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Patrick Rahm

In Part 1, I introduced one definition and six components of fitness. To help explain and distinguish the differences between the components, I used examples of highly specialized athletes demonstrating extreme proficiency in each of the components.

In addition to teach, I hoped that these extreme examples would spur you to question our initial definition of fitness. Which, in case you forgot, was this:

  “The aggregate measure of performance in a variety of physical tasks that demonstrate the range of human physical abilities” 

With this definition and the provided examples in mind, here are a couple questions you should be asking yourself: If a marathoner couldn’t demonstrate an above average level of muscular strength, power, and / or mobility would we say that she is not truly “fit”?

What if the 1000+ pound dead-lifter’s measure of cardio endurance was slightly below average? Is he not truly fit? According to the above definition, we’ d have to say that neither the marathoner or dead-lifter truly is. But, given the time and efforts that these specialists put forth to excel in their respective disciplines, would you feel comfortable agreeing that they aren't fit?

While the initial definition of fitness does a great job of communicating an existence and importance of each component, it has one limitation; it devalues human variation and how it, when coupled with our ability to adapt, allows us to specialize.

So now what? Should we throw out the first definition? No, because it has it’s place (more on that later). Instead, we introduce this second, more Darwinian definition of fitness:

“the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task”

If we think of fitness in this light, value is put back onto the ability we all have (at varying capacities) to train ourselves to be more suitable to fulfill a specific task.

When considering “specific tasks”, it's potentially useful to recognize that these specialists and their concentrated efforts can be of value for more than just their athletic endeavors.

Consider again the marathoner and 1000 +  pound dead lifter. Which person would want around if the old lady next door asks you to help rearrange her furniture?


Or not...

What if your car breaks down several miles outside of town, your phone is dead, and your pregnant wife is going into labor?


"Honey, I wish we didn't tell Mike to shut up about marathon training."

So, with these two definitions in hand, our bases are covered when looking at the various paths towards achieving fitness.

The first definition offers a more comprehensive view of fitness. (Note: this is arguably the better approach for most of those exercising primarily to improve their general health and quality of life). The second definition provides merit and a path to those who prefer to focus a greater percentage of training efforts to only one or two components in order to excel at a specific task.

I should note that these definitions not only can coexist but also complement each other when applying them in practice. For example, someone who primarily abides by the first definition (sometimes called a fitness generalist) may at times do well to consider adopting the second definition of fitness. The reverse is also true; someone who primarily abides by the second definition of fitness (sometimes called a fitness specialist) may at times do well to consider adopting the first definition of fitness.

If you're confused, come back for Part 3. I’ll explain in more depth what I mean by percentage of training efforts and how they can shape you into more of a fitness generalist or specialist. We'll also look at how training efforts can influence one's potential for proficiency (or hinderance of performance) in some common fitness brands and athletic disciplines. 

In the mean time, consider these questions:

  • Are you a fitness generalist? That is, would your performance be balanced somewhat evenly across all components?
  • Are you more of a specialist? If so, which component would you excel in? Which ones would you perform poorly in?

If you have no idea or are concerned that you may need help improving all components, feel free to contact me. I'd be happy to help you to at least start answering these questions.

(By the way, thinking back to the beginning of Part 1, do you see how my student's common answer of being able to sustain a moderate to high level of exertion for a prolonged duration could be considered a good answer in the context of our second definition of fitness?... they were describing the fitness of a specialist of cardio and muscular endurance.)