Fitness is such a broad term and a complex subject which can include health and skill related fitness. Health-related fitness is often divided into several other components which form our overall health status and include cardiovascular or aerobic fitness, strength, and flexibility.
Cardiovascular Fitness (Aerobic Fitness):
This is also sometimes known as stamina and is the ability of your body to continuously provide enough energy to sustain submaximal levels of exercise. To do this the circulatory and respiratory systems must work together efficiently to provide the working muscles with enough Oxygen to enable aerobic metabolism.
This type of fitness has enormous benefits to our lifestyle as it allows us to be active throughout the day, for example walking to the shops, climbing stairs or running to catch a bus. It also allows us to get involved in sports and leisure pursuits.
If we have good cardiovascular fitness then our health is also good as it helps with:
- Fat metabolism
- Improved delivery of Oxygen
- Faster removal of waste products
- Decreased levels of stress
Strength is vitally important, not only in sports but in day-to-day life. We need to be strong to perform certain tasks, such as lifting heavy bags or using our legs to stand up from a chair. Strength is defined as the ability of a muscle to exert a force to overcome a resistance.
Strength is important for our health as it enables us to :
- Avoid injuries
- Maintain good posture
- Remain independent (in older age)
Flexibility is the movement available at our joints, usually controlled by the length of our muscles. This is often thought to be less important than strength, or cardiovascular fitness. However, if we are not flexible our movement decreases and joints become stiff. Flexibility in sports allows us to perform certain skills more efficiently, for example, a gymnast, dancer or diver must be highly flexible, but it is also important in other sports to aid performance and decrease the risk of injury.
In daily activities, we must be flexible to reach for something in a cupboard, or off the floor. It also helps:
- Prevent injuries
- Improve posture
- Reduce low back pain
- Maintain healthy joints
- Improve balance during movement
Muscular endurance, unlike strength, is the ability of a muscle to make repeated contractions over a period of time. This is used in day-to-day life in activities such as climbing stairs, digging the garden and cleaning. Muscular endurance is also important in sports, such as football (repeated running and kicking), tennis (repeated swinging of the arm to hit the ball) and swimming (repeating the stroke).
Body composition is the amount of muscle, fat, bone, cartilage etc that makes up our bodies. In terms of health, fat is the main point of interest and everything else is termed lean body tissue. The amount of fat we carry varies from person to person and healthy averages vary with gender and age. A healthy amount of fat for a man is between 15&18% and for women is higher at 20-25%. It is important to maintain a healthy percentage of body fat because:
- Excess body fat can contribute to developing a number of health problems such as heart disease and diabetes
- Places strain on the joints, muscles, and bones, increasing the risk of injury.
Skill Related Fitness:
As well as the traditional components of health-related fitness, the term fitness can be broken down into skill components. These are important in performing the more technical aspects of many sport and include speed, reaction time, agility, balance, coordination, and power.
Most sports and activities require some form of speed. Even long distance running often requires a burst of speed to finish the race ahead of your competitors. Speed is defined as the ability to move a body part quickly. Speed is not always about how quickly you can move your whole body from A to B. It also relates to body parts. For example, when playing golf, the speed of your arms and upper body in creating the swing are vital in driving the ball over a long distance.
Reaction time is how quickly your brain can respond to a stimulus and initiate a response. This is important in most sports. The most obvious being responding to the gun at the start of a race, but also a goalkeeper saving a penalty, or a badminton player reacting to a smash shot. The examples in sport are endless!
Being agile is all about being able to change your direction and the speed at which you are traveling, quickly and efficiently. This is common in sports such as football and rugby where the player with the ball dodges a defender, or in badminton or tennis, moving around the court quickly to reach the shuttlecock/ball in time.
Balance is the ability to maintain equilibrium whilst stationary or moving. Balance whilst moving is often called dynamic balance. Balance is important in all kinds of sporting situations, most notably in gymnastics and ballet but also contact sports where having good balance may prevent you being tackled to the floor! Balance is linked to agility, as in order to quickly and efficiently change direction you must be balanced.
