From enhancing your day-to-day life to improving your athletic capabilities you may already be aware of what some of the benefits of getting physically fit are.
But while the perks may seem obvious enough, in order to actually get in shape, it’s important to understand what the term “fitness” actually encompasses. There are in fact 5 components of health-related fitness, and each is important when it comes to being in all-around good health.
That’s why in this article, we’re going over all 5 components in detail. From your cardiovascular endurance to your body composition, we’ll discuss how exactly each component ties into the picture, as well as, how to go about making improvements.
The 5 Components of Health-Related Fitness
Cardiovascular endurance, muscle endurance, muscle strength, flexibility, and body composition make up the 5 components of health-related fitness, and getting into optimal shape requires regularly addressing all 5 components in your training.
1. Cardiovascular Endurance
Cardiovascular endurance refers to the body’s capacity to effectually take in oxygen and transport it to all of the tissues throughout your body. Your heart in particular, plays an integral part in the process and a lack of cardiovascular endurance can ultimately have a serious impact on your health both in the short and long terms.
Being that heart disease is the leading cause of death every year worldwide, it’s not hard to understand why prioritizing your cardiovascular endurance in your day-to-day life is important. In fact, it’s why organizations like the National Institute of Health (NIH) recommend that all adults partake in at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week in their Physical Activity Guidelines.
⫸How Do You Measure Cardiovascular Endurance?
Your cardiovascular endurance can be measured by looking at your maximum oxygen uptake (V02 max) during intense exercise. The higher your VO2 max is, the more efficient your cardiorespiratory system is at taking in and transporting oxygen to your body’s muscle tissues.
VO2 tests usually require a trained specialist like an exercise physiologist, so measuring your cardiovascular endurance may be a little trickier than the other components on this list.
⫸How to Improve Your Cardiovascular Endurance
Though it may be difficult to test on your own, it’s relatively simple to make improvements to your cardiovascular endurance through a regular exercise routine. And whether you chose to go with steady-state cardio or HIIT, the good news is that there are countless different exercises that can help you build up your endurance.
Regularly challenging your heart and lungs through a regular exercise routine is a simple and effective way to improve the efficiency at which your body intakes and disperses oxygen.
Steady-state cardio is the traditional approach to cardiovascular exercise and it’s what most people think of when they think about cardio. It’s a moderate intensity workout like jogging or riding a bike where you’re working at a consistent and manageable pace for an extended period of time. Organizations like the NIH recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio 5 times a week to achieve and maintain optimal cardiovascular health.
HIIT on the other hand, which is short for high-intensity interval training, is a super modern and super effective way to get your cardio in. As opposed to steady-state, you’ll be working at higher intensities for short durations, rather than working at lower intensities for longer durations. Think alternating between a 15-second sprint and a quick break, or going all out on the battles ropes for 15-20 seconds.
Not only can you complete an HIIT workout in about half the time, but research also shows that HIIT may actually help to improve your VO2 max to a greater degree than steady-state as well.
2. Muscle Endurance
In addition to cardiovascular endurance, muscle endurance is also a component of health-related fitness and one of two components involved in the overall health of your muscles.
Muscle endurance measures the ability of a specific muscle group to contract against external resistance over a set period of time. Each muscle group is distinct from one another and therefore, your level of endurance can vary from muscle group to muscle group.
It’s important to point out that when we’re talking about muscle endurance, we can be talking about both a single, sustained contraction, or we can also be talking about multiple contractions that take place over a period of time.
For example, we could be looking at a single sustained muscle contraction like in the plank movement, where we’re interested in seeing how long you can hold your body in the position. Or on the flip side, we could also take look at something like the squat movement, where muscles are contracting multiple times and we’re trying to see how many reps you can do.
No matter the case, your muscle endurance plays a critical part in your ability to deal with the challenges of day-to-day life, and a lack thereof can dramatically impact your quality of life. On top of that, it also plays a vital part in athletics, where your ability to perform at your best is deeply connected to your level of muscular endurance.
