Could your training be making you fit but less healthy?


How can that be, right? How can training, exercise, CrossFitting be making me less healthy? That doesn’t make sense. I thought when we exercise the obvious benefit is increased health and improved quality of life. That may not be the case! Ask your body. In other words, how do you feel and what are the side effects or benefits of your training?

Just because you have a high fitness level, doesn’t mean you’re healthy. What, not so! Yes, that’s the truth. First of all, what is the definition of health and fitness?

Health is the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living being. In humans, it is the general condition of a person‘s mind and body, usually meaning to be free from illnessinjury or pain (as in “good health” or “healthy“). The World Health Organization (WHO) defined health in its broader sense in 1946 as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”Wikipedia

Physical fitness comprises two related concepts: general fitness (a state of health and well-being), and specific fitness (a task-oriented definition based on the ability to perform specific aspects of sports or occupations). Physical fitness is generally achieved through correct nutritionexercise, hygiene and rest. Wikipedia

How do you know if your fitness correlates to good health? Look for the markers of good health. If you search the web, you’ll find that there is no one good list of health markers that completely represent good health. In fact, most experts can’t agree on what “health” is in its entirety. Some will use biological indicators such as systolic blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, C-reactive protein levels, resting heart rate, etc… Others will use more practical less scientific markers such as energy level, mood level, ability to perform, absence of illness, sense of wellness, etc… In the list below, I attempt to compile a grouping of markers that represent balanced health. To keep the list from being massive, we will make one assumption that normal lab work represents one biological component to  good health.

Health Markers

  • Normal laboratory and diagnostic testing results
  • Overall energy level
  • Normal sleeping patterns and the feeling you have upon wakening
  • Overall mood and a sense of wellness
  • Strong immune system represented by the absence of disease or systemic infections or illnesses
  • General physical, mental, and emotional performance
  • Absence of pain at rest and appropriate pain responses when elicited (For example, training makes your muscles sore and can sometimes cause tightness, etc…, but is this in the appropriate locations and does it improve and then produce increased function and performance)
  • Attentiveness (ability to concentrate on the matter at hand) and mental clarity
  • Normal biological functions such as digestion, respiration, etc…
  • Sexual desire and performance (perhaps split this in two)
  • Stress/Anxiety tolerance
  • Healthy Skin/nails/hair
  • Normal body temperature
  • Normal body odor/sweating

So, does your training and lifestyle habits produce these markers of health? Oh wait, I didn’t mention lifestyle habits, but yes your lifestyle habits have to be spot on to compliment your training program. In other words, you can’t train like a superstar and then expect to be healthy and fit if you don’t have adequate diet/nutrition, physical/mental/emotional rest/recovery. But if everything is in place, your training is appropriate and your lifestyle habits are supportive, one can expect these markers to be present.

Here is the problem with some of the training programs out there. They develop what is termed above as specific fitness but sometimes at the risk and degradation of general fitness. In other words, the training is producing high elite levels of fitness for specific adaptation but they have lost a some aspects of general fitness and health. How do I know this? This was me! I had the specific fitness level that could rival some 20 year olds on any given day, but I did not necessarily “feel” healthy. The cost of having an elite fitness level was deteriorating my general fitness and health. This is true with many things in life and in physical performance. If you wan’t to be the strongest man/woman on earth, you’re probably going to lose aerobic capacity and speed in running. If you want to be the fastest runner, you are going to lose some strength capacity. If we’re not careful, our training and our health can have in some aspects an inverse relationship. As one increases, the other decreases. Finding the balance through training undulation and periodization is the key. Learning that your body needs seasons of rest, recovery and periods of “hibernation” for lack of better terms. Athletes must have seasons of lower performance in some areas to support higher performance in others. Then if we are a competitive athlete, our performance should peak close to our competitive season or event. The problem, as I see it, with some CrossFit training, is that training is always at a high level and there is very little periodization and transition. I don’t believe that this is how Greg Glassman designed CrossFit to be prescribed and applied. CrossFit training should provide broad based, general and inclusive fitness and work capacity. Fitness, wellness, and sickness are all variants of health. This is represented by the graphic below.


“What is Fitness” CrossFit Journal Oct 2002.

If you are sick and not well, you have poor health. If you have a high level of fitness you may/may not have a high level of health. Our goal should be to find the balance between wellness and fitness to support quality of life and athletic performance!

  1. ^ Merriam-Webster. Dictionary – “Health”, accessed 21 April 2011.
  2. ^ World Health Organization. 1946. WHO definition of Health, Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19–22 June 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.
  3. ^ World Health Organization. 2006. Constitution of the World Health Organization – Basic Documents, Forty-fifth edition, Supplement, October 2006.
  4. “What is Fitness” CrossFit Journal, Oct 2002.

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