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The five factors of fitness contribute to physical fitness

  The five factors of fitness contribute to physical fitness

The five factors of fitness contribute to physical fitness and help guide the process of getting fit. You already know that benefits come when you prioritize physical activity. The trick is understanding what “fitness” is and how you can achieve it.

That’s where the five components of fitness come in. They are the blueprint for the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) physical activity guidelines and serve as a helpful tool for organizing and executing a well-balanced workout routine.1 Creating a fitness plan that incorporates these elements can help ensure you get the most health benefits from your routine.

Five Factors of Fitness

  1. Cardiovascular endurance
  2. Muscular strength
  3. Muscular endurance
  4. Flexibility
  5. Body composition

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) links regular physical activity to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, improved bone health, enhanced mental health, and improved quality of life with age.2 Learn more about the five components of fitness and examples.

Cardiovascular Endurance

Cardiovascular Endurance
Cardiovascular endurance (cardiorespiratory endurance or aerobic fitness) refers to your body’s ability to efficiently and effectively intake oxygen and deliver it to your body’s tissues through the heart, lungs, arteries, vessels, and veins. By engaging in regular exercise that challenges your heart and lungs, you can:
  • Maintain or improve the efficient delivery and uptake of oxygen to your body’s systems
  • Enhance cellular metabolism
  • Ease the physical challenges of everyday life

Because heart disease accounts for roughly 630,000 deaths in the United States each year, starting a workout program that enhances cardiovascular fitness is particularly important.4 Running, walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, circuit training, and boxing are a few workouts that can benefit heart health.

The ACSM’s physical activity guidelines call for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, each week.

The key, of course, is consistency. It may sound like a lot, but 150 minutes breaks down to just 20 to 30 minutes of exercise daily, five to seven days a week.

 Building Cardiovascular Endurance

Muscular Endurance

Muscular Endurance
Muscular endurance is one of two factors that contribute to overall muscular health (muscular strength is the other). Think of muscular endurance as a particular muscle group’s ability to continuously contract against a given resistance.

Long-distance cycling offers a clear example. To pedal a bike over a long distance, often up steep inclines, cyclists must develop fatigue-resistant muscles in their legs and glutes. These are evidence of a high level of muscular endurance.

Likewise, holding a plank to develop core strength is another example of muscular endurance using isometric exercise. The longer you can contract your abdominals and keep your body in a steady position, the greater endurance you have through your hips, abs, and shoulders.

The extent to which you focus on muscular endurance should be directly related to your health or fitness goals. It’s important to realize that muscular endurance is muscle group-specific.

This means you can develop high endurance levels in some muscle groups (like cyclists building endurance in their legs) without necessarily acquiring the same endurance level in other muscle groups, depending on your needs.

 Best Exercises for Core Strength

For Everyday Health

For general health, talk to a healthcare provider to determine what is best for you given your medical history and current fitness level. Everyone’s needs and goals are different, so do what is right for you. Some people may want to develop enough endurance to transport groceries from your car to your house. Low-intensity weight-bearing or strength-training workouts will help you build up that endurance.

For Fitness-Related Goals

Suppose you want to become an endurance athlete capable of competing in sports that require continual muscle contraction, such as obstacle course races, CrossFit, or cycling. In that case, you’ll need a higher level of muscular endurance. You may want to focus more on training regimens that use high-repetition strength training and sport-specific activity to make you a better athlete.

 Measuring and Improving Muscle Endurance

Muscular Strength

Muscular Strength
Caiaimage/Sam Edwards / Getty Images

While muscular endurance refers to how fatigue-resistant a particular muscle group is, muscular strength refers to the amount of force a specific muscle group can produce in one, all-out effort. In strength training terms, it’s your one-rep max.7

Like muscular endurance, muscular strength is muscle group-specific. In other words, you may have strong glutes but comparatively weak deltoids; or powerful pectoral muscles but comparatively weak hamstrings.

Consider Your Goals

Again, the extent to which you train for strength is determined by your health and fitness goals as well as your physical abilities and limitations. Keep in mind that everyone is different and will, therefore, have different goals.

For instance, some people may want to be strong enough to lift a heavy box or easily stand up from a chair. In this circumstance, enhanced muscular strength may be a byproduct of a workout routine focused on developing muscular endurance.

If, however, you want to develop muscle mass or to be able to lift heavier weights at the gym, you should focus your training regimen more on lifting heavy weights.

To improve muscle strength: Use heavier weights with fewer reps, taking your muscles to fatigue with each set.

To improve muscle endurance: Use lighter weights and higher rep counts to increase endurance over time.

It’s possible to improve muscular strength and endurance at the same time. You can do this in conjunction with cardiovascular training. For instance, circuit-training routines that combine strength exercises and cardio into a single training bout can make your exercise program more efficient.

The ACSM’s guidelines state that adults should perform strength training exercises two to three days a week using a variety of exercises and equipment to target all the major muscle groups.


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Flexibility refers to the range of motion around a given joint without pain.Like muscular strength and endurance, flexibility is joint-specific. For instance, you may have very flexible shoulders but tight and inflexible hamstrings or hips.

Flexibility is essential at any age. It plays a role in unhindered movement and can affect your balance, coordination, and agility. Maintaining a full range of motion through your major joints can reduce the likelihood of injury and enhance athletic performance.

As you get older, the importance of flexibility becomes even more apparent. While completely stopping the aging process isn’t possible, protecting your joints and maintaining mobility can help keep you spry well into your later years.

The ACSM’s physical activity guidelines call for adults to engage in flexibility exercises at least two or three days each week.

How to Increase Flexibility

There are simple ways you can work flexibility exercises into your day:

  • Static stretching, where you hold a stretch for 10 to 30 seconds at a time
  • Workouts that take you through dynamic stretching exercises, such as barre, yoga, tai chi, or Pilates
  • Active stretching, such as lifting your leg and holding it there, uses the contraction of the opposing muscle to relax the muscle being stretched.
  • Passive stretching also called relaxed stretching, is where you assume a stretch position and hold it with the assistance of another part of your body, a partner, or an apparatus, like a strap.
  • Isometric stretching, a type of static stretching, uses resistance to alternate between relaxing and contracting the muscle.

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