Physical Fitness Defined – What does it really mean to be fit?

Being physically fit is personal. Each of us have our own definitions of what physical fitness means and the methods of which we achieve it. Some believe they need to reach or maintain a certain weight, others run the New York City Marathon; some even want to bench press twice their own weight! If you have achieved any, or all of these feats, that is awesome! But sorry to say, you might still be failing to actually be physically fit.

The truth is that physical fitness is much more broad than just your weight or your performance at a single athletic activity. Here’s a good working definition for physical fitness:

What it actually means to be physically fit is actually significantly more broad than being a certain weight or being awesome in one specific activity. Here’s a great working definition we follow to being physically fit.

“A great general state of health and well-being, including the ability to effectively perform daily  work and leisure activities, maintaining a disease free.”

By adhering to this mantra, it’s presumptuous to believe that maintaining a specific weight or being totally “ripped,” means that you are at your peak physical fitness. Fitness itself is about meeting the everyday challenges of life, not just your ability to run a six-minute mile time. Here’s the five primary areas that the Department of Health and Human Services defines as the keys to unlock total physical fitness.

Body Composition

Body composition is more comprehensive than simply about how much you weigh in pounds, it consists of the whole package of muscle, fat and bone.  Conducting a body composition survey simply by using visual standards, or even with the use of a BMI (Body mass index) scale, can still be wrong. Some people may appear out-of-shape, they could still be within a healthy fat percentage range.  Others may look fit and actually have a significantly higher amount of body fat. What are the recommended healthy ranges you may ask?  Women are recommended to keep from 8 – 35% body fat, while men should keep 5 – 29%.  Men don’t have boobs or hips!

How do you go about finding out what your body fat percentage? Doctors and nutritionists are totally capable of testing your body fat.  However it might just be easier to ask a physical trainer at your local gym to conduct a fitness test.  The trainer has the tape measures, scales and calipers to give you a pretty comprehensive read of your body composition.

Cardiorespiratory Endurance

That implies the dreaded word “Cardio” in case you didn’t know. But what determines the overall physical fitness of Cardio? To be physically fit in this area is defined by your overall ability to run, walk, bike or climb stairs without easily becoming winded or exhausted. For example, I knew I needed to do more Cardio work when I could jog several miles, but got winded going up three flights of stairs. In order to adequately evaluate your cardio, get a physical fitness test at your local gym. They can evaluate your breathing, heart rate and overall endurance.

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Muscular Endurance

Measuring your muscular endurance is basically the measure of how long your muscles will last before coming to the point of failure.  It can be measured by either holding one specific position, or repeating the exercise; until you can’t physically do it again.   Common evaluations for this type of fitness are typically conducted by doing push-ups or pull-ups, but can apply really to any type of exercise involving free weights.  Think back to high school gym class and you’ll get the idea. Even though this may not seem really practical, it is.  Every day we have to carry the groceries or lift our children out of their high-chairs.  These tasks are are repeated over and over again, sometimes for our entire lives.

Muscular Strength

This type of strength refers to our capacity of lifting heavy things. Ie. how much force can you exert.  Muscle guys and gals at the gym stereotypically measure this with dead lifts or bench press. But more tangibly, how what is you top weight setting on the pull-up machine? Or how much weight can you pick up off the floor?  A modern problem we all face is our muscle imbalance.  As we work in offices with very little diversity in using our muscles, we are only defining the muscle groups we work out at the gym, if that.  There is a reason why great grammy who grew up on a farm was strong as an ox.


The last, but not least, measure of physical fitness is flexibility.  Your Cardio could be great and you could be well within the range of body composition, but be completely able to touch your toes.   Flexibility is all about your total range of movement around your joints. You don’t have to maintain master yogi level fitness, but you should have enough range to make sure you don’t injure yourself picking toys up off the floor.

Having read the five key areas to achieve a total physical fitness, where do you fit in?  As you can probably ascertain at this point, being really good in one fitness area does not necessarily equate to being holistically fit. The best advice we can give is get your fitness tested, and formulate a routine to address some of areas of improvement.  The sooner you do, the healthier you will be for the rest of your life!


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