"Everything in connection with physical culture should be such that the men look forward to calisthenics and gymnastics with pleasure, not with dread, for the mind exerts more influence over the human body than all the gymnastics paraphernalia that was ever invented." U.S. War Dept.- Manual For Calisthenic Exercises.
The "fitness" industry in our country is broken, backwards and confused. I know this is a huge blanket statement and there are some good people doing good things in the world of fitness, but as a whole, the fitness industry is just what it sounds like: an industry. This means that 90% of the industry will sacrifice quality, function and true fitness, to make a quick buck.
The majority of people in this day and age, even fitness "experts," don't even know what the word fitness means.
Flat abs, weight loss plans, strong arms, heart rate monitors, protein supplements, Zumba, CrossFit and weight machines have nothing (maybe one little thing) to do with true fitness. If you love any of these practices or products of the industry, than I respect your choice and, know that what has been sold to you is not real fitness.
That's enough of a rant for today.
I now have to answer the obvious question in your mind: Well then what is true fitness?
If you look at the obvious root of the word "fitness" than you will find it's original meaning. The word fitness began being used in the 1500's as a way of describing "a being suitable for a task, or a good fit." In this way the word was always used in a context such as "mental fitness," or "moral fitness."
The word took on more of a broader scope and a biological meaning when Darwin used it in his descriptions of the evolutionary process:
"Nor ought we to marvel if all the contrivances in nature be not, as far as we can judge, absolutely perfect; and if some of them be abhorrent to our ideas of fitness."
Charles Darwin – On the Origin of Species
This is when the word fitness began to describe an organisms ability to adapt to it's environment and through it's adaptability becoming a better fit.
The term "survival of the fittest" was a misrepresentation of Darwin's theory of evolution by Herbert Spencer. This misrepresentation went against Darwin's own beliefs and gave rise to the common idea of fitness meaning strength, power, dominance etc.
In 1860 Darwin wrote to a friend:
"I have received, in a Manchester newspaper, rather a good squib, showing that I have proved “might is right”; and therefore that Napoleon is right, and every cheating tradesman is also right."
So you can see how true fitness has nothing to do with what the modern industry perpetuates as fitness.
Training for true fitness would mean increasing your ability to adapt to your environment, not how flat your abs are or how big your biceps are.
The tricky thing is that as far as environments go, ours is changing in many ways that we can't predict. The increasing levels of pollution, climate change, new technologies, genetically engineered food, and many other environmental factors are completely new to our generation. We haven't adapted to them yet.
Not just your physical environment, but your mental, social, emotional, political, economic environment is constantly changing as well. We humans are complex beings.
The good thing is that you belong to the most adaptable species on the planet.
Unlike any other species, Human beings literally live in every climate and every continent on the planet. At this very moment there are even people outside of the atmosphere, living in space.
So where do you fit in? You are a human, so you are adaptable, but how do you cultivate true fitness on a small planet?
You have to build your ability to fit your self into your dreams, visions, and goals. You have to adapt to your physical, social, political and economic environment in a way that you can live your unique noble purpose and stay healthy. This is true fitness!
So what are the 3 steps to true fitness?
Know your purpose.
Build and protect your health.
I told you it's not what you think.
Why know your purpose?
When you are fully in touch with who you are and what you are here to do, then you can start to discover how you best fit into your environment. The reason that Darwin used the word fitness when describing evolution is because the organisms that survived in the system were the ones that had a purpose in the system as a whole. If you know your soul's purpose and how it serves the greater good then you can adapt your behavior to better live that purpose. If you don't know your soul's purpose, and where you fit into the bigger picture yet, it is worth spending the time and getting the support to dive into that exploration for yourself. There are no spare parts in nature. Every being serves a purpose and is perfectly fit for their role. What is yours?
Why challenge yourself?
Challenge is what causes growth and adaptation. Every personal trainer in the gym knows that you have to challenge your muscles in order for them to get big. Every yoga teacher knows that you have to challenge your muscles through stretching to get more flexible. People even know that in order for you to keep your memory and cognitive function into old age you must challenge your brain, so Sudoku books have discovered their noble purpose. Unfortunately it's not common knowledge that you can also grow your character and your spirit by challenging yourself in life. Going to your edge to show up for a friend, or volunteering your time to a charity are ways that you can challenge the common routines of modern life and build character. To grow your career you have to do something different then what you have been doing. In every area of your life, in order to get further towards your goals, you have to go beyond what you have done in the past. Stress is what causes an organism to adapt, and increase it's fitness, so finding healthy challenges in your life is essential to building true fitness. Now go and climb that mountain.
Why build and protect your health?
Do you even have to ask? Without your health you would not be able to challenge yourself or live your soul's purpose. If you spend all of your time going to your edge to grow in life but you don't protect your health, your body will break down. It's really hard to adapt to anything but rest when you have a diseased body. Health is true wealth, so eat good food, drink good water, exercise, breath deep, stand up straight, cleanse yourself, and take care of your body. You don't want to be the person most fit for for the hospital do you?
There you have it. Three steps to true fitness.
You can spend the rest of your life building your adaptability and cultivating your fitness in fun and fulfilling ways.
Now go climb that mountain!