If you ask many people at the gym (the average gym users) why they are there most of the answers are simple like losing weight or general fitness. Weight loss is pretty simple and straightforward, but what exactly is ‘general fitness’?
I think most people are unclear on the idea of ‘general fitness’. If you are in the gym using weights to sculpt your body to look better as well as doing cardio on a treadmill or bike to burn calories and fat then you are not really doing general fitness; basically you are doing bodybuilding. Yes you are in better shape from before with a higher level of cardiovascular conditioning, lower body fat, and greater overall strength but more than likely your general level of fitness has not increased much.
Ideally general fitness is just more than the way you look. It should also be related to your ability to complete fitness related tasks such as using speed, agility, endurance, explosiveness, and strength. When we were kids we had a great level of ‘general fitness’. We could run, sprint, jump, climb, and do all sorts of stuff because we actively trained (played) to keep ourselves in a certain level of fitness.
This is not to say that bodybuilding or working out in the gym in this manner is bad; it should be applauded to change your body and improve yourself. But it is not really general fitness.
Instead a general fitness program would be something like a Boot Camp, Crossfit, Crossfit Football, training for Tough Mudder, and things of that nature. These programs that incorporates creating a stronger, faster you that can utilize that muscle and agility in a variety of ways.
So Which is Better?
That truly depends on you and your goals for yourself. If you are out of shape, overweight, and lacking a lot of muscle or tone it might be best to start with a basic program at a gym designed to help you trim up. But if you are already in a decent type of shape and want to take the next step in fitness then you need to incorporate more into your training.
Along with Boot Camps and the like you can also use more cross-training to obtain similar benefits. Along with weight workouts you might take the cardio outside and start hiking and running trails. You could add in sports like basketball or tennis that utilize explosive actions and agility to train your body to use those muscles and utilize your increased cardiovascular fitness.
But really it all depends on you. What is your goal? Do you want to look good and also be able to excel in sports?
The nice thing about goals, especially in fitness, is they can and should change as you change. There is no fixed goal for any particular person, only a moving target that changes as we get older and have own personal wants and needs change.