What Does it Mean to Be Fit?

Paul L. Underwood
by Paul L. Underwood
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What Does it Mean to Be Fit?

What is fitness?

Much like happiness, fitness is hard to define — almost impossible to identify in others and even inside yourself. Someone may look fit, sure, but ask yourself how you really know. Is it the size of their waist? Their arms? The way they move? All of those things can reveal, conceal or merely demonstrate fitness in one area while obscuring a lack of fitness elsewhere.

To answer this unanswerable question, I spoke to a few trainers in Under Armour’s network. As you might expect, their responses differed, reflecting different philosophies and different approaches, not just to fitness, but to life itself. And yet they also revealed some commonalities: Mobility is good. Endurance is good. Energy is good. And while each was eager to separate fitness (a physical thing) from wellness (a more holistic thing), each one also agreed the former cannot exist without elements of the latter.

“Fitness is the ability to move well,” says Shana Verstegen, an Under Armour trainer and world champion log roller. “To move for a sustained period of time. And to move safe for as long as you live.”

Dan McDonogh, who, as UA’s senior manager of athlete performance and innovation, has worked with countless pro athletes as well as amateurs who take his free training sessions, ticks off a few things. “Speed. Agility. Quickness. Power. Strength. Endurance. Adaptability. Mobility and movement capability. From a programming perspective, for a well-rounded athlete, those are the components of fitness.”

Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, CEO and run coach at iRunTons sees fitness as a fine-tuned machine. “To say I’m fit, from a physiological standpoint, for me, is to say all systems go,” says Gallagher-Mohler. “Everything is in sync.”

You’ll notice a few terms not mentioned in those answers: Weight. BMI. Heart rate. Instead, the comments above reflect our more personalized era, one eschewing a one-size-fits-all approach to fitness. And in a time when you can track as much data about yourself as you desire (and then some), that makes sense. As McDonogh puts it, “If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing.”

So how does McDonogh evaluate someone’s fitness? He starts with a movement assessment, created in partnership with Fusionetics. This creates an athlete profile, complete with injury risks, reaction times, your experience level and more, all in the interest of helping you determine a workout that’s right for you. (Not to mention shoes and other gear that help mitigate your injury risk.)

From there, it’s a matter of determining your goals, which McDonogh breaks down into four stages:


Maybe you’ve been neglecting your fitness for whatever reason. This stage is about feeling healthier, getting some energy back and waking up without feeling those aches and pains.


Not in a superficial way. As McDonogh puts it, once you start feeling better, you’ll likely start thinking ‘Well, I wouldn’t mind some definition in my arms and my abs.’ This is that stage.


This stage is about setting — and beating — your performance goals. “You think ‘I used to enjoy tennis, I wouldn’t mind playing that again,’” McDonogh says. Your goal is to get on the court and improve. Until you get to…


Now that you’re playing tennis, maybe a tournament is coming up. Or if you’re a runner, there’s a 10K. Your fitness goal is no longer just to compete, but to be great. “You don’t have to be Drew Brees or Cam Newton,” McDonogh says. “It’s a massive spectrum.”

These stages are cyclical, and sometimes you have to go back to go forward. “Even Steph Curry, after the season, cycles back to stage one,” McDonogh notes.


Throughout those stages, you’ll want to monitor yourself, set and reset your fitness goals. We know something that can help with that, but you can also incorporate more analogue techniques, such as a daily questionnaire asking how you feel, what your stress level is, how you slept and if there’s anything that might be affecting those things. Be mindful of how you recover and how you’re feeling.

All of which is to say that, more than anything, fitness is a process, rather than a state of being. It’s a journey, not a destination. So while, in the age of the selfie, it’s tempting to compare yourself to others (or even to your past self), it’s important to remember that being out there and moving is a victory. As McDonogh puts it: “Don’t be too hard on yourself. Allow yourself not to be perfect.” Well said.


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About the Author

Paul L. Underwood
Paul L. Underwood

Paul is a writer based in Austin, Texas. He tweets here, he Instagrams there and he posts the occasional deep thought at plunderwood.com. He’s probably working on a run mix as you read this.


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