Components of Fitness – Are You as Fit as You Think?

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Is your exercise regime as well rounded as you think? There are many components of fitness and if your focus is too narrow and only concentrates on a small number of them, you may not actually be as fully fit as you think!

 

Let’s define fitness

 

Well the Oxford English dictionary defines fitness in two ways:

 

  1. The condition of being physically fit and healthy

 

  1. The quality of being suitable to fulfil a particular role or task

 

 

For the purpose of this article this is quite helpful. Because we plan to split the components of fitness between two groups, physical fitness and motor fitness. These broadly correlate to the two definitions. Physical fitness relates to being fit and healthy. Being suitable to fulfil a particular role relating to motor fitness.

 

Physical fitness components are those allowing a person to meet the physical demands of their activity without reaching a fatigued sate. They are:

 

  1. Strength
  2. Speed
  3. Endurance
  4. Flexibility
  5. Body composition

 

Motor fitness components are those that allow a person to perform an activity to a higher level. They are:

 

  1. Power
  2. Agility
  3. Balance
  4. Coordination
  5. Reaction time

 

Components of fitness are inter-linked. Power is a combination of speed and strength. Balance requires strength and coordination.

Carrying out an activity or sport at a high level requires fitness from both groups. For example playing squash, it’s great to be fast (speed) and have high endurance levels. But if you do not have sufficient balance and agility to move around the court efficiently you cannot perform to your maximum.

 

 

More on the individual components of fitness

 

Let’s cover each component of fitness in a little detail:

 

Strength

 

Commonly defined as the ability to exert force against resistance. Hold a dumbbell in your hand by your side, contract your bicep to bring the dumbbell up in line with your shoulder. This is force (contraction of the muscle) applied against resistance. With gravity acting on the mass of the dumbbell.

 

There are several areas of strength:

 

Maximum strength – the greatest force applied in a single muscle contraction.

Strength endurance – how many times force is applied to resistance over a period of time.

Elastic strength – overcoming resistance with a high-speed contraction.

Static Strength – apply strength maintaining muscle length, i.e. no movement.

 

The following factors govern strength:

 

Cross-sectional area of muscle – in general the greater the cross-sectional area of the muscle the greater the strength it can produce.

Fibre type – you will likely have heard of two types of muscle fibre. Fast twitch fibres contract more quickly and therefore generate greater maximum strength (and power). Also slow twitch fibres which are associated with endurance and extended periods of muscle contraction. Fast twitch fibres grow larger as a result of training. The proportion of these fibres in your muscles is genetically determined.

 

To build strength a muscle needs to be worked beyond is customary operation, therefore “overloading” it. This can be achieved by increasing the resistance applied to a muscle in the following ways:

  • Increase weight
  • Increase number of repetitions
  • Reduce recovery time

 

 

Traditional ways of training to build strength include:

  • Weight training
  • Circuit/interval training
  • Plyometric training

Components of fitness - strength

 

Speed

 

Defined as the quickness of the movement of an individual’s limbs, such as the legs of a sprinter. How quickly someone can move their legs through the full range of motion of their running stride, returning to the original position before the following stride begins.

 

Speed is split between the following:

 

Acceleration – how quickly movement can begin from a stationary situation/position.

Maximum speed – quickness of motion once an activity has commenced.

Speed maintenance – keeping maximal speed for a period of time before starting to decelerate.

Think of it this way, in the example of a 100-metre sprint, athletes “speed” is broken down into how quickly they get out of the blocks (acceleration), how quickly they cover the ground once they are out of the blocks (maximum speed) and then keeping top speed going for as long as possible (speed maintenance).

 

Speed is influenced by:

 

Strength – linked to fast twitch fibres, which govern the rate of contraction of a muscle. Therefore greater volumes of fast twitch fibres mean faster contractions therefore quicker movements.

Body composition –  excess weight and air resistance will slow an individual down.

Technique – being able to move through the most efficient range of motion will optimise the muscle strength/power applied.

