What is Fitness?

Cambridge dictionary: “the condition of being physically strong and healthy” as in, “I’m trying to improve my fitness by cycling to work”. Ugh… Terrible definition.

The wiki Wiktionary goes for a better definition: “The condition of being fit, suitable or appropriate, the cultivation of an attractive and healthy physique, the ability to perform a function.” It is a little better.

On the other side of the spectrum, Crossfit has a full 2 page pdf on the question, taking the stance is that good fitness is having sufficient and above average competence across multiple domains, suggesting that being fit means that although you probably won’t win a marathon, you would do very well while also similarly excelling in things such as weight lifting and gymnastics. Crossfit does, however, shy away from what many people believe qualifies fitness - that is, as wiktionary put it, “the cultivation of anattractive and healthy physique”. Certainly, experienced Crossfitters tend to have athletic physiques by default, given their hardcore exercise and nutrition nature but not specifically calling out physique as a quality of fitness, however, is a mistake IMHO.

For the overwhelming population, “training” is performed in the pursuit of increasing physical attractiveness - losing weight, toning, going for the six pack abs atc… At the same time though, calling a body builder “fit” isn’t appropriate as muscle and low body fat does not necessarily indicate any level of functional competence in any particular domain other than body building.

Let’s see if we can update the Wiktionary definition with something better… how about this:

“The condition of being fit, suitable or appropriate, the cultivation of an attractive and healthy physique, the ability to perform and be competent across multiple domains, the possession of strength, flexibility, endurance, stamina, power, speed, agility, coordination, balance and accuracy”.

Yes, I like that definition.

The Handstand - It’s All in the Wrists

I’ve been working on my hand balancing for while now. It’s better - a little bit anyway. Unfortunately I think one of the missing gaps at the moment is weak wrists.

The wrists unfortunately take the majority of the burden of keeping the body upright. If you begin toppling over knees first, there is only so much you can do, but if you fall backwards (towards the back of your head), you can put pressure on your fingers to stop yourself from going over… as much as you can anyway. Thi causes some extreme work for the wrists. Wrist flexibility and strength are key elements to the handstand.

wrist_flexibility1.jpg Training for wrist flexibility is fairly straight forward. The York Hand balancing course (circa 1950) shows the following diagram for working on this diagram for some simple wrist flexibility work. Hold the fingertips and pull the wrists backwards. Easy peasy. Fortunately you can do this whenever, without any special equipment (or any particular situation).

What about working on wrist strength? Squeezing the hand shut is one method for strengthening the wrists. Stress balls are an inexpensive tool that can be brought to work or used in front of the TV without much focus. Winding up a towel and squeezing that is even less expensive. Alternatively, grip strength equipment can be purchased at most fitness stores. Are they worth it? IMHO, probably not.

Another somewhat inexpensive tool for working on wrist strength can be built fairly easily. It consists of a simple wooden dowel, some rope and a weight. I fashioned one of these this afternoon in less than 15 minutes.

Take a 1 - 2 inch thick wooden dowel, and drill a hole through the middle. Sew a 4 foot rope through it and tie a knot at the end of the rope so that the rope can’t fit back through the hole. Then tie up a weight (or two) at the other end of the rope. To use this tool, simply wind up the weight and wind it back down. Working on this magnificently simple piece of equipment a few times a week will give you some serious forearms.

The Fit Blog Tip #5

Don’t forget to warm up before your workout. But despite how many people perform their pre-workout warmups, don’t get right into stretching. Starting your workout off with stretches could cause pain and does nothing for flexibility.

Instead, start off by getting your heart rate up a bit and increasing your body temperature. One great warm up is to perform some air squats and situps. I also find that hitting the rowing machine right away is a great way to start.

Once your quick warm-up is completed, then feel free to get into some stretches.

Remember that it is important to do stretches. Do them… But make sure to stretch only after a real warm-up, half way through your workout or at the end of your workout.  Stretch “warm” rather than “cold”.

Developing Flexibility

Flexibility Training

Flexibility is so important to fitness. Unfortunately not many people actually pay attention to it enough. I’m guilty as any at forgoing a daily stretch or not appropriately warming up with some stretches before a workout.

Increasing flexibility will not only help reduce injury when working out, as you get older it is important to maintain muscle suppleness in order to help avoid injury in every day activities from tying shoelaces to reaching for the seatbelt. But how does one increase their flexibility? Again, thanks to this wonderous technology called the Internet, a fantastic guide can be found here.

The tutorial is written by a guy named Jon Call, better known as Jujimufu. If you do a quick search on youtube, you will no doubt see countless videos of him. He practices tricking, or what he describes as “an aesthetic blend of flips, twists, and kicks”. It’s essentially gymnastics. His stretching tutorial is really detailed and full of great exercises.