It's hard getting physically fit. Most individuals benefit from having a supportive environment, like these great athletes, members of the 2016 olympic team, photographed with feet in ice buckets and recovery drinks in hand. I love that they are smiling while obviously their feet are freezing. In writing about fitness, this example of individuals that are so committed and devoted to their sport, we can see how their goals drive there training however they also understand the importance of routine. The lessons to be learned apply to those who what to improve general health, the benefits of these routines for every day people.

I wanted to start my blog with a comprehensive resource to answer the bigger question, what is physical fitness and the importance of including each of the components necessary as well as how to start and progress your fitness level to a healthy state. For those of you who want to go little further than a healthy level of fitness, these steps are also included. Healthfx Physiotherapy understands what inactivity can do and the steps required for you to reach a physical healthy state again.

Five defining components of Physical Fitness?

Physical Fitness is the health and care of our bodies through physical activity. From a health perspective, the components of fitness are:

  1. Cardiorespiratory and endurance which is the heart and lung system,
  2. Body composition which is our lean body mass and things like our weight and size,
  3. Muscular strength,
  4. Muscular endurance,
  5. Flexibility-mobility-stability.

Although each of these components are movement related traits or capacity they are generally independent of the others. The underlying concept here is that a better status in each of these components is associated with a lower risk for development of disease or functional disability. Without getting too technical, the skill-related components of fitness are:

  1. agility
  2. balance
  3. coordination
  4. power
  5. reaction time
  6. speed

These components are more genetically dependent than the health-related components and play a role in some occupations but are mainly of interest in the athletic populations with the exception of balance, having a significant role for everyone and to prepare for aging and reduce the risk of falls once you reach those higher risk years.

What is your Physical Fitness Goal?

The fundamental goal of a physical fitness program is to bring about a change in personal health and fitness behaviour, which includes, at a minimum, habitual physical activity. This regular physical activity should result in long-term exercise compliance and attainment of individual fitness goals and objectives.

What is your Objective?

The basic objectives of a exercise program are:

To gain health benefits and prevent inactivity disorders or to seek to attain greater health benefits and higher levels of fitness beyond basic health and this can be done by engaging in physical activity of more vigorous intensity or of great volume (longer duration and greater frequency). Daily physical activity is essential to improve health and quality of life, and maintain functional capacity. Health benefits are proportional to both the volume and intensity of activity, thus, even increase adds some benefit.

To meet either of the above objectives one must execute a balanced exercise program. The American College of Sports Medicine and American Heart Association and centers for disease control and prevention recommend the following. Aerobic fitness is the ability to perform large muscle, dynamic, moderate-to-high intensity exercise for prolonged periods of time. What that means is that to perform such exercise depends on the state of the respiratory, cardiovascular, and skeletal muscle systems. More simply stated, your level of aerobic fitness determines how long and how hard you can exercise.

The best activities at the proper frequency, duration and intensity

Involves activity utilizing a large portion of total muscle mass, maximizes large muscles (eg, muscles around thigh and hip), involves dynamic, rhythmic muscle contractions and minimizes static contractions and use of small muscles. The activity should be continuous such as cross-country nordic skiing, running, cycling, swimming, skating, rowing, walking, aerobic dance, indoor aerobic exercises machines, and some sports if continuous in nature such as soccer, basketball and court sports.

How often do you need to workout?

Frequency, duration, and intensity. Accomplish moderately intense aerobic activity 30 minutes a day, five days a week or vigorously intense aerobic activity 20 minutes to 25 minutes a day, 3 days a week and muscle fitness exercise, or an equivalent combination of moderately and vigorously intense aerobic activity.

If you are looking for a more extensive health and fitness benefit, accomplish moderately intense aerobic activity 300 minutes (5 hours) a week, or accomplish vigorously intense aerobic activity 150 minutes a week, or an equivalent combination of moderately and vigorously intense aerobic activity.

Generally, the minimal levels of exercise volume and intensity above are necessary to maintain health and fitness, while the higher levels are necessary to improve health and fitness.

How to determine the right Intensity?

Moderately intense aerobic activity equates to continuous exercise that raises heart and respiratory rates, initiates sweating (varies with client), and permits conversation; vigorously intense aerobic activity elicits higher physiological responses and permits light or broken conversation. Exercise intensity may be measures objectively via Heart Rate (HR) calculations.

  • Maximum HR formula. Aerobic activity corresponding to HR's in the range of 60-90% of age specific estimated maximal HR.
  • Calculate Maximum Heart Rate

    Calculate maximum HR. For ages less than 40 years subtract again years from 220; Max HR = 220-age. For ages equal to and greater than 40 years multiply age in years by 0.7, then subtract product from 208. Max HR = 208-0.7age for those aged 40 years and above.

    Measure Resting Heart Rate

    Measure resting HR for 3-4 days soon after walking for 60 seconds, while in the same body position and take the average of these measures.

    Calculate Heart Rate range

    HR Range = Maximal HR - Resting HR.

    Calculate minimal, optimal-target, and "do not exceed" Heart Rate for safety

    • Minimal exercise HR + (50% HR range) + resting HR
    • Optimal exercise HR = (75% HR range) + resting HR
    • Do-not-exceed exercise HR = (85% HR range) + resting HR

    For example, a 30 year old with a resting HR of 70 beats/min calculates maximal HR as 220-30=190 beats/min and HR range as 190-70 =120.

