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Understanding the 10 components of fitness

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

Tom Berry, founder and owner To Be Personal Training. Picture: Keith Heppell
Tom Berry, founder and owner To Be Personal Training. Picture: Keith Heppell

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

• Strength is the ability to carry out work against resistance. It is usually trained by lifting weights. Bodyweight and resistance band exercises are also very effective. Strength training is not solely for sportspeople or bodybuilders; everyone benefits from being strong. Strength is required to lift luggage into the back of the car, tidy the garage or open a jar of gherkins.

• Muscular endurance is the ability to contract muscles repeatedly without fatiguing, for example, walking up multiple flights of stairs or cycling 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 exercise aerobically for long periods. More specifically, the ability of the heart, lungs and circulatory system to deliver oxygen to muscles and the muscles’ ability to use this oxygen efficiently. Cardiovascular 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 quantity 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 the adult population of Britain is overweight (and the vast majority because of excess body fat, not muscle). Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the simplest ways to improve general health and sports performance (the simplest but not necessarily the easiest).

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

Tom Berry, founder and owner To Be Personal Training. Picture: Keith Heppell
Tom Berry, founder and owner To Be Personal Training. Picture: Keith Heppell

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

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

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

• Co-ordination is the ability to move multiple parts of the body effectively.

• Balance is the ability to maintain equilibrium when moving and stationary.

People neglect to train these aspects of fitness because most people’s fitness goals are related to their body image (ie gain muscle and lose fat), so strength and cardiovascular training dominate their programs (because they burn calories and stimulate muscle growth). However, it is balance that stops you from twisting your ankle when you’re walking your dog through a field. Agility allows you to dodge that dog poo you spotted at the last minute.

Co-ordination will stop you from falling over when you bend down to pick up the poo while holding the reins of your dog, at the same time as you are keeping an eye on your toddler who is meandering 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 play recreational sports as you get older, 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 there is more to fitness than lifting weights and pounding the treadmill. Try playing games or recreational sports to improve the components of your fitness that are often forgotten.

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

Read more from Tom on the first week of each month in the Cambridge Independent

Effective strength training - and why it is an important part of your physical fitness

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