If you’re looking to create your very own fitness and exercise program, a solid understanding of the 5 components of physical fitness is critical. Without a foundational understanding of these components, it’s challenging to create a training regimen that can help you perform at your best.
To help you get started, we’ve put together this guide. We’ll discuss everything you need to know about the five elements of fitness so you can spend less time on research and more time out training.
What Are The 5 Components Of Physical Fitness?
The five health-related components of physical fitness are cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. These five elements are part of what we call “total fitness,” which is the body’s ability to perform in any physical pursuit. Institutions, such as schools and fitness centers, will often use these elements to create training programs for people of all ages.
The five components are instrumental in creating different physical fitness tests, like what you’d find in schools or the military. By using the five components to create fitness training programs, we can ensure that we’re better preparing ourselves to excel in any physical pursuit, whether that’s running a marathon or a weight lifting competition. Let’s take a look at each of them in more detail:
Component 1: Cardiorespiratory Endurance
Cardiorespiratory endurance refers to the health and overall ability of the heart and lungs. Since the heart and lungs are responsible for providing the body’s muscles with oxygen, poor cardiorespiratory endurance means that one can’t sustain prolonged periods of high-intensity activity, like running, biking, or swimming.
To test for cardiorespiratory endurance, many schools will use the mile run or pacer test for their students. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that adults complete at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular exercise each week to increase their cardiorespiratory endurance. If you’re interested in including running as part of your cardiovascular training, check out our guide to getting started.
Component 2: Muscular Strength
Muscular strength is one of the two elements of overall muscular fitness. The muscular strength component of physical fitness has to do with how much force one’s muscles can create in a single all-out effort. If we wanted to talk about muscular strength in weight-training terms, we would refer to an individual’s one-rep max for a particular exercise, such as the bench press.
However, muscular strength is very muscle-group specific. While one might have powerful biceps, they might also have very weak glutes. Thus, when we create training programs, we aim to create a strength-training regimen that develops well-balanced muscular strength throughout the whole body.
The ACSM recommends that adults should participate in some form of strength training, using free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises at least two to three times a week. Many schools and organizations will use push up and pull up/flex arm hangs to test muscular strength. Still, these muscle group-specific tests are not always an accurate indicator of overall muscular strength.
Component 3: Muscular Endurance
Muscular endurance is the second element of overall muscular fitness. This component of physical fitness refers to how fatigue-resistant one’s muscles are, so it has nothing to do with how much weight you can lift in a single go. Muscular endurance is all about how long one’s muscles can last during vigorous exercise.
Wall sits are an excellent example of muscular endurance. While the ability to squat a large amount of weight refers to one’s muscular strength, the ability to hold a wall sit for 10 minutes demonstrates one’s muscular endurance.
Like muscular strength, muscular endurance is also muscle group-specific. For example, a cyclist would likely have a high level of muscular endurance in their legs, but significantly less in their upper body.
For testing muscular endurance, many schools and organizations will use the sit-up test. But, this really only tests the muscular endurance of one’s core. To build muscular endurance, it helps to focus on low-intensity strength-training for all of the body’s muscle groups (such as lifting light weights with many repetitions).
Component 4: Flexibility
Flexibility is one of the most overlooked components of physical fitness. This component refers to the ability of each joint in the body to move through its full range of motion. Flexibility is incredibly important because it helps reduce the likelihood of injury. It is also critical for overall athletic performance.
Flexibility is particularly important for older adults as our natural muscle flexibility decreases with age. The sit-and-reach test is the most commonly used way to measure flexibility in schools and organizations, though it only looks at the flexibility of one’s hamstrings.
The ACSM recommends that adults incorporate flexibility exercises into their exercise routine at least twice a week. Flexibility exercises can include static stretching after a workout, or they can be included in other activities, like yoga.
Component 5: Body Composition
The fifth and final component of physical fitness is body composition. Body composition refers to the body’s ratio of fat to everything else. This is often discussed in terms of “body fat percentage,” not BMI (body mass index).
Since BMI scores (which rely solely on height and weight) don’t tell us how much of the body is fat or muscle, they’re not a reliable indicator of body composition. As a result, the weight and height tests that many organizations do to test for body composition are not very useful unless they measure body fat percentage, too.
Body composition is essential to physical fitness because high levels of fat in the body are associated with a variety of health issues. People with high body fat percentages are more likely to develop heart disease, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, and other ailments we try to avoid.
Considering how important it is, we typically don’t train specifically for body composition. Instead, healthy body composition is something that happens as a result of regular exercise and a well-rounded diet. The good news is that people with less than ideal body composition can always change this for the better with a training program that focuses on the other four components of physical fitness.