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Ways to Determine Physical Fitness

How fit are you?

When do you think of a person who is very physically fit, who do you see?

An ultra-marathoner, a sprinter, a weightlifter, a gymnast, a professional football player, or maybe a guy on the beach with a six-pack?

You may be surprised to learn that the simple question “What is Physical Fitness?” has confounded exercise physiologists and fitness organizations for decades who have tried to respond with an equally simple answer.

More recently, the answer has been reduced to the following simple definition:

Physical Fitness is a measure of the body’s ability to function efficiently and effectively in work and leisure activities, resist hypokinetic diseases (diseases from sedentary lifestyles), and to meet emergency situations.

Sometimes added to this definition is the ability to transmit genes to the next generation.

While this is the short answer for “What is Physical Fitness”, there is a longer and more interesting answer when you dig deeper. By looking at the individual components of physical fitness, we can get a better picture of what physically fit means in terms of how to identify it, measure it, and assert its significance.

The following are the top 10 facets of physical fitness that are adapted from sources that include President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, CrossFit, and the National Strength & Conditioning Association.

The first 5 facets are health-related and can be improved through proper training and the last 5 are skill related, which can be improved through the practice of motor skills – aside from power #9 and speed #10, which require both.

Health-Related Physical Fitness Metrics

Body Composition

Definition: The relative amount of fat, muscle, bone, and other vital parts of the body.

Measurement: Skinfold callipers, BIA, DEXA, more information can be found here.

Significance: Of all 10 facets of physical fitness, body composition is the only non-performance metric. For this reason, it is sometimes not included in other physical fitness lists. While it is possible for an individual to have a high degree of fitness and still have excess body fat, losing body fat while retaining lean muscle will improve all other physical fitness metrics given the power to weight ratio will be improved, along with other general health markers.


Definition: The ability of a muscle group to exert force

Measurement: Multiple tests must be completed to test more than one muscle group. Examples include max effort on exercises like the squat, bench press, or deadlift from 1-6 repetitions.

Significance: Strength is required to perform important, basic functional movements in our life such as squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, and bending. In addition, as we age muscle size and strength tend to decrease along with bone mass, which can be reversed with strength training.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Definition: Ability of the circulatory systems and respiratory systems to supply oxygen during sustained physical activity.

Measurement: VO2 Max Test, sub-maximal YMCA Step Test

Significance: Improved cardiovascular increases lung capacity so the heart does not have to work as hard to pump blood to the muscles. Also important for overall heart health and prevention of lifestyle diseases.


Definition: The range of motion at a joint

Measurement: There is no specific test because there are many joints in the human body, but a range of stretches can identify flexibility like the sit and reach test, shoulder reach etc.

Significance: The optimal range of motion about various joints has a direct effect on almost all other facets of physical fitness. For example, if one’s hip flexors are tight, that can affect the ability to reach maximum speed or perform agility drills to maximum effect.

Muscular Endurance

Definition: The ability of muscles to continue to perform repeated contractions against submaximal resistance.

Measurement: Given there is more than one major muscle group, testing muscular endurance requires testing each individual muscle or group. Examples include a maximum number of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and dips.

Significance: Performing repetitious physical activity such as gardening, raking leaves and washing your car will become less fatiguing.

Skill-Related Physical Fitness Metrics


Definition: The ability to rapidly change the position of the entire body in time and space with speed and accuracy.

Measurement: Shuttle run, zig-zag run test