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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by Khaled Allen

The most common complaint I hear from people who are interested in improving their fitness is that they don’t want to lift heavy weights. Bikers maintain that they don’t need to, soccer players believe it will make them bulky, and runners think it will slow them down. Women almost universally are afraid of gaining weight.

Marilyn Monroe lifted heavy weights, for crying out loud!

The problem is that there are no images in the fitness world of immensely strong, lean individuals. Everyone seems to think that if they so much as touch a loaded barbell, they will balloon into an Austrian bodybuilder. When people think of weightlifting, they see super heavyweight powerlifters and bodybuilders. They don’t think about the 135 lb men who are lifting 300 lbs and are about as lean and cut as a jaguar.

Most people don’t realize that the super heavyweights follow special programs to gain weight; they don’t get that way just by lifting.

People associate strength with bulk, and bulk with slowness. They would rather be small and weak than slightly heavier and immensely stronger.

Here’s an interesting fact: muscle tissue is capable of generating approximately 30 times its own weight in tension. That means 1 pound of muscle can pull 30 pounds of weight. Any gains in muscle mass will bestow more than enough extra speed, power, and agility to compensate for the extra bulk (up to a certain point of course).

The Spartan Race requires you to be well-rounded, just like any real-life situation that might require you to use your body. In an emergency, you might have to carry your loved ones to safety, and the ability to bike for hours will do you no good if you can’t even support their weight for more than a few minutes. Get strong. You’ll be faster, more agile, have less pain, and look better naked.

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by Khaled Allen

Olympic weightlifting used to be the realm of only a few select athletes who had access to exclusive equipment and facilities. Now, thanks to CrossFit, more and more people are learning the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk, and developing uncommon speed, power, and grace.

Having more people approach heavy weightlifting seriously can only be a good thing. You learn a great deal about yourself trying to convince your body to get underneath a heavy, elevated object, and it teaches you something about commitment when you have to decide to fight to hold a lift or let it drop. It’s only a few instants, but you’ll deal with fear, doubt, excitement, anticipation, elation, and every emotion in between.

When most people think of weightlifting, they think of big jocks pumping barbells for hours while talking lovingly to their biceps. There is no romance, no drama, no self-discovery to that. Or they see the Olympics and think that there is no point if you’re not cleaning 300+ pounds. But the benefits of the Olympic lifts include self-confidence, the ability to commit to a daunting (and sometimes overwhelming) task, and of course coordination and grace rivaled only by the other sport most laypeople never get into: gymnastics.

The individuals in this video aren’t Olympic caliber lifters, nor are they professionals, but they know that moment of fear as the bar comes crashing down on them, and they know the sense of elation when they overcome it. Anyone can experience that, with a little training and a willingness to do some real weightlifting.

If you want real weightlifting, learn the Olympic lifts. That’s an adventure worthy of a true athlete.

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