Bear with me here; read the title back to yourself, except this time imagine you’re a 15 year old boy and place a heavy emphasis on the second ‘fit’.  It changes the meaning entirely from fit to sexy as fuck.  The reason I ask this question ‘do you want to be fit, or do you want to be fit?’ is because I’m constantly seeing polls on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook asking why you work out.  The answers are, in my opinion, more divisive and confusing, and could be a debate in their own right.  When the answers you can pick from are: to be healthy, to get fit, to live longer, or to look good, but no ‘all of the above’ how do you possibly choose and what are the differences between them?  Surely if you are healthier – whatever that means – you will live longer; if you are fit, you’ll look good too?  Or will you?

Do you want to be fit, or look good naked? Why do you work out?

As much as I hate the lack of accountability in CrossFit, and the sheer number of injury inducing malpractices at the lower levels, I have to admit that those at the very peak of the game are easily the fittest people on Earth.  CrossFit founder Greg Glassman defined fitness based on three elements “The first is based on the 10 general physical skills widely recognized by exercise physiologists: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance; stamina; strength; flexibility; power; speed; coordination; agility; balance; and accuracy.  The second standard, or model, is based on the performance of athletic tasks, while the third is based on the energy systems that drive all human action.”  The point being that a while a marathon runner is very fit, they couldn’t excel in strength for example.  A powerlifter is strong, but could they demonstrate endurance?  If you’re 10 out of 10 in any one of these things, you’re likely to be a one or zero in something else. If you’re a 7 out of 10 in all of them, you’re fit.  According to CrossFit anyway, and I agree with them.

When I used to work in a gym, people would ask for advice on exercise, I would ask the questions “why do you want to work out, and what are you hoping to achieve?”  More often than not, the answer would be “I just want to tone up a bit, you know, get healthier.”  Well which is it, do you want to tone up or get healthier, and what do you mean by healthier anyway?  Believe it or not, they are not always achieved in the same way, depending on how fast you want to achieve the results.  If you want to burn as much fat, in as fast a time as possible, you can pretty much throw health out of the window.  If you want to be healthier, you are unlikely to get to single digit fat percentages.

Do you want to be fit, or look good naked? Why do you work out?

Fit, I’m sure you’ll agree. But could they scale a 30 foot rope with 35lbs of weight on their back after living on rations in the field for 2 weeks. Probably, because they look fit and that influences how I perceive their capabilities.

Fit, but are they functional? Do they have balance, accuracy, endurance? Again, because of how they look, probably.

This is a completely baseless assumption, but I would wager that the vast majority of people starting a new fitness regime are doing so because of physical appearance.  Their clothes are suddenly too tight, they’ve seen a photo of themselves in a bathing suit and are horrified at how they look, either that or someone has commented far too often on their face, belly or back fat, and so they suddenly intend to do something about it.  They want to change the way they look to feel better about themselves, or to look better for someone else.  I’ll bet that health and longevity are nice to haves, but not the primary motivation behind the change.  So why are we so reluctant to admit that we just want to look good naked.  Why is it taboo to want to look sexy?  We want to workout to be fit not to actually get fit.  When you’re new to working out, you very rarely say “Oooh my respiratory endurance isn’t quite up to scratch, I’ll need to work on that.” you’re more likely to look in the mirror and think how your waist is coming in, or your back fat is dropping, or how much leaner your face looks.  Sure after a while you get the bug and then sign up for a half marathon or 10k and then that becomes your goal, but initially changing your physical appearance is the primary motivator.

That said though, I’d be curious to know how you’d react or approach your training, if your physical appearance tanked but your performance didn’t.  This is highly unlikely to happen, but what if it did.  You suddenly go up to 35% body fat, your clothes no longer fit, but your 5km time or your 5 rep max hasn’t suffered at all.  How would you react?  Anecdotally, from the very small number of people I have surveyed, they all said that they would change their diet to get their figures in order.  It appears as though looking capable of completing those fitness feats is just as important as physically being able to complete them, or more so.  So I’ll ask you again, do you want to be fit or do you want to be fit? To be fit, you just need to tailor your training approach to your current physical and biological capabilities in order to excel in as many of the 10 categories as you can.  To be fit, you need to have as low a body fat as possible, and have muscle to pop when you pose for the perfect Instagram shot #nofilter.

Once you’ve decided what your true driver is, you can take a more honest approach with your diet and training programme.  Do you want to be functionally fit, or do you just want to look hot with no clothes on?  Looking at the CrossFit games finalists, you can achieve both, but please don’t delude yourself into thinking that these are easily achievable feats.  For us, the laymen, we need to start off thinking about one or the other.  Which will you choose?

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