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It might seem obvious that there are benefits to prioritizing the importance of physical fitness. However, in order to be successful at it, it is important to define what, exactly, the components of fitness are — and how you can achieve them. So, you might be wondering: what are the five components of fitness?

The American College of Sports Medicine’s physical activity guidelines serve as a template for putting together a workout routine that is well-balanced. The five major components of physical fitness, according to the ACSM, are flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, muscle endurance, muscle strength, and body composition.1

Using these five components of fitness, you can craft a fitness plan that ensures that you reap the most health benefits possible from your fitness routine.

Flexibility

What Is Flexibility?

The first component of fitness is flexibility. Flexibility is the ability of your joints to move through an unrestricted range of motion without discomfort.2 A lack of flexibility may negatively affect the body. For instance:

  • Joints, such as hips and knees, that don’t maintain a full range of motion may not get enough blood, nutrients, and joint (synovial) fluid).
  • Muscles that are not used become inflexible and tire very quickly, forcing surrounding muscles to work harder. This may lead to injuries.
  • Reduced flexibility in one area of the body may lead to stress on other parts of the body.3

Therefore, increasing your flexibility may allow your joints to more easily move through a full range of motion, potentially improving your ability to perform physical activity.

components of flexibility | Unify HealthHow Can You Improve Your Flexibility?

You can support your flexibility by practicing dynamic stretching exercises, prioritizing a full range of motion, taking time to relax properly, learning proper breathing techniques, and staying hydrated. Begin your workout with a dynamic stretching session, including squats, lunges, push-ups, side lunges, and jumping jacks. Aim for a 20-25 rep range for each movement. End your workout with some longer-duration static stretching exercises to help lengthen muscles that became tight while working out.4

Cardiovascular Endurance

What Is Cardiovascular Endurance?

The second component of fitness is cardiovascular endurance. Also known as aerobic exercise, this is exercise that increases your breathing and your heart rate. Activities include walking, jogging, swimming, jumping rope, and biking. The benefit is that these aerobic fitness activities may help keep your heart, lungs, and circulatory system strong and fit.5

Cardiorespiratory fitness is “the ability of the heart, lungs, and vascular system to deliver oxygen-rich blood to working muscles during sustained physical activity.” Quantified via factors such as gender, age, and genetics, it is considered a reliable indicator of physical activity.6

How Can You Boost Your Cardiovascular Endurance?

Exercise can help support mental and physical well-being. The most effective way to achieve health-related physical fitness is to choose activities that you enjoy. These cardiovascular activities may include walking, swimming, dancing, riding a bike, playing basketball, swimming, and CrossFit. When you practice cardiovascular exercise, your heart rate goes up, which strengthens your heart muscle.7

man cycling | Unify HealthBiking/Cycling

Studies have shown that bikers who go for regular bike rides experience fewer cardiovascular events than people who don’t go cycling.8 This aerobic exercise is excellent for your heart, brain, and blood vessels. Biking builds muscles all over the body, including the glutes, the quads, and the hamstrings, supporting muscular strength and endurance.9 And it’s a relatively low-impact form of exercise that is easy to add to your weekly workout routine.

Basketball

Playing basketball is a great cardio workout. When you play, your heart rate will increase during the game, leading to increased blood volume and accelerated blood flow. Athletic performance increases as a result of this cardiorespiratory endurance.10

Swimming

Swimming is another sport that may help support cardiovascular endurance. Swimming contributes to heart health and lung health. It also trains the body to use oxygen more efficiently. The outcome is that both resting heart rate and breathing rate often come down.11

Regular swimming works arms, legs, and many other muscle groups, contributing to an increase in muscle strength and flexibility.12

Muscular Endurance

What Is Muscular Endurance?

The third component of fitness is muscular endurance. This refers to “the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to perform repeated contractions against a load for an extended period of time.” It’s this continual muscle contraction that contributes to muscular fitness. Along with flexibility and muscular strength, if muscular endurance isn’t maintained, your musculoskeletal fitness will deteriorate, resulting in a negative effect on your physical health and well-being.13

How Can You Support Muscular Endurance?

You may be able to boost your muscular endurance by doing aerobic exercises. These include cycling, walking, and running.14

Muscular Strength

weightlifting | Unify Health

What Is Muscular Strength?

The fourth component of fitness, muscular strength, is defined as the maximum force a muscle or muscle group can generate at a specific velocity. The benefit to Improving muscular strength is that it may help increase your overall performance across a wide range of sports and activities while decreasing the risk of injury.15

How Can You Improve Your Muscular Strength?

