Components of Fitness

What is Physical Fitness? At the most basic level, physical fitness refers to the ability of your body to perform physical activity. It’s affected by a number of key components of fitness that all have an effect on our ability to complete every day tasks as well as sports performance.

We can view the components of fitness from both a health and sporting perspective:

  • In the context of health, we can view fitness as our ability to efficiently meet the demands of everyday living.
  • From a sporting perspective, physical fitness is also related to an athlete’s chosen sport. In this way, there is often an increased emphasis on a specific component of fitness such as endurance, speed or strength.

Fitness is made up of a number of measurable components. However, there is slight variation depending on whether you are viewing this from a health or sports perspective.

From a sports perspective there are 5 basic components of fitness: Endurance, speed, strength, flexibility and coordination. However, there are 10 fitness components recognised as being important for sport:


  • Cardiovascular endurance
  • Muscular endurance
  • Muscular Strength
  • Speed
  • Power
  • Flexibility
  • Agility
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Reaction time

The importance of each component can vary greatly depending on the chosen sport.


When we view fitness from a health perspective, the following 5 components are considered most important:

  • Body composition
  • Muscular Strength
  • Muscular Endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Body Composition


1. Cardiovascular Fitness / endurance

Cardiovascular fitness is the ability of your whole body to continue to exercise for prolonged periods of time. It’s dependent on a number of physiological factors; but, primarily the ability of your lungs, heart and circulatory system (arteries, veins, capillaries and blood) to uptake, absorb and transport oxygen to the working muscles.

Not surprisingly, it’s an important factor in many endurance sports (distance running, cycling, swimming, rowing etc), as well as being an important health measure.

When it comes to measuring cardiovascular fitness, the gold standard measurement is maximal oxygen uptake or VO2 max. Why is VO2 max considered the gold standard? (Well) It gives a direct measurement of your ability to use oxygen during physical activity. There are also a number of field-based fitness tests – such as the Cooper Run Test, or the Multi-stage fitness test – that provide an estimation of cardiovascular fitness.

To improve cardiovascular fitness, the best approaches involve aerobic endurance training (running, cycling, swimming etc) and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

2. Muscular Strength

Muscular Strength is a measure of the ability of your muscles to apply force. It can be measured in relation to an individual muscle, or group of muscles, and may involve either a single joint, or, a more complex multi joint action, like squats or deadlifts.

Muscular strength is important for most sports, but particularly important for strength based or power sports, and is also an important health predictor. It’s also highly trainable, responding quickly to specific training.

Examples of muscular strength training include resistance machines and free weights (barbells, dumbells and Kettlebells).

An example of a muscular strength test is the Handgrip Dynanometer test. Alternatively a one rep max test can be used.

It’s important to note that there are several different types of strength that contribute to fitness and sports performance. As such, strength training approaches vary depending on the primary focus.

3. Muscular Endurance

Muscular Endurance is the ability of your muscles to continue to contract (exert a submaximal force) multiple times without significant tiring. Examples of sports that require high levels of muscular endurance include endurance running, cycling and CrossFit. It’s also an important health fitness component as it allows you to complete everyday activities without excessive fatigue.

Training to improve muscular endurance involves higher repetitions than training for strength. When using resistance exercises this would normally involve 15-25 repetitions, however in some endurance sports, muscular endurance training may involve much higher number of repetitions. A good example here is long hill repeats – a highly specific form of strength training for runners. This could typically involve over 300 repetitions (or in the case of running steps) during a 2minute hill repeat.

An example of a muscular endurance test is the sit up bleep test.

4. Speed

Speed is a measure of an individual’s ability to move quickly across a set distance, or to move a limb rapidly through a range of movement – such as when throwing a javelin. While it’s important in a sporting sense it’s not considered an important component of health fitness.

Speed can be broken down into the following:

  • Maximal speed – the maximum achievable speed
  • Acceleration speed – a measure of the rate of acceleration
  • Speed endurance – the ability to maintain speed either at maximal speed or a percentage of maximal speed.

A further component of speed is reaction time, which we look at in #10.

