What is wrong with the term “fitness?” by Bethany Drohmann

This week, I would like to share a wonderful article written by my good friend, dear colleague and inspiring teacher, Bethany Drohmann. I was studying body work with Bethany last week when she told the class some of her philosophy around movement versus fitness and exercise and the cultural implications that go along with this language and schema. I really appreciated what she had to say and am honored to spread the word.

What is wrong with the term “fitness?”

I am helping my mom's arm to move correctly after a nasty humeral head fracture.Bethany is helping her mom’s arm move correctly after a nasty humeral head fracture so that she eventually could regain full function!

written by Bethany Drohmann, edited by Becky Gannon

Moving correctly improves your health, and fitness does not always mean moving correctly.

I have been a pilates instructor for 13 years and I am coming to terms with my deep skepticism of the word “fitness.” What I learned  in brain and body from my vast study of movement, mechanics and anatomy were not things I would have ever gotten from a fitness-based workout system.

One definition of fitness is “the condition of being physically fit and healthy” and one definition of movement “an act of changing position, or of having this changed.” I would argue that our cultural understanding of fitness does not necessarily include a true understanding of health anymore and that movement can improve our health more than fitness can.

Pilates: from movement improvement to fitness routine.

When I became a pilates instructor, the people in my class were serious movement addicts like me and we were in it to understand and experience the richness of movement and fitness was not the goal. Now, when I teach pilates instructor trainings, it is a whole new ball game. People are there for various reasons ranging from wanting to become more fit and toned to being seriously interested in the nuances of health and movement. This change is a good thing in some respects because it means that I have a broader audience to reach with my ideas of feeling better and understanding better rather than focusing on looking better. I get to help people go from wanting to look “good” to redefining what is important about movement. They learn how full-body movement and understanding leads to health which leads to a side-effect of looking good. I have seen people redefine their priorities with “fitness” time and time again. They come into class wanting to look good and by the end of the course leave with a deep, rich understanding of just how much movement has to offer.

Movement enhances everything!

Here I am integrating parenting with a balance exercise.Movement even enhances parenting!

Movement can change your life in more ways than we are aware of. Being more comfortable in your body changes your mind, changes your confidence, changes your physiological health, changes your options and opportunities and changes your outlook.

These are big things and big reasons that I dislike the narrow schema which has become “fitness”. I have thought about taking the word “pilates” out of my business name because that is not necessarily the only thing I do anymore and in some respects pilates has become associated more and more with getting “fit.” I use pilates principles and exercises at times, but I also draw from my own knowledge and studies, a vast library of books and systems, mystery-solving and movement creation.  I have to admit though that the name “Divine Proportion Pilates” has such a nice ring to it, and glorious mathematical implications! Pilates is also a useful starting point as something that people are now familiar with and sometimes has made the leap to being something associated with not only looking better but also feeling (or moving) better. 

Here is a link to an awesome TED talk by Amy Cuddy called: “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”  It’s about 20 minutes, but totally worth your time. Watch it later if you don’t have time now.

Our cultural understanding of fitness is broken.

Another reason that this bothersome word “fitness” irks me is a cultural one. This culture is primarily a sedentary culture with a fitness culture placed on top of that sedentary culture. This fitness culture is based on “occasional movement”. People sit for most of their day by working, driving, sitting, using computers, watching television, reading etc and then try and “fix” all of that sitting with 30-60min of exercise. This creates the illusion that they are undoing the damage caused by a primarily sedentary existence. We need to change more things about our lives to achieve “fitness”…and probably do away with that word in the process because the term itself is a broken schema. In order to “move” towards health, we need to examine what we are doing all day not just during our fitness activities. Little bits of movement interspersed throughout our day make many more health changes than an hour spent at the gym.

I want to encourage people to think more of wellness rather than fitness because of the concerns I have outlined above. 

How to take control of your own wellness

Wellness, to me, means approaching all aspects of your life and questioning whether the way that you live is setting you up to be well…asking questions like:

  • “What am I doing all day?”
  • “Am I happy with what I do?”
  • “If I am unhappy, what can I change?”
  • “How does my body feel?”
  • “What knowledge and resources do I already possess which can help me to feel better?” (ie. yoga, meditation, pilates exercises, healthy eating…you probably have more under your belt than you realize)
  • “How do I want to feel?”
  • “What have I done in the past that has made me feel the best?

These are good questions to start with and go back to frequently.

Move Better. Move Beyond Exercise.


To find out more about Bethany, please visit her website.

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