5 Health-Related Components of Fitness

The five components of fitness are factors that contribute to physical fitness and help guide the process of getting fit. You already know that benefits come when you prioritize physical activity. The trick is understanding what, exactly, "fitness" is and how you can go about achieving it.

That's where the five components of fitness come in. They are the blueprint for the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) physical activity guidelines and serve as a helpful tool for organizing and executing your own well-balanced workout routine. Creating a fitness plan that incorporates each of these elements can help ensure that you get the most health benefits from your routine.

The five components of fitness are:

  • Cardiovascular endurance
  • Muscular strength
  • Muscular endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Body composition

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) links regular physical activity to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, improved bone health, enhanced mental health, and improved quality of life with age.

Cardiovascular Endurance

Cardiovascular Endurance
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Cardiovascular endurance (also known as cardiorespiratory endurance or aerobic fitness) refers to your body's ability to efficiently and effectively intake oxygen and deliver it to your body's tissues through the heart, lungs, arteries, vessels, and veins. By engaging in regular exercise that challenges your heart and lungs, you can:

  • Maintain or improve the efficient delivery and uptake of oxygen to your body's systems
  • Enhance cellular metabolism
  • Ease the physical challenges of everyday life

Given that heart disease accounts for roughly 630,000 deaths in the United States each year, starting a workout program that enhances cardiovascular fitness is of particular importance. Running, walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, circuit training, and boxing are just a few of the many workouts that can benefit heart health.

The ACSM's physical activity guidelines call for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, each week.

The key, of course, is consistency. It may sound like a lot, but 150 minutes breaks down to just 20 to 30 minutes of exercise per day, five to seven days a week.

Muscular Endurance

Muscular Endurance
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Muscular endurance is one of two factors that contribute to overall muscular health (muscular strength is the other). Think of muscular endurance as a particular muscle group's ability to continuously contract against a given resistance.

Long-distance cycling offers a clear example. To continuously pedal a bike over a long distance, often up steep inclines, cyclists have to develop fatigue-resistant muscles in their legs and glutes. These are evidence of a high level of muscular endurance.

Likewise, holding a plank to develop core strength is another example of muscular endurance using isometric exercise. The longer you're able to contract your abdominals and hold your body in a steady position, the greater endurance you have through your hips, abs, and shoulders.

The extent to which you choose to focus on muscular endurance should be directly related to your health or fitness goals. It's important to realize that muscular endurance is muscle group-specific.

This means you can develop high levels of endurance in some muscle groups (like cyclists building endurance in their legs) without necessarily developing the same level of endurance in other muscle groups, depending on your needs.

For Everyday Health

For general health purposes, you may want to develop enough endurance to climb up several flights of stairs or to lift and carry groceries from your car to your house. Low-intensity weight-bearing or strength-training workouts will help you build up that endurance.

For Fitness-Related Goals

If you want to become an endurance athlete capable of competing in sports that require continual muscle contraction, such as obstacle course races, CrossFit, or cycling, you'll need a higher level of muscular endurance. You may want to place a higher focus on training regimens that use high-repetition strength training and sport-specific activity to make you a better athlete.

Muscular Strength

Muscular Strength
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While muscular endurance refers to how fatigue-resistant a particular muscle group is, muscular strength refers to the amount of force a specific muscle group can produce in one, all-out effort. In strength training terms, it's your one-rep max.

Like muscular endurance, muscular strength is muscle group-specific. In other words, you may have strong glutes but comparatively weak deltoids; or powerful pectoral muscles but comparatively weak hamstrings. This is why a well-balanced strength training program that targets all of your major muscle groups is important.

Consider Your Goals

Again, the extent to which you train for strength is determined by your health and fitness goals. For instance, if your focus is on health, you should be strong enough to lift a heavy box or easily stand up from a chair. In this circumstance, enhanced muscular strength may be a byproduct of a workout routine focused on developing muscular endurance.

If, however, you want to develop muscle mass or to be able to lift heavier weights at the gym, your training regimen should be focused more on lifting heavy weights.

To improve muscle strength: Use heavier weights with fewer reps, taking your muscles to fatigue with each set.

To improve muscle endurance: Use lighter weights and higher rep counts to increase endurance over time.

It's possible to improve muscular strength and endurance at the same time. This can be done in conjunction with cardiovascular training. For instance, circuit-training routines that combine strength exercises and cardio into a single bout of training can make your exercise program more efficient.

