The Five Components
You may have heard the term “optimal fitness.” What does it really mean? Merriam-Webster defines optimal as “most desirable or satisfactory.”
What’s optimal for a 20-year-old athlete is not going to be optimal for a 70-year-old only interested in staying fit. Their goals and functional activities are different.
That said, optimal fitness will not be exactly the same for everyone.
If your goal is to achieve optimal fitness, then your fitness regimen should include all five components.
1. Cardiovascular Endurance
Also known as aerobic fitness or aerobic capacity, cardiovascular endurance is the ability of your lungs, heart and blood vessels to pump oxygen to the working muscles.
Your muscles should be able to properly use the oxygen that’s delivered.
Typically, with cardiovascular endurance you should be able to raise your heart rate to 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate for 10-15 minutes.
Cardiovascular exercise is recommended 3 to 7 days per week, for a minimum of 20 minutes each day.
The best time of day to do cardiovascular exercise is early to mid-morning, when muscle stamina and endurance peak.
2. Muscular Endurance
The ability of your muscles to work against sub-maximal resistance for a short period of time requires muscular endurance.
There are three types of muscular endurance with some examples:
- Repetitive Dynamic Contraction – Rowing, skating
- Continuous Tension – Wall climbing, wrestling
- Extended Intense Contractions Involving Brief Rest Periods – Football, ice hockey
Sports-specific exercise should be done around the middle of the day, since that is when mental acuity peaks.
3. Muscular Strength
Muscular strength is the greatest amount of weight you can lift one time, or one repetition maximum. Progressive resistance training is the best way to improve your strength, or one repetition maximum.
Strength training should be done 2 to 3 times per week, resting 48 to 96 hours between workouts.
You will build muscle mass which will increase your metabolism and allow you to burn more calories at rest.
To avoid having cardiovascular exercise interfere with strength training results, they should be done 3 to 24 hours apart.
The best time to do strength training is between 4pm and 6pm, when your body temperature peaks and your muscles are most pliable.
This is the ability to move your joints unimpeded with full range of motion without pain.
While normal ranges of motion are established for all joints, flexibility differs from person to person.
Every person has different needs regarding flexibility, but everyone should make flexibility a component of their fitness regimen for optimal fitness. Regular stretching will improve flexibility.
Better flexibility will make your activities of daily living easier. Stretched muscles also contract more forcefully.
Lack of stretching can lead to tighter muscles and pain, such as low back pain.
For optimal fitness, stretching should be done daily, holding each stretch 30 seconds without pain, 3 to 5 times.
5. Body Composition
The percentage of fat, bone and muscle in your body is your body composition. While a certain amount of body fat is necessary, having too much or too little can be harmful to your health.
Healthy body weight can be determined by Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference. A normal BMI is 18.5 to 24.9 and a normal waist circumference is under 40 inches (102 cm) for men and under 35 inches (88 cm) for women.
The higher the BMI is above the normal range, the greater the risk for type II diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
A waist circumference of 40 inches or higher for men, and 35 inches or higher for women, are considered overweight and a high risk for type II diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Having a BMI of less than 18.5 is considered underweight. BMI can be determined by using a BMI calculator:
Regarding percent body fat, greater than 32% for women is considered obese. Greater than 25% body fat is considered obese for men.
Cardiovascular exercise is the best way to manage body composition by reducing body fat.
Measuring Optimal Fitness
How optimally fit you are can be determined by evaluating the five components and measuring your performance with respect to each one.
The following are the tests that measure performance in each component:
- Mile Run
- Pacer Test
- Cooper 1.5 mile Walk/Run Test
- Graded Treadmill Test
- McGill Core Endurance Test
- Plank Hold
- Static Squat Test
- Maximal Push-up Test
- One Repetition Max Test
- Ten Repetition Max Test
- Hand Grip Test
- Manual Muscle Test
- Seat-and-Reach Test
- Back Scratch Test
- Hydrostatic weighing
- Skinfold test
- Bioelectrical impedance
- Waist circumference
Optimal Fitness: The Bottom Line
To get tested, you’ll probably need to go to a university or health club that offers some of these services.
It’s not necessary to get evaluated on every test in each component.
Some hospitals that have sports medicine departments may also offer some of these services.
Also remember that with any measurement there is chance and error involved, so no test will be exact.
A fitness professional, such as a personal trainer or exercise physiologist, can design a regimen for optimal fitness.
It’s good to know where you stand regarding optimal fitness.
By measuring the components of physical fitness, you can determine where your deficiencies are so you can see where you need improvement.
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