Education And Debate

ABC of Sports Medicine: Assessment of physical performance

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 16 July 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:180
  1. C Williams

    Physical performance is mainly a function of an individuals's size, shape, sex, and age, but not entirely so. Success in sport at whatever level also depends on fitness. It is assumed, of course, that implicit in any definition of fitness is the absence of acute or chronic illness. Fitness is sport specific and in many sports it is also position specific. This “fitness for purpose” is a well accepted concept in sport, as reflected by the use of the word “fit” to describe, for example, successful runners, swimmers, gymnasts, and paraplegic athletes. Nevertheless, fitness for any sport has five common elements - strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, and skill. The relative contributions of each of these to the specific fitness demands of different sports are, of course, not equal. Training time devoted to each of these elements is therefore different between sports and depends on the level of participation. To a certain extent skill can compensate for poor fitness, but improved fitness allows skilful athletes to extend their performance by delaying the onset of fatigue.

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    Measurable elements of fitness

    Elite athletes develop fully each of the components of fitness as part of their preparation for competition at the highest levels. But even people participating in sport for recreation need to develop their fitness to enjoy their activities and to recoup the health benefits of exercise. All five elements contributing to fitness for sport also contribute to fitness for health. The one that must not be neglected is endurance. Rather than gold medals, the goal of most people taking exercise for health is the capacity to complete their daily round of activities with enough energy left over for recreation and relaxation. They are mainly interested in developing and maintaining good functional fitness; even so, their fitness can be assessed by the same …

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