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How Do You Define Fitness?

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I became hooked on CrossFit in 2010 for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest one was the scientific definition of fitness that underscores the entire method. In order to achieve improved health and fitness, it behooves us to quantify our progress, which in turn, improves our chances for success. So what is the CrossFit definition of fitness, exactly? Beware: acronyms ahead.

WCBTMD: Work Capacity across Broad Time and Modal Domains

• Work Capacity looks at how much weight we can move, and how much distance we can cover. To take a simple example, if we have 1,000 pounds of sandbags on 37th street and need to move them to 27th street, that requires a certain capacity of work, and whoever performs this task the fastest (without the use of cars, say), we can begin to argue, is the most fit.
• Broad Time suggests we should test fitness not only with lengthy events, like marathons and triathlons or even moving 1,000 pounds of sandbags half a mile, but also in much shorter time periods and medium time periods.
• Modal Domains broadens the definition of fitness across a wide field of testing mechanisms. We want to test weightlifting, gymnastics, endurance pieces, and any other way the human body may naturally move.

In the mid 2000’s Competitor magazine named a triathlete (name?) as the fittest man on earth. He won Kona, the world championship Ironman competition, 6 out of 7 years (and the one year he didn’t lose; he simply couldn’t compete). CF founder Greg Glassman took issue with this claim as he knew many athletes who could do many more pushups, pullups, and sit-ups than [name], despite the fact that he might be the best at swimming, biking, and running for a very long time. But what about a shorter time trial? And what about another piece of the fitness definition: the ability to move Large Loads over Long Distances Quickly (LLLDQ)? This inspired the creation of the CF Games to crown the fittest man, woman, and team on earth via a series of tests across the Open, Regional and the Game competitions.

The sport continues to evolve, but the foundation remains the same. In CF, the specialist is punished when asked to perform outside of their specialty; “Specialization is for insects,” according to Glassman. But being able to perform at a high to moderate level at many different tasks will often yield improved results according to the CF definition of fitness.

If you consider all of the different kinds of fitness tests, they include Accuracy, Agility, Balance, Coordination, Endurance, Mobility, Strength, Speed, Stamina and Power. These ten general physical skills might be graded on a scale of one to ten, with the highest possible score being 100. The fittest athlete might not score a ten on every test. In fact, she might not even score an eight or nine. But hitting a six in every single area is ultimately superior than rating a ten on one or two tests with the rest in the 1-4 range. The numbers become fun to play with for geeks like me and hopefully for each “athlete” as they add to their resume of tests. This definition of fitness enables us to compare ourselves to our family and friends in (hopefully) productive ways.

If you have spent any time with a CrossFitter, you may have noticed they often speak a language of their own, and this is of vital importance. The social aspect of CF is undeniable. CF is very intentional about language. For example, we call our class leaders coaches, not just “trainers,” because human movement requires a higher level of understanding, progression, and conceptualization. The members of a CF box are athletes, not just members (which has a sterile, monetary connotation). An athlete is someone who competes with not only other athletes in a competition, but also with their former-self chasing improved performance which we measure via times on WODs, reps accomplished in AMRAPs, and weight lifted in various barbell movements.

So when someone asks you “What is CrossFit?”, you can direct them to the various definitions of fitness, describe all the different movements performed, and spout one of our more formal definitions (CVFMHI – constantly varied functional movements performed at a high intensity). But the best bet is to have them come in and try a free class, because seeing is believing and suffering through a WOD can open someone up to look beyond the traditional fitness paradigm.

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