Your physical health and fitness are made from multiple components. By knowing these components you will know in what areas you can improve.
How many and what components physical fitness is composed of is somewhat subjective. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion describes 7 fitness components in their Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (1).
The 7 fitness components are cardiorespiratory fitness, muscle strength, muscle endurance, muscle power, flexibility, balance, and speed.
Your total physical fitness level can be described as your combined performance on each of these components. Only being able to sprint very fast does not necessarily make you “fit” overall.
This article will go over each of these fitness components, what their benefits are, and how you improve them with what exercises.
1. Cardiovascular endurance
Your cardiovascular system is the circulatory system inside of your body and includes heart and blood vessels. These transport many types of important nutrients, oxygen, and waste throughout your body.
When you move more intensely your body needs to transport these things, which means using your heart, at a higher rate. Cardiovascular endurance is how long and at what levels this cardiovascular system can work.
Your heart is a muscle that can be trained by using it more intensely. By doing workouts you can strengthen your cardiovascular system which in turn leads to a wide variety of other benefits (2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
Some of the benefits of improving your cardiovascular endurance include but are not limited to a reduced risk of heart disease, a reduced risk of stroke, regulating blood pressure, and making everyday tasks easier.
Different types of exercise improve multiple of these fitness components but some components more than others. Some workout examples that are great for improving cardiovascular endurance are swimming, running, cycling; climbing stairs, rowing, jumping rope, and walking.
2. Muscular endurance
Your muscular endurance is how long your muscles can continuously exert force. So someone with a high muscle endurance would be able to do more weight lifting repetitions compared to someone with a low muscle endurance.
Not all muscle is the same, it can be made of different types of muscle fibers. These different types have different properties with accompanying advantages and disadvantages.
A common categorization of these muscle fibers is “type 1, slow-twitch muscle” and “type 2, fast-twitch muscle”. Your muscle groups are not made of one or the other, they are made of a certain ratio of type 1 vs type 2 fibers. The way you train can influence this ratio (7).
The type 1, slow-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for longer duration workouts like jogging, swimming at a low tempo, cycling at a low tempo,… Basically activities at intensities you can do for an extended period of time.
The type 2, fast-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for short duration, fast body movement workouts like sprints, powerlifting, javelin throwing,…Basically activities at intensities you can only do for a short period of time.
Some of the benefits of improving your muscular endurance include but are not limited to getting to a healthy weight, better athletic performance, reducing injury risk, and making everyday tasks easier.
So to improve your muscular endurance you want to go for longer duration exercises or weight lifting exercises with a low weight so you can do many repetitions.
3. Muscular strength
The next component of physical fitness is muscular strength which comes down to how much force your muscles can exert. Someone who is able to do a lot of repetitions with a low weight does not necessarily have great muscle strength.
The best way to improve muscular strength is strength training with heavy weights. Some exercise examples include weighted squats, shoulder presses, deadlifts, bench presses, and weight lifting rows.
Benefits of improving muscular strength include:
- Reduces the risk of falling
- Makes everyday activities easier
- Improves athletic performance
- Long-term calorie burning
- Improves bone strength
- May reduce back pain
- May reduce risk of muscle injuries
- May improve posture
Your muscular strength can vary from muscle group to muscle group. If you often do upper body weight lifting exercises but skip leg day, your leg muscle strength will likely not be very impressive.
4. Muscular power
Muscular power may sound the same as muscular strength but there is a difference. Muscular power is how much force your muscles can exert in a short amount of time.
Doing 8 repetitions of a weight lifting exercise can be considered as training muscular strength. Doing 1 fast repetition, throwing a javelin or high jump are examples of muscular power.
To train muscular power you want to do high speed, explosive exercises.
Muscular power is mostly useful for athletic performance but improving it will inevitably lead to a wide variety of other health benefits.
Flexibility is the range of motion specific joints or joint groups can do. By doing an exercise where you regularly push these boundaries you can increase this range.
Generally older individuals struggle more with this fitness component than younger individuals. However, by focusing on flexibility earlier in your life you can prevent long-term decline.
Some benefits of improving flexibility include:
- May decrease risk of muscle cramps
- Improves mobility
- Makes everyday activities easier
- May reduce risk of muscle injuries
Some exercises you can do to improve the flexibility fitness component include yoga, pilates, stretching, and water aerobics.
Your balance is basically your ability to keep yourself from falling down. Like most abilities training your balance by challenging it with balance exercises will help you improve or at least preserve your balance.
Do make sure you don’t make it too challenging so that you actually fall in a way that gets you injured. Another option is making the potential landing softer by choosing a suited training surface.
Improving your balance can reduce your risk of falling and benefit your athletic performance.
Some examples of balance exercises include tai chi, yoga, walking backward, standing on one leg, and lunges.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans describe speed as “the ability to move the body quickly” (1). This doesn’t just apply to your maximum running speed. How fast you can accelerate from a stationary position is an important part of speed too.
Training for speed involves practicing these fast movements but building fast-twitch muscles in relevant areas can help with this fitness component too.
Speed will mainly be beneficial for athletic performance but improving it will inevitably lead to a wide variety of other health benefits.
As you can see there is a lot more to physical fitness than what it looks like on the surface. Each of these fitness components can offer its specific benefits.
If you only focus on a few components you miss out on some of the helpful benefits of the others. By choosing the right workouts you can consistently improve and preserve these aspects of your health.