

I don't doubt that anyone can train up to running long distances, I merely pointed out that not everyone will have equal aptitude for it. You mention that you are 6'5. You probably have legs that are 6-10 inches longer than mine. That's like me having another whole shin. It's easily an extra foot per running stride if not more. These things make a difference. My point overall is that there are a lot of different types of athletic specialization, cardio being only one of many. Yes, I've tried long distance running before. I'm absolute shite at it. I can only sustain a jog for about 3/4 of a mile at a time. I can walk all day though without tiring. I can do other types of cardio reasonably well like biking, jumping jacks, and sprints. I'm not overweight at all, I'm just at the crap end of the curve in that area. On the other hand, I can do more pull ups, situps, and pushups then nearly all men my age except professional athletes.
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Old 09-10-2010, 03:55 PM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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Originally Posted by Acid Lamp View Post
With all due respect, those guys probably would do poorly at a traditional "cardio" type test. What they are superiour at is doing moderate activity for a long period of time.
Huh? Who are you talking about? What are you talking about?

Are you saying theoretical fat guys piloting remote drones would fail a cardio test? I wouldn't contest that.

Are you saying some guys I know that are manual laborers would fail a cardio test? I'm certain they would, they're certainly in better shape than similarly aged individuals who have desk jobs and do no exercise, but they don't exercise at all and probably get winded very easily (most of them smoke and all of them drink regularly, also.)

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You are making the mistake of judging general fitness against specialized athletes. Only marathon runners have the cardio endurance of our paelolithic ancestors; only the cream of weightlifters could compete with a Neandertal. A bench press test is only one measure of raw power. What about squats, or mil presses? What about deadlifts or curls? I know a few mechanics who would struggle bench 150, but can curl 60 to 80 lbs because they do it all day.
Huh? I'm not comparing general fitness to marathon running. If you read my earlier post I specifically said that marathon runners aren't the ideal. Most people I knew from "that culture" ran 10 miles a day regularly, just to do it. Our paleolithic ancestors did not run without reason, in that time in human history you didn't waste energy foolishly. They were able to run 15 miles at a time in persistence hunting when they needed to, it is highly unlikely they hunted every day. In fact they may have only hunted like 5-6 times a month.

What I'm getting at is there is obviously a level of fitness that would allow you to run 15 miles at a time "irregularly" meaning you'd have the endurance to do it when necessary but you weren't doing it all the time just for the hell of it.

Talking about the different lifts is just an expansion of what I was talking about. Weight lifting (which I think I also mentioned) isn't a super great way to measure fitness because it is a very specialized set of movements. Many of the lifts are designed to isolate muscles in ways that don't happen "naturally." How often do you need to do a bench press outside of the gym? How often do you need to do most of the lifts that isolate the chest muscle, the shoulders, the back muscles, or the triceps outside of a gym?

I agree a curl is probably something a heavy manual laborer would be good at because it isn't totally dissimilar from lifting that a laborer might do regularly. A squat is also not a motion totally alien to what a warehouse worker or someone might do fairly regularly on their jobs.

But weight lifting isn't a good measure of general fitness because it exists outside of the "real" world.

I'm not slamming weight lifting by the way, I've lifted my entire life (without ever considering myself a body builder or a power lifter, it's something I enjoy but I don't go crazy with it) and think it is great. But it has as much to do with the "real world" as jiujitsu or kendo. The real world of course is a world of desk jockeys and such, so physical fitness is entirely remove from it anyway. That is why I think the only objective measure for "fitness" for a specimen of homo sapien is how well they can do what this species has primarily evolved to do.

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Our modern era may be soft, but insisting that only the most elite are "fit" is just silly. We have loads of measures and benchmarks for human physical performance. We should be able to come up with a reasonable definition of "General Fitness".
I never insisted that, and I think you've badly misread my earlier post.
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Old 09-10-2010, 04:00 PM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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Originally Posted by Acid Lamp View Post
snip.

