Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Types of Physical Abilities

Written by Matyas Keresztes

Physical ability refers to the degree of a person's physical tolerance for different physical activities that a person might encounter personally, occupationally, and socially. Physical ability might be also defined as the ability that let people perform different kinds of physical tasks.

We have certainly been through many tests beginning from young age that were intended to measure our physical ability. In physical education classes, students are asked to run the Cooper test (CT) which is a 12 minute running test and it measures how far students can run within the assigned time period. Even in higher education, student-athletes are required to take vision and hearing tests before their season starts and if they don't pass the test they might be ineligible until the problems exist. Of course, it depends on what sports they pursue. Even though, these two examples seem to stand far from each other, both tests' goal is to measure different types of physical abilities. Strength, stamina, flexibility and coordination, psychomotor and sensory abilities are all important types of physical abilities.

Strength is the ability to generate force. There are three major types of strength. Static strength is measured by lifting, pulling, and pushing objects with shoulders, back, legs, arms and hands. Explosive strength is the ability to produce dynamic force rapidly with possibly maximum effort. This an example of a fast and short burst that occurs during a jump. Dynamic strength means applying power for a longer period of time such as doing exercises repeatedly. Strength is mostly important in jobs in the construction and agricultural industry.

Stamina, or endurance, is similar to dynamic strength as it is referred to a prolonged activity where a person's lungs and circulatory system are heavily used to allow the person to work efficiently. Heart rate and breathing frequency are increased in such activities where endurance is important. Stamina and strength often go together. They are exceptionally important for jobs like firefighters who need to pass the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) in order to get hired for the job.

Flexibility is the ability to bend, stretch, twist, and reach. There are two types of flexibility. One of them is the extent flexibility which refers to the range how far a person can reach, how much he can bend, stretch or twist. The other type is the dynamic flexibility which refers to repeated bends, stretches, reaches, and twists. Coordination is the ability to keep the body parts synchronized with the body while in motion. When I talk about flexibility and coordination, the first job that comes to my mind and requires these to abilities to be close to perfect is artists who work in circuses.

Psychomotor abilities refer to effectively controlling and manipulating objects. There are many examples of these abilities. Arm-hand steadiness is the ability to keep arms and hands steady while moving arms. Surgeons have to have arm-hand steadiness otherwise they wouldn't be able to perform an operation safely on their patients Control precision includes precisely controlling machines to get the job done, many times repeatedly. Pilots and drivers are great examples of who this ability is important to. Finally, response orientation involves making a quick and a right choice in response to two or more signals. Response orientation is strongly connected with reaction time which measures how quick the response was to a signal. Drivers are again great examples as they encounter unexpected situations on the road which they need to quickly response to and they need to make the best possible choice, otherwise, serious accidents can happen.

Sensory abilities are the last major type of physical abilities. They are abilities that influence visual and auditory perception. Visual abilities include near and far vision (seeing objects from a close range or a distance), night vision (seeing objects in low light conditions), visual color discrimination (detecting differences between colors such as brightness), and depth perception (the ability to judge the distance between a person and an object or to determine which one of the objects is closer or farther). On the other hand, auditory abilities include auditory attention ( to focus on a single sound while other distracting sounds can be heard at the same time), speech recognition ( to recognize the person who is speaking) and hearing sensitivity (to be able to tell the difference in pitch and loudness.)


Hanman, Bert. The Evaluation of Physical Ability. The New England Journal of Medicine. May 1958.

Sheaff, Andrew K; Bennett, Angela ; Hanson, Erik D; Kim, You-Sin ; Hsu, Jeffrey ; Shim, Jae K ; Edwards, Steven T ; Hurley, Ben F. Physiological Determinants of the Candidate Physical Ability Test in Firefighters. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 24(11):3112-3122, November 2010.
Kiner, Ann M.; Ramsey, Michael W. ; O'Bryant, Harold S.; Ayres, Christopher A. 1; Sands, William A. ; Stone, Michael H. Vibration and Stretching Effects on Flexibility and Explosive Strength in Young Gymnasts. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 40(1):133-140, January 2008.

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