One of our coaches played his college alma mater soccer team last fall in the annual alumni game. He and his alumni teammates won easily, but you can imagine these older, retired players were not nearly as “fit”, as they are no longer competitive athletes. This alumni team certainly didn’t have better chemistry either, as the young, collegiate athletes had practiced together as a team for months. The alumni won because they were more skilled at their sport, which far outweighs any fitness measure, even in a game like soccer which demands high levels of endurance.
The best definition for fitness is a general state of good health, usually as a result of exercise and nutrition. Recently, this term has referred more to cardiovascular fitness, or the ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to muscles. This process of bringing oxygen to the muscles, known as the aerobic energy system, is only one piece of soccer energy systems. The most effective way to improve soccer conditioning, or other intermittent sports like basketball and hockey, is to perform interval training (see Sparta Point 1/13/10) to target the anaerobic and aerobic systems simultaneously, similar to the sport.
However, that still doesn’t explain why the alumni team can handily beat their more “fit”, younger, more cohesive opponents. The alumni didn’t get out of breath because they were more skilled, having played in the professional ranks after college. These older players knew when to run down an opponent on defense and when to attack offensively, wasting no energy on unnecessary movements.
If you’re feeling pretty fit, then the other common rationale for performing traditional cardiovascular fitness, like jogging, is aesthetics, the pursuit of that glorious six-pack. Perhaps my favorite quote comes from Eric Ravussin, the chair in diabetes and metabolism at Louisiana State University, who states, “In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless.” As mentioned previously (see Sparta Point 12/16/09), a 20-oz. bottle of Gatorade equals the caloric expenditure of a 20-minute run in summer heat. So rather than obsessing over that elliptical, just focus on your nutrition.
It seems harmless, but fitness takes a toll on your body through overuse injuries like tendonitis and shin splits due to the nature of repeated movements needed to stimulate the cardiovascular system. More importantly these methods steal away the time you could be using to improve your sport skills and commit to strength training, a crucial aspect of injury reduction.
So let’s all be clear on the real definition of fitness, a general state of good health, usually as a result of exercise and nutrition, and do your part to make sure those “cardio” machines keep gathering dust.