I don't doubt that anyone can train up to running long distances, I merely pointed out that not everyone will have equal aptitude for it. You mention that you are 6'5. You probably have legs that are 6-10 inches longer than mine. That's like me having another whole shin. It's easily an extra foot per running stride if not more. These things make a difference. My point overall is that there are a lot of different types of athletic specialization, cardio being only one of many. Yes, I've tried long distance running before. I'm absolute shite at it. I can only sustain a jog for about 3/4 of a mile at a time. I can walk all day though without tiring. I can do other types of cardio reasonably well like biking, jumping jacks, and sprints. I'm not overweight at all, I'm just at the crap end of the curve in that area. On the other hand, I can do more pull ups, situps, and pushups then nearly all men my age except professional athletes.
Different body configurations obviously are hugely important at the super high level.

If you want to set the world record for some types of lifts, it helps to be tall. At the same time, it helps to be short (or at least to have short arms) if you want to set the world record at bench pressing. While controversial because of his use of one of those canvas lifting shirts, the guy I've seen bench 1000 lbs was short and squat and had short, thick arms.

Likewise if you want to be the world's best jockey, better hope you're tiny. If you want to be a center in the NBA you'd better be tall.

But we're not talking the super extremes, I'm talking about the simple act of running for an hour or so at a time without falling over dead. Most humans can get to that point quite easily if they want. (I'm not lecturing by the way, I don't do much cardio and most of my exercise is lifting these days.)
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Old 09-10-2010, 04:05 PM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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Originally Posted by mhendo View Post
And yet it's in "current society" that we are being asked to find a definition of fitness, and it's "current society" where our level of fitness actually matters. The very term itself requires context, and what better context that the time and place that is of most relevance to those of us actually discussing the question.
As far as I'm concerned that's not an interesting topic. "Current society" fitness doesn't matter, period. I guess on some abstract level you could argue out of shape guys are less likely to get laid and less likely to have kids. But, to be honest, I've not observed that to be the case. Most people my age (50+) that I personally know have been married and the majority have one or two kids floating around. The ones that don't (like me) are mostly like that because of personality traits, not physical ones.

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So what. The question was not "How do you define 'lethal'?" Ir was "How do you define fitness."
You're looking for a fight that isn't there on this. I'm not arguing that "ability to kill someone" is a good measure of fitness. I'm just highlighting that physical fitness is mostly irrelevant in modern society, and is becoming so even in the traditional areas that in the past you could always say "it matters" for. Fifty years ago no one would argue that if you're in the military you needed to be in good shape, and while the military still has some physical fitness standards it is also grappling with the same overweight/obesity problem that the rest of society is grappling with. At the same time many military jobs (even ones involving combat) are at a point now where physical fitness does not matter.

In case you thought I was the poster upthread who was saying the only thing physical fitness matters in is mortal combat, that wasn't what I was saying. I was just pointing out that even the one or two areas you still can imagine fitness being important, it is rapidly losing its importance. I do this because I wanted to emphasize there can be no "standard of fitness" in a society in which no one needs to be fit to perform their function.

If that's where you'd like to stop the thread, fine by me. I took the viewpoint of looking at us as a species instead of the present-tense snap shot of us as a species living in a specific type of society that isn't statistically a very large portion of our species history.

Last edited by Martin Hyde; 09-10-2010 at 04:06 PM..
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Old 09-10-2010, 11:49 PM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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DSeid, I've given this considerable thought. There is only one reasonable measure of physical fitness. The amount of alcohol you can drink relative to body weight and time, and retain the ability to play mumbley peg without stabbing yourself. ('considerable' means hardly any, right?)
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Old 09-11-2010, 04:21 PM
Magiver Magiver is offline
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I would define physical fitness as a function of stamina. I would set the standard at a 6 minute mile.
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Old 09-11-2010, 05:51 PM
mhendo mhendo is online now
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I would define physical fitness as a function of stamina. I would set the standard at a 6 minute mile.
Do you mean 1 mile, and 1 mile only, in 6 minutes. Or do you mean maintaining a constant 6-minute-mile pace for even longer.