    • Minimum exercise HR = 50%(120) + 70 = 60 + 70 = 130 beats/min
    • Optimal exercise HR = 75%(120) + 70 = 90+70 = 160 beats/min
    • Do-not-exceed exercise HR = 85%(120) + 70 = 174 beats/min

    Therefore, this individual should keep exercise HR above 130 beats/min, but below 172 beats/min, targeting 160 beats/min for at lease 20 minutes to 25 minutes 3 days/week. Unfit individuals should start at the lower end of the HR range. As fitness levels increase, the resting HR will decrease, therefor increase the intensity percentage from low (50%) towards optimal (75%). Also, base fitness personnel can help fine tune these calculations taking into account medications, risk of injury, and individual preferences and objectives. See your doctor for advise.

    Patience sand perseverance are critical to maintain an active lifestyle and effective exercise program because many will start a physical activity program, but within the first two or three weeks of starting, quit and return to an inactive lifestyle. One must maintain regular activity for at least three or four weeks before tangible and lasting health improvements, including body fat loss, will occur. To help ensure that increases in frequency, duration, and especially intensity of activity occur in a gradual fashion, the following stage of progression are helpful to avoid injury, illness and potential discouragement.

    Getting Started

    Include low level aerobic activities and light muscular endurance exercises for minimal muscle soreness or discomfort. Do not be aggressive in this stage. Set individual goals which are achievable and realistic; include a system of personal rewards. Majority of failures occur in this page - persevere to experience benefits.

    Improvement Stage

    Progress more rapidly here at a higher intensity, steadily increase duration to 45 minutes of continuous exercise. increase frequency as adaptation to exercise permits.

    How to maintain your fitness level?

    After six months of regular activity, focus on maintenance. Review goals ensuring that long-term focus is on a lifestyle approach to activity, remembering that considerable heath benefits come from regular participation in moderate exercise.

    Muscular Fitness

    A linked term for muscular strength, the maximum force generated by a specific muscle or muscle group, and muscular endurance, the ability of a muscle group to execute repeated contractions over a period of sufficient time duration to cause muscular fatigue. A balanced physical activity program should address the five health-related components of physical fitness, with primary emphasis on aerobic fitness, but muscular fitness is also important as inclusion of muscular fitness exercise, and provides several benefits.

    Benefits of Muscular Fitness Exercise – General Guidance.

    1. Develops muscular strength and endurance to enhance the ability to live a physically independent lifestyle, i.e., improves daily functional living
    2. Increases and maintains fat-free (lean) mass, helping to maintain resting metabolic rate, which is beneficial for preventing fat gain
    3. Increases the strength and integrity of connective tissue
    4. Increases bone mineral density, preventing age-related bone deterioration
    5. Combats chronic low back problems
    6. Improves the ability of the muscles to recover from physical activity
    7. Provides injury protection during deployment, daily work, and sports and recreational activities
    8. Alleviates some common musculoskeletal complaints which result in lost duty time and medical treatment costs
    9. May provide modest gains in cardiorespiratory fitness
    10. May improve mood and self-image


    The maximum ability to move a joint freely, without pain, through a range of motion. Flexibility tends to decrease with age, primarily due to the decrease in activity associated with age. Although flexibility is not assessed during the AF Fitness Assessment, no single test can be generalized to evaluate total body flexibility, it is important to health and functional living and should be part of a well-balanced physical activity routine.

    When should you work on Flexibility?

    Despite the popular perception that stretching prior to exercise enhances performance and prevents injury, little scientific evidence exists to support such long-held beliefs. Rather, engage in a gradual, activity-specific warm-up that includes the movement patterns of planned activity, e.g., if running for the workout then warm-up with brisk walking, jogging, and dynamic movements or drills such as leg swings and knee raises. To help maintain flexibility one should stretch after a workout when muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue are warmer (above normal body temperature).

    Warm-up and Cool-down

    Although frequently ignored, these activities before and after an exercise session are important. Warm-up should be conducted as above (activity specific movements and dynamic drills) and always precede physical activity to increase body temperature and blood flow and to guard against muscle, tendon and ligament strains and tears. Cool-down, as important as the warm-up, is a gradual reduction in activity to prevent blood pooling, hasten recovery and avoid injury.

    Stability and Mobility

    These are terms recently combined with flexibility in this final health-related component to designate a broader term that encompasses the role of stability and mobility in posture, occupational functional movement, and daily functional living. Stability deals with maintaining non-movement functional positions, including postural stability. Stability ranges from shoulder to ankle with shoulder, core and hip stability as primary. Mobility, similar to stability, is stable, controlled, functional movement through an active range of motion in the various planes of motion.

    A General Workout Session

    The salient phases of a recommended general workout session address the above components in the following order:

    Movement Preparatory Phase (Warm-Up)

    Body temperature increases via activity specific warm-up such as dynamic activity drills.

    Cardiorespiratory Endurance (Aerobic) Phase

    Aerobic activity such as crosscountry skiing, running, cycling, swimming, skating, rowing, walking, aerobic dance, indoor aerobic exercise machines (e.g., cycle ergometer, elliptical, rower, versa climber, stair), and some sports if they are continuous in nature.

    Muscle Fitness Phase

    Resistance training such as calisthenics, weight/object training (e.g., machines, free weights, medicine balls, kettle bells, bands, cables, ropes), plyometrics, and field exercises. Movement Patterns – run, bend, twist, squat, pull, push. Body Regions – core, lower, whole body, upper. Stability and Mobility/Functional Movement.

    Combined Activity Phase

    Combined aerobic and muscular fitness actions, e.g., rotations, or running between muscle fitness stations.

    Skill Phase

    Occupational or sport specific skill development/practice as desired.

    Movement Transition/Cessation Phase

    (Cool-Down). Activity specific cool-down. Flexibility training

    Next Steps

    Healthfx Physiotherapy can help point you in the right direction but ultimately it will be your efforts to stick to a plan. If you have injuries or pain that get in the way, we can help you.