Components of fitness

HARARE - The World Health Organization (WHO) defined health in its constitution of 1948 as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity".

Fitness is therefore the ability to meet the demands of a physical task.

Basic fitness can be classified in four main components: strength, speed, endurance and flexibility.

However, exercise scientists have identified additional key components that comprise the definition of fitness:

*Strength - The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force against a resistance (eg: holding or restraining an object or person)

*Power - the ability to exert maximum muscular contraction instantly in an explosive burst of movement/s. The two components of power are strength and speed. (eg: jumping or a sprint start)

*Agility - The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another (eg: diagonal running or cutting movements). Anything where there is gross body movement.

*Balance - the ability to control the body's position, either stationary (Static Balance eg: a handstand) or while moving (Dynamic Balance eg: a gymnastics stunt)

*Flexibility - the ability to achieve the desired range of motion without being impeded or restricted so that the skill or movement may be performed efficiently.

*Cardiovascular Endurance - the heart's ability to deliver sufficient blood to the working muscles and their ability to use it (eg: running long distances)

*Strength Endurance - a muscle's ability to perform the required contraction forces time after time (eg: continuous pulling and catching throughout a rowing regatta)

*Co-ordination - the ability to integrate the above listed components so that effective movements are achieved whether once off or repeated.

Of all the elements of fitness cardiac respiratory qualities are the most important to develop as they enhance all the other components of the conditioning equation and play a significant process in the three Energy Systems.

Tancred (1995) believes that "one of the misconceptions in the sports world is that a sports person gets in shape by just playing or taking part in his/her chosen sport. If a stationary level of performance, consistent ability in executing a few limited skills is your goal, then engaging only in your sport will keep you there. However, if you want the utmost efficiency, consistent improvement, and balanced abilities then sportsmen and women must participate in year round conditioning programs. The bottom line in sports conditioning and fitness training is stress, not mental stress, but adaptive body stress. Sportsmen and women must put their bodies under a certain amount of stress (overload) to increase physical capabilities."

A good strength and conditioning coach will look to become strategic in the setting of objectives within the Training Programme. This would lead them to conduct a Needs Analysis on the athlete (based on their fitness testing results), the sport they play, the skills they are required to perform and the conditioning demands they are required to meet or are likely to experience. This Needs Analysis will allow the coaching staff or trainer to create appropriate loads and intensities within the targeted Key Focus Areas. For example: you cannot just train Speed. There are different types of speed such speed endurance, repeat speed, raw speed, acceleration and deceleration, and this understanding will provide the basis from which the component of speed is trained within that athlete/teams training program.

Understand what your objective is and then learn how to meet those requirements in the most efficient way possible. Trust me, knowledge is power...learn and understand. Don't be afraid to ask questions, even if they make you feel uncomfortable. The most successful athletes around invest wisely in their training regime as a result of a better understanding of What, Why and How to do things.

I have seen so many people apply boundless energy into their training, the sad thing is that so much of that effort was misdirected. The keenness to train and work cannot be taken away from them, it was simply a mismatch between their objectives and the component of fitness they were investing in.

*Ex-Zimbabwe rugby international Grant Mitchell is High Performance Director at Innovate High Performance Centre in Harare and a top strength and conditioning coach. Twitter: @InnovateHPC, website:

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