Muscle strength can be improved by doing anaerobic exercises. These include weight training, heavy weight lifting and strength exercises, sprinting, squats, and calisthenics.16 Practicing anaerobic strength training exercises helps your body build a tolerance to lactic acid that causes fatigue. Doing these exercises causes an increase in muscle mass and may improve muscle strength.

Body Composition

Body composition is the final component of health-related physical fitness. The goal of most exercise routines is to improve and maintain proper body composition.

What Is Body Composition?

Measuring body composition is an important indicator of your body’s unique makeup. Knowing this information provides a baseline on what areas you need to work on to improve health and wellness.17

body composition | Unify HealthBody composition is the percentage of your body’s weight that is made up of fat tissue. Monitoring body weight alone isn’t enough, because a scale cannot tell the difference between a pound of muscle and a pound of fat. The goal of exercising is to get to a point of improved body composition.18

The human body is composed of four basic elements: water, protein, minerals, and fat. Most body composition models divide the body into fat and fat-free components. By weight, your body is made up of muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, and internal organs. This “lean body mass” is often referred to as fat-free mass and includes all tissues that are not fat tissue.19

In addition to lean tissue, you also have essential fat and non-essential fat.20 The fat mass consists of all the non-essential fat. The fat-free mass ratio measures the ratio of fat mass to fat-free mass. To remain in optimal health, you want to avoid a fat-free mass value that is too low or a fat mass value that is too high.21

How Do You Test Your Body Composition?

One way to test body composition is by using Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is measured by dividing weight by height. It has been found to be predictive of certain health situations and for categorizing adults who are overweight.22

Another method is skinfold thickness. This technique measures relative “fatness” across a population.23

Measuring the percent body fat is yet another method for determining body composition. This body fat composition method tells you exactly how much body fat makes up your total body weight. For men, the optimal body fat percentage is about 10-20%, and for women, it’s about 20-30%.24 If you have questions about your specific body fat percentage, talk with your doctor. They can give you your best range based on your sex and age.

How Do You Improve Body Composition?

Studies have shown that resistance training may lead to higher lean weight and lower fat weight.25

resistance training | Unify HealthResistance training is also good for bone health. It may contribute to bone development, including an increase in bone mineral density.26

Establish a workout program that includes low-intensity weight-bearing or strength-training workouts. Your routine may incorporate weight lifting, including free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, and your own body weight.

When you are starting out, you can gain the maximum benefit by doing resistance training 2-3x per week. If you want to maximize how much size and strength you gain, it’s helpful to allow 48 hours of rest for each muscle group.27

Always Consider Your Goals

Effective exercise training programs are only as good as your ability to follow them. By setting some individual fitness-related goals early on, you stand a higher chance of achieving your desired level of fitness.

By understanding the five components of fitness, you can start down the road to achieving optimal health benefits from your regular exercise routines.

Learn More:
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Exercise Motivation: Learn How To Become and STAY Motivated
Fitness Tips For Beginners On How To Start Exercising


Sources
1 https://www.acsm.org/read-research/books/acsms-health-related-physical-fitness-assessment-manual#:~:text=The%20goal%20of%20this%20Fifth,muscular%20endurance%2C%20flexibility%2C%20and%20cardiorespiratory
2 https://health.ucdavis.edu/sportsmedicine/resources/flexibility_descriprion.html
3 https://health.ucdavis.edu/sportsmedicine/resources/flexibility_descriprion.html
4 https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/7-ways-improve-flexibility/
5 https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/endurance-exercise-aerobic
6 https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/nursing-and-health-professions/cardiorespiratory-fitness#:~:text=Cardiovascular%20fitness%E2%80%94also%20known%20as,3.
7 https://share.upmc.com/2018/11/pedaling-to-a-healthier-heart/
8 https://share.upmc.com/2018/11/pedaling-to-a-healthier-heart/
9 https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-top-5-benefits-of-cycling
10 https://healthyliving.azcentral.com/playing-basketball-its-effect-cardio-respiratory-system-19665.html
11 https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/take-the-plunge-for-your-heart
12 https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/swimming-health-benefits
13 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11665913/
14 https://www.ck12.org/book/ck-12-biology-advanced-concepts/section/17.33/
15 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26838985/
16 https://www.ck12.org/book/ck-12-biology-advanced-concepts/section/17.33/
17 https://inbodyusa.com/general/what-is-body-composition
18 https://med.virginia.edu/exercise-physiology-core-laboratory/fitness-assessment-for-community-members/body-composition/
19 https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/underbodycomp.html
20 https://www.verywellfit.com/fat-free-mass-3496106
21 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29056283/
22 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2082845/
23 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2082845/
24 https://www.winchesterhospital.org/health-library/article?id=41373
25 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22777332/
26 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22777332/
27 https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/resistance-training-health-benefits