The 5 Components Of Fitness, In Detail

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Most people have a favorite type of exercise. It might be running or swimming, it might be lifting weights, or perhaps it’s yoga

Although the specific physical activity varies from person to person, there’s usually one or two types of exercise we gravitate toward most. Despite our penchant for one sport or type of workout, most people know that the best approach to fitness is to follow a well-rounded exercise routine.

This involves doing different types of workouts that not only utilize different muscle groups, but that also challenge different metabolic systems and focus on different, or the 5, components of fitness.

Although most people are aware that variety is important when it comes to working out, few people outside the sphere of personal trainers, coaches, and exercise scientists know about the five health-related components of fitness.

However, it is important to include workouts that target and support all 5 components of fitness for optimal health and well-being. Therefore, if you’re looking to improve your health and become a well-rounded, fit athlete, keep reading to learn all about the 5 components of fitness.

In this guide, we will cover: 

  • What Are the 5 Components of Fitness?
  • The Five Health-Related Components of Fitness In Detail

Let’s dive in! 

A person flexing her bicep.

What Are the 5 Components of Fitness?

The concept behind the 5 components of fitness is that being fit and healthy from a comprehensive perspective involves being fit in different ways.

For example, if you only ever do long, slow cardio workouts, such as easy jogs or 60 minutes steady on the elliptical machine, you are neglecting other aspects of your fitness, such as muscular strength.

You might not even be able to drop down and bang out 10 or 20 push-ups or do a single pull-up.

Similarly, if your only workouts are Hatha yoga classes, you might be very flexible and have some amount of strength, but your cardiovascular fitness would be lacking. 

In other words, it might be really difficult for you to go out and run at 75% of your max heart rate for 30-40 minutes.

What this demonstrates is that being classified as “fit” doesn’t just mean you’re able to dominate a certain type of exercise or sport, but that you also have a certain degree of physical competence in other domains or components of fitness as well.

A person standing on a road in running clothes, hands on hips.

The five components of health-related fitness are said to work independently and in conjunction with one another to improve your health and reduce your risk of disease.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) uses the 5 components of fitness to form their physical activity guidelines. 

In much the same way, the 5 components of fitness should be considered when creating your own workout plan because you need a balance of each of the five elements to maximize the effectiveness of your fitness routine from a health standpoint.

The 5 components of fitness are as follows:

  • #1: Cardiovascular endurance
  • #2: Muscular strength
  • #3: Muscular endurance
  • #4: Flexibility
  • #5: Body composition 

The Five Health-Related Components of Fitness, In Detail

Let’s look at each of the 5 components of fitness in detail:

A person running on a trail.

#1: Cardiovascular Endurance 

Also referred to as cardiorespiratory endurance or aerobic fitness, cardiovascular endurance denotes your body’s ability to take in, circulate, and utilize oxygen and use it effectively and efficiently.

If you have good cardiovascular fitness, your lungs are healthy and strong, enabling you to exercise at a high intensity without huffing and puffing while still taking in plenty of oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide.

Your heart is strong so it can efficiently and effectively pump blood to all the tissues in the body by making strong contentions that eject a lot of blood.

This enables your heart rate to be relatively lower even at fast paces or vigorous intensities.

Your blood vessels will be healthy and pliant, with a high capillary density in muscles to deliver plenty of oxygen and nutrients to working muscles.

Having good cardiovascular endurance allows you to exercise without tiring out or becoming breathless, and it eases the difficulty of everyday activities like climbing the stairs or walking around town.

Cardiovascular fitness is also associated with reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke by strengthening the heart and lungs.

The ACSM and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) physical activity guidelines state that adults should accrue at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, per week every week.

This breaks down to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least five days per week or three 25-minute vigorous workouts three times per week.

Examples of exercise that can promote cardiovascular endurance include running, swimming, cycling, rowing, and stair climbing.

A person doing a bicep curl and improving one of the 5 components of fitness.

#2: Muscular Strength

Two of the five health-related components of fitness deal with aspects of muscular fitness: muscular strength and muscular endurance.

Muscular strength refers to how much force your muscles can generate, or what sorts of loads they can handle.

Muscular strength is often measured in your one-repetition maximum (1RM).

The better your muscular strength, the heavier the weights or loads you can lift.

Muscular strength is muscle-specific, meaning that you might have strong glutes, quads, and hamstrings if you do a lot of squats and lunges, but you might have weak shoulders and arms.

For this reason, a balanced, total-body strength training program is important to improve your muscular strength throughout your body. 

