What is fitness - now?

In his seminal 2002 article for the CrossFit Journal, "What is Fitness?", Greg Glassman broke the dogma that he had seen in the wider sport and fitness sector wide open. Glassman openly admits he views the crowning of a triathlete as the fittest man on earth, with incredulity. He the goes on to define fitness from CrossFit's perspective and, by the logic expounded in the article, it would be hard to stand by the claim that Mark Allen, the triathlete in question, was anywhere closest to the fittest man on earth. These claims were made long before the advent of the CrossFit games, long before a huge number of people had followed versions of CrossFit programming for many years, and even before Glassman himself went on to define health as fitness over time. This may seem obvious to state, but since I plan on analysing how well Glassman's original claims stand up more than 18 years on, and the context in which they now find themselves being applied, I feel it is important.


Firstly, we need to recognise that, in Glassman's nomenclature, fitness is a measure of physical capacity (measured against one of three models) at any given time which can be measured by plotting the results of several tests on a graph, and measuring the area under the curve, at any given moment in a person's life. Working on that premise, health is then these measures repeated over time, at which point the measurable volume under the curves represents health. This concept is much simpler than I'm making it sound; fitness is what you can do, and health is how long you can do it for. Glassman's theory was that as physical capacity increased, so too did any number of biomarkers such as resting heart rate, fasting blood glucose, body fat percentage and blood pressure, to name but a few. This concept is often represented as values on a continuum, which passes from sickness, through a state of mediocrity labelled as wellness, before progressing toward the hallowed ground of fitness.


All of this holds up for the vast majority of people, but in the minority, those for whom training and competing at an elite level is their whole purpose for being, we see some reversal of the benefits claimed. Whether this be in elite CrossFit athletes, or those in any other discipline, there comes a point at which resistance to disease, and several other measures, begin to reverse. Whilst this doesn't undermine the theory as a whole (even the laws of physics break down singularity) it does bear noting when we consider CrossFit's claim that fitness is a hedge against sickness.


It may be more accurate to say that fitness will improve health, to a point, at which point diminishing returns are experienced in a fitness sense, in exchange for a health decrement. Regardless though, this truth has stood tall since it was first put into print, for the overwhelming majority. The methodology, and nutrition and lifestyle practices that are suggested to accompany the training, have yielded unparalleled results across as broad a spectrum of the population as you could imagine.


So what relevance does that have to people, and specifically me, today? As I see it, less than 5 months out from an ultra endurance world record attempt, there is a very real risk that in the midst of a health crisis affecting millions worldwide, that the level of training to which I currently aspire, may remove some of the hedge previously afforded me by my fitness. At this point, I naturally default to my risk versus reward thought pattern that I have with almost everything I do.