The Five Basic Physical Attributes for Sport Combat

The five basic physical attributes are the primary abilities that all sporting skills come from. The acronym “S.A.F.E.S.™”, is an easy way to remember them; Strength, Agility, Flexibility, Endurance and Speed. These attributes can be defined in many ways, however, I will use the following definitions for the purpose of this article. I will end with a simple field test for each attribute so you can test yourself or your athletes and grade each attribute, as well as calculate a final “athletic grade” combining all the attributes.

Strength: The ability to do work, or specifically, the ability to move maximum weight. There is “systemic strength” like that used in the clean and jerk and “localized strength” for a given body part. To learn more about strength, check out the following video.

Dr.Yessis on strength training:


Agility: An athlete’s “Ability to change direction while in motion.”(Yessis 2011.) This attribute may also include balance and body control. To learn more about agility, check out the following video.

Dr. Yessis:


Flexibility: An athlete’s ability to “move a joint through a full range of motion.” (Yessis 2011.)
To learn more, see



Endurance: An athlete’s ability to continue working, covering both systemic endurance (V02 max) i.e. cardiovascular efficiency, as well as local muscular endurance, which is the ability of a body part to continue working. “Endurance can be defined as the ability to withstand stress over prolonged periods of time.” (

Speed: an athlete’s ability to move quickly. For example, “systemic speed” as in sprinting and “local speed” as in hand and foot speed, etc. To learn more, check out the following video.

Dr Yessis: “You can’t teach Speed”


The five physical attributes can be combined to create infinite variations, combinations and secondary categories. For example when you combine strength and endurance you get strength-endurance, otherwise known as glycolytic efficiency. You may also combine strength with speed to determine “Power” as defined by Sir Isaac Newton, Power = (Force x Distance Divided by Time). These combinations are described by (Stone, Stone and Sands, 2006.) as,

“The Interrelationship of Fitness Characteristics”

Interrelationship of fitness characteristics

The “S.A.F.E.S.™” Method and How to Training Each Attribute

All five basic physical attributes are important to combat athletes and none should be neglected. If you have good strength and endurance but no speed or agility you will have performance issues. A perfect athlete has no weaknesses in any area. Don’t neglect any aspect of performance. Each attribute is important and modulating these attributes becomes an art form. Below is a table to help athletes develop each physical attribute, it is very useful when combined with a periodized training program.
Table 1.1 Resistance training to achieve different performance goals (Verkoshonsky 1999.)

resistance training chart

Each attribute need to be delicately balanced because many of them tend to contradict or counteract one another. Take strength and endurance for example. There are no world class powerlifters that concurrently hold world records in marathon running. They are on two opposite ends of the metabolic spectrum and are nearly contrary. Balance the most important attributes for your sport, while never neglecting any attribute. “One has to be extremely careful not to devise training programmes which try to develop any motor abilities or types of fitness which interfere with one another.” (Verkoshansky 1999.)

One simple test can be done for each attribute to determine an estimate of function for each ability. There are better and more sophisticated ways to test efficiency in each area. For example, you could average the athlete’s “Sinclair coefficient”, ( from olympic weightlifting and “Siff’s Bodymass Adjustment Formula”, ( from powerlifting, to determine a better strength analysis. However, the five tests I will explain give a “quick and dirty” method which produces a fast and accurate measurement of all five basic physical attributes. These tests can be administered to a team in a hour or so and gives the athletes goals to work toward. They will be able to numerically compare themselves to each other, resulting in a healthy competitiveness to outperform other teammates. I use a large scorecard with each fighter’s name listed in bold letters in plain view so they can see how they compare in each attribute and a final letter grade of each member at my gym.

Some of the requirements for testing a team’s physical attributes in the field are:

  • The tests must be simple
  • The tests must be easy to learn
  • Test can be set up with minimal equipment
  • They don’t cost much
  • They don’t need any special or uncommon devices

The following field tests can be performed with four pieces of equipment; a tape measure, stop watch, one olympic style barbell with weights, and a few road cones.

Test #1 Strength: Although many effective tests exist to determine an athlete’s strength, the maximum “Power Clean” is a simple yet effective test to determine functional, systemic, strength and power output.

Test #2 Agility: A simple agility test is the “Three Cone Drill” used in the NFL. It tests an athlete’s ability to quickly change direction and control their body around tight corners.

Test #3 Flexibility: An estimate of flexibility can be determined with the classic “V-sit and reach” test, which is administered in most elementary and middle schools during presidential fitness testing.

Test #4 Endurance: Cardiovascular endurance can be summarized by determining the athletes “VO2Max”. This number can be determined with any of the free online Vo2max calculators or by doing the math by hand. (Distance covered in meters -504.9) Divided by 44.73=Vo2 Max.

Test #5 Speed: The “Forty Yard Dash” is a simple and classic measure for defining an athlete’s overall speed. Although it is used mostly for football, it is an excellent, generic, standardised test for determining quickness. Moreover, athletes that score well in the forty yard dash usually excel in local or bodypart speed, which suggests a direct correlation.

Although more sophisticated tests exist for each attribute, this method produces fast numerical standards that can be done in a short amount of time with little experience from the coaches and athletes. It produces adequate, quantifiable standards among many players very quickly.

Below are the websites you can cross reference and rate your athletes scores. Coaches may also create a letter grade for each attribute then average the five attributes to create a final “Athletic Competency” grade. For example, an athlete may have an A+ in Strength a B+ in Agility a C- in Flexibility a C+ in Endurance and a B+ in Speed. Averaging these scores together to gives a final “athletic competency” grade of GPA (2.98) or a B rated athlete. Athletes love to be graded. This method isn’t perfect, but it’s more than adequate for most team sports and amateur athletes.

About Sam Basco

Sam Basco is a lifelong competitor, coach and student of Mixed Marital Arts and Combat Sports Training.  Sam coaches submission grappling, wrestling and strength training for combat athletes at Flawless Victory MMA in Ridgecrest CA.  Visit to learn more about customized personal or team strength and conditioning program created by, Sam Basco, a licensed and experienced professional.  You can also reach Coach Basco via email at or phone at (760)-499-0692




Strength: Power Clean Standards

Agility Standards: (Compared to college level football players per position.)

Endurance: Vo2 Max Calculator

Endurance Standards:

Flexibility: V-Sit and Reach Standards

Speed Standards: 40 Yard Dash

Grade Point Average Calculator


Dr.Tudor Bompa, “Periodization Training for Sports”.

Dr. Mel C. Siff and Dr.Yuri Verkoshansky “Supertraining”.

Dr. Fredrick Hatfield “Power, a Scientific Approach”.

Dr. Thomas D. Fahey “Strength and Conditioning”.

C.S.C.S. Harvey Newton “Explosive Lifting for Sports”.

Dr. Yuri Verkoshansky and Natalia Verkoshansky “Special Strength Training for Sports”.

Bruce Lee’s “Tao of Jeet Kune Do”.

Dr. Fredrick Hatfield “Bodybuilding a Scientific Approach”

Dr. Fredrick Hatfield “Fitness the Complete Guide.”

Suggested reading

In the article “The long-delay training effect of strength loads”, published in the May of 1983 in the monthly magazine “Theory and Practice of Physical Culture”.

Suggested Viewing

Dr. yessis on CNN News discussing Russian “Soviet Union” training methodology.

Dr. yessis on NBC news “Today” show, Russian “Soviet Union” training methodology.

Dr. Yessis on Dr. Yuri Verkoshonsky “Master of sports training.”