Improving fitness is a performance-based concept. Fitness is generally related to improved health and wellness, both physically and mentally. Most people associate fitness to lower weight. This is not always the case. Let us begin by reviewing a definition of fitness:
“Total Fitness is the ability to combine disease avoidance, efficiency in everyday life, ability to do desired activities, (e.g. sports, dancing, playing with children), healthy mental attitude, and good social behaviors, in order to achieve an optimal quality of life.”
This definition of fitness calls for enhancing both the physical and mental qualities of life. For a review of how psychological activity relates to fitness, see “Do Not Underestimate the Psychological Affects of Fitness”. The best way to determine fitness is to establish measurements that relate to the above definition. Measurements are the best way to determine performance.
Why are measurements so important? Measurements are the premise for feedback. Feedback links directly to improving performance. In a research project conducted by Miriam Erez it was found that feedback, “Facilitates the display of individual differences in self-set goals on the basis of knowledge of individual past performance. Then when self-goals are set, it provides knowledge for future performance to be consistent with the self-set goals. ” Feedback begins with a study of your current reality, e.g. current body fat percent, body circumference. The next step is to create a vision that establishes a desired future state. Once this is done you need to define the measurements for the future state using the same measurement criteria you used to determine your current reality. After completing this step, it is easy to compare the two measurements and realize the performance gap. It is important to realize that knowing this information (knowledge) does not ensure a change in performance. How you use the information (monitoring & action) dictates change that leads to performance that is more effective.
Now that we understand knowledge alone does not lead to performance improvement, it is important to understand how monitoring can lead to action resulting in performance change. This concept becomes more important as you learn to take accountability for sustained fitness. Many people hire personal trainers because of their ability to establish measurements and monitor the progress of their clients. Unfortunately, this can lead to dependence on the trainer. This is bad for two reasons. First, the dependency is costly. Second, it transfers the client’s performance accountability to the trainer. When the client decides to cease using the personal trainer, there has not been enough learning on the client’s part, to transfer the skill sets of monitoring and action planning for continued fitness performance. Consequently, the client often abandons their monitoring resulting in non-performance. This often leads to abandoning fitness development and a regression back to the previous state.
Performance improvement accountability rests with the individual. When hiring a personal trainer it is important to make sure the trainer’s focus is to educate the client on the monitoring process and provide them with the skills and tools to monitor their own performance. There are several internet and PDA tools available via the internet. These tools provide goal setting, body measurements, food monitoring, calorie tracking, activity tracking, and behavioral tools, e.g. mood monitoring and journals. Monitoring tools establish feedback, e.g. calories burned vs. calories consumed, activity calorie expenditure, and comparison of mood-to-calories. Individuals who establish fitness goals and use such tools have a better chance of achieving the self-fitness goals than those who do not.
Monitoring and feedback also establish effective performance behavior patterns. Once the link between feedback and successful results are established, people make the connection between what they did, and the improved performance results, i.e. when a person sees a correlation between reduced body inches and intense resistance training; they are more likely to continue the resistance training on their own. Over time, a person who monitors his protein, carbohydrates, and fats soon recognize the foods that provide the right balance of these nutrients. They then instinctively begin to select the right foods and portions that keep their nutrition program on track. Monitoring is self-regulated and feedback is done on an exception basis, i.e. a person realizes they have eaten too much for the holiday and records the data for that holiday, sees how much they have detoured from their nutritional program, and what they need to do to correct the situation.
Feedback through monitoring becomes less cumbersome and frustrating as you move to a maintenance program vs. a progressive fitness program. The people who sustain fitness and continuously improve fitness always have well established feedback-monitoring systems in place. These tools have become second nature to them, because of the repetition. You never want to eliminate monitoring and feedback. As you reach your goals and establish a maintenance program, you will use these tools less, but never abandon them. You need to find the right monitoring and feedback tools that work for you. Everyone has different needs and different circumstances. The important point is to find monitoring and feedback tools that you will use. Once the tools become second nature you will become more proficient at designing and implementing a strategy for fitness.