⫸How Do You Measure Muscle Endurance?
Compared to cardiovascular endurance, your muscle endurance is relatively easy to assess. In fact, you can get a pretty reliable measurement of where you’re at using three basic bodyweight exercises – the plank, the pushup, and the squat.
For the squat and the pushup, the objective is to perform as many repetitions as you can until you aren’t able to do anymore – that number will serve as your baseline on which to make improvements.
With the plank, as we mentioned above, you’ll be holding your body in the planking position until your muscles can no longer maintain the proper posture. Instead of trying to increase the number of reps you can do before failure, like with the squat and push up, with the plank, you’re trying to increase the amount of time you’re able to hold yourself in position.
⫸How to Improve Your Muscle Endurance
Muscle endurance training is specifically designed to improve your muscles’ ability to efficiently fire over a greater period of time. And like with your cardiovascular endurance, HIIT may be the best training approach when it comes to making improvements.
There’s plenty of research to show that following a regular HIIT program can help to improve both your aerobic and anaerobic capabilities. That’s because over time, regularly working at high intensities in your training is the most effective way to increase the amount of available energy in your muscles, allowing them to contract for greater periods of time before tiring.
But again, because your level of endurance can naturally vary quite a bit from muscle group to muscle group, you’ll need to make sure your workout routine engages all of the major muscle groups in your body in order to see well-rounded results.
3. Muscle Strength
The other component of your overall fitness that relates to your muscles is your strength. While your muscle endurance looks at how quickly your muscles fatigue against external resistance, your muscle strength is a measure of how much force a specific muscle group is able to generate in a single, all-out performance – in the world of resistance training, this is known as your one-rep max (1RM).
From helping to keep your bones and joints healthy and strong, to easing the burden of everyday, labor-intensive tasks, there are all sorts of reasons that having a healthy amount of muscular strength is important. On top of that, it just feels good to be strong, and everyone from competitive athletes to retired folks can benefit from developing and maintaining their muscle strength.
Like with muscle endurance though, your strength is also going to vary from muscle group to muscle group – you may find that some muscles groups are naturally stronger than others – so it’s important to take into consideration your strength across all your major muscle groups when you’re looking to make assessments and improvements.
⫸How Do You Measure Muscle Strength?
The most accurate tool for measuring your muscle strength is your one-rep max, which is relatively simple to figure out. The old-fashioned way is simply to load up a barbell and see what the maximum amount of weight is you’re able to lift for exactly 1 repetition. So, for example, if you’re able to bench press 185 lbs for 1 rep, your 1RM on the bench press would be 185.
But working at your body’s limits can be dangerous, especially when you’re lifting heavy weights, so the safest and easiest way to figure out your one-rep max is to use a free online 1RM calculator. Simply input how many reps you’re able to perform at a manageable weight – you’ll want to choose a weight you can lift for somewhere around 3 - 8 reps for the most accurate results – and the calculator will generate a reliable estimate of how much you’d be able to lift for exactly 1 rep.
⫸How to Improve Your Muscle Strength
The best way to go about improving your muscle strength is through a strength training program. While it is a form of resistance training, it differs from other approaches in that you’ll generally be working with heavier weights and higher intensities.
While it’s rare that you’ll be trying to lift your true 1 rep max in your workout, you will be regularly lifting 75%+ of your 1RM, which means you’ll be doing a relatively small number of repetitions each training session.
Again, it’s important to point out that any strength training program designed to improve your overall fitness, should certainly take into account and regularly engage all of your major muscle groups.
Spreading out strength training exercises like the squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, and row across your weekly workout routine is the most efficient and effective way to assure that you’re developing strength across your entire body.
Build MORE Strength & Endurance
with this all-natural, doctor-formulated supplementShop Now
The fourth component of health-related fitness is flexibility. Your flexibility is a measure of the range of motion of your connective tissues and muscle fibers at a particular joint or grouping of joints. Like with your muscle strength and endurance, your flexibility is joint-specific, meaning that you may be more or less flexible in certain areas of your body.
