The components of physical fitness


When asked what physical fitness is most people would reply: “being able to run far”.The truth is that physical fitness is a far more complex component of wellness.

It is commonly accepted that physical fitness is a product of 10 different components. Some of these are health related and some are skills related.

The 10 components of fitness are:

  1. Cardio-respiratory capacity which is the ability of the body to take in oxygen (respiration) and deliver it to the cells (circulation). Oxygen is vital in the production of energy at cellular level, especially during low intensity, long duration exercises. Systems which aid the uptake and distribution of oxygen are the cardiovascular system including the heart, arteries, veins and capillaries, respiratory system, including the lungs and the blood, that acts as the transport system. The long term adaptation of cardio-respiratory exercise is a stronger heart which works more efficiently. This leads to increased cardiac output and a decrease in the resting heart rate. The lungs can also increase in size and become more efficient at diffusing oxygen and carbon dioxide. The benefits of having a good and healthy cardio-respiratory capacity is a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, an improved blood pressure profile, improved glucose tolerance, the enhanced ability to perform activities of daily living, work and sport and decreased levels of anxiety and depression.
  2. Muscular capacity covers the spectrum of muscular capability. This includes muscular endurance which is the ability to apply force over a long period of time or the ability to do a high number of muscular contractions without rest, muscular strength which is the ability to produce maximum force in one contraction, and finally muscular power which is the ability to produce force very quickly. This is an important component in sports that require explosive movement e.g. Olympic weightlifting, Basketball etc. The benefits of having a good muscular capacity are a decreased risk of injury, improved performance in sport and recreation, an increased basal metabolic rate and better joint stability and posture.
  3. Flexibility refers to the range of movement in any specific joint. This is probably one of the most neglected components of fitness. Our bodies are designed to be balanced with regard to strength and flexibility. It is possible to have a very strong but short muscle but it is also possible to have a weak and long muscle. Ideally you want a strong but flexible muscle. The benefits of being flexible are a reduced risk of injury, more efficient movement and better posture.
  4. Body composition refers to the ratio that you have between your fat free mass (muscle, bone, organs, blood and fluids) and fat mass (adipose tissue deposited under the skin and around organs.) The long term benefits of improving your body composition profile are a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, improved basal metabolic rate and improved function.
  5. Balance is the ability to maintain a specific body position in either a stationary or dynamic (moving) situation. Static balance is the ability to maintain a constant position while stationary. Dynamic balance is the ability to maintain equilibrium while moving. The ability to balance is a function of multiple reflexes involving the eyes, the balance organs in the ear, pressure receptors in the skin and muscle proprioceptors. Good balance is an essential component for the successful performance in many sports, especially those which require sudden changes in movement such as gymnastics and tennis. Balance also plays a vital part in the prevention of injury. It is an important consideration during rehabilitation and training for peak performance, and it is a component that has to be added to any programs for the elderly.
  6. Co-ordination is the ability to integrate the sensory system, nervous system and the musculoskeletal system in order to perform complex movement. This component is a very relevant sport specific component and may involve numerous large muscle groups working together in different planes of motion to achieve a specific goal such as a golf swing.
  7. Agility is the ability to change the position of the body in space rapidly and accurately without loss of balance. Agility is a product of muscular power, reaction time, coordination and dynamic flexibility. It is recognized as a basic component of performance and is important in sports where objects or opponents have to be avoided such as rugby or downhill slalom.
  8. Reaction time is a skills related ability which underlies tasks in which the athlete must react as quickly as possible between the moment of receiving a stimulus and initiating a response e.g. a sprint start in the 100 meter sprint.
  9. Speed is the ability to perform a movement in a short period of time. This could relate to the athlete moving quickly as a whole such as sprinting 100 meters, or to a limb or body part moving quickly such as a jab in boxing. Some sports measure speed as the determining factor in performance and in others the ability to perform movements quickly will give the athlete an advantage over his competitors.
  10. Mental capacity in sport is the ability to concentrate and focus during training and competition. It is a vital component during training and will assist in positive training effects. “Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” Focus and concentration are vital components during competition and quite often make the difference between coming first or second. Just think of the racing driver and the powers of concentration it requires not only to stay safe but also to beat his competitors, or the golfer playing the last hole on day four of a major tournament.

Now that you have been introduced to the components of physical fitness it is worth noting that cardiorespiratory capacity, muscular capacity, flexibility and body composition are considered primary or health-related fitness components. Balance, coordination, agility, reaction time, speed and mental capacity are considered secondary or skills-related fitness components.

I firmly believe that any exercise program should incorporate cardiovascular, strength and flexibility exercises as a base, regardless of whether the program is designed for health or maximum performance. Distance runners should not shy away from doing strength training and those involved in heavy resistance training should also do endurance training.

It is vital to understand your needs and the components that you have to target. You also need to know that there are very specific ways to measure these components of fitness and even more importantly there are scientific ways to train these. Your Biokineticist is the person most qualified in the South African market to help you on your journey to excellence.

Kent, M. The Oxford Dictionary of Sport Science and Medicine, Oxford University Press; 1994.

Canadian Fitness Professionals (Can-Fit-Pro).  Foundations of Professional Personal Training. Human Kinetics; 2012.

  • Facebook
  • Google+
Stephen Louw is a registered Biokineticist practicing in Benoni. Stephen studied through the University of Pretoria and the University of Zululand.

Open chat
How can I help?
Call now