Fitness As A Goal Or Strength As A Goal: Fitness Writ Large

Posted on 03 May 2009 23:47

By Eric Troy

You may have noticed this site is about strength training. I have a confession to make. I don't know how to give fitness advice. Because I cannot clearly conceptualize fitness. I can understand exercise for health. I cannot understand exercise for fitness unless "fitness" is another word for health. But it is not.

While I certainly care about the concept of "fitness" I don't believe that fitness is a defined goal in itself. Apparently many trainers do as I see all sorts of hybridized strength/cardio concepts supposedly designed to optimize your pursuit of "fitness".

Strength training and aerobic endurance are not like peanut butter and chocolate, after all. Spiking the heart rate during your strength training IS a good thing and there are many occasions in a typical strength training career where this will happen. But if your goal is absolute strength and NOT strength endurance do not let others sway you with generic ideas about fitness. You can have your cake and eat it too.

What kind of fitness advice do I mean?

The sort of advice I am talking about is something like this:

"Replace your strength training with supersets or circuits to keep the heart rate up. Or cut down the rest periods in your strength training."

Well there comes a point where you have to question what you are training for. If you water down your strength training you will get watered down results.

What is fitness anyway?

You've heard of the concept of Survival of the Fittest. And you've also heard fitness writers using this phrase many, many times in writing about fitness. You know, I'm not sure that Darwin really meant that those animals who did their "cardio" and "strength training" a certain way were more apt to survive. When we talk about being fit we mean fit FOR SOMETHING.

If you are fit to survive it means you have the traits that optimize survival in your niche. If just being healthy fit is the goal then all the complicated crap that fitness writers get up to is simply mental masturbation.

Most people have specific goals when they begin training. That doesn't mean they have to train like an athlete but it does mean that some abstract concept like 'fitness' is not likely to keep one motivated for very long.

But here is the good news. Most training goals, when approached with moderation and common sense, lead to you being more fit. The problem with the idea of hybridized training is that it always approaches the middle. And middle ground training means you simply will not be getting stronger after a certain point.

I am not sure how many "fitness" trainers (whatever they may be) who write about strength training really recognize the value of developing ones absolute muscular strength, in and of itself, regardless of other factors.

Why Don't I like Fitness as a Goal?

Because the term "fit" is based on a purely subjective value system. For instance: "I am thin therefore I am fit." Being thin is no more a measure of overall fitness than looking like Wolverine is. So, does that mean being able to run a couple of miles makes you fit? It means you are fit to run a couple of miles.

From an objective standpoint I could point out a myriad of ways in which the typical early morning plodder is "unfit". Movement mechanics, mobility, body composition…

I could likewise find a reason for calling the typical powerlifter unfit. All one has to do is put any individual in a hypothetical situation. In this situation that individual will be called on to display certain traits or "skills". Lacking those traits; they are deemed unfit.

What I'm getting at is that the word FIT is NOT a general term. It has been turned into a general term by marketing and media.

Those that are stuck on the term fitness seem to have a hard time defining it without making personal value judgements. So, "fit" means one is able to "run a marathon" for instance. Again, that is SPECIFIC. I've even heard comments such as "one should be able to compete in a triathlon". Such statements make it clear that many "fitness" trainers really have no clue about event training! A triathlon is built on a very specific set of skills. Certainly a triathlete could be viewed as more fit than a most non-athletes but to say that a triathlete suits the definition of fitness more than say, a strongman, is a value judgment.

We don't have to be that specific. Some trainers insist that a person must be able to run a certain distance, like so two miles. Well, again, this specific. Being fit to run two miles does not make you fit to handle a hard days work laying brick! The idea is that in order to live the way we want to live our fitness pursuit must be specific to our life-style.

This does not mean that we shouldn't seek to optimize our fitness. What it does mean is that we have a better chance of doing that if we can optimize the traits of fitness. We must prioritize. This is where specific goals come in.

Resistance Training Versus Strength Training

To be honest I am a bit sick of fitness trainers talking about strength training as if it were the same thing as 'resistance training'. Strength training is resistance training but resistance training is not always strength training. Bodybuilding training is resistance training. Circuit training is resistance training (or can be). Yet they are three different things with three different end goals.

Yes, these types of training will bring about general improvements in strength for beginning trainees up to a certain point. But training becomes more specific over time not more general!

As a matter of fact that is probably a misconception that you have never heard mentioned before. That strength training is SYNONOMOUS with resistance training. But while some strength enhancing effects can be a side-effect of all resistance training; resistance training itself is simply a category.

Like fitness is a category.

The Fitness Wad

Perhaps this trend toward hybridized training has come about because of two universal desires that have been meshed into a "fitness wad".

1. The desire to improve one's quality of life. Or, in other words, to be able to enjoy life because you are more able to work well and play well, therefore reaping the benefits of a life well lived.

2.The simple desire to live longer.

If this is so then I'll make a simple suggestion:


Think about what your needs are. What fitness goals would enable YOU to live a higher quality life. What would enable you to enjoy the kind of things YOU enjoy? What would serve to ameliorate stress? What would enable you to stay healthy and functional in your occupation until you retire or move on?

Perhaps you can come up with your own questions that need answering. After all, it's YOUR life so you should be the one in charge of setting your goals.

But why do I suggest focusing on number one? Well think about it. You don't just want to live longer you want to live better for longer. AND if you live a better, more active and functional life, I think (call it intuition) that will give you the greatest chance of living longer.

So in order to achieve the general goal of living YOUR life better your training must be based on achieving specific, rather than general goals. And working toward these goals will be MORE ENJOYABLE and REWARDING than some vague "fitness" training so it will be a part of your overall goal which is to LIVE BETTER.

You do not have to "train like an athlete" or dedicate youself in passionate pursuit of some physical goal. Your exercise, workout, or training - whatever you wish to call it - does not need to own you. On the contrary, you must be in charge and own your training. In order to do that you MUST have well-defined goals: long term, medium term, short term…even ultra short term (daily) goals. Because a vague and loosely defined goals such as fitness is not likely to keep you in it for the long haul.

Make sense?

This page created 03 May 2009 23:47
Last updated 28 Oct 2015 03:02

© 2016 by Eric Troy and Ground Up Strength. All Rights Reserved. Please contact for permissions.