Components Of Fitness

Components Of Fitness


Fitness can be a confusing term. Many people use the term interchangeably with wellness, health, and conditioning. While these concepts are related, they are not the same. Fit people should be able to participate in moderate to high levels of physical activity without experiencing undue fatigue according to statements made in a recent position paper by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

In their 1990 position paper, "The Recommended Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory and Muscular Fitness in Healthy Adults," the ACSM also pointed out that fit individuals should be able to maintain this ability throughout their lives.

As fitness improves, health risks decline and life expectancy increases. Indeed, the proper amount of exercise and fitness can often lead to optimal health.

A correlation also exists between fitness and wellness. Wellness can be thought of as a movement toward optimal health. The concept of wellness, in turn, deals with a balance of physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social, and occupational lifestyle considerations. Thus, fitness is itself an aspect of wellness.

Total physical fitness is actually a combination of different factors, or components. These components all contribute to a state of personal well-being. They include cardiorespiratory or aerobic fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility. A favorable body composition also greatly contributes to total physical fitness.


Cardiorespiratory fitness refers to the ability to take in, transport and utilize oxygen. The cardiorespiratory system consists of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. This system needs to be able to deliver enough oxygen to the exercising muscles, while removing metabolic wastes from the body.

Aerobic exercise refers to activity requiring oxygen. This normally includes continuous activity that is performed for longer than two minutes.

Muscular Strength

Muscular strength represents the maximal amount of force generated by a muscle or muscle group during a single contraction. In short, it is the ability of a muscle to exert force for very brief time periods.

Muscular strength plays an important part in sports and activities requiring fast, explosive movements like football or weight lifting.

Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to sustain repeated contractions, usually against a resistance, without fatiguing. It also refers to the length of time a muscle can hold a contraction before fatigue sets in.

Muscular endurance is essential for most sports as well as many everyday activities.


Flexibility refers to the degree of movement that can be made at a joint, for instance the knee or elbow. Flexibility allows you to move your muscles through a specific range of motion.

Maintenance of proper flexibility levels helps prevent injuries and can enhance performance of both sports and everyday activities.

Since flexibility decreases with age, it is important to maintain and improve current levels. This can be done through stretching, which affects the connective tissues around a joint, thus helping increase range of motion.

Body Composition

Body composition represents the makeup of your body in terms of lean body mass, which includes muscle, bone, vital tissue and organs, and fat mass. Ideal body composition is often represented by a percentage body-fat figure, or the percentage of your total weight that is composed of body fat.

In terms of fitness, people should be less concerned with body weight and pay more attention to the composition of that weight. More information is given later in this guide concerning ideal body compositions.

Benefits of Improved Fitness

Increased levels of fitness contribute greatly to the quality of one's life. Some possible benefits include:

  • Improved circulation
  • Improved respiration
  • Improved cardiac efficiency
  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decreased triglyceride levels
  • Elevated "good" cholesterol levels (HDL)
  • Reduced incidence of diabetes, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure
  • Increased metabolism
  • Greater levels of energy
  • Weight control
  • Increased fat metabolism
  • Reduced body fat and increased lean tissue
  • Stronger bones, tendons, and ligaments
  • Increased muscular endurance
  • Improved muscular strength
  • Increased muscle tone
  • Positive outlook
  • Enhanced self-image and mood
  • Improved emotional stability
  • Reduced stress and anxiety levels
  • Improved levels of deep sleep

Phases of Exercise

Each exercise session involes a series of phases, specifically a warm-up, an activity session and a cool-down.


The importance of proper warm-up cannot be overemphasized. A warm-up session does exactly what the term represents. Easy movements of large musles "warm" the body up. This elevates body temperature, increasing blood flow to the major muscle groups, and preparing muscles, tendons and ligaments for the forthcoming activity.

For people participating in specific sports, warm-up sessions should include movements that closely approximate those that will be called for during play. In addition, a properly designed warm-up session will help prepare the body's systems for the stresses that regular exercise can impose. Heart rate is raised as the cardiopulmonary system begins to work harder, transporting blood and oxygen to the involved organs and muscles.

Flexibility work is also an essential part of the warm-up. Stretching should only be done when your muscles are warm. This assures you that your muscles and joints will be ready to move through a full range of motion without major risk of tears or pulls. One should always perform slow, static stretches, avoiding jerking or bouncy movements.

The average length of a warm-up period is usually 5-20 minutes, depending upon the individual's level of fitness and conditioning as well as the activity to be performed.

Activity Session

An activity session can consist of activities that are anaerobic, aerobic, or combined (interval) in nature.

An anaerobic activity involves high-intensity exercise of up to approximately ninety seconds in duration. The near-maximal to maximal exertion levels that characterize anaerobic activity do not require oxygen. Examples of such activities include sprinting events, resistance training exercises, and throwing a baseball.

For an activity to be considered aerobic, it must involve the continuous use of large muscle groups over an extended time period. Activity duration normally exceeds two minutes. The first ninety seconds of any activity draws on anaerobic energy sources before the body begins to utilize the aerobic system. The exertion level of an aerobic activity usually stays in a specific intensity range. All aerobic activity requires oxygen for its energy transport. Examples include cycling, walking, swimming, and running.

To say that an activity relies solely on aerobic or anaerobic energy systems would be oversimplifying matters. Interval activities often combine aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. These sessions are often comprised of alternating bursts of high intensity exertion and lower intensity periods of activity. Basketball, singles tennis, and soccer are examples of interval activities. Interval activities can also prove beneficial in improving one's cardiopulmonary fitness.

In addition, most traditional aerobic activities can be adapted to an interval type of exercise. For example, swimming, cycling and running can mix high intensity sprinting sessions with easier, lower intensity periods of the same activity.

Many other sports and activities fall under a recreational heading. Some examples of this activity category are bowling, golf, shuffleboard, and baseball.

Such activities may draw on both anaerobic and aerobic systems but also involve considerable periods of inactivity.

These activities may not contribute as much to overall fitness as the previously described types of exercise. However, modern science has shown us that increased activity levels of any degree are far more beneficial than a sedentary lifestyle in terms of health enhancement, disease prevention, and physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being.

Regardless of the activity's nature, proper warm-up and cool-down procedures should always be used.


The cool-down is often thought of as a "post-activity warm-up." Yet, there is more to it than that. A cool-down allows your system to gradually return to a normal functioning level after the exercise. The session lets your body's heart and respiration rate slowly return to normal levels.

Abrupt cessation of activity can have dangerous consequences. Blood could pool in the veins of those muscles you had been using just seconds ago. This condition, known as "venous pooling," prevents the normal amount of blood flow to the brain and heart. This, in turn, may result in dizziness, fainting, nausea and a drop in blood pressure. Irregular heart beat and a serious cardiac episode could also result.

The cool-down should consist of 5-10 minutes of activity at a gradually decreasing intensity. This activity is usually related to or similar to the exercise that was being performed. The cool-down should end with slow, static stretching in an effort to prevent excessive cramping and muscular soreness.

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