Speed is best developed through short maximal efforts, such as flying 30s. Speed endurance can be developed through longer sustained efforts such as 150m repeats. And acceleration is developed through short accelerations such as 10, 20 or 30m accelerations.

Examples of tests for speed include the 30m sprint test.

5. Power

While strength is a measure of our ability to apply force, power refers to your ability to apply force very quickly. In this way, it requires a combination of both strength and speed. It’s particularly important when accelerating (sprints), jumping or throwing.

Since power is all about applying force very quickly; improving power requires you to train with short explosive movements. Examples include short maximal efforts, and plyometrics.

While strength training can be effective, an important factor is the movement must be completed at a fast speed. In this way, it’s important that resistance must not be too high as to slow the speed of movement. For this reason, development of power uses lower resistance compared with developing maximum strength.

Example tests for power include the standing long jump or vertical jump test.

6. Flexibility and physical fitness

Flexibility is a measure of the range of movement (ROM) around a joint. It’s important for both sports performance and a component of health fitness. Everyone’s natural level of flexibility is different, and varies depending on many factors including:

  • Joint structure
  • Bone length and shape
  • Muscle size and tightness (tension)
  • Length tension and size of tendons
  • Ligament structure
  • Training
  • Injuries

The level of flexibility can also vary significantly between joints, or even between the same joint on different sides of the body.

Flexibility is considered good, when we can move our muscles and joints freely (and without pain or restriction), through a normal range of movement.

It is often tested by measuring the join ROM, using tests such as the sit and reach test.

Flexibility can be improved/maintained through specific stretching and mobility exercise. Examples include static stretching, dynamic stretching and using foam rollers.

7. Agility

Agility refers to the ability to quickly change the position of your body and direction of movement. A good example is the quick footwork, change of direction and body position of a rugby winger when evading successive defenders. Another example is the multi-directional movement of a squash player around the squash court.

An example of an agility test is the Illinois agility test.

8. Balance

Balance refers to our ability to maintain an upright posture.

It can be either:

  • Static balance – the ability to maintain a stationary body position (standing still, handstand etc)
  • Dynamic balance – the ability to maintain body position whilst moving (gymnastics, pole vault, horse riding etc)

A further consideration here is ‘Proprioception’ – the body’s ability to perceive, or be aware of, the position and the movement of our body. In this way, proprioception is inherently linked to balance – both static and dynamic balance.

Balance can be assessed using the Standing Stork Test.

9. Coordination

Coordination refers to the ability to effectively control complex movements.

It requires high levels of skill, developed through many hours of practice. With the ultimate aim of achieving what is often referred to as “unconscious competence” – the ability to complete a complex task which such ease that it is “second-nature”, and without the need for a high level of conscious awareness.

Coordination is best trained through specific, repeated movement patterns. Good examples include running drills, ladder drills, padwork boxing drills, and repeated practise of the same movement (tennis serve, golf swing etc).

Coordination is also an important factor in being able to efficiently exert a force – something referred to as neuromuscular coordination. This refers to the ability of the central nervous system to control the recruitment of groups of muscle fibres and muscles during a task or activity.

An example test of coordination is the wall toss test.

10. Reaction time

Reaction time refers to the amount of time required to react to a specific stimulus (sound, light, movement etc). A fast reaction time is vital during sprint events. It’s also very important in sports like fencing, boxing, martial arts as well as many racket and team sports.

An example test for reaction time is the ruler drop test.

11. Body composition

Body composition refers to the percentage of body weight that is made up of fat, or lean body mass (including muscle, bone and water). It’s one of the components of health fitness, and is often used to assess health, primarily because we know that higher levels of body fat are detrimental to health. In addition, higher levels of bodyfat are often detrimental in many sports.

Some of the different measures and approaches to measuring body composition include:

  • Body Mass Index (BMI),
  • Skin fold calliper Measurement
  • Bioelectrical Impedence Measurement
  • Hydrostatic Weighing
  • 3-D Bodyscanners

As we can see, there are many components of fitness related to both health and sports performance. While, the contribution of each varies significantly between sports, each component has an effect at some level. As such, fitness training – whether it’s focussed on health or sports performance – should focus on all the major components of fitness.  The main difference between sports being the emphasis placed on different components of fitness.

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