In his early books teacher and coach Dan John makes a distinction between “health” and “fitness”. For the former he uses Phil Maffetone’s definition: Health is the optimal interplay of the organs. For the latter: Fitness is the ability to do a certain task. This distinction is important because when writing a training program the coach needs to know which is the focus, health or fitness? A program designed to improve the heath of a person looks remarkably different than one designed to improve a particular facet of fitness—be it strength, endurance, or capacity for a sport or discipline.
I no longer coach or teach it, but I still retain a strong interest in movement and health. And one of the things I have noticed is that it is easy to forego health when training for fitness. For example, I’ve had my share of lumbar and neck problems. Multiple years of tweaks, pains, aches and inability to do certain things without a bit of discomfort. With the help of a close friend and coach, much of that has been remedied. He helped me figure out what the problem was and what needed to be done about it—it wasn’t a one-time cure and there are areas which I have to pay special attention to indefinitely.
Why am I telling you this? Simple. For years I was only interested in training for fitness. For strength, for power, for aerobic and anaerobic capacity. Now, I train mostly for health and to maintain the ability to do most physical things. I want a high baseline of mobility, stability, strength and co-ordination, not for its own sake, but so I can swim, cycle, run, walk, climb, fight and do any other physical task that presents itself or seems interesting. Yet because of injuries and weaknesses my programs have retained the appearance of fitness programs, emphasising few areas.
Well, now I am beginning to wonder if perhaps the best route for me—and for many others—is to have two programs. To choose health and fitness. Put simply, maybe everyone should have a health program that is practiced everyday for a short period of time. One that involves big compound movements across all categories—push, pull, squat, hinge, loaded carries etc.—and ensures the trainee moves the muscles and joints through the entire range of motion. On top of this daily program could be layered a more traditional fitness or injury prevention program which is tailored to the individual’s needs.
So once I return from my holiday, that is the route I will be exploring. A health program and a fitness program.