A Six Sided Philosophy of Fitness

Fitness has become a big part of my life over the past year.

In my 2020 Annual Review I set some ambitious fitness goals – namely, to look like a Greek Statue by the end of the year. I’ve made a lot of progress towards those goals, and learned a lot about fitness along the way.

But as I’ve learned more, my goals and mindset about fitness have changed a little bit. Some goals have evolved, while other newer goals have been added entirely.

I’m developing a six sided philosophy of fitness, addressing six major areas of fitness that I now believe are all important.

Here’s what I’m thinking.

Health

If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.

A lot of people are nowhere near as healthy as they could be. Over half of (American) adults are overweight or obese. Those who aren’t obese often have other physical or mental health problems.

Some people scoff at the idea of being healthy or leading a healthy lifestyle – but they shouldn’t scoff. Your health matters. It determines how long you live, or if you live at all.

And I’m not speaking from a place of looking down at people less-healthy-than-me. For most of my life, I haven’t been healthy. I didn’t eat enough, sleep enough, get outside enough, or exercise enough. And my health suffered as a consequence.

Now, I believe that health is important, and your exercise routine needs to be pointed towards improving and preserving your health.

Aesthetics

People want to look good.

Call it vain, but it’s completely understandable. If people don’t like the way you look, you can be at a serious disadvantage when it comes to your career, potential friendships, and romance. That’s deeply unfair – especially in business and friendships, which ideally wouldn’t care about how you look at all. But that’s the world we live in.

And if you don’t like the way you look, it’s hard to be confident.

When people get into fitness to change how they look, they probably have an ideal. Going by the extreme stereotypes, men want to look like bodybuilders, and women want to look like fashion models. Whether those ideals are actually attractive is another question, but people do find those ideals impressive.

Jeff Seid and Gisele Bundechen

The trouble is, those people – bodybuilders and models – aren’t healthy. At all.

Bodybuilders and models are actually both unhealthy in pretty similar ways. Both tend to have eating disorders – models with anorexia (never being small enough), and bodybuilders with “bigorexia” (never being large enough). The models starve themselves, while bodybuilders go through cycles of eating too much to get big and then starving themselves to get lean.

Both have to get extremely lean – the models for obvious reasons, but the bodybuilders have to get lean for competitions, making them extremely weak and tired even at their most physically impressive. They’re both on drugs – the models on drugs for getting thin and for the dealing with the insane pressure to be thin, while the bodybuilders are on steroids and an entire pharmacy of other drugs to get to that extreme physique.

Not to mention, dozens of bodybuilders have LITERALLY DIED in the process.

I believe there’s no shame in getting into fitness so that you can be attractive in your own eyes – whether that’s looking like a model, like a bodybuilder, or something else entirely. But I also believe that you shouldn’t sacrifice your health to do it.

Strength

If you want to be physically strong, you need to work out.

Strength is good! Picking up heavy things is good! Finding out what your body is capable of, what your genetic potential is, improving how much you can lift compared to last month – all of these things are good!

But it can be unhealthy as well.

Men who want to be as strong as possible often take the same drugs as the bodybuilders – not to build muscle and look like them, but to make those muscles as strong as possible. And men who want to be the strongest men on Earth end up sacrificing a lot – namely their health, and a good deal of aesthetics.

Eddie Hall, Zydrunas Savickas, and Hafthor Bjornsson

Men like Eddie Hall, Brian Shaw, Zydrunas Savickas, and Hafþór Björnsson are all physically impressive. These are very literally the strongest men on Earth, and in human history. But they are (even if they won’t admit it) taking a highly dangerous cocktail of drugs, ones that are probably cutting years or decades off of their life (same as the bodybuilders). Not mention that many strongmen have very high levels of body fat that most people don’t want (or want to get rid of).

As impressive as their achievements are, there are other things worth pursuing and focusing on than just pure strength.

Speed and Endurance

People want to be able to run fast, and run far.

Both are good! Running in general is good for your health (especially for your heart), and is an important part of physical fitness. Sure, everyone wants build muscle to look like a bodybuilder, or get as strong as a strongman – but if running a short distance leaves you out of breath, can you really call yourself fit?

Usain Bolt and Eliud Kipchoge

Will you ever be as fast a sprinter as Usain Bolt, or as fast an endurance runner as Eliud Kipchoge? No, probably not. But there are reasons for that. Leaving aside questions of genetic potential (which are important for any sport), there’s the fact that these men have specialized in sprinting and endurance running for most of their lives. They are incredibly lean – you have to be to be a top 1% runner- and as a result they aren’t as strong or muscular as they could be. On top of that, the stress of running constantly for decades could impact their health as well.

Speed and Endurance running – sprinting the 100 meter dash, running an ultra marathon, and everything in between – are both important parts of fitness.

Fighting

The best kind of fight is the one you avoid entirely. The second best kind of fight is the one you win.

Violence should be avoided whenever possible. Sadly, the world has violent people in it, making it unavoidable sometimes. Ideally, you would have some fighting skills before you find yourself in that kind of situation.

Fighting requires some of all of the other aspects of fitness. If you’re not healthy in general, you won’t be an effective fighter. Same thing goes for strength, speed, and endurance – if you don’t these things, you won’t be an effective fighter.

Conor McGregor

What fighters don’t need – or aren’t prioritizing – is aesthetics. Fighters don’t look bad, but they aren’t specializing in large, defined, symmetrical muscles the way bodybuilders do. Looking good won’t win you a fight. One of the best fighters in the world in recent years has been Conor McGregor – and it turns out that while he’s a larger than life character, he’s not a huge man. He’s about 5’9″, and his fighting weight is around 150 pounds. He could put on another 20 or 30 pounds of muscle, and look like a bodybuilder – but he won’t. Part of the reason for that is because he’s a fighter, and extra muscle won’t help win a fight all that much.

But another major reason: fighters cut weight for fights in unhealthy ways. Your fighting weight determines which opponents you face, and if you can cut enough weight before a fight (through diet and dehydration) and then put it back on quickly enough, you’ll fight smaller opponents at a larger weight. It goes without saying, this is pretty dangerous and unhealthy, but that’s what you have to do to be the most effective fighter in the room.

But the overall point is this: while all aspects of fitness are important, knowing how to fight is an extremely important one.

Pulling It All Together

So how are my goals changing or evolving?

The most important thing to me is health. Even I’m strong, fast, or muscular, if I don’t have my health then I don’t have anything. I believe people need to take care of themselves, and anything you do with fitness needs to contribute to that.

I still want to look like a Greek statue – but if I don’t make it all the way there at the end of the year, I’ll be okay with that. Having the perfect body or looking a certain way is only one part of fitness, and arguably the other parts are even more important.

I want to be strong. At the beginning of the year I set some strength goals, and have made a lot of progress on them. Those goals are just as important as aesthetic goals, and I believe one shouldn’t be sacrificed for the sake of the other (unless you’re a professional or genetically gifted in one of them).

I also want to be better at running. Honestly I’m doing very minimal cardio right now, being more focused on strength and muscle. But one day, I’d like to be able to run a 3 hour marathon. That’s the men’s qualifying time for the Boston Marathon, and seems like an excellent benchmark. I also have other running goals – ones that I’ll focus on once I get closer to my muscle and strength goals.

I also want to learn how to fight. There are some very violent people out there, and I might need to defend myself. I’m still trying to figure out which styles or schools would be the most effective – right now I’m leaning towards BJJ, but I’m not sure I want to start sparring or rolling around with people while the pandemic is going on.

But overall, I want to be fit. That means focusing on all aspects of physical fitness: being healthy, being muscular, being strong, being fast, and being a fighter.