 

To increase speed, you should focus on a combination of things:

  • Improve flexibility
  • Build strength
  • Develop muscle endurance (anaerobic)
  • Work on technique (specific to end goal)

 

Speed training will normally include:

  • Action specific exercises such as sprints (could be running, cycling etc)
  • Acceleration drills i.e. specific exercise from stationary start
  • Resisted training such as dragging a tire/weighted sled
  • Drills focusing on technique (often over shorter distances and slightly less than 100% exertion)

Components of fitness - speed

 

Endurance

 

Effectively the ability of energy production systems to meet the demands of a task. The chemical compound ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) supplies energy that fuels muscular contraction. Long periods of activity will require complete oxidation of carbohydrates or fatty acids in cell mitochondria.

 

Distinct types of endurance are:

  • Aerobic endurance
  • Anaerobic endurance
  • Speed endurance
  • Strength endurance

 

Aerobic endurance

The intake of oxygen fuels the bodies requirement for energy. Breathing and sweating remove carbon dioxide and water waste products.

Is developed using continuous and interval training. Continuous training improves the bodies maximum oxygen intake (VO2 Max). It includes activities such as long distance running or cycling. Interval training improves the ability of the heart to pump blood (and therefore oxygen) around the body. It includes carrying out an activity at interspersed periods of vigorous pace and recovery.

 

Anaerobic endurance

Bodies requirement for energy fuelled without oxygen, with muscles relying on reserved stores of fuel. Lactic acid is a waste product and starts to accumulate in muscles (cause of burning sensation in muscles). Meaning the body enters a state known as oxygen debt.

High intensity activity with limited recovery periods increase endurance. They increase the ability to replace the oxygen debt as quickly as possible. It also increases the length of time before lactic acid builds up in muscles. Also time taken to clear it decreases. Therefore increasing anaerobic endurance enables high intensity activities to be undertaken for longer and reduces recovery in-between them.

 

Speed endurance

The ability to prolong the length of time maximal (or near maximal) speed is maintained.

During high speed activity blood lactate accumulation disturbs the muscles ability to function. This reduces force production and peak force. Speed endurance training can reduce early production of and improve clearance rate of lactate.

Training for speed endurance should focus more on intensity than volume. Interval training works well but should be adapted slightly from pure speed drills. Intervals carried out at a pace allowing the maximum effort able to be achieved over periods of 30 to 90 seconds. Therefore recovery time between intervals should be short enough to not allow complete recovery.

 

Strength endurance

The ability to maintain level of contractile force over time. Being able to utilise strength over a longer time period before tiring.

Strength endurance is far more important than once-off maximum force in sports. Therefore, strength endurance training is vitally important.

This means you need to train your body to be able to perform strength dependent activity when not fully recovered aerobically, and to recover faster.

Do this by training with weights, making sure:

  • To have short rest periods between sets – encouraging improvements in recovery time.
  • Carried out at a high volume – more work equals more endurance gains
  • Using heavy weights – unless weights are heavy you won’t be using and therefore developing strength. Around 60-70% or your one rep max should be fine.

 

 

Flexibility

 

Having the capacity to move a joint or muscle through its full range of motion. Flexibility is specific to particular movements and joints, and can vary in degree around the body.

Movements around a joint will typically rely on 4 types of muscle:

  • Agonist – creating the pulling force of a contraction.
  • Antagonist – stretching/lengthening on the opposite side of the movement.
  • Fixator – stabilising the origin of the agonist muscle enabling it to move efficiently.
  • Synergist – stabilising muscle movements keeping them within a safe range of motion.

Flexibility is generally dependant on antagonistic muscles having a full range of movement. Therefore muscles that do not move through their optimal range of motion often, for reasons such as injury or inactivity, can benefit from stretching exercises.

Lack of flexibility produces movements carried out at sub-optimal efficiency. Resulting in poor technique and failing to use muscles at full potential. This leads to below maximum performance and increases risk of injury.

An exercise program should include stretching routines enabling muscles to reach their full length. So it’s important to carry out the correct type of stretches at correct times.

Stretching for flexibility should concentrate on static stretches which involve gradually easing into the stretch position and holding. It is better to carry out these stretches when muscles are warm, for instance after an exercise routine. Warm muscles stretch further than cold muscles. Allowing for both increased level of flexibility and injury reduction.

Components of fitness - flexibility

 

Body composition

 

Primarily refers to the distribution of muscle and fat in the body. But also includes body size parameters such as height, length, and girth.

Our genetics, our diet and our activity impact body composition.  Our genes pre-program our body composition. Some people are more likely to gain fat than others. However a healthy diet and regular activity help keep fat levels lower and increase muscle mass.