Either way, i still see no point in such a preposterously narrow and specific measurement.
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Old 09-11-2010, 06:15 PM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is offline
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Physical fitness is being at the optimum state of health to ward off illness/death for as long as possible.
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Old 09-11-2010, 07:45 PM
Try2B Comprehensive Try2B Comprehensive is offline
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The yoga people sometimes mention 'weightlessness' as a goal of yoga practice. It is a subjective measure. Apparently a person could take their practice up to a certain level where they could perform a fairly acrobatic yoga routine without losing control of their breath, and without succumbing to the various panic, suffocation, or fatigue responses the practice seems pretty much designed to force you to confront. A person who is really fit in this way would transform their physicality into a sort of act of will and would therefore experience movement as 'weightless'. Obviously there is a big mental component to this. With the breath control for example, a big part of it is simply recognizing that the out-of breath response is for some reason really 'premature'- you have quite a lot of gas left between the onset of these feelings and actually passing out. Obviously getting more exercise increases one's capacity, and increasing one's capacity makes it seem like you've got more mental control over it, and it is hard to draw the line between where one starts and the other stops. Anyway I am not an expert on this and am probably too half-assed about yoga to take it that far, so take this with a grain of salt.

The subjective side seems to overlap with the physical side. Yoga practice seems to activate the endogenic opiod system- I could be wrong but the kind of calmness it induces seems chemically induced and not merely a side effect of the meditational aspect of the practice. Other activities like running or weightlifting seem to activate adrenal and epinephrine systems- they make a person feel invigorated and alert. ISTM a person has to be at a certain level of fitness to be able to trigger these systems vigorously. Once you're there I think you'll just know it. For me it seems that getting regular doses of these natural drugs is the cure for the kind of modern anxiety that I think people are trying to cure with cigarettes or fat/salt/sugar or booze and drugs or what have you (though I admit that the oil spill was driving me to drink like a hobo for awhile there, and where was my super yoga talent then, huh?) But in a nutshell a fit person can physically induce a sense of well-being.

I could try to translate this into paleolithic terms. You'd be in a position to hulk out on adrenaline such that you could twist the head of that panther around until the neck snaps, but then instead of beating your chest all day in animal fury until you burn out you'd be able to calm back down, let go of the stress and deal with your environment in a more nuanced way, and the quicker the better.

Last edited by Try2B Comprehensive; 09-11-2010 at 07:48 PM..
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Old 09-11-2010, 08:48 PM
Magiver Magiver is offline
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I would define physical fitness as a function of stamina. I would set the standard at a 6 minute mile.
Do you mean 1 mile, and 1 mile only, in 6 minutes. Or do you mean maintaining a constant 6-minute-mile pace for even longer.

Either way, i still see no point in such a preposterously narrow and specific measurement.
If it's a question of physical fitness then there is a metric involved. The point of such a narrow and specific measurement is to gauge the fitness of someone. It can be to test someone's heart rate in a doctor's office or as a test of school children to ensure some degree of health.
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Old 09-11-2010, 09:03 PM
mhendo mhendo is online now
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If it's a question of physical fitness then there is a metric involved. The point of such a narrow and specific measurement is to gauge the fitness of someone. It can be to test someone's heart rate in a doctor's office or as a test of school children to ensure some degree of health.
I never said there was no metric. I simply believe that to define the metric so narrowly is ridiculous.

And your assertion about gauging fitness completely begs the question: we need to arrive at some sort of understanding of what fitness is, or should be, before we can properly gauge it. Simply stating that fitness is the ability to run a six-minute mile requires some justification. And it leaves out so many possible alternatives that it seems to me a very poor measure.

How many miles at six minutes? One? Three? Ten?

And if i can't run a mile in 6 minutes, but i can run 8 miles at 7.5 minutes a mile, am i still fit?

What if i can't run a mile in six minutes, but i can spend 80 minutes on a rugby field, alternately sprinting, tackling, running backwards, passing the ball, etc.? Am i fit then?

Maybe i'm not much of a runner, but i can swim 1500 meters in 20 minutes. How does that fit into your scale?
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Old 09-11-2010, 09:08 PM
Magiver Magiver is offline
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And if i can't run a mile in 6 minutes, but i can run 8 miles at 7.5 minutes a mile, am i still fit?

What if i can't run a mile in six minutes, but i can spend 80 minutes on a rugby field, alternately sprinting, tackling, running backwards, passing the ball, etc.? Am i fit then?

