Before the next workshop on exercise and flexibility I thought it would be worth looking at some of the philosophical questions in anticipation, like, Why do you want to get fitter?
If you want to answer the question, how do I get fitter? There exists a vast range of suppliers, from magazines to websites and even the governments gets in on the act. There are sources that will tell you how to be thinner, bigger, stronger, faster, leaner, sexier etc. Whether you want to have the perfect godlike proportions of a modern day Adonis, or the stamina of a modern day Pheidippides, someone will tell you how. I've been intrigued to see a recent rise in events and training regimes for the 'hard mad' the Spartan, the Iron Man, the Tough Mudder. No longer is running a marathon impressive. Can you swim the Chanel, cycle the length of Britain and then run up a mountain? How about 30 marathons in 30 days? The fitness zeitgeist is geared towards the superhuman. It challenges us. It's asks "are you man enough?" Is this a reflection of a generation of men lacking clarity for their gender identification? Is this modern man searching to find an archetype for manliness without the hunter/warrior figure to draw upon. There is a male character in one of the many crime/pathology/detective genera on TV who exemplifies this gender identity search. The lead character is a woman, but our man is not only her intellectual equal, though in a subservient position professionally, he is also an amateur cage fighter on the side, with the mandatory six pack. It is as if we as a culture are unsure as to what counts as the gender ideal.
So I want to ask the question, “for what purpose do you want to be fitter?”
Do you want to be able to continue everyday activities for as long as possible? Being an active independent person into your 90s?
Do you want to appeal to the opposite sex?
Do you want to take part in a sporting activity at a competitive level?
Do you want to consider yourself the worthy inheritor of your genes? Someone that your hunter/warrior ancestor would be proud to call his descendent?
Are you seeking a high level of self esteem through comparison with your peers?
The answer, “I just want to be fitter”, is wholly inadequate.
Until you can answer the question “Fit for What?” it isn't really possible to begin any sort of meaningful exercise regime. For example, do you also want to be healthier? Make no mistake, fitness and health are not the same. For a completely sedate individual, a small increase in almost any exercise and its increase in fitness will invariably instigate an increase in health. However any serious improvement in fitness will have a potential cost. The cost might be nothing more that an increase in the risk of injury; almost inevitable with any physical activity. Some levels of fitness for some particular activities will require a sacrifice in health. There is a ‘minimum effective dose’ for exercise; enough to cause an improvement to a particular functionality. There is also a level of exercise, that, while causing a short term functional improvement, will cause excessive wear and tear and therefore a long term reduction in functionality.
So perhaps start to give some thought to why you want to be fitter, ‘for what purpose?’ otherwise it will be like deciding to get new clothes without having any idea what you need the clothes for. New pyjamas will not serve you the same way as a wedding dress or a wet suit.