In a previous post, we learned that Health and Fitness are connected but certainly not the same thing. For athletes and those that are interested in improving their ability to perform well in sport, both are important but often the focus is improving Fitness. Certainly, the purpose of a training / exercise plan is to improve Fitness. In this post, I will look at the individual components of Fitness that you should consider as you design your training plan.
- Cardiovascular Endurance
Cardiovascular endurance refers to the ability of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system to provide oxygen and nutrients (typically sugars) to the body during physical activity. This type of fitness is essential for activities such as running, cycling, and swimming, which require sustained periods of aerobic activity. An approximation of sustained can be anywhere in excess of 30 minutes depending on the individual. To improve cardiovascular endurance, low intensity exercises such as jogging, brisk walking, and easy to moderate cycling will be most helpful. However it should be noted that that these activities, whilst light in effort, should be performed for at least 45minutes per session, but ideally much longer. The classic Long Slow Run that is often a staple of many runners training plans is a perfect example of a Cardiovascular Endurance exercise.
- Muscular Strength
Muscular strength refers to the ability of the muscles to generate force. This type of fitness is essential for activities such as weightlifting, wrestling, and gymnastics, which require the use of significant muscle power, but also has relevance to cyclists (expressing force as power on the bike) and even runners (expressing force against the running surface particularly when running up hill). To improve muscular strength, exercises such as weightlifting, resistance training, and bodyweight exercises should be performed and these are often seen in a training programme as Strength and Conditioning sets.
- Muscular Endurance
Muscular endurance refers to the ability of the muscles to maintain a level of physical activity over an extended period. This type of fitness is essential for activities such as running, cycling, and swimming, which require sustained periods of muscle use at relatively high levels of power output. Muscular Endurance can be thought of as the blending of Cardiovascular Fitness (but we are now using different energy systems) and Muscular Power (but we are now substantially increasing the time component). To improve muscular endurance, exercises such as bodyweight exercises, resistance training, and high-repetition weightlifting can be performed. The difference in training style contrasted to Muscular Power is a substantial decrease in weight, but an increase repetitions. Sometimes called Toning Exercises.
Flexibility refers to the range of motion of the joints and muscles. This type of fitness is essential for activities such as dancing, gymnastics, and yoga, which require a high degree of mobility, but also contribute to injury prevention in running. To improve flexibility, exercises such as stretching, yoga, and Pilates should be performed on a regular basis.
- Body Composition
Body composition refers to the proportion of fat, muscle, and bone in the body. This type of fitness is essential for overall health and well-being, but also has a direct impact on your ability to perform maximally in sport. Maintaining an appropriate body composition can help reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases (health outcomes), but will also determine your ability to move quickly and avoid mechanical injury (fitness outcomes). To improve body composition, a combination of diet and exercise need to be factored into your training plan. Of the two, diet will have the most significant impact.
Power refers to the ability to generate force quickly. This type of fitness is essential for activities such as sprinting, elements of cycling, jumping, and throwing. To improve power, exercises such as plyometrics, explosive weightlifting, and sprint training should be performed. These will be found in the Strength & Conditioning components of a training plan.
Agility refers to the ability to change direction quickly and efficiently. This type of fitness is essential for activities such as team sports, martial arts, and dance. But also running over rough terrain. To improve agility, exercises such as cone drills, ladder drills, and shuttle runs can be performed. For most runners, cyclists and swimmers, this is the least significant component of Fitness, but as it does have some bearing on flexibility and therefore injury prevention, it is worth being aware of.
Balance refers to the ability to maintain stability and control over the body's position. This type of fitness is essential for virtually all sports activities to a lesser or greater extent. To improve balance, exercises such as single-leg balance, yoga poses, and balance board training should be performed. It is unlikely that a training programme will have a specific Balance workout, but rather this should be designed into other workouts as a secondary outcome.
Coordination refers to the ability to use different parts of the body together effectively. This type of fitness is essential for activities such as dance, martial arts, and team sports. To improve coordination, exercises such as agility drills, ball drills, and coordination exercises can be performed. Similar to agility this is not directly transferable to improved performance in running, cycling or swimming. However; being uncoordinated will result in poor technique and a greater propensity for injury. Therefore consideration should be given to this component in a well designed training programme.
In conclusion, achieving and maintaining fitness requires attention to all of these components. Different types of physical activities can be tailored to address each component, and a well-rounded fitness program should include exercises that target each of these areas. The relative amounts of each component are determined by sport specific demands, and athletes limiting factors and the timing of activities within a periodised plan.