You want to ensure that all of your muscles are strong, and that you’re not just focusing on one or two major muscle groups.

Muscular strength is important for everyday life because it ensures that you can perform activities of daily living without getting injured. For example, you need to have strong legs to help you get up and out of a chair or to climb stairs carrying a young child or heavy bag of groceries.

When performing workouts to increase your muscular strength, lift heavier weights for fewer repetitions.

A person doing mountain climbers with a medicine ball.

#3: Muscular Endurance 

Muscular endurance refers to the ability of a particular muscle group or all of your muscle groups to continuously contract and do work under a load or against resistance for a sustained period of time without fatigue.

In other words, muscular endurance is the fatigue-resistance of your muscle groups.

For example, if you have a good muscular endurance in your core, you can hold a plank for several minutes at a time without collapsing down.

Similarly, a cyclist with good muscular endurance is able to ride a long time without needing to stop because his or her quads and hamstrings feel exhausted.

Muscular endurance is important for everyday activities such as carrying groceries or a heavy backpack, or climbing numerous flights of stairs on your way up to your office every morning.

Muscular endurance is also particularly important for those with fitness-related or sports-specific goals that involve using certain muscle groups for an extended period of time.

In these instances, muscular endurance will need to be high in particular muscle groups. 

For example, swimmers might need to have good muscular endurance in their lats and legs while cyclists will need to have good muscular endurance in their quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

You can improve your muscular endurance by doing high-repetition strength-training exercises with lighter loads or performing endurance-based workouts targeting the muscle groups you want to affect.

Put simply, lifting lighter weights for many repetitions will improve muscular endurance while lifting heavier weights for fewer repetitions increases muscular strength.

The ACSM guidelines for exercise state that you should do 2-3 total-body strength training workouts per week. These can include a combination of loads, reps, and sets to improve both muscular strength and muscular endurance.

A person in child's pose.

#4: Flexibility

Flexibility is an often overlooked part of someone’s fitness routine. Flexibility refers to the range of motion committed by each joint. 

Flexibility is joint-specific, meaning that you might have flexible wrists and ankles but tight hips and shoulders.

Being flexible has several benefits. It can help you move more comfortably and pain-free, it can reduce the risk of injuries, and it can improve your athletic performance by allowing you to run and move more efficiently and economically.

Although flexibility is important at any age, it’s particularly important as you get older. Our tissues naturally become less pliable and when we move less, our joints and connective tissues stiffen up, reducing our range of motion.

Joints can become arthritic, and if you are in pain, you are less likely to move your joints through their full range of motion, which can eventually reduce the allowable range of motion.

Stiff muscles and joints can be uncomfortable, and they can increase the risk of falls, dislocations, and muscle pulls or strains.

Some degree of flexibility is also necessary for performing everyday activities such as reaching for a can of soup on a high shelf or bending down to tie your shoes.

The ACSM guidelines for exercise are to include flexibility workouts at least 2-3 days per week. Examples include yoga, barre, stretching, and tai chi.

A body composition analysis report.

#5: Body Composition 

The last of the 5 components of fitness is body composition. Body composition refers to the relative percentage of body fat versus lean body mass (muscle, bones, nerves, blood, etc.) you have.

High body fat, particularly visceral body fat, is associated with an increased risk of diseases such as metabolic syndrome, heart disease, type two diabetes, insulin resistance, hypertension, and certain cancers.

Your exercise routine should strive to improve your body composition by building or maintaining lean body mass and losing body fat until you achieve a healthy body fat percentage.

The following are the typical body fat ranges given for men and women:

Men:

  • Essential Fat: < 5 percent
  • Athletes: 5 to 10 percent
  • General Fitness: 11 to 14 percent
  • Good Health: 15 to 20 percent
  • Overweight: 21 t0 24 percent
  • Too High: > 24
A person doing a lunge.

Women:

  • Essential Fat: < 8 percent
  • Athletes: 8 to 15 percent
  • General Fitness: 16 to 23 percent
  • Good Health: 24 to 30 percent
  • Overweight: 31 to 36 percent
  • Too High: > 37

Coupled with a healthy, calorie-controlled diet, any type of exercise can help you lose body fat by burning calories

Certain types of exercise and workouts will be more efficient than others. The best strategy for weight loss is to exercise consistently doing a variety of activities. Stick with it.

So, what’s the takeaway from all of this?

In sum, it’s important to include the 5 components of fitness—cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition—in your well-rounded workout routine.

For ideas to begin working these 5 components of fitness, check out our fitness challenges!

Two people flexing their biceps.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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