Coordination is the ability to use the body parts and senses together to produce smooth efficient movements. We have all seen someone who is uncoordinated, their movement looks awkward and shaky. Being co-ordinated is vital in all sports, for example, hand-eye coordination in racket sports and the coordination to use the opposite arm and leg when sprinting.
Power is the product of strength and speed. When we perform a task as quickly and as forcefully as we can, the result is powerful. For example, a sprint start, a shot-put or javelin throw or long-jump.
Principles of Training:
In order to get the most out of your training, you must follow some basic simple training principles which are overload, specificity, reversibility, and variance. Overload means we must put our bodies under more stress than normal in order for adaptive changes to be made. Specificity relates to ensuring the training done is specific to the sport or activity. Reversibility means if you don’t keep it up you will lose it and variance relates to varying the training activities.
In order to progress and improve our fitness, we have to put our bodies under additional stress. Doing this will cause long-term adaptations, enabling our bodies to work more efficiently to cope with this higher level of performance. Overloading can be achieved by following the acronym FITT:
- Frequency: Increasing the number of times you train per week
- Intensity: Increasing the difficulty of the exercise you do. For example, running at 12 km/h instead of 10 or increasing the weight you are squatting with.
- Time: Increasing the length of time that you are training for each session. For example, cycling for 45 minutes instead of 30.
- Type: Increase the difficulty of the training you are doing. For example progress from walking to running.
The type of training that you do should be specific to you and your sport. You should train the energy system which you use predominantly (i.e. don’t run 5,000 meters in training if you’re a sprinter!) and the fitness and skill components most important to your sport, for example, agility, balance or muscular endurance.
You should also test the components which are important in your sport to see your strengths and weaknesses. With this health information, you can focus on improving your weak points.
Use it or lose it! Basically, if you stop training then the improvements you have made will be reversed. So if you are ill or have a holiday and do not train for a period of time (even as little as a week) you may not be able to resume training at the point where you left off.
Try to vary your training, to keep you interested and to give your body a different challenge. Remember a change is as good as a rest. Many professional athletes will play a completely different sport between their main season, to keep their fitness up whilst still having a rest!
Fitness testing is a way of gaining information about the health-related and skill related components of an athletes fitness. Testing can take place in a number of environments, with laboratory testing being the most accurate, however, there is still a large range of tests that can be carried out, away from a lab, which provides a lot of useful information.
Reasons for Fitness Testing:
- To highlight the strengths and weakness of an athlete enabling a training program to be devised which addresses the findings
- To evaluate a training program, to see if it is helping the athlete in achieving set goals
- To measure fitness levels following injury, illness or following the offseason
- To assist in setting goals
- To determine health status (in the non-sporting population)
- Talent identification
- To aid motivation
Principles of Fitness Testing:
In order for fitness testing to be accurate and worthwhile, a number of principles must be followed:
- Specificity: Fitness tests must assess an individuals fitness for the activity or sport in question. For example, there is little point in using a running endurance test to assess an athletes improvement in cycling endurance.
- Validity: Fitness tests must measure the component of fitness that they are supposed to. For example, is your sit and reach test measuring solely the flexibility of the hamstrings or are there other factors involved?
- Objectivity: Sometimes also known as intertester reliability. A test that is objective will produce the same results for the same individual, regardless of the tester, or technician administering the test
- Reliability: A reliable test produces the same results if repeated. For example, an assessor trained in skin-fold measurements will produce the same result, when the same area is re-tested shortly after.
Factors Which May Affect Fitness Tests:
Fitness tests are subject to a large number of internal and external variables which may affect the outcome of the test. When performing a repeat test, it is important to try to limit as many variables as possible by ensuring the conditions/circumstances are exactly the same as during the previous test.
- Time of the day
- Weather conditions
- Environment (surface/noise/presence of other people)
- A different assessor
- Accuracy of measurements
- Test protocol not followed exactly as before
- Time since the athletes’ last meal
- Athletes emotions
- Athletes state of hydration
- Athletes health (recent colds/illness)
- The medication the athlete may be taking
Types of Fitness Test:
Fitness tests can be devised to test all aspects of fitness, providing the test follows fitness testing principles. The following are examples of simple fitness tests which can easily be reproduced away from a lab and measure strength, power, anaerobic endurance, local muscular endurance, aerobic endurance, flexibility, balance, reaction time and body composition.
