by Khaled Allen

Picture credit: oddsock on Flickr

Are you fit enough to save your own life? What about those of your loved ones? Are you fit enough to survive a natural disaster?

If you workout just to get ‘in shape’, that isn’t good enough. It has no concrete value; what does ‘in shape’ even mean? It is a very vague goal, and vague goals never get you anywhere.

Here is a better set of goals, from Mark’s Daily Apple: be fit enough to survive a threat to your own life, to rescue your family if you must, and to endure any trauma you might experience.

Fitness is and always has been a means to an end. We train our bodies so that they might help us accomplish something. The Spartans trained from childhood not because they wanted to have higher levels of energy and look good in a loincloth. They had a city to defend and the honor of a culture to uphold. They put their bodies at the service of their city-state, and that is what gave them purpose in their training.

The most successful athletes have goals. Looking damn sexy is a fine goal, and it has motivated a lot of people in the past. Needing to be in shape to survive is a much better goal, and will let you push yourself to much greater heights of physical and mental prowess.

The greatest athletes in our civilization are the Olympians. They aren’t in it for the fitness. They are in it for the gold, literally. They don’t just want to be ‘in shape’. They want to be the best they can be, to perform whatever task is required of them as effectively as possible, and to leave a mark on the world. For them, it isn’t good enough to just go through their fitness routine; they need to see results.

If you want to become a truly accomplished athlete, you need something to train for, some objective to dedicate your body towards pursuing.

Fitness demands testing. That is why the truly fit – real athletes – are naturally drawn to challenge. They want to be tested. That is really the only way to know if you are fit, and to what extent.

CrossFit stakes its entire approach to fitness on measurable results. Fitness is meaningless if it cannot be measured and tested. The CrossFit definition of fitness is fairly straightforward. It is based on how efficiently you can complete a given task. Weightlifters are fit to move heavy loads. Runners are fit to cover a lot of distance quickly. How do we know? We measure it.

Being fit is important, make no mistake. The term fitness originally refers to the likelihood a given organism will reproduce and pass on its genes. You want to be fit, trust me. The desire to be fit is hardwired into your genes.

A great way to measure your real, applicable fitness is to consider whether your level of fitness is sufficient to save your life in the event it were ever threatened. The blog, The Art of Manliness, suggests 5 physical benchmarks that every man should be capable of performing should he need to save his own life. They include swimming half a mile, running at top speed for 200m, jumping over an obstacle at waist height, 15-20 pull ups, and at least 25 dips.

When fitness is necessary for survival, you have a much more useful measurement of ‘in shape’. Are  you fit enough to save your own life? Or are you just in shape to look pretty?

Most people are content to delude themselves into thinking they are fit based on cheesy infomercials and clever gym advertising. Nobody wants to admit that they’re not fit, because on a biological level, it is the equivalent of admitting you can’t survive and are not worthy to reproduce. And so our culture has come up with plenty of ways to let people avoid admitting that. You go to the gym for an hour a day and you pedal the elliptical like your overpaid personal trainer told you to, therefore you are fit. Never mind the fact that you still can’t climb your apartment building stairs without stopping to catch your breath.

Our definition of fitness has been divorced from actually demonstrating physical prowess.

Want to know for sure if you’re fit enough to save your own life? Run a Spartan Race.

The race doesn’t care if you look good in a muscle shirt. It doesn’t care if you have the latest running shoes. It doesn’t care if you can bench 300 lbs. All it cares about is whether or not you can survive and finish. Can you get the job done? That is fitness. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are trying to sell you something you probably don’t need.

That is why I love CrossFit so much. The CrossFit WODs don’t care how you get the job done, so long as you do it powerfully and efficiently. If the goal is to get weight overhead, you’ve got several different ways to do it. If the objective is to get yourself over a bar, by all means kick your legs and wriggle your way over the bar. If it gets you there faster than some muscle-head showing off his lats with strict pull ups, guess who will win the WOD? If you’re climbing for your life, guess who will survive and who will be found ‘unfit’?

Honestly, you don’t have to do either CrossFit or Spartan Races to test your fitness. You simply need to step up to a challenge that will push you out of your comfort zone. You need to put yourself in a place that is not easy and see if you can take it, and how well you can take it.

And you’re even allowed to fail. But if that happens, I expect you to train yourself to succeed next time. We have the luxury of simulating life threatening emergencies to test ourselves, and we should take advantage of that luxury so we’re ready for the real thing.

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3 Responses

  1. avatar

    Great stuff here! I couldn’t agree more!

  2. avatar

    Great point of view. Couldn’t agree with you more. The safety and comfort of the gym is clearly not the right place to test your fitness completely. The basic question is ‘fit for what?’ It always comes down to our genetic basis for survival.

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