When I read headlines about 80-year-old World Record-breaking runners, I can’t help but worry that I’ll be nowhere near as physically capable when I’m that age. I’m not even close to breaking records 50 years prior to being in my 80s, unless they’re for the most consecutive hours spent typing words onto websites. I guess I feel vaguely “in shape,” but I’m not even really sure what that means. I pant on “hikes”, so like…
Fortunately, “in shape” is definable, thanks to a concept known as the five components of fitness, which includes cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. Unfortunately, based on the criteria set out by this measurement, I probably need to get my butt in gear if I want to so much as walk fast in my geriatric years.
Below, Tony Carvajal, a CrossFit trainer with RSP Nutrition, describes each component’s features while providing tips for improving in each area. Never was there a better argument for workout cycling than this back-to-basics approach to fitness.
1. Cardiovascular endurance
“Cardiovascular fitness is the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen-rich blood to the working muscle tissues, and the ability of the muscles to use oxygen to produce energy for movement for a sustained duration,” Carvajal says. It’s pretty important when it comes to managing everyday activities, particularly from a longevity standpoint, even in a world where many of us have necessarily reduced the amount we physically exert ourselves (because computers). It’s also critical for heart health.
Given the hike-panting, my cardiovascular endurance likely isn’t in tip top shape right now, but Carvajal says it can be improved in a multitude of ways. “There are many different styles of cardiovascular training ranging from long distance running to metabolic conditioning—basically anything that will keep the body producing a high heart rate for a long period of time,” he says. “Pick the training that best fits you—[spinning, swimming, hiking, dancing, or just, you know, walking]—and constantly try increasing the duration time each training session at the same pace, slowly opening up the endurance threshold and strengthening the heart and lungs.”
2. Muscular strength
“Muscular strength refers to the amount of force a muscle can produce with a single maximal effort [example: one rep],” he says. “The size of your muscle fibers and the ability of nerves to activate muscle fibers are related to muscle strength.” Muscular strength is measured through power output, driving force, pulling load, and carrying heavy loads, Carvajal explains, and can be improved by lifting, pulling, pushing, and carrying heavy loads for shorter reps and shorter duration. “The goal is to slowly lift heavier in small increments each session,” he says. Bad news for the girl who always picks the lightest weights in the room—aka me—if you’re trying to improve your muscular strength, you absolutely can lift too light; here, five reasons you should make yourself legit strength train even if you aren’t keen on it.
3. Muscular endurance
“Muscular endurance is the ability of muscle fibers to exert force and movement and remain active for a long period of time, as well as their ability to resist, withstand, recover from, and have immunity to trauma, wounds, or fatigue,” Carvajal explains. It can only be achieved muscle group by muscle group, meaning you might have high endurance capabilities in your core, but not so much in your calves or biceps. You can improve endurance in a particular muscle group by targeting it with light weights lifted at a higher rep count (like you might do in a Pop Physique class), engaging in body-weight-dependent exercises (aka plank pose), or repetitively pushing a bike pedal against resistance, etc.
“Flexibility refers to the range of motion for a given joint,” he says. “The degree of flexibility that a person has is influenced by muscles and connective tissues, like ligaments and tendons.” Flexibility reduces your risk of injury, and is improved by (duh) constant stretching. “By regularly stretching, you will elongate muscles, ligaments, and joints and open up the body’s range of motion,” says Carvajal. Can’t touch your toes? Try these yoga stretches stat. Plus, if you’re looking for somewhere specific to start, this is the part of your body where flexibility matters most.
5. Body composition
“Body composition is used to describe the percentages of fat, bone, water and muscle in human bodies,” he explains. “Because muscular tissue takes up less space in the body than fat tissue, body composition, as well as weight, determines leanness which is a form of measurement to track fitness progression.” Body composition is improved by working on all of the above categories of fitness. “If an athlete can consistently train these components, the body will react to the training,” says Carvajal. See? Easy as one, two, three, (four, five).
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