What is Fitness?

CrossFit seeks to look at exercise in a scientific manner, with the objective of measuring our fitness levels to ensure the methodologies used are effective.

 

Without a definition of “fitness” that was quantifiable and measurable, there is absolutely no way to empirically determine if one training method was superior to another.  For this reason, CrossFit, became the first fitness organization which actually attempted to define fitness (here).

Three Standards Of Fitness

In evaluating what measures could be used to evaluate a level of fitness, CrossFit has actually come up with three distinct standards over time.  Each standard can be tested, and has different aspects of “fitness” that they address.

 

Competency in the ten general physical skills of fitness:

Organic

  • Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance – The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.
  • Stamina – The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
  • Strength – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
  • Flexibility – the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.

Combined Org & Neuro

  • Power – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
  • Speed – The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.

Neurologic

  • Coordination – The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
  • Agility – The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
  • Balance – The ability to control the placement of the bodies center of gravity in relation to its support base.
  • Accuracy – The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.

To be good at anything requires two aspects, physical ability (organic) and the neurologic ability. When you combine organic skills with neurologic skills, Power and Speed are a bi-product, and this creates amazing results.

 

The Hopper Test: Imagine every conceivable physical activity (or hardship) was placed in a giant hopper. Without bias, in a completely random manner, activities are drawn from the hopper one by one.  A fit person could perform at a level of competence any activity drawn out of this hopper. Having competence (or mastery) of the entire spectrum of physical activities, whether known or unknown is the second standard of fitness.

 

Competence In All Energy Pathways:

Humans operate on three energy pathways:

Phosphagen, Glycolytic, and Oxidative.  Each pathway is designed to dominate specific activities and for various durations.  The phosphagen pathway dominates high-powered activities and lasts about 10 seconds.  The glycolytic pathway dominates moderate-powered activities and lasts for a few minutes.  The oxidative pathway dominates low-powered activities and can last (almost) for a long while as it’s converting stored energy as it needs it.  The third standard of fitness maintains a fit person has training and competence when working in all three of these energy pathways.

The following chart breaks it down a bit.

 

  Sprint Mid-Distance Distance-Distance
Primary Energy System Phosphagen Glycolytic Oxidative

Duration of work

(in seconds)

10-30 30-120 120-300+

Duration of recovery

(in seconds)

30-90 60-240 120-300+
Load Recovery Ratio 1:3 1:2 1:1
Repetitions 25-30 10-20 3-5

 

Essentially this means that any movement that is performed with high-intensity in a short period of time is uses the Phosphagen system. This is why when you watch weight lifters in a gym, they lift a heavy weight in a few seconds and then they stand around for a minute or two. On the opposite side of the spectrum we have the Oxidative system. This is used by marathoners, cyclists, etc. The movements aren’t as intense as those performed with the Phosphagen system, but instead require energy for longer durations.

Measuring “Fitter” Fitness

Now that we have our standards to determine what fitness is, we can apply them to determine which exercise regimen yields a “fitter” fitness.  To find this, we would just perform a series of A/B tests against our own performance and chart those results against the population in general.

 

Over time, what was found was in general, regardless of exercise, the human body adapted (thus grew) to stimulus the greatest when taken to the thresholds.  Meaning, if you put your body through high intensity over different time modalities, across the broadest spectrum of movements possible, the homeostatic nature of your body will cause it to adapt to those conditions.  This will simultaneously positively impact all three of the standards.

(http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_Trial_04_2012.pdf)

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