By Soji James, CPT, CSCS
Physical fitness and appearance are not synonymous. In our society, it’s customary for us to view individuals with leaner figures or greater muscle mass as fitter than others. But that is not always the case.
Think about it: That friend who looks like the epitome of health—but gets winded walking up a flight of stairs. Or that person who has the body of Hercules, even though all they consume is junk food. Unbeknownst to many, physical fitness isn’t always about looks, and it can be broken up into an extensive list of subcategories.
Factors such as agility, cardiovascular endurance, and speed all play a significant role in your physical fitness. And while some sources list as many as eleven components or factors, we’re sticking to eight key factors, here. Here’s what you can do to reach all of your physical fitness goals—to achieve fitness beyond the surface-level.
Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily. In everyday life, our agility is a characteristic that helps us get by. Whether you are hustling to your next meeting or merely playing racquetball, agility enables you to change direction smoothly. Additionally, it allows you to control your body in terms of its strength, speed, and balance. Being able to swiftly move on to your next task or change posture in a physical fitness program is a definite quality you want to maintain. Basketball, racquetball, and tennis are all exercises that can improve this element of your body’s overall health. If you don’t have access to a court, then try a portable workout system like the Penalty Box.
Balance in our physical and mental lives is something we all should strive to attain. It is the even distribution of weight enabling us to remain upright. While yoga flow sequences and martial arts can help us improve our balance, you don’t necessarily have to leave your house to better your body’s equilibrium. Incorporating movements such as single-leg stands, head rotations, and foot taps are all things you can do before hopping into the shower. As we become older, balance becomes more important for several reasons. When there is a problem with our balance, our likelihood of falling and obtaining diseases such as type 2 diabetes become more likely.
Cardiovascular endurance denotes our body’s ability to keep up with our daily activities. Arguably, the heart is one of the most important organs in the body. Pumping approximately 55- 80 mL of blood per beat, it’s no wonder why we should pay special attention to this organ. A lack of cardiovascular endurance is dangerous; without it, we are at risk for diabetes, heart diseases, and strokes. Luckily for us, we can also improve our cardiovascular endurance by eating foods such as fish, nuts, berries, seeds, legumes, and oats. We can also add specific exercises into our lifestyles. Try fun cardio workouts like biking, running, and swimming to improve this component of physical fitness.
When most people think about physical fitness, coordination usually is not the first thing that comes to mind. Coordination is the ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently. Partaking in activities such as juggling, hopping on each of your legs, and planking can help you improve your coordination.
As children, most of us were pretty flexible. But, as time goes on, we become stiffer and stiffer. Flexibility is extremely important to your physical fitness; it’s considered a key measurement. Elizabeth Barchi, MD, a sports medicine physician, defines it as “a measure for the range of motion of your individual joints.”
Furthermore, flexibility is not just your ability to do splits and touch your toes; it relates to your entire body. When was the last time you tried some pec stretches or exercises to loosen up your hips? Incorporating stretches or going to yoga can play a massive part in improving your flexibility.
Muscular endurance is defined as the ability of muscle or groups of muscles to undergo continuous contractions against a resistance for long periods of time. To measure your muscular endurance, you can perform a pushup test: see how many pushups you can do before you are too weak to continue. This will help you understand where you are in terms of muscular endurance. After assessing your muscular endurance, incorporating low-intensity strength training with dumbbells and your own physical body weight can help with improving this aspect of physical fitness. Strength and power are also subcategories within muscular endurance. Both elements set limitations on how much weight you can lift and how long you can continue with your selected exercises. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself in this category. If you find it intimidating to go to the weight section of the gym without any sort of guide, try to find someone who started at your current level, and use them as your fitness motivation.
Your reaction time is the amount of time it takes for you to react to a stimulus. To measure your reaction time, doctors will sometimes tap your knee to elicit a kick as an automatic response. Having a good reaction time helps you make quick decisions that can save you from significant injuries. Exercises that help with this feature include paddle-boarding and interval drills.
The rate at which you can move across spaces is equally as important as the other components of physical fitness that we have mentioned. The benefits of improving your speed include an increase in anaerobic endurance, the ability to burn more fat, and the improvement of your balance. Besides running, you can also complete broad jumps, jump roping, and squats to improve this component of your physical fitness.
Lastly, body composition, or the amount of fat in your body, is something that you should keep in mind. One noteworthy fact to remember about body composition is that it differs in men and women. For men, their body composition must be lower than 17%, while for women, their body composition must be lower than 24%.
Despite its importance, body composition is not the most critical factor of your physical health. Instead, considering each component equally is what gives us a good overall representation of our physical fitness.
So with that said, here’s how you can hit each of these elements of your physical fitness. Many exercises can simultaneously hit a couple of the components in the span of thirty minutes to an hour—and you can start slow. Thirty-day challenges are a great way to kickstart your fitness. Here’s an example of one to get you started:
Whether you are looking to spice up your fitness journey, or do a complete physical overhaul, make it a point to not overlook the various components that comprise physical fitness.
Real physical fitness involves all aspects of your body—not just “looking good.” By analyzing the bits and pieces that make up physical fitness, you’ll become one step closer to entering your most ideal state of physical well-being.