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.

20 Second L-Sit

Well, it’s almost there. Just 10 seconds more and I’ve got a 30 second l-sit. Decided to document my progress here for all those non-believers.

May 2008 Muscle Ups and Handstands

Progression on my muscle-ups and handstands is coming along. I’ve got about 5 consecutive muscle-ups now and I’m getting more and more comfortable going into a handstand and balancing (although I still can’t get my legs straight). I threw together a small video to show the to-date progress:

music in the video is by Kill Hannah - a Chicago band that’s somehow managed to stay out of the spotlight for years.

The Most Wicked Muscle-Up Ever

Check out this muscle-up.  The gymnast is Andreas Aguilar at the 1991 World Professional Gymnastics Championships.  Andreas makes it look so smooth and easy, it’s truly unreal.  The rest of his routine is also great, including the unusual dismount, but a muscle-up like the one at the beginning of the video would take an incredible amount of strength.  I can’t even imagine how much training would be needed to build up the strength to pull so smoothly.  The cheering crowd in the background seems to agree.

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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.

L-Sit on my Parallettes

I recently did a crossfit workout that involved a load of L-sit pull-ups. It wasn’t pretty. While I managed to do about 70 , the form was terrible and I had to drop my legs between each rep.

So I decided that I needed to work on my L-sit. The L-sit is a great skill to work on as it is one of the few exercises that has such a dramatic effect on lower abdominal and hip flexor strength. The easiest way to work on the L-sit is with a pair of parallettes.

Parallettes are essentially a small, portable version of the parallel bars. There are many schematics for building them on the net using PVC. They’re actually quite easy to put together and cost just over $20. I used the plans from Celtic Kane to make mine.

According to the drills and skills parallette training webpage, a good goal to aim for is to be able to hold the L-sit for 30 seconds. I’m nearly half way there… ok, probably not that close, but I’d like to be able to hold a nice L-sit for a significant amount of time by the end of 2008. However, having tight hamstrings or lower back muscles makes the L-sit more difficult. Unfortunately I fall into the unshockingly large category of men with near to no flexibility so my L-sit suffers.

To demonstrate, I’ve put together a short video of a few L-sits that I’ve done over the last couple of days since I built the parallettes, with some SIANspheric playing in the background.

A great resource for parallette training is the drills and skills homepage. Chock full of all sorts of gymnastics goodness.