When planning a well rounded exercise program, it is important to understand the five components of physical fitness and how your training affects them. The components include: cardiovascular endurance, muscular fitness, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. In general, achieving an adequate level of fitness in all five categories is essential to good health.
Cardiovascular endurance is your body’s ability to keep up with exercise like running, jogging, swimming, cycling, and anything that forces your cardiovascular system (lungs, heart, blood vessels) to work for extended periods of time. Together, the heart and lungs fuel your body with the oxygen needed by your muscles, ensuring that they have the oxygen needed for the work they are doing.
The Cooper Run (running as far as possible in 12 minutes) is a test commonly used to assess cardiovascular endurance, but many trainers use the Step Test (stepping onto a platform for 5 minutes). Both are accurate measures of a subject’s cardiovascular endurance.
While there are five components of fitness, muscular strength and muscular endurance can fall under the same umbrella of muscular fitness Both of these components focus on training your neuromuscular system, but in different ways. Muscular Strength refers to the maximum amount of force a muscle can produce at one time, also referred to as a one repetition maximum. You can train your muscles to be stronger by lifting heavy weights for a few repetitions. Common exercises that focus on muscular strength include loaded squats, leg press, and bench press.
Is the ability of a muscle to resist fatigue while exerting a submaximal amount of force. Essentially, it is a measure of how long a muscle can withstand a prolonged contraction or many repeated contractions. Training for muscular endurance requires you to perform many repetitions at a lower weight than you would use for muscular strength. Some common exercises that assess muscular endurance include pushups, sit-ups, and pull-ups – all performed to a point of fatigue.
Even if you are not specifically training for muscular strength or endurance, they are still very important for daily living. Muscular strength, for example, must be called upon when lifting boxes and moving furniture. Meanwhile, your leg muscles must have enough endurance to walk long distances. Even the muscles of your core must stay “on” to support your posture when seated and standing.
Flexibility is one of the most important, yet often overlooked, components of physical fitness. Without flexibility, the muscles and joints would grow stiff and movement would be limited. Flexibility training ensures that your body can move through its entire range of motion without pain or stiffness.
To test your flexibility, lean forward and try to touch your toes. Those with good flexibility will usually be able to touch their toes, while those with limited flexibility will not. The sit and reach test (sitting on the floor and reaching toward your toes) is another good way to assess your flexibility. The more flexible you are, the closer you will come to touching your toes and beyond.
Body Fat Composition
The last component of physical fitness, body composition, refers to the ratio of fat mass to fat-free mass (such as muscle, bone, organs, and more) in your body. Overall health generally improves when you have a lower amount of fat mass (or lower percent body fat) and higher amount of lean muscle mass. While your heart rate will not necessarily reflect your percentage of body fat.