Maybe i'm not much of a runner, but i can swim 1500 meters in 20 minutes. How does that fit into your scale?
I chose a number that school children should be able to achieve in gym class. It doesn't represent a speed challenge, it's a measurement of cardio fitness. There are an infinite number of such tests that could be used.

Last edited by Magiver; 09-11-2010 at 09:11 PM..
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Old 09-11-2010, 10:15 PM
ultrafilter ultrafilter is online now
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I chose a number that school children should be able to achieve in gym class. It doesn't represent a speed challenge, it's a measurement of cardio fitness. There are an infinite number of such tests that could be used.
Why are you completely neglecting flexibility, mobility, strength and endurance?
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Old 09-12-2010, 01:53 AM
Magiver Magiver is offline
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I chose a number that school children should be able to achieve in gym class. It doesn't represent a speed challenge, it's a measurement of cardio fitness. There are an infinite number of such tests that could be used.
Why are you completely neglecting flexibility, mobility, strength and endurance?
Because the op is asking about physical fitness. A person can be flexible, mobile and strong as an ox and be out of shape.
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Old 09-12-2010, 07:38 AM
Acid Lamp Acid Lamp is offline
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Why are you completely neglecting flexibility, mobility, strength and endurance?
Because the op is asking about physical fitness. A person can be flexible, mobile and strong as an ox and be out of shape.
That is almost an oxymoron. Someone who is all those things is in reasonably good condition. You can't be a strong, flexible workhorse who goes all day at a high rate of physical activity if you are sloppy and lazy physically. Human average run times for a mile are between 8-12 minutes btw. 6 is considered bloody fast by both school measures and the military. Cardio is only one function of a spectrum of physical activity that ought to be measured to check for fitness. It certainly is one of the most important ones, but hardly the only measure of health. A person who could run a fast mile, but is underweight, physically weak, and inflexible is not in as good overall condition as someone with a slower, but good time who scores above average in all other categories. Then you have to consider that there are different types of cardio exercises one could use. High impact, like running is difficult for some people,(like myself for example, I have bad knees from a wrestling accident in high school) while biking is far more gentle on my joints and allows me to perform cardio exercises for longer at at a higher heart rate.

In a previous post I suggested seven categories of physical fitness that should be tested to make a thorough evaluation of physical health. In addition, one should also factor in age/height/weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Setting a lone bechmark in a single category of physical activity is terribly narrow minded.

Last edited by Acid Lamp; 09-12-2010 at 07:39 AM..
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Old 09-12-2010, 12:18 PM
Magiver Magiver is offline
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That is almost an oxymoron. Someone who is all those things is in reasonably good condition. You can't be a strong, flexible workhorse who goes all day at a high rate of physical activity if you are sloppy and lazy physically. Human average run times for a mile are between 8-12 minutes btw. 6 is considered bloody fast by both school measures and the military. Cardio is only one function of a spectrum of physical activity that ought to be measured to check for fitness. It certainly is one of the most important ones, but hardly the only measure of health. A person who could run a fast mile, but is underweight, physically weak, and inflexible is not in as good overall condition as someone with a slower, but good time who scores above average in all other categories. Then you have to consider that there are different types of cardio exercises one could use. High impact, like running is difficult for some people,(like myself for example, I have bad knees from a wrestling accident in high school) while biking is far more gentle on my joints and allows me to perform cardio exercises for longer at at a higher heart rate.

In a previous post I suggested seven categories of physical fitness that should be tested to make a thorough evaluation of physical health. In addition, one should also factor in age/height/weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Setting a lone bechmark in a single category of physical activity is terribly narrow minded.
The number I picked was based on a 12 minute 2 mile model used by a former coach as a warm-up before practice. It was more than a jog but shy of a full run. The number represents a cardio metric and not a carving in Mt Rushmore. In practice the idea would be tailored as needed and is not really a function of this discussion.
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Old 09-12-2010, 01:41 PM
DSeid DSeid is online now
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The point is that it is a cardio and speed metric and a very narrow one at that. Some posting in this thread (myself among them) believe that a definition and/or measure of general fitness should be broader.

