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Fitness is…Defense
By Blair Morrison   View more articles by this author
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February 24

Typically, I think of fitness as a way to achieve ability in different facets of life. I want to be strong so the loads life asks me to bear seem lighter. I want endurance so that I can enjoy activity longer without tiring. I want to be agile so I feel balanced and coordinated in any situation, be it going up stairs or climbing a wall.

The other day I met a man at the gym who related a story that reminded me that getting fit isn't purely about being "able." This is something I always tend to forget, but it's such an integral part of why fitness can be so valuable. When he was 19 (he's now 41) this guy was a weightlifter. He did clean and jerk, snatch, deadlift, squat, bench press, etc. Now he mainly does machine weights, db curls, and other body building style movements. This is because just before his 20th birthday, he fell 7 meters from scaffolding onto the concrete sidewalk below. In an admittedly ill-advised attempt to brace the fall, he landed on his feet and tried to catch himself in a squat. He did it, but shattered his right tibia and fibula in the process.

Doctors performed a series of surgeries to repair the damage, including inserting massive metal plates and bolts to secure his lower leg (I saw the scars-- wow). After a year in a cast, he started to rehab, only to discover that his achilles tendon had been so traumatized by the experience that it had remained shortened from the shock of the impact. Now his right leg is shorter than his left, he has a slightly noticeable limp, and has had to redefine what a functional training program means to him.

Not so bad, when one considers what the surgeon told him in post-op. Apparently, the musculature that he had developed during his teenage years of training had largely held the broken bones in place during the accident. He said that most cases with this extensive a break pattern fragment so badly that the individual loses any real functional use of his lower leg, but that this man would likely return to a level completely compatible with daily life.

Furthermore, this man's body had somehow absorbed the impact that would have ordinarily travelled up to his spine and even into his neck. According to the doctor, it was practically miraculous, given the nature and angle of his fall, that this man had suffered no structural back damage whatsoever.

Stories like this abound. I know of very fit individuals who have been thrown from their motorcycles (wearing a helmet), their bodies breaking through trees, but only emerging with minor injuries. Their physicians explained this as a combination of luck and physical resilience, do to the protection and stability their muscles provided.

I heard a story a while back about an individual who contracted a rare blood infection that attacks the lungs, was minutes from being put on a ventilator, but eventually rebounded, went his entire hospital stay without needing insulin, and emerged without any permanent lung damage. According to the blood and pulmonary specialists, his diet and his training had respectively and independently saved his life.

The moral here is that fitness isn't always offensive. As much as I focus on training for ability and achievement, the reality is that I'm just as actively training for protection. Sometimes, in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, s%&t happens. The better prepared your body is to handle it, the less damage it will do.

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