Understanding the 10 Components of Fitness

Our fitness expert Tom Berry, in his latest column for the Cambridge Independent, explains how certain areas of fitness are too often overlooked.

Tom Berry, founder and owner of To Be Personal Training. Photo: Keith Hepell

There are 10 components of fitness. Workout programs prioritize exercises that develop the components of fitness most relevant to an individual’s goals, and the general public often overlooks some lesser-known components of fitness. Let me start by detailing the most commonly trained fitness components:

• Strength is the ability to perform work against resistance. It is usually trained by lifting weights. Bodyweight and resistance band exercises are also very effective. Strength training isn’t just for athletes or bodybuilders; everyone benefits from being strong. It takes strength to lift luggage out of the back of the car, tidy up the garage or open a jar of pickles.

• Muscular endurance is the ability to contract muscles repeatedly without getting tired, for example walking up several flights of stairs or biking up a hill. This component of fitness is commonly trained in fitness classes, where the resistance is low, but the number of repetitions is high.

• Cardiovascular endurance is the ability to perform aerobic exercise for long periods of time. Specifically, the ability of the heart, lungs, and circulatory system to deliver oxygen to muscles, and the ability of muscles to use that oxygen efficiently. Cardio training isn’t just for marathon runners and road cyclists; it is vital for almost all sports and essential for general health, quality of life and longevity.

• Body composition refers to the amount of fat and muscle carried by the body. Losing weight and gaining muscle are two of the most common reasons people exercise. This is understandable when over half of Britain’s adult population is overweight (and the vast majority from excess body fat, not muscle). Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the easiest ways to improve overall health and athletic performance (the simplest but not necessarily the easiest).

• Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move through a full range of motion. Good flexibility allows us to perform movements without putting excessive stress on the body. For example, good hip flexibility allows people to put their socks on without excessive strain from bending the back. It also allows a competitive lifter to adopt a low stance when grabbing a barbell. Traditional stretching is great for flexibility, but it’s also important to perform exercises in a full range of motion (within reason).

Tom Berry, founder and owner of To Be Personal Training.  Photo: Keith Hepell
Tom Berry, founder and owner of To Be Personal Training. Photo: Keith Hepell

Speed, reaction time and power (quickly producing force) are three other components of fitness that are closely related. They are critical in sport but less so for the general population. A good level of basic fitness is necessary to train these components of fitness safely, and often the benefits are outweighed by the risk of injury.

The other three components of fitness are, in my opinion, too often overlooked.

• Agility is the ability to quickly change body position or direction.

• Coordination is the ability to move several parts of the body efficiently.

• Balance is the ability to maintain balance while moving and stationary.

People neglect to train for these aspects of fitness because most people’s fitness goals are tied to their body image (i.e. gaining muscle and losing fat), therefore strength and cardiovascular training dominate their programs (because they burn calories and stimulate muscle growth). However, it’s the balance that keeps you from twisting your ankle when walking your dog through a field. Agility allows you to dodge that dog poo you spotted at the last minute.

The coordination will keep you from falling as you bend over to pick up poop while holding onto your dog’s reins, while keeping an eye on your toddler as it meanders towards a stream. You can train agility, coordination, and balance in simple ways, like playing ball games during warm-ups or performing cone drills during circuit training. You can also continue to practice recreational sports as you age, the benefits of which are manifold.

Understanding the 10 components of fitness can help you structure your exercise programs effectively. It will also remind you that fitness isn’t just about lifting weights and pounding the treadmill. Try playing games or recreational sports to improve parts of your fitness that are often overlooked.

Tom Berry is the Cambridge-based personal trainer behind To Be Personal Training – tobept.com.

Read about Tom the first week of every month in the Cambridge Independent

Effective strength training – and why it’s an important part of your fitness



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Richard V. Johnson