What is Fitness? Part 1: Defining the Question

I set out this morning to plan a series of 15 blogs about how I define “Fitness” and what this name “Smart, Fit, and Clean” that I’ve adopted for my coaching business actually means.   I got way into it, expanding my notes into broader and broader topics, coming up with themes and blog titles for all 15 articles, and trying to organize these thoughts.

Then I realized that I’m not ready to do this the way I planned.  In order to write basically 15 essays organizing a case for what fitness is, I would have to be armed with a set of conclusions.  No, in fact, I have more questions than conclusions.  So, rather than writing these 15 essays in a super-organized and structured fashion, I’m actually just going to explore my ideas in blog form.  I think it might be more valuable this way because it’ll be more of a conversation starter rather than attempting to be the last word on the topic.

I’m going to begin today with a discussion of my history with the concept of “fitness” and how I have come to define it and practice it for myself.  In order to tell this history, I am going to borrow a framework I learned from OPEX fitness: the 4 stages of learning.

4 stages of learning.jpeg

Unconscious Incompetence

I have always had a relationship with fitness, well before I was aware of it or curious about it at all.  I was blessed with a set of parents who instilled in me a lot of great health & fitness behaviors.  I was also gifted with a certain type of mind that took to deeper philosophical thought and a body that took to physical activity and exercise.  When I was young, however, I had no idea what fitness was or why to do it.  I just did what I did because that was what I did.

In this stage, I had a lot of good fitness practices mixed in with a lot of bad habits, and really no conscious reason for doing anything that I was doing.  I ate to survive.  I exercised for a cathartic release of anger or physical preparation for combat.  That was about the extent of my thought process around fitness at this time.  This is unconscious incompetence, when you don’t know what you don’t know (or can’t do).

Conscious Incompetence

When I was a little older, around 20, I ran into a set of problems that I had not had to confront before.  I was overweight, the result of a lot of beers and late-night stoner munchies, as well as a burst appendix and 12-weeks bed rest.  I was depressed by my poor job prospects, beater truck, and ragged clothes.  I was a bit lost, having turned away from a violent and troubled life-path, and left a lot of familiar friends and activities behind.

This was when I started to take my health and fitness into my own hands more consciously.  I checked-out stacks of books from the library (and many never made it back).  I tried a dozen different fad-diets.  I became a workout fanatic, training twice a day at 4 or 5am and 5 or 6pm.

This was when I first started to work out a definition of what fitness was.  The dictionary said it was, “the state of being fit and healthy”, which really wasn’t any help.  I started to think about it more along the lines of the ancient Greek “Golden Mean”, or the “ideal moderate position between two extremes”.  This led me to think about all the sports and capacities of the ancient Olympic Games, or those practiced by us moderns today.  I thought about a state of fitness that would be an ‘ideal position’ between all those extremes.  I developed a cross-training program for myself that involved endurance, sprinting, heavy weights, and calisthenics.

Then, in the fall of 2003, a friend of mine introduced me to this thing called “CrossFit”.  I’ve written about this before and I’ll write about it again.  For today’s purposes, let’s just talk about what that meant for me in terms of philosophical and ideological thought.  Here was an organization who had proposed a definition of fitness that included proper nutrition, skill development, variety, and testing yourself with sports.  This definition was based on 3 models: the 10 general physical skills, the “hopper” (a lottery of random physical tasks), and the 3 energy systems.  You want to learn more about it?  Google, “CrossFit What is Fitness” and you can read it yourself.

Between my own research and this discovery of CrossFit, I now had a consciousness around what fitness was.  I had entered the stage of conscious incompetence, where I knew what I couldn’t do, and I knew there were things I didn’t know.

Conscious Competence

I spent some years in that stage of conscious incompetence, knowing exactly what I was trying to achieve and why, but struggling in my own ways to develop and master all those skills.  This was a long and rocky journey, but I eventually developed some confidence in fitness.  These are stories for another time, but let me just say that I developed a large suite of physical abilities and some great health and fitness practices.  I became competent and I knew what I was competent at, and why those things mattered.

Honestly, I believe I ventured into Conscious Competence, then thought my journey was done and inadvertently fell back into Conscious Incompetence, before grinding for years to return to Conscious Competence again.  This is why it’s called “conscious competence”, because you know what you know.  You know what you are able to do.  But, you have to think about it when you do it.  You know when you’re doing it and when you’re not, and you might still be looking at your notes.  When you don’t think about it, you don’t have it.

This return to conscious competence roughly corresponds to the stage when I was also attempting to become competent as a fitness coach.  I started taking some classes from OPEX Fitness and I ran across their idea of a personal definition of fitness.  This was the idea that each person could come up with their own definition of fitness.  I ran across a definition from their founder, James Fitzgerald, as well as numerous definitions of fitness that had been proposed by other fitness coaches.  I also came up with my own.  I don’t remember what it was exactly (and I’ve searched my computer a bit without finding it), but I know that it had something to do with expanding the concept of fitness beyond the physical and into the mental and the spiritual.

Unconscious Competence

So, here I am several years later and I realize that I’ve entered the stage of unconscious competence.  I have been practicing my own personal definition of physical, mental, and spiritual fitness, and I have become competent in it.  I have stopped needing to think about every action and activity and they have become natural.  That’s what unconscious competence is, after all: when you don’t know that you DO know.  It’s when you can do the thing well without having to think about it.  When competence becomes instinctive.

Now I’m exporting the thing widely.  I’m coaching people every day on these practices around nutrition, exercise, and behavior that lead to a better state of fitness.  I’m pumping out blogs on these topics (and they’re long!).  I’m in a great state of life, with great physical health, mental health, and spiritual health.  Beyond that, I feel like I have developed my physical, mental, and spiritual abilities.  I can do stuff!  I can think clearly!  I have self-awareness and gratitude.

At this stage, I think I’m qualified to ask questions and propose answers about what fitness is.  Is it an absence of illness, injury, and disease?  It it the presence of physical skills, abilities, and capacities?  Is it a broader idea that includes the mind and the ‘spirit’, whatever that is?  Is it survival?  Or, is it thriving?  These are the ideas I will explore in the next part of this blog series, tomorrow.





Published by nicnakis

Nicholas |nik-uh-luhs| n. a male given name: from Greek words meaning "victory of the people" John |jon| n. a male given name: from Hebrew Yohanan, derivative of Yehohanan "God has been gracious" Nakis |nah-kis| n. a Greek family name derived from the patronymic ending -akis (from Crete) Amha |am-hah| n. an Ethiopian given name meaning "gift", from Geez Selassie |suh-la-see| n. Ethiopian name meaning "trinity", from Geez

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