You do not have to be an athlete to be fit. You do not have to “get really good at something” to enjoy the type of fitness that the fitness industry should generally be promoting, general health-related fitness. Yet, the fitness industry continues to conflate athletic fitness and ‘training’ with general health-related fitness. It is clear that there is a halo effect associated with athletic training and fitness, one that is often not deserved.
If someone’s goal is to have a healthier level of fitness, then the benefits of any kind of exercise begin immediately, not only after significant progress is made. As well, although a plan of progression and a longer-term goal will result in more benefit down the line, a precise plan of attack is not necessary to significantly improve underlying health risks that are amenable to exercise.
Also, when we have as a goal advanced performance in any athletic pursuit, there comes a time when some of the adaptations are not necessarily “healthy.” That is, the types of adaptations necessary to an advanced level of specific fitness may not be “generally healthy.” As I pointed out here, with ever-advancing performance in a specific athletic skill, there come compromises and maladjustments. But, most do not even know the difference between health-related fitness and specific skill-related fitness.
As always, it is OK to just exercise. And, as my friend and trainer Dave Hargreaves has said in the past, if you decide you’ve gotten to the point you want to be at, something you view fit and healthy, it is OK to say, “now I’m going to just keep this.”
You cannot, however, be generally advanced. Those who conflate, or equate, general health-related fitness with athletic or skill-related fitness are confused. This includes much of the fitness industry today. As I said above, athletic training has long been associated with a halo effect that is unwarranted.
It is this halo-effect and the conflation of performance-related athletic fitness and general health fitness that leads to the thing we encounter so often in strength training, what we call the “form police.” These people are under the mistaken notion that we lift very heavy weights for our health.
However, we need to be clear about the problem. Americans do not engage in enough physical activity. This is different than saying Americans do not train enough. Or, Americans do not engage in a fitness program with progressive overload enough.
This same confusion causes trainers and other pros to assume that exercise is underrated in general. People don’t join gyms or hire trainers, therefore, they undervalue exercise. In some ways, the fitness industry itself helps to invent the couch potato.
There are dozens of cost-free activities that you can begin to enjoy right now and these will immediately begin to improve your general fitness. Yes, a progressive program will result in the greatest changes in fitness overall, but to pretend that this is necessary simply helps to steer people away from things they could do right now without “changing their entire life.”
And yes, I am saying that exercise does not need to be “life-changing.” The results, however, may be. Exercise has immediate and tangible benefits. Yet, the fitness industry, in its desperation to sell complex programs and expensive products, tends to keep people away from exercise as much as it encourages people. Faced with what seems like a daunting and overwhelming task, people choose not to “do the program.” I just saw someone selling a fitness program that claimed to be using the minimum input possible to achieve fitness. The person selling this program said, “Give me just 16 weeks!”
Sixteen weeks? How about ten minutes? Or fifteen? Let’s start with that. The greatest journeys start with one step.