Before we jump into the 5 components of total fitness, it’s good to consider what fitness means.
Jurg Widmer describes total fitness as a condition of being physically fit and healthy. The term fitness also often involves being suitably able to complete a particular task or role. These could be things you must do daily or a more extreme one-off target task, like running a marathon.
What is total fitness?
Total fitness is essentially an overview of fitness and is defined by how well the body performs in 5 core components.
The 5 components of total fitness include:
- Cardiovascular endurance
- Muscular endurance
- Muscular strength
- Body composition
In Jurg Widmer’s experience, many people find they excel in one area of fitness more than others. For instance, some bodybuilders are far beyond the average muscular strength level yet may struggle with cardiovascular endurance or flexibility. If you measure just one of these components, you may get an overinflated or deflated sense of your fitness level. Total fitness gives a more comprehensive impression of your fitness levels.
To help you fully understand total fitness, including what it means, involves, and benefits, we’ll dive into each component in more detail below.
What is cardiovascular endurance?
Cardiovascular endurance relies on our hearts, lungs, and blood vessels. Each of these must work together to perform aerobic exercises such as running for extended periods.
Aerobic exercise is one of the most critical elements of fitness and health. Unfortunately, a lack of cardiovascular endurance is a large part of why many people give up when initially exercising.
What are the benefits of cardiovascular endurance?
Cardiovascular exercise can specifically improve heart and lung function, as well as provide more general health benefits.
The benefits of cardiovascular endurance:
- Increased lung capacity
- Stronger heart muscles
- Better-regulated blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol
- Higher metabolism and reduced risk of obesity
- Better sleep
- Lowered stress levels
- Enhanced mood
The more cardiovascular workouts you do, the more benefits you will see.
How can you test your cardiovascular endurance?
There are various ways to test your cardiovascular endurance. One popular and easy test is the Cooper test.
The Cooper test involves running as far as possible within a 12-minute timeframe. Then, you simply need to record your distance and use it to see how you performed for your age and gender.
How can you improve your cardiovascular endurance?
You can improve your cardiovascular endurance with little to no equipment. Some of the best activities for this include aerobic exercises like jogging, cycling, swimming, or sports like football, hockey, or kayaking. You may want to choose different cardio activities based on your body goals.
What is muscular endurance?
Muscular endurance refers to our ability to lift a lighter weight for a high number of repetitions (usually at least 12-15 reps) before fatiguing the muscles.
When working out, many people overlook the importance of this component.
What are the benefits of muscular endurance?
Muscular endurance is closely linked to other aspects of total fitness. You should see improvements in your cardiovascular and muscular strength by working on your muscular endurance.
- Reduced risk of injury
- Strengthened bones and muscles
- Decreases fat stores and prevents obesity
- Improves mood
How can you test your muscular endurance?
One of the simplest ways to test endurance is to see how many push-ups or sit-ups you can do, usually within a minute or two timeframes. Then, you can compare your number to averages for your age and gender.
How can you improve your muscular strength?
Repetitive activities like push-ups, sit-ups, squats, planks, or lunges are also excellent ways to improve muscular endurance.
What is muscular strength?
Muscular strength refers to how much force you can exert, for instance, how heavy a weight you can lift.
What are the benefits of muscular strength?
Stronger muscles usually lead to a higher and more easily maintained muscle mass. It is also generally beneficial to other components of fitness.
Improving your muscular strength can help:
- Boosts bone health
- Heighten metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories
- Reduces fat stores
- Enhances energy levels and mood
How can you test your muscular strength?
Tests will depend on which muscle group you want to test. So first, pick the muscle group, then select a corresponding exercise. You’ll want to choose a relatively heavy weight you think you’ll be able to lift between 7 and 10 times. Keep going until you can’t repeat the action, and record how many reps you completed with what weight.
You can use this information to calculate your one rep max.
How can you improve your muscular strength?
You can use similar exercises as you would for improving endurance, but you want to aim for a higher intensity over the number of reps. You can add weight to specifically target muscle strength if using bodyweight exercises like pull-ups or squats.
Other practical exercises include:
- Bicep curls
- Barbell squats
- Triceps dips
What is flexibility?
Flexibility speaks to how close you are to having a full range of motion through each of your joints.
What are the benefits of flexibility?
In the long term, flexibility can:
- Reduce the risk of injury
- Improve blood flow, leading to shorter recovery times
- Improve posture and balance
- Ease muscle aches and cramps
How can you test your flexibility?
One of the most common methods of testing flexibility is the sit-and-reach test, which involves a solid box with a ruler attached with the 26cm mark hitting the box. You’ll sit with your feet flat on the box and see how far along the ruler you can reach. You’re about average if you can touch the 26cm mark above your feet.
How can you improve your flexibility?
To improve your flexibility, you can stretch, or many people find activities like yoga or dancing particularly helpful.
What is body composition?
When we talk about body composition, we are talking about the amount of body fat compared to organs, bones, and muscles. A lower fat mass is generally better for our health.
What are the benefits of improving your body composition?
Good body composition can have benefits that reach far beyond just looks. These advantages include the following:
- Better bodily functional capabilities
- Improved metabolic rate
- Lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure
How can you test your body composition?
The most accurate way to measure body composition is with hydrostatic weighing. However, this isn’t easy to perform.
Calipers are a low-cost and easy way to measure body fat and are more accurate than BMI.
How can you improve your body composition?
Exercises like strength training, HIIT workouts, and circuit training can also help improve body composition. Ultimately, if you are working on the other 4 components of total fitness, you’ll see your body composition naturally improve along the way.