I think I have settled upon defining it as "the capacity to do prolonged muscular work of varying sorts, levels, and intensity" which can of course be narrowed into specific fitness for certain tasks. I have become convinced that a reasonable model is indeed to imagine what sort of work would have been functional, included as activities of daily living, across an evolutionarily significant timescale for our species and to use that as the default general sort of work. Of course many dimensions affect that capacity: cardiorespiratory capacity both at anaerobic and endurance levels, muscular endurance, muscular power (and not restricted to particular proscribed lifts but across a wide range of possible functional movements), flexibility, and so on. Fitness so defined would likely contribute both to good long term health outcomes and a pleasing physical form. Those can be considered as outcomes of, or consequences of fitness, but are not equal to fitness.
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Old 09-12-2010, 02:41 PM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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OK Dseid, I'll be serious here. You have identified a number of ways that 'physical fitness' could be measured, but I don't think that list is anywhere near complete. You haven't included cardiac control to the extent of lowering one's heart rate following activity, or the the more general ability to recover following physical exertion. You mostly reference activities requiring minimal coordination complexity or reaction time. In addition my irreverant references to drunken activities and death matches bring up the notion of applied fitness vs. theroetical fitness. Do you think you can come up with enough measures to be reasonably complete, and proof that those measures produce the predicted results in application?
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Old 09-12-2010, 04:12 PM
DSeid DSeid is online now
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OK Dseid, I'll be serious here. You have identified a number of ways that 'physical fitness' could be measured, but I don't think that list is anywhere near complete. You haven't included cardiac control to the extent of lowering one's heart rate following activity, or the the more general ability to recover following physical exertion. You mostly reference activities requiring minimal coordination complexity or reaction time. In addition my irreverant references to drunken activities and death matches bring up the notion of applied fitness vs. theroetical fitness. Do you think you can come up with enough measures to be reasonably complete, and proof that those measures produce the predicted results in application?
Hmmm. Hard to decide if I should respond by including that as under cardiorespiratory (speed of heart rate recovery after exercise is one measure of that) or by including it under the "and so on". You are correct that I have not included coordination and reaction time as part of physical fitness. I am hesitant to do so. They strike me as more physical traits, like long arms, than aspects of fitness. I am however open to being convinced.

As to the applied vs theoretical aspect - I am a bit struck by parallels to discussions about "intelligence". Intelligence is of course actually something that is very task specific, but that doesn't stop us from commonly thinking in terms of a general intelligence, by which we usually mean the level of our ability to do cognitive work (problem solving) successfully across the many areas that relevant to our function both in the modern world and likely across the kinds of problems we have faced historically as a species. Of course it actually consists of many dimensions, but succeeding overall usually entails being above average in most of them. Accepting that such a general intelligence exists in theory is easy; measuring it in the real world is fraught with difficulties and enough debate to have taken up many threads on this board.

I am not sure any single test can either fully measure general intelligence or fitness nor that we can ever precisely define what domains each entail to which degree. I'd be partial to the suggestion made upthread by Acid Lamp under his "raw endurance" dimension - a long obstacle course made up of various challenges of various levels of intensity. I'd prefer that they were somewhat unpredictable, as training for a particular event makes it more a skills test than a test of overall fitness.

That said my interest in this thread was less how to test for it, than what it is. I think to some extent having a sense in mind of what good overall fitness is can help guide what kind of exercise programs we set up for ourselves (barring a specific goal, like running a marathon). Of course taking a back seat to the first priority: an exercise program has to be something you will actually do. If we say defaulted to a position that fitness equals speed in the one mile, then interval sprints and fairly short but fast paced runs would be all we would need to include in a training program for general fitness. Holding fitness as "the capacity to do prolonged muscular work of varying sorts, levels, and intensity" suggests a different sort of program is more ideal.
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Old 09-12-2010, 06:04 PM
ultrafilter ultrafilter is online now
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Why are you completely neglecting flexibility, mobility, strength and endurance?
Because the op is asking about physical fitness. A person can be flexible, mobile and strong as an ox and be out of shape.
But only if you define in shape with regard to nothing but cardiovascular fitness! That's not the only important quality; in fact, the appropriate levels of flexibility and mobility are your best defense against injury, and there's certainly an argument to be made that the ability to not be injured is central to fitness.
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