When thinking about body composition and fitness it is important to bear in mind what we are meaning by fitness. Fit for what? Carrying out different activities will require various types of fitness. A long-distance runner, a bodybuilder and a professional rugby player are all fit. Each body composition is different but they are all fit for purpose.

Check out our guide on diets impact on exercise here

 

Power

 

The ability of the body to apply maximal force in as short a time as possible. Power is a function of strength and speed, as demonstrated in accelerating or throwing. Therefore, training for power involves training methods used for strength and speed, as well as individual power focused drills.

Technique is also an important factor in generating power. Therefore correct technique allows someone to maximise the available strength and speed through the optimal range of motion. Also timing plays an Important role in technique. This is why a professional golfer can generate greater power in a golf swing than a weight trainer. Although the weight trainer is both stronger and faster.

 

 

Agility

 

This is a measure of how able someone is to quickly change the direction or position of the body. A function of a number of the other components of fitness, strength, speed, balance and co-ordination.

Improved agility with specific agility training and working on the other individual components of fitness that support it.

Agility is especially important in competitive sports, be they individual or team. Squash, combat sports, football and basketball are all sports that rely heavily on agility.

Components of fitness - agility

 

Balance

 

The ability to maintain equilibrium when stationary or moving (i.e. not falling over). We rely on co-ordination of our sensory functions. Our eyes, ears, and proprioceptive organs in our joints which are what given us “body sense”. The ability of our limbs sense of where they are in relation to space and each other.

Balance without movement is static balance. Which is the ability to retain the centre of mass above base of support.

Balance when moving is dynamic balance. Which is the ability to maintain balance with body movement.

Other components of fitness support balance. Strength enables the body to act against the force of gravity. Co-ordination controls the bodies movements. Finally speed which allows swift movements of the body to correct balance.

Balance is a vital part of any sport or fitness activity, some such as gymnastics are very reliant on balance. But even for something as simple as walking it’s still important.

Training to improve balance should include activity specific exercises. However complement them by working on “core” muscles. Yoga and Pilates are a great way to do this.

Components of fitness - balance

 

Coordination

 

Being able to repeatedly execute a sequence of movements smoothly and accurately. Involving senses (sight, “body sense”), muscular contractions, and joint movements. Every movement we undertake requires us to be able to coordinate our limbs. From something as simple as walking, to more complex activities like competitive sports.

Coordination is a multifaceted skill that requires a number of the other components of fitness. Good balance, strength and agility. Training these individual components of fitness will improve coordination. Also training in the specific activities you undertake helps greatly.

While all sports require coordination of eyes, hands, and feet, many also require you to bring an implement into play. A ball and sometimes a bat, racket, or stick. Learn to coordinate these implements as if they are an extended part of your arm. Also learning how to get into the correct position to utilise them effectively and efficiently.

The importance of eyesight to coordination is often much underrated. Especially with sports or activities that involve a ball (or any object that needs to be struck). Therefore make sure you have your eyes tested, you never know how much difference that it may make!

 

 

Reaction time

 

The time interval between a stimulus and the muscular response to it. A major factor impacting reaction time is the number of possible stimuli, each requiring their own response, that are presented. For example, reacting to the starting gun of a 100-metre sprint is one stimuli. Whereas returning a serve in tennis has several stimuli. Requiring reacting to speed and direction of the ball, the potential level of bounce of the ball off of the playing surface, and the positioning of the opponent.

Reaction time is an inherent ability. Response times also improve with practice.

A key factor in reaction time is anticipation. Anticipation reduces the time taken to respond to a stimulus. Experience develops anticipation. A person learns cues in a sequence of movements before the direct action that they are responding to. A football goalkeeper learns the likely direction of the ball by studying the body position of the player striking it.

Other factors that can impact reaction time are:

 

  • Anxiety – slowing reaction times by adding conflicting information (doubt)
  • Motivation – be in a competitive mindset with maximum desire to react
  • Warming up – ensuring muscles are warm enough to act at maximum speed and nervous system is ready to transmit information

The wrap up

We hope that as you have got this far we have helped you understand more about the many components of fitness. If not, good on you for knowing it already!

There will be components of fitness here that you have not focused on previously. Bringing them into your exercise and training regime may help you evolve your all round levels of fitness. Focus on elements you have not trained before. This will improve on those interlinked with your current fitness.

 

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