Your flexibility can have a large impact on your day-to-day life as well as your ability to perform athletic movements safely and proficiently. Having poor flexibility can ultimately increase your risk of everything from chronic lower-back pain to musculoskeletal injury.
⫸How Do You Measure Flexibility?
Flexibility tests are specifically designed to measure the range of motion at your joints. You may remember the field tests you probably had to perform in gym class growing up – they’re the easiest and most accessible way to test out your flexibility.
Here in the U.S., there are 3 standard field tests, which together, are commonly used to measure a person’s overall flexibility: the shoulder stretch, the trunk lift (which can also be used to assess muscle endurance), and the sit-and-reach.
⫸How to Improve Your Flexibility
When it comes to improving your flexibility, adding a regular stretching regimen into your daily routine can help to improve the range of motion at your joints and lengthen your muscle tendons. There are many different forms of stretching that can be effective for increasing your flexibility; popular forms include dynamic stretching, static stretching, and ballistic stretching, just to name a few.
5. Body Composition
The last standard component of physical fitness is your body composition. Though the study of body composition is a complex subject that looks at all the molecular and cellular components that make up your body as a whole, when we’re talking about health-related fitness, we’re most concerned with your body’s ratio of fat to lean mass.
What is considered optimal as far as body composition goes is different for men and women and will also vary based on things like your age, genetics, and hormonal status. With that being said, having a sub-optimal ratio of fat to fat-free mass can lead to a whole host of negative health problems.
On one side of the equation, having an extremely low proportion of body fat can negatively impact everything from your energy and testosterone levels to your mental and emotional well-being. Conversely, having too much body fat can increase your risk of everything from heart disease to diabetes.
⫸How Do You Measure Body Composition?
Arriving at a precise measurement of your body composition usually requires advanced technology and an experienced professional. Some of the different techniques that are currently used includeanthropometry, bioelectrical impedance analysis, densitometry, and air displacement plethysmography, just to name a few.
With that being said, one way that you can get a rough idea of whether or not your body composition could use some work (without spending the time and money seeing a professional) is by looking at your body mass index (BMI). You can easily estimate yours with an online calculator.
Your BMI is basically a ratio of your weight to height, used to determine whether or not you’re at healthy body weight and it’s usually a pretty reliable predictor of whether or not you’re at an increased risk for numerous adverse health outcomes. A BMI between the range of 18.5 - 24.9 is considered normal and maybe a sign that your body composition is ok.
A BMI above 24.9 is classified as overweight and may indicate that you need to reduce your body’s proportion of fat to fat-free mass. On the flip side, a BMI below 18.5 is classified as underweight and may suggest that you need to increase your muscle mass in order to balance out your body composition.
With that being said, there are some limitations to BMI. Because we’re only looking at your height and weight in order to make assumptions about your body composition, there are some people who may actually have a healthy body composition despite technically having a higher than desired BMI. However, this is typically going to be people like athletes who may carry around significantly more lean mass on their frame than the average person.
⫸How to Improve Your Body Composition
When it comes to improving your body composition, there are essentially 2 things you can do, and which one you choose depends on how you’re looking to alter your ratio of fat to fat-free mass.
If you’re overweight, you’re most likely going to want to maintain the muscle mass that you already have while reducing excess body fat. In order for that to happen, you have to do two things: follow a regular weight training routine and take in fewer calories than your body burns off.
On the flip side, if you’re underweight, it usually means you need to add more muscle mass to your frame in order to achieve an ideal body composition. While you’ll also need to regularly lift weights in order to build muscle, you’ll need to do the opposite from a dietary perspective – you’ll need to eat more calories than your body burns of in a day (aka a calorie surplus).
The 5 components of health-related fitness are cardiovascular endurance, muscle endurance, muscle strength, flexibility, and body composition.
Each plays an important role in the state of your overall physical fitness and can be maintained and improved through a regular exercise program that equally prioritizes each component.