Fit and Fat
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
On the left is Michelle Carter. Gold medal winner in the 2016 Rio Olympics for shot put. She can throw the shot almost 68 feet! She is also fat, tipping the scale at about 265lbs. Michelle was the first American woman to ever win a gold in this event. Brilliant.
Health and fitness are two separate spheres. They are not interdependent. So what is fitness? Two of my favorite researchers in sports science, Mel Siff and Yuri Verkhoshansky define fitness as:
“The ability to execute a given task effectively and safely…the specific ability to use work capacity to execute a given task under particular conditions….”
Health is defined a bit differently:
"The general condition of the body or mind with reference to soundness and vigor; freedom from disease or ailment”
Body fat has nothing to do with fitness (unless your fatness gets in your way during your task- think legs rubbing together while sprinting). You can be fit and fat and even healthy. However, if you have 2 or more risk factors listed below, don’t consider yourself healthy. Just because you are fit does not automatically make you healthy.
Risk Factors for Disease:
Waist Circumference higher than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men
High Blood Pressure
High Blood Sugar
High Cholesterol (with a bad ratio – LDL to HDL)
Excessive drug and/or alcohol use
Peculiarly, being slightly overweight correlates to better survivability, especially in regard to serious illness. Extra body fat seems to provide a caloric buffer that improves the odds of living with long term illness. And in times of food shortages, fat people tend to live longer. The Obesity Paradox (which is a controversial theory) states normal weight individuals have a higher mortality rate than their chubby counterparts when confronted with chronic diseases. But don’t start eating ice cream for breakfast just yet….obese people are much more likely to develop a chronic disease. That said, once you start approaching obesity or become morbidly obese, the protective effect of extra weight is negated by other issues, such as joint damage, increased cardiovascular symptoms, kidney-related problems, high levels of cancer and other diseases related to obesity.
On the flip side, being ultra-lean has never been ideal for ANY animal. I’m talking to you ‘Anna models’. According to the American Council on Exercise healthy body fat percentages for men should be between 6% to 18% and for women 12% to 20%. Being a man with body fat lower than 4% or a woman with 10% or less fat is considered unhealthy. Most Americans never have to worry about being too low. Fat percentages over 25% for men and over 30% for women can lead to severe health problems.
Factoid: Average American male is 24% body fat; Average adult female is 34%
I am not condoning an increase in body fat (unless you are anorexic). Focus on fitness, not fatness. Working out and participating in sports does not require one to be slim. In fact, many top athletes are overweight (including most heavyweight powerlifters and half the NFL linemen):
William “The Fridge” Perry
Why do fat people seem stronger than their skinny counterparts?
It all has to do with the intramuscular adipose tissue. Think steak marbling. The extra fat in between the muscle increases the size of the limb and as a result, improves the angle at which the joint has to move. This makes it easier to lift the load.
The most efficient geometry of muscle attachment to bone is where the muscle is pulling perpendicular to the length of the ball, i.e., at ninety degrees. Angles of less than ninety degrees are less efficient. Forces there are lost in a trigonometric fashion. When the intramuscular spaces are increased with fat, the angle at which the muscles attach to the arms or legs becomes less acute, i.e. closer to the ninety-degree ideal and therefore more efficient.
So instead of eating that extra slice of apple pie, workout a little bit harder and smarter. This will increase your lean muscle mass and strength. Don’t worry so much about your big booty and focus on your fitness. The human body that undergoes consistent smart exercise is usually a healthy and happy body. Regular physical activity reduces inflammation, strengthens the bones, positively affects hormone balance, burns energy, decreases your risk of many diseases and makes you feel good. With the right approach and consistency, just about everyone can benefit from exercise.
Bottom Line: You can be fat and fit. Although fatness does predispose one to ill health.