While the definition of physical fitness can be a little complex or unclear and the definition of physical fitness can vary, most government health agencies and exercise scientists agree that there are 5 components of physical fitness related to health. These components provide a fairly accurate representation of how fit and healthy the body is as a whole (total or overall fitness). The 5 components are cardiovascular fitness (also referred to as cardio-respiratory endurance or cardiovascular endurance), muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition.
Let’s take a closer look at these components individually.
1.) Cardiovascular fitness (or cardio-respiratory endurance or cardiovascular endurance)
Of the 5 components, cardiovascular fitness is the cornerstone that creates the pathway to improving your other fitness levels.
Cardiovascular fitness is the efficiency with which the body (the heart and lungs) delivers oxygen and nutrients to the required working muscles and transports waste products from the cells over a sustained period of time. Or to put it another way, it’s the ability of your heart and lungs to work together to provide the necessary oxygen and fuel to your body without quickly reaching a high level of fatigue and tiredness.
In our daily lives, we need cardiovascular fitness to handle the physical tasks and all of the “running around” we do.
A common test of cardiovascular fitness usually involves some type of sustained running. But typical examples of physical activities that relate to cardiovascular fitness are jogging, swimming, cycling, brisk or speed walking and any type of aerobic exercises. Aerobic exercise is the best way to improve cardiovascular fitness.
2.) Muscular strength
Muscular strength is the maximum amount of force (weight or heavy resistance) a muscle or muscle group can generate in a single effort to the point that no more repetitions can be done without rest. Muscular strength is quite the opposite of cardiovascular fitness in regards to the fact that cardiovascular fitness is measured over a certain period of time. While on the other hand, muscular strength is measured in one repetition.
In our daily lives, we need modest levels of strength to be able to perform everyday physical tasks like lifting, moving, carrying, etc.
A common test to measure upper body strength is some type of weightlifting exercise, such as the bench press. Anaerobic weightlifting exercises like the bench press, leg press, shoulder press, or bicep curls are examples of the best ways to improve muscular strength.
3.) Muscular endurance
Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to perform repeated movements (or to hold a particular position) with less than maximum force for an extended period of time or until muscular fatigue. Or, to put it simplistically, it’s how long your muscles can do something before getting too exhausted to finish.
Be careful not to confuse muscular endurance with muscular strength. While they can work together, they are definitely not the same. For many athletes, there may be a need to distinguish between muscular strength and muscular endurance. But for everyday people who want to easily perform their daily routines, are trying to stay healthy and fit, and just want to enjoy physical activities like hiking, biking, or just playing in the park with their children, muscular endurance plays a major role in fitness.
Common testing for muscular endurance can be dynamic (the ability to repeat contractions) or static (the ability to sustain a contraction). Dynamic tests would be to see how many push-ups or sit-ups, for example, a person can complete in a designated amount of time (e.g. 30 seconds, a minute, or maybe longer). Or, without being timed, the person could do as many repetitions of the exercise as they could until they couldn’t do anymore. An example of a static test would be the flexed-arm hang whereby the performer hangs on a bar until the designated stopping time or until they become too weak to continue hanging.
Muscular endurance can be improved by both aerobic and anaerobic exercises. Some examples would be biking, step machines and elliptical machines.
Flexibility is the ability to move the joints or any group of joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons through their full, normal range of motion without hindrance, discomfort, or pain.
Flexibility is actually more important to physical fitness than people realize. Not only does flexibility play a big role in performing many daily tasks, but maintaining or even increasing your flexibility is critical to protecting your joints and keeping them healthy. In addition, being flexible contributes to improving your lower back health, reducing the appearance and effects of arthritis, and reducing muscle-tendon injuries.
Not everyone has the same flexibility or flexibility requirements. Your flexibility tells you how limber you are. And, when it comes to testing your flexibility fitness level, the sit-and-reach test is most often used.
Stretching is the best way to improve flexibility. And, most fitness experts recommend a daily routine of static stretches for each joint.
5.) Body composition
Body composition is the percentage of fat in your body compared to your lean body mass (muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, organs, etc.).
Body composition is a better indicator of your overall fitness condition than body weight. So understand that your total body weight or what you see on your bathroom scale does not tell you how much fat or lean body mass (muscle) you have.
Body composition is useful in helping to determine health risks. Therefore, knowing your body composition and how it relates to your overall fitness level is essential. An optimal ratio of fat mass to lean mass is a clear indicator of good fitness.
Your body composition is a consequence of the extent that you perform the other components of physical fitness. In other words, when you improve the other four components, it will have a positive impact on body composition resulting in less body fat. Alternatively, when you have a high body fat content ratio, you are considered overweight or possibly obese. And, it negatively affects the other fitness components as well as your daily performance, your appearance, and your overall health.
There are several methods that can be used to calculate body composition. The best method is underwater weighing. But due to the expense, this isn’t practical for the everyday person. Incidentally, if you can go to a university or some other place that is set up to do it, it would be well worth your time to check it out. Therefore, the most common method of determining your body composition is skinfold readings – using skinfold calipers and taking measurements from certain areas of your body.
A regular program involving aerobic exercise and strength training can help you decrease your body fat and increase your muscle mass; and thereby, significantly improving your body composition and general overall health and fitness.
In conclusion, you now know that being fit is not just about being able to bench press a lot of weight, but you also need to know how well you can handle running a mile, for example, and a few other things. The key is that by understanding the 5 components of physical fitness, you’ll be better able to assess your fitness level and determine what specific health and fitness goals you’d like to achieve.