One Rep Max: The heaviest weight you can lift for a single repetition, on a given exercise. Often abbreviated to 1RM. Ten rep max can also be used. Ensure you are fully warmed up prior to attempting to lift your estimated 1RM. If you feel you could have lifted more, do not attempt to do so on the same day as your muscles will be fatigued and so reduce the reliability of the test.
30m Sprint: Acceleration must be eliminated and so a flying start of 20m is recommended. Record the time between meters 20 and 50.
Vertical Jump Test: Standing sideways on to a wall with the arms raised above you, mark the highest point you can reach. Still standing sideways, jump as high as you can, marking the point you can reach. Your score is the difference between your standing and jumping score. This test measures the power in your leg muscles.
Standing Long Jump: Start behind a starting line, jump from two feet and land on two feet as far as possible. You may use your arms to aid you.
Local Muscular Endurance:
Press-up Test: Perform as many press-ups as you can without rest. This test measures the endurance of your upper body muscles.
Sit-up Test: As above, repeated as many sit-ups as possible without rest. Make sure you define before-hand what counts as a sit-up! This process of fatiguing a muscle (or muscle group) to measure its endurance can be repeated with any body part.
RAST Test: (Running-based Anaerobic Sprint Test) Following a 10-minute warm-up, 6 x 35m sprints are performed, with 10 seconds in between for rest and turn-around. Each sprint time is recorded. Following tests are expected to produce faster times for each of the sprints.
Cunningham and Faulkner Test: Following a warm-up, set the treadmill at 8 miles/hr and a 20% gradient. The athlete must start standing either side of the belt and begin the test by getting on the belt at full speed. The test is stopped when the athlete cannot continue.
Cooper Run: Following a 10-minute warm-up, run as far as you can in 12 minutes. Record the distance traveled to the closest 100m.
Multi-Stage Fitness Test (Bleep Test): For this test, you need a bleep test tape or cd which has recorded ‘bleeps’ at pre-determined intervals. The participants must run between 20m markers, in time with the tape. The beeps get faster as the tape progresses and is divided into stages to help monitor your progress at subsequent tests. The test finishes when you can no longer reach the end marker before the bleep.
Sit & Reach Test: To assess the flexibility of the hamstrings. You will need either a special sit & reach table or a bench and ruler/tape measure. Start with your feet flat on the table and your knees straight. Reach your arms as high as possible above your head and then lead forwards, to reach as far along the bench/table as possible. The furthest point your fingertips reach is your score. A specialist table has an overhang of 15cm and so if using a bench and ruler, a score of 10cm equals 25cm.
Calf Flexibility Test: Stand facing a wall and bend the knees to touch the wall whilst keeping the heels flat on the floor. Keep moving back to find the furthest distance away from the wall where you can still touch the wall with your knees. Measure the distance from the wall to the heel.
Wobble Board: Using a wobble board or cushion, balance for as long as possible. Tests can be conducted on one leg, or both as long as subsequent tests are the same.
Stork Test: Stand on one leg with the free foot positioned just below the standing knee. Raise the heel of the standing foot and hold for as long as possible.
Ruler Drop: Using a meter ruler, get a friend to hold the ruler so that the 0cm line is level with and in between your open index finger and thumb. The friend drops the ruler and you must catch it as soon as possible, between your finger and thumb. The cm mark on the ruler closest to the top of the thumb is your score. The faster your reaction, the less of the ruler will pass through!
Skin Fold Callipers: These can be used to determine the percentage of body fat an athlete has. It involves taking four (or sometimes 6) measurements from the biceps, triceps, suprailiac (just above the pelvic bone on the back) and subscapular (just below the shoulder blade). These 4 measurements can then be calculated to give an estimate of the total percentage of body fat.
Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis: A far more accurate method of measuring body fat percentage. Two Electrodes are placed on a hand and the foot on the same side, with the subject laying down. A safe electrical current is passed through the body. The speed of the current in moving from hand electrodes to the foot determines body fat percentage as fat is an insulator and slows down the movement of the current