Fitness is what your body can do, not what it looks like. The performance that defines it can be embodied in a wide variety of packages. Your body’s composition and appearance will optimize according to its performance. It is crucial we steer away from media-derived standardized images of looking fit. These images are often unattainable for most, but more importantly, false. 

Pseudo-fitness has been represented for too long by pictures of bodies and, even worse, body parts. This has, in turn, created training methods focused solely on body building (part-by-part) or pageantry-based results. Except among those who are truly the most fit, elite athletes and performance artists, appearance-focused training has arguably predominated in the fitness industry for decades. This is a problem on many levels. 

One can achieve results that change appearance without regard for performance or even health. Besides the misplaced notion of beauty conforming to a particular standard, this pursuit can be dangerous. Sacrificing mental or physical health in quest of an impossible image is a tragically too common occurrence. My industry (myself included) needs to take ownership of this hypocrisy and aim for a different objective.

The human form is its most beautiful while it is performing – a runner in full effortless stride, a swimmer gliding through water like a dolphin, a dancer creating artistic shapes mid-air, a hammer thrower spinning through the circle before their climactic release, a high jumper bending backward around an impossibly elevated bar, a defensive back darting and cutting to a quarterback, a Parkour practitioner navigating impossible terrain normally requiring ropes or elevators, an Olympic lifter catching multiples of their body weight overhead while in a perfect deep squat, an acrobat spinning and flipping with absolute precision and control, or a rock climber transitioning from one seemingly-invisible hold to the next on a perilous face. 

These undeniable representations of fitness are performed by a very diverse range of bodies. There are thousands of others demonstrating no one image can define fitness. You cannot tell a hammer thrower their body doesn’t look fit when they can likely throw yours several meters. You cannot tell a 300lb defensive back their body doesn’t look fit when they run 40 yards under 5 seconds and can inflict more damage than a car crash. 

Violent comic relief aside, the other thing each of these amazing human feats has in common is its training focuses on movement, not parts. None of these performers concern themselves with what particular muscle is being worked when they train. Their training is not broken down into body parts. They are too busy trying to improve what those parts do in synergy. The truth is, the human body innately knows and understands movement. It was built for it. It does not know muscles or parts.

We evolved as a species because of our incredible ability to move. The human machine is meant to move in specific ways. We are designed to stabilize in one plane while imparting force in another for the purpose of self-motility and moving objects. Training to master movement and increase its complexity should be the mission of exercise. Aspiring to this rather than a goal of a particular body image is profoundly more rewarding and achievable for all.

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