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A Fitness Overhaul for 2017

By Neil Morgan Griffiths

05/10/2017

Having been involved with the teaching and development of Physical Education programs within international schools for over 25 years, I find myself acutely aware of one area of discussion that continues to confound. The topic of Fitness has been with us in one form or another for as long as I can remember. However, when it comes to defining its components, it would appear that we remain locked in perpetual confusion.

A simple search of current documents exposes a variety of selections that draw from: aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity, stamina, resistance, endurance, cardio-vascular, cardio-respiratory, muscular strength, absolute muscular strength, elastic strength, local muscular endurance, muscular endurance, speed, speed reaction, muscular speed, power, flexibility, agility, balance, and skill. Is it any wonder then, that with this array before us, as educators we are powerless to provide anything but an enduring enigma for our student learners? Until as a group of professionals we make the decision to change the way we present Fitness, we will continue to invite skepticism, and ultimately provide a disservice to our learning communities.

When considering solutions for this very real issue, maybe we need to take a step back and evaluate the choice we have made in trying to establish and allocate components to a word that could probably well do with out them. In my Bedford (U.K.) college days of the late 80s, I well remember being overjoyed with myself at being able to recall at will the then accepted suggestion that Fitness was, “the ability to carry out normal daily activities without encountering undue stress.”

Perhaps we would have done well to leave Fitness at this understanding. From a communication perspective, although I can understand our desire to condense a group of elaborately sounding and scientifically complex words into one simple word, in failing to have that word serve to clearly communicate a universal understanding of the complexity of its sum, we probably would have done better in not having gone there in the first place.

It might therefore be worthwhile to propose that as physical & health education teachers, we judiciously place our focus on how different individuals respond to exercise. After all, when it comes to how a given component of Fitness relates to the individual, we are simply referring to a specific physiological aptitude derived from genetic predisposition. It might be naive to suggest that for those that choose to present Physical Education from a performance perspective, that there is not some value in identifying a range of factors that have the potential to influence performance. But let’s face it, when it comes to our ability to achieve in the physical domain, genetic predisposition holds the number one spot as the single largest factor influencing our potential. The clearer we present this concept to our student learners, the better they will understand how different bodies respond differently to physical activity.

So let’s call it like it is. If you are born with the ‘D allele’ and ‘577RR’ gene variants (Brooks 2014), you are highly likely to move substantially faster than people who are born without those gene variants—it’s that simple! The fact that gene variants control how big our heart is, how well we transfer oxygen around the body, how strong our muscles get, and how susceptible we are to injury, pretty much determines the physical levels to which we can push our body. So perhaps it is time to stop trying to convey immensely interesting and complex scientific research through the use of one confusing and largely misinterpreted word. We are really talking about the physiological potential of the human body in question, as a reflection of genetic predisposition—isn’t that easier to say than Fitness? Maybe not, but it’s certainly more accurate!

How we respond to physical activity based on our genetic predisposition is a concept that has individual meaning and relevance to each and every member of our learning community. How does my body respond to exercise? Now, that’s a question worth asking. How fit am I? Now that’s a question that is as confusing as it is impossible to answer.

Reference:
Michael Brooks - “Why are Jamaicans so good at Sprinting?” The Guardian. July 21, 2014:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/21/jamaicans-sprinting-athletics-commonwealth-games

Neil Griffiths is MS Physical Education Teacher and Coordinator of MS Activities & Athletics at the American International School Dhaka.




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