What is Fitness and How Do We Define It?

The Traditional View on Fitness

We hear the term being thrown around a lot these days. Our friends and family remark about their desire to get into better shape and get fit. Advertisements denote strategies and products that can improve your fitness. Nestle has a cereal product whose name is simply “Fitness”. Even our own site here at The Strength Cave refers to fitness and your individual fitness journey. What is interesting about fitness is that its’ definition seems to be a bit ambiguous. Everyone has a general idea of what fitness means. But if you ask 10 different people to define fitness, you most likely will receive 10 unique answers. So what exactly is fitness and how do we know when we are fit?


Over the last 10 years we’ve taken notice of the sport of CrossFit which claims to produce the fittest athletes. In fact, the winner of the CrossFit games is given the title of “fittest on earth.” Does this mean that in order to be fit, we should aspire to be the games champion? What about the thousands of other athletes outside of CrossFit that display equally impressive feats of physical ability?



There is no doubt that Mat Fraser, and Tia-Clair Toomey are extremely fit individuals. They display strength, speed, aerobic capacity, and power in a unique combination to excel at their craft. However, what if instead of measuring them by CrossFit standards, we asked them to compete in the Super Bowl? How would we rate them in their ability to display the same athleticism in this format? Despite their amazing skill for moving barbells and climbing ropes, they would probably fair quite poorly. Blocking pass rushers, slipping tackles, or rushing for touchdowns just isn’t in their wheel house.


I know what you are probably thinking, “You’re comparing athletes from two different sports, its apples and oranges.” Yes, and that’s my point exactly. By taking an athlete from one sport and evaluating them by the standards of another sport, they suddenly look mediocre. We know in our gut that both CrossFit champions and Super Bowl champions are in the elite level of athleticism. So, even though we can identify certain characteristics associated with fitness, we cannot define it absolutely. Fitness depends on the function of the individual and how we define/evaluate fitness changes from person to person

Fitness in Real Life

It is easy to see that professional athletes in different sports embody fitness even if they display different skills and characteristics. But I believe that the ambiguity of fitness also applies to us mere mortals as well. We tend to measure ourselves against elite athletes when it comes to our physique and athleticism. Remember though that their livelihood depends on pushing the limits in order to be the best athlete in their sport. When it comes to “normal” individuals the measuring stick has to change.


What is the function of a “normal” individual? Most people don’t work out or play sports for a living. Maybe they are going to school, working a job, or have a business to run. They have a family to care for and bills to pay. Exercise for them is more of a hobby and a means to keep themselves healthy, stay mentally acute, and challenge themselves athletically. Although they may not be professional athletes, they perform to the best of their ability.



How would you judge a person if I told you that they can’t run a sub-six minute mile, or deadlift 400 pounds? They can’t do 50 unbroken pull-ups and they’ve never done a power clean in their life. Probably sounds to you like a real dud in the gym. Now let me explain that she is a 40 year old mother. In the past two years she started consistently hitting the gym and eating well. She has eliminated all of her medication and is no longer a Type II diabetic. Her energy levels are off the charts, she is excelling at her job, keeping up with her kids, and enjoys a weekly round of golf with her husband. Her numbers in the gym are never going to be impressive but she is stronger than ever, has fun during her workout, and continues to achieve her own personal goals.


Wouldn’t you say that she sounds like a pretty fit individual?


When thinking about the definition of fitness, we should remember that it means something different to everyone. The goals you set for yourself may seem like a joke to some people. But those same goals may seem nearly impossible for others. This becomes especially important if you are a coach that works with a variety of clients. It is inspiring to see elite athletes push the limits of athletic performance. But we should also appreciate the efforts put forth by everyday folks as well. So, instead of asking ourselves “what is fitness?”, maybe the better question to ask is “what does fitness mean to you?”



2 thoughts on “What is Fitness and How Do We Define It?

  1. This was a great article Andres! Really enjoyed reading it

  2. I loved that you included a ” normal individual ” in your explanation. For us it gives a renewed drive to go forward and not feel intimidated by elite standards.

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