With all the talk of diet vs exercise, it’s all too easy to forget that fitness is a multi-facted concept. It cannot be split up so neatly and easily.
In reality, physical fitness has (at least!) five different dimensions that each need attention:
Muscular Strength Building - This covers everything from the ability to carry heavy objects to simply being able to sit up on your own. It determines the amount of force that your muscles can exert before becoming damaged. In the world of fitness, muscle strength is often correlated with muscle mass. As we get stronger and are capable of dealing with greater weights, we increase our muscle mass and grow in size.
Muscular Endurance - This aspect is closely related to cardiovascular endurance. It shows how our muscles are capable of withstanding continuous activity. Endurance is what allows us to balance our daily routine while still having enough energy left over for recreational activities, as well as the occasional emergency situation. Without it, we become burnt out and unable to move for more than short bursts of time.
Flexibility - Can you touch your toes without bent knees? Do a split? Raise your arms over your head? The efficiency and mobility of our joints has a huge effect on our daily lives. Simple flexibility can improve our balance, posture and basic motility. If you want to run or deadlift, then you better be able to get your limbs into the proper stances.
Cardiovascular Exercise - Cardio is what happens when we consciously raise our heart rate for prolonged periods of time. Anyone who is even remotely interested in working out has been exposed to exercises like running, jumping jacks and cycling. Regular cardio helps to strengthen our hearts, improve the efficiency of our circulatory system, burn energy, increase lung capacity and help maintain the body’s metabolism.
Coordination - This is the ability to combine multiple unique movements into one manageable and controlled motion. Coordination allows your body to act as a system, as opposed to a set of arms that each act independently of your hips and feet and shoulders, etc. Play any sport that involves a ball and you’ll quickly learn how important coordination is to your success. Even simple activities such as running require us to not only maintain a pattern of foot maneuvers, but perfectly time that with our posture and arm movements. Without coordination, the other elements of fitness are not possible.
Now, not everyone concentrates on each of these elements equally. A beginning yogi may focus their efforts primarily on flexibility while a marathon runner will concentrate on cardio and muscular endurance. And that’s fine - How you apply this information to your workout routine is entirely going to depend upon your needs and future goals.
But in order to improve physical fitness overall, each of these elements must be touched upon. What good is muscular strength if you don’t have the coordination to actually lift anything? How can you build upon your muscular endurance if your cardiovascular system is weak? Never forget that “fitness” is a balancing act: When you completely throw out one element in order to solely focus upon another, you’re only shooting yourself in the foot.