The ACSM's guidelines state that adults should perform strength training exercises two to three days a week using a variety of exercises and equipment to target all the major muscle groups.

Flexibility

Flexibility
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Flexibility refers to the range of motion you have around a given joint without pain. Like muscular strength and endurance, flexibility is joint-specific. For instance, you may have very flexible shoulders but tight and inflexible hamstrings or hips.

Flexibility is essential at any age. It plays a role in unhindered movement and can affect your balance, coordination, and agility. Maintaining a full range of motion through your major joints can reduce the likelihood of injury and enhance athletic performance.

As you get older, the importance of flexibility becomes even more apparent. Think of individuals who are older: Many may walk with a shuffle or have a hard time reaching their arms over their heads.

This may affect quality of life, making it more challenging to perform activities of daily living, such as reaching items on high shelves, picking up items off the floor, or simply catching their balance if they start to fall.

While completely stopping the aging process isn't possible, protecting your joints and maintaining mobility can help keep you spry well into your later years.

The ACSM's physical activity guidelines call for adults to engage in flexibility exercises at least two or three days each week.

How to Increase Flexibility

There are simple ways you can work flexibility exercises into your day:

  • Static stretching, where you hold a stretch for 10 to 30 seconds at a time
  • Workouts that take you through dynamic stretching exercises, such as barre, yoga, tai chi, or Pilates
  • Active stretching, such as lifting your leg high and holding it there, uses the contraction of the opposing muscle to relax the muscle being stretched.
  • Passive stretching, also called relaxed stretching, is where you assume a stretch position and hold it with the assistance of another part of your body, a partner, or an apparatus, like a strap.
  • Isometric stretching, a type of static stretching, uses resistance to alternate between relaxing and contracting the muscle.

Body Composition

Body composition, or your body's ratio of fat mass to fat-free mass, is the final component of health-related physical fitness. Because high levels of fat mass are associated with negative health outcomes, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, attaining and maintaining a healthy body composition is a goal of just about all regular exercise routines.

Measuring Body Composition

To see improvements in body composition, you need to know your starting point. Weighing yourself on a scale won't do the trick, as weight alone doesn't tell you the makeup of your internal tissues. Some methods of measuring body composition are more accessible than others.

  • Bioelectrial impedance analysis (BIA): Some gyms offer this type of testing, or you can purchase a scale for gone use that uses bioelectrical impedance analysis to estimate body fat percentage.
  • Hydrostatic underwater weighing: Hydrostatic testing involves being weighed on dry land followed by on an underwater scale. These testing facilities may be found in research labs and some fitness centers.
  • DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) scans: These are typically used for measuring bone mineral density, but can also be used to measure body composition accurately. DEXA scans are usually performed at radiology centers and may or may not be covered by insurance.
  • Body fat percentage calculator: These tools are not as accurate as a DEXA scan or hydrostatic testing, but they are readily available and easy to use. The results typically fall within three to four percentage points of your actual body fat percentage, so use these results to monitor changes and make sure you're seeing improvements over time.

Improving Body Composition

The good news is improved body composition is often an outcome of working on and improving the other four components of fitness. If you're regularly hitting the gym, doing cardio, strength training, and working on flexibility, chances are you're developing muscle mass while reducing fat mass.

A Word From Verywell

Keeping these five elements of fitness in mind can help you reach your fitness goals. Designing a fitness routine that incorporates all of these elements can ensure that you are following a well-rounded workout plan that will boost your health. It is normal to be drawn specifically to a certain element of fitness more than others. Incorporating aspects that suit your goals and lifestyle is key to maintaining your passion for fitness.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How are the components of fitness interrelated?

    Some of the components of fitness are interrelated. For instance, when you train with weights, you can build muscular strength and endurance at the same time. When you lift weights with intensity, your heart rate can increase to the point you are working your cardiovascular system vigorously.

  • How important is each component of fitness?

    Each component of fitness is important for functioning and aging well. Cardiovascular exercise, which is anything that increases your heart rate, will help stave off cardiovascular diseases along with several other benefits. Strength training improves daily functioning, reduces injury risks, increases metabolism, and helps maintain a healthy weight.

  • How can the components of fitness affect your health?

    Working on each component of fitness can increase your health by preventing many diseases and illnesses; preventing injuries and falls; improving outcomes as you age; reducing stress, anxiety, and depression; and boosting quality of life.

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14 Sources
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