Two Types of Fitness - Don't Learn the Hard Way

After graduation from college I joined the Navy and attended Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. It was 20 weeks that was academically demanding and at times even physically brutal—no, frankly it was Hell—but that’s what it takes to become one of the best. It was a pressure cooker designed to break us down and then build us back up into “an officer and a gentleman.”

soldiers_obstacle_course_climb_sunrise_sunset_picEvery Friday night before we could go on liberty, there would be mandatory company athletic competition in a wide variety of events. I had just played three years of division 1 varsity rugby and was in great shape, so I naturally gravitated to the obstacle course competition that consisted of a number of tough obstacles through approximately a mile of deep sand. I was undefeated, developed quite a reputation, became pretty cocky, and felt that I was quite a physical specimen.

One Friday night after I had won the obstacle course, I found out that one of our swimmers was ill, and they needed someone to fill in. I was raised near the beach swimming and surfing most of my life, so I volunteered to put on my Speedo. My first event was the 100 meter freestyle, and I smoked the field. I climbed out of the pool to a hero’s reception, but immediately noticed something. My arms felt like lead, and my legs were quivering noticeably. I could hardly stand. About 10 minutes later I had to swim the anchor leg of the relay; expectations were huge. Our third swimmer tapped the edge of the pool giving me a slight lead; I dove in perfectly with the crowd going wild. Whoa, this time it was much different, my arms and legs were tied in knots. With about 25 meters to go on the home stretch I was struggling just to stay afloat. It was ugly, I had swallowed half the pool, and barely survived to finish the race, dead last. My body was failing me, I needed help getting out of the pool. From champ to chump in just a few short minutes. I discovered that I was in good shape for one kind of exercise, but lousy for another; different muscles, different demands. So, was I fit or not?

woman_stretch_fit_picTo my mind, there are two kinds of fitness. First is health fitness which is “a general state of health and well being” that essentially is a product of watching your weight and regular exercise of some type. As a bad example, I heard of a guy who named his dog “5 miles”; now he tells people that he walks 5 miles every day. Motor-performance fitness, on the other hand, includes much more, like strength, speed and agility, endurance, flexibility, coordination, and even skills.

To attain real motor-performance fitness requires combining a number of different activities that exercise different muscle groups in different ways. I like the new sprint triathlons that combine swimming, biking, and running. You don’t need to compete in an organized event; just alternating these activities interspersed with some weight training imparts amazing benefits. This concept is what’s behind the new CrossFit craze that’s sweeping the world. If you decide to go into this kind of total body workout, don’t be crazy; be consistent, be sensible, challenge yourself, but listen to your body.

In an upcoming article I will compare a number of these different exercises in regards to their impact on fitness, calorie burn rate, possibility of injury, and more. If you’ve been lazy and let yourself go, just accept the fact that running late, pushing your luck, and jumping to conclusions do not count as exercise.


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