The 5 Components of Fitness

When you think of fitness, what is the first thing that comes to mind? A six pack? Running under a 10 minute per mile pace? Body building? Olympic level athletes? Believe it or not, there are 5 basic components to fitness that help to blur the line between what you think of when you think of fitness and what the professional Exercise Scientists think of when they think of fitness.

They are as follows:

1. Cardio-respiratory endurance
2. Muscular strength
3. Muscular endurance
4. Flexibility
5. Body composition

As nice as it may be to have the 6 pack, or to be able to run at a certain pace, if you don’t have some level of the previous 5 components to fitness as listed above, you won’t be able to enjoy much of anything.

Simply put, in order to get the most out of your active body, you need to possess at least a basic level of cardio-respiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility and have a healthy body composition.

What does that mean?

Cardio-respiratory endurance is another way of saying aerobic fitness. This relates to the body’s capacity to absorb, transport and use oxygen during work or exercise. Aerobic means “with oxygen”. As the body is trained to endure a higher cardiovascular workload- meaning the heart and lungs have to work harder- those organs become stronger and, in turn, increase an individual’s aerobic endurance.

A marathon runner would be an excellent example of someone who possess a high level of cardio-respiratory endurance. Another great example would be a cyclist, such as those who ride in the Tour de France.

Although many of us will never reach the level of a professional runner or cyclist, we will definitely benefit from exercising both our heart and lungs by doing cardiovascular work. Any exercise that increases our heart rate can be considered a form of “cardio”.

Most doctors will recommend that in order to get the most benefit from cardio, you’ll need to exercise moderately to vigorously most days of the week for a minimum of 20-30 minutes each time.

Muscular strength and endurance are often thought of as the same exact thing. While I’ll talk about them together here, they are two very different components to fitness.

Muscular strength is the body’s ability to generate force at a given speed of movement.

Muscular endurance refers to the body’s ability to repeat movements and resist muscular fatigue.

Or in layman’s terms, muscular strength is your body’s ability to lift something very heavy but only one time versus your body’s muscular endurance as your body’s ability to lift a weight repeatedly and without tiring.

One is not better than the other. You need strength to accomplish tasks such as lifting a box or moving a couch but you need endurance to lift multiple boxes or to move that couch over and over and over again.

In my opinion, you need both strength and endurance to have not only a balanced body but also a fit one.

When we move on to the component of flexibility- the often ignored and overlooked component- we start to lose people. Flexibility on its own is not flashy and doesn’t win gold medals.

But without it, your body would break down. It would lose strength and endurance. It would lose the ability to run or cycle without pain or effort. Fitness would be impossible to attain and more importantly, you would lose your current quality of life.

So what is flexibility?

Flexibility is the range of motion around a joint or a group of joints.

Range of motion refers to the free movement of a joint and could potentially be limited by the amount of soft tissue, such as muscle, surrounding it.

An example of someone with a high level of flexibility would be a gymnast.

Notice, however that the gymnast has a combination of cardio-respiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance as well as a high level of flexibility. All of the components of fitness work together in order to allow the gymnast to succeed at his or her craft.

The final component to fitness is that of body composition.

There are two parts to body composition- that of fat mass and that of lean body mass.

Fat mass is the percentage of fat, both essential and nonessential fat, that make up your body. Contrary to what we may think, our bodies do need a certain level of fat in order to be healthy. This level of fat exists as our essential body fat.

Essential fat can be found in bone marrow, nerve tissue and in various internal organs. Nonessential fat can be found outside of those organs and tissues. Nonessential fat is the type of fat that most people look to lose when deciding to become healthier. Nonessential fat is used for excess fat storage.

Women typically, but not always, have a higher percentage of body fat than men. Healthy body fat percentages can range anywhere from 10-20% for men and 20-30% for women. This is not a hard-fast rule for body fat percentages, but rather a safe parameter of percentages.

Lean body mass, on the other hand, is made up of everything in the human body other than fat, such as muscle mass, bone mass and the weight of the internal organs.

A healthy body composition would maintain a healthy percentage of body fat such as is listed above, 10-20% for men, 20-30% for women.

When all of these components are taken into consideration together, you are setting yourself up for the most efficient path towards greater fitness. Fitness can never be taken as just one thing or another, it is really the culmination of all that you do.

Looking good is not enough to be fit. Lifting a lot of weight also won’t be enough. Running for days upon days won’t be enough. Bending yourself into a pretzel isn’t enough either.

But when you put all of that together- cardio-respiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and a healthy body composition- you get the best of everything. You are able to attain the highest level of fitness possible for your body and nothing is better than that.

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