The Fitness Components in Sports

The fitness components are qualities that athletes must develop to physically prepare for sport competition. They are the building blocks of exercise and physical activity. Sports training programs are designed to build these components in the proper proportions that match the requirements of each sport.

What is physical fitness exactly? The definition is vague because it can be defined and measured in different ways. A basic definition of physical fitness is "the ability to complete daily tasks with energy, reduce health risks due to inactivity, and be able to participate in a variety of physical activities."

The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports classifies of physical fitness components into two groups--performance-related and health-related.

The 5 fitness components that are deemed health-related are: cardio, strength, endurance, flexibility, and body composition.

In addition, speed, agility, power, balance, and coordination have been identified as performance-related. All of these qualities exist to some degree in most sports, but developing certain combinations is important in any given sport (e.g., strength-endurance in rowing).

While definitions are assigned to qualities that represent what "fitness" is, it can be operationalized in different ways for each sport. In other words, fitness for one sport is somewhat different for another.

How do we measure physical fitness? Fitness itself is not directly measurable by using a single test item. It is broken down into more specific fitness components (with some overlap) that we can define and measure. Multiple test items are used to measure these components as they apply to sports.

Common Definitions of Fitness Components

Endurance is the ability to sustain submaximal activity for extended periods of time. It involves muscular endurance (the ability of a muscle to contract repeatedly) and cardio fitness (the ability of the heart, lungs, and hormonal systems to deliver oxygen and fuel to the muscles). Distance events require exceptional endurance fitness. Push ups place greater demands on muscular strength and endurance.

Strength is the ability to move a maximum weight. It can also be described as the maximum amount of force that a muscle can generate in a single effort. When athletes make significant strength gains, muscles fibers (cells) gain size. Weightlifting requires considerable strength, but all sports also require some level of strength fitness.

Speed is the ability to move quickly. Fast movements involve reaction time (from the cue for movement to the beginning of a movement) and movement time (from the beginning to the end of a movement). Speed of movement is necessary for reacting to opponents in open skills. Closed skills, such as discus throwing, also require rapid reactions for skilled execution.

Agility Fitness is the ability to move quickly and change directions under control to execute sport skills. It is a composite of many fitness components--speed, power, strength, balance, flexibility, reaction time, and coordination. Receivers and running backs in football require great agility.

Power is ability to exert muscular strength rapidly. It combines speed and strength. Explosive skills require power fitness, which involves exerting force with marked acceleration. Olympic lifting and shotputting are examples.

Flexibility is the ability to move joints through the ample ranges of motion to allow optimal sport performance. Gymnastic events require substantial joint flexibility fitness. Various methods of stretching can increase flexibility.

Balance is the ability to maintain a position. Balance can be static or dynamic. Static balance means that the athlete is not moving, such as when performing a handstand. Dynamic balance means that the athlete maintains equilibrium while moving, such as in slalom ski events.

Coordination is the ability to move smoothly and efficiently. It is specific to each sport skill. See Sport Skills

Related pages: Physical Demands of Sports

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Powers, S.K. & Howley, E.T. (1990). Exercise physiology: Theory and application to fitness and performance. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown.

Safrit, M.J. & Wood, T.M. (1996). Introduction to measurement in physical education and exercise science (3rd ed.). St. Louis: Mosby.

Schmidt, R.A. & Wrisberg, C.A. (2000). Motor learning and performance: A problem-based learning approach (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

United States Department of Health and Human Services, President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. (2000, March). Definitions: Health, fitness, and physical activity. Retrieved April 23, 2009, from

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