03 Aug The ‘Fitness’ conundrum…
Fitness. It’s an interesting topic when we consider how the modern industry perceives the word. Many conventional gyms and self proclaimed ‘Fitness gurus’ often play on the fact that people want to look amazing and be healthy and glowing. Websites, magazine covers, advertisements, billboards etc. display ‘washboard abs’, ‘toned legs/butts’ and ‘Shoulders like Boulders’. And jacked bodybuilders and fitness models with million dollar smiles will be in full force to drive the point home.
Now – we get it. It’s modern-day marketing at its finest. And it is what it is. But I do feel we have to be careful not to send the wrong message when defining the term ‘Fitness’, where looks alone are often applauded over actual performance. For some, looks may be the most important thing. Awesome. If you have decided that that is your goal, plan it out, take the necessary steps and I truly hope you achieve it. However, it would be nice to think that true ‘fitness’ should be about more than just aesthetically looking good. The capacity to perform and adapt to the workloads necessary for improving and maintaining everything from day to day activity to elite performance, as well as promoting positive markers of health, should be considerable factors in being truly ‘physically fit’ one would think.
Having been involved with high-level athletes as well as Bodybuilders and Fitness competitors, the difference between aesthetics vs. performance is absolutely night and day. Bodybuilders/Fitness competitors may LOOK a million bucks, but many can often struggle to perform significant high-level activity. This is particularly relevant in the periods closer to competition, when peaking towards their very best visual package. In fact, it is not uncommon in the later stages of contest prep, to have the competitors report how awful they feel, with energy and strength levels low, while many markers of sound health are less than optimal. Figure competitors or fitness models look fantastic for a short period of time (for their competition or photo shoot etc.) but it is not always a true indication of how they look for a vast majority of the year. Essentially, when they LOOK the best, their ‘fitness’ is often at it’s lowest.
This is in stark contrast to high-level athletes, when in the days leading up to competition/matches the focus is being at their strongest physical and mental capacity for the needs of performance. However, it is often the first image that is portrayed in the marketing hoopla of the fitness world.
Now, while there will always be exceptions to the rule and the genetic freaks, the bottom line is that the extreme dieting and calorie deficit necessary for great results in visual competitions, is not particularly conducive for high levels of physical fitness, strength and in particular, performance.
It is also important for this reason that athletes are aware they may compromise their ability for high-performance, if they are too concerned with how they look over how they are performing. The calorie and macronutrient requirements necessary for fuel and recovery for elite performance, will be considerably different to what is required for visual competition.
So, to wrap up, I think its worth considering the way the modern fitness industry uses and markets the word “fitness”. It always feels great to look good, but does the image being portrayed in the marketing campaigns of the ‘fitness’ industry necessarily mean you are physically fit, strong, healthy and can perform? This is not a slight against Bodybuilders/fitness competitors, who are doing what they are doing for the requirements of their competition and a great dedication to succeed. However, It may also be worth considering that sometimes looks alone looks don’t always tell us the full story.
John Vincenti- WESTSTAR strength and conditioning coach.