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What does true fitness mean?

If you want to get fit, ditch the 'six pack in six weeks' plans and focus on a long-term goal, writes physical trainer and therapist Minash Gabriel

Expert trainer Minash Gabriel says that it is impossible to achieve fitness without discipline.
Expert trainer Minash Gabriel says that it is impossible to achieve fitness without discipline.

Fitness is a much butchered word, nonchalantly thrown around by people, but most of the time the true meaning of the word is barely understood. To me, fitness can be defined as “the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task”.

As a physical therapist and trainer I often hear clients talk to me about their fitness goals. Quite often, they seem far-fetched, unachievable and unsustainable. Wanting to accomplish things like “a six packs in six weeks” or “losing a kg a week” are not the right place to start your fitness journey. These “number” goals are very similar to the fads people also look to adopt as far as nutrition goes, like keto, the Atkins diet or any form of meal replacement diets.

These aspirations of drastic weight loss through training regimes that barely last a month or two or diets that are so restrictive they literally suck the life out of you is the reason why most people’s attempts to take up any form of fitness fail prematurely. They quit, simply because no one on earth has ever lost weight this way. But people keep pinning their hopes on such quick remedies because they are bombarded with advertisements that say that such things are possible.

As a former athlete who began sport training at a young age, I realized very early on that you couldn’t attain fitness without discipline. Fitness in a broad sense can be understood best as disciplined physical, mental and emotional commitment towards the requirements of a sport or activity. For example, a fast bowler needs to acquire fitness that’s specific to his skill; a long distance runner needs to build cardiovascular endurance; a sprinter needs explosive strength; a gymnast needs to build a robust torso with incredible whole-body proprioception (awareness of the position and movement of the body). Each of these fitness abilities come from performing very different exercises that target different energy systems in the body.

Click here for home fitness tips from Minash Gabriel.

Repeated exposure to these activities eventually results in a fascinating biological component called “adaptation”. Simply put, whatever energy system is targeted by the individual on day one (be it the cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system or the central nervous system), it slowly gets better over time. What seemed excruciatingly hard to execute on the first day, starts getting easier as time goes by. Anyone will get better at performing a particular sport or activity if the exposure is sufficient and quality of execution is high. Other variables like rest, nutrition and hydration are also equally important to performance. It’s simple: your idea of fitness needs to have a sense of direction.

So I’d like you today to ask yourself this question, what is my fitness goal? If your answer is simply to lose weight then you’ve already lost this battle. But if, on the other hand, you say “to run 5km” or “to run a full marathon” or “to be able play with your kids” or “to want more energy through the day” or “to feel better physically”, then you’re on the right track. You have a sustainable goal.

Minash Gabriel is a Hyderabad-based physical therapist and trainer.

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