Monday, January 4, 2010


I admit that for many years, I have honestly
found the word FITNESS ugly and offensive.
I have been an athlete, an athletic trainer, a coach;
a bodybuilder, a triathlete, a runner, a cyclist;
I've studied anatomy, kinesiology, and
athletic technique for many, many years. But
something just wasn't right about the
word FITNESS. So I did some homework
to see what my friggen problem was.

FITNESS comes from the Old English
word "fitte," past participle of the verb,
"fitten," meaning "to be suitable, qualified
or competent."
 The word "fitnesse" could be
first found in literature in the year 1580.

For four hudred years, "fitness" meant proper
or worthy, as in one's moral aptitude; or it
meant suitable and appropriate, as in the ability
to perform a function--
like how qualified a candidate was for office.

In the late 1800's, writings of Charles Darwin
and Ralph Waldo Emerson still revealed FITNESS
to mean functional and appropriate.

In the 1940's, a brilliant emigrant M.D. from Austria
named Dr. Hans Kraus began testing children
in the U.S. and Europe for what he termed,
"Muscular Fitness." (in other words, muscular
functionality) Through his testing, he
found children in the U.S. to be far less
physically capable than European children.

Kruas published some alarming papers in
various journals, and got the attention of
some powerful people, including a senator
from Pennsylvania who took the findings
to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

President Eisenhower was "shocked."
He set up a series of conferences and
committees; then in July of 1956, Eisenhower
established the President's Council on Youth Fitness.

For that period, I don't have a problem
with "Youth Fitness," as it is implies
children being physically "appropriate."

For the next 20 or 30 years, the word
FITNESS still meant "suitable and
proper," although the buzz word,
PHYSICAL FITNESS bounced around
schools gymnasiums and across the
family dinner table. My 1971 Oxford English
Dictionary gives no reference for FITNESS
to mean anything about physicality.

In the late 1960's, the popularity of teenage
model Twiggy started a craze for having a
thin body. Although she hardly seemed athletic and
capable, people loved Twiggy's slight figure.

In 1968, Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper wrote the very
popular book, "Aerobics," which was evidently
the beginning of the big exercise push in the U.S.

Then something changed. With the
advent of the VHS player in the '80's,
people could start exercising at home. Thus
was born the "exercise guru." Millions of
Americans (mostly women) started buying
exercise videos, trying to achieve the bodies
of Jane Fonda, Denise Austin and Susan Powter.
Physical fitness was taking hold.

By the late 80's, the Body Image Craze was on !

For many, dieting was easier than exercising.
The word "fat" became the new asbestos
(reduced fat, low fat, fat-free, "that guy's fat.");
lots of new diets hit the market to sell big
and help people reach their hard-body ideal.
Years later, Dr. Atkins popularized the
no-carb diet.

Although many people chose either the
all-diet-no-exercise camp, or the all-exercise-
no-diet camp, exercise was really catching on.
Jogging became very popular, and aerobics
changed to include dance (like Jazzercise)
in order to keep people interested.

By the 1990's, exercise changed again because
people wanted the hard body, but they were getting
bored. Bodybuilding became popular, and aerobic
exercise got meaner with the inclusion of martial arts.
Madonna's fame & rock hard body gave all new
popularity to the long-dormant practice of yoga.
Like many English terms, physical fitness was
shortened to just FITNESS.

In the last 20 or 30 years, the perfect body for
women went from Marilyn Monroe to Raquel Welch to
Linda Carter (Wonder Woman) to Denise Austin.
The perfect body for men went from
Jack Lalane to Arnold Schwartzenegger,
and then scaled back to Matthew McConaughey.

With FITNESS, anyone could be beautiful. And seemingly,
that's all that matters. FITNESS has become the excalibre
of the Western world.

The word FITNESS substantially changed from
meaning "appropriate," to now meaning
The condition of having both noticeable muscles and 
reduced body fat, usually as a result of exercise.

The new meaning has to do with AESTHETICS,
or making a body LOOK GOOD.

Oh sure, people can say they get "FIT" so that they
can do more and feel better, but exercise gurus are
selling their hard bodies under the title FITNESS
and people are buying it.

By 1999, FITNESS guru Billy Blanks had sold over
ONE BILLION Tae Bo video sets from his infomercial.
With the dance music pumping and Billy's six-pack
abs glistening under the lights, who could resist ?

The reason I have been all bunched up about
the word FITNESS is that the major implication
is beauty. I don't think exercise is bad, I just
want you to know that when I say, "Forget Fitness,"
I mean forget exercising for beauty.

There are many better reasons to exercise...


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