Physical fitness involves your heart, lungs and muscles and how efficiently they work, according to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Your individual fitness is influenced by your age, gender, heredity and eating and exercise habits. Standards for each component of physical fitness have been set to help you determine your level of physical fitness.
There are four basic components of physical fitness: cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility. Cardiorespiratory endurance describes your heart and lungs’ ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the rest of your body, while flexibility means the ability to move your joints and muscles through their full range of motion. Muscular strength refers to your muscles' ability to exert a force for a brief period of time and muscular endurance describes the ability of a muscle to sustain repeated contractions or to continue applying force against a fixed object.
Two common tests for assessing cardiorespiratory fitness are the Cooper 12-minute test and the 1 1/2-mile test, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, or ACSM. The objective in the Cooper 12-minute test is to cover the greatest distance you can in 12 minutes. For the 1 1/2-mile test, the objective is to cover the 1 1/2 miles in the shortest amount of time. Your age and gender help determine your classification after your test is completed. For example, a male aged between 20 and 29 years would be classified as having excellent cardiorespiratory fitness if he covered between 1.73 and 1.81 miles in the 12 minutes and a female aged between 50 and 59 would be in the excellent range after covering between 1.29 and 1.37 miles in the same amount of time.
Muscular strength assessments are specific to the muscle group tested, but a common test to assess upper-body strength is the bench press test. Recording the maximum amount of weight you can bench press and then dividing that number by your body weight in pounds gives you your relative strength ratio. This number refers to your strength in relation to your body weight. This measure is then classified by your age and gender into a specific category. A ratio between 1.12 and 1.24 is considered excellent for males aged between 30 and 39 and between .70 and .76 is considered excellent for females in the same age group.
The push-up test is a common way to assess muscular endurance. For the push-up test, the subject does as many push-ups as he can while maintaining good form without resting. For males aged between 20 and 29 years old, 36 push-ups is considered excellent and between 29 and 35 is considered good. For females of the same age, 30 push-ups is considered excellent and between 21 and 29 is considered good.
The sit-and-reach test is used to measure hip joint and lower-back flexibility. A short warm-up should be done before this test to reduce injury risk. The test subject sits and reaches forward and is scored by how far she can reach past her toes. The score is then classified and a score above the 70th percentile is considered above average and above the 90th percentile is considered well-above average.
- The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports: Fitness Fundamentals: Guidelines for Personal Exercise Programs
- "ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription"; Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., ed.; 2010
- University of New Mexico: Exercise Science: Methods of Muscular Fitness Assessment