Categories: FitnessHealth

FITT Principle: How to Create an Effective Exercise Program

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For individuals trying to get into a regular fitness regimen, could using the FITT Principle help structure exercise, track progress, and achieve fitness goals?

FITT Principle

The FITT principle is a set of guidelines for adjusting, revising, and improving exercise workouts. FITT is an acronym for:

  • Frequency
  • Intensity
  • Time
  • Type of exercise
  • Individuals take these elements to create and adjust workouts that fit their goals and fitness levels.

For example, this could be a workout of 3 to 5 days combined with low, medium, and high-intensity exercises for 30 to 60 minutes each session that incorporates cardio and strength training. Focusing on these details and progressing over time helps create an effective program.

Frequency

Workout frequency and how often the individual is going to exercise is the first thing to look at.

  • Frequency depends on various factors, including the type of workout being done, how hard the workout is, fitness levels, and exercise goals.
  • General exercise guidelines developed by the American College of Sports Medicine offer recommendations. (Carol Ewing Garber, et al., 2011)

Cardiovascular Workouts

  • Cardio workouts are usually scheduled more often.
  • Depending on goals, guidelines recommend moderate cardio exercise five or more days a week or intense cardio three days a week to improve health.
  • Individuals can adjust the exercise intensity level easily on a treadmill to provide excellent and convenient cardiovascular workouts.
  • Individuals who want to lose weight may want to work up to more workouts gradually.
  • However, more is not always better, and recovery time is essential. (Pete McCall. 2018)

Strength Training

  • The recommended frequency for strength training is two to three non-consecutive days a week. (National Strength and Conditioning Association. 2017)
  • Individuals should have at least one to two days of rest and recovery between sessions.
  • Workout frequency will often depend on the type of training sessions being performed as well as health goals.
  • For example, individuals want to work on each muscle group at least two times a week if their goal is to build muscle. (Brad J. Schoenfeld, Dan Ogborn, James W. Krieger. 2016)
  • For individuals following a split routine, like upper body one day and lower body the next, workouts can be more frequent than total body workouts.

Intensity

Workout intensity involves how hard the individual is pushing themselves during exercise. How it is increased or decreased depends on the type of workout. (Carol Ewing Garber, et al., 2011)

Cardiovascular Workouts

For cardio, individuals will monitor workout intensity by:

  • Heart rate
  • Perceived exertion
  • Talk test
  • Heart rate monitor
  • A combination of these measures.
  1. The general recommendation is to work at a moderate intensity for steady workouts.
  2. Interval training is done at a higher intensity for a shorter period.
  3. It’s recommended to mix up low, medium, and high-intensity cardio exercises to stimulate different energy systems and prevent overtraining. (Nathan Cardoos. 2015)

Strength Training

  • Individual intensity comprises the amount of weight being lifted and the number of reps and sets done.
  • The intensity can change based on health goals.
  1. Beginners looking to build stability, endurance, and muscle are recommended to use a lighter weight and do fewer sets with high repetitions – for example, two or three sets of 12 to 20 reps.
  2. Individuals wanting to grow muscle are recommended to do more sets with a moderate amount of reps – for example, four sets of 10 to 12 reps each.
  3. Individuals who want to build strength are recommended to use heavy weights and do more sets with fewer reps – for example, five sets of three reps each.
  4. Building muscle can be done with a wide range of repetitions and weights. (Brad J. Schoenfeld, Dan Ogborn, James W. Krieger. 2016)

Time

The next element of the plan is how long the exercise will be during each session. Exercise length depends on individual fitness level and the type of workout being done.

Cardiovascular Workouts

The exercise guidelines suggest 30 to 60 minutes of cardio, but workout duration will depend on fitness level and type of exercise. ((Carol Ewing Garber, et al., 2011)

  • Beginners are recommended to start with a 15- to 20-minute workout.
  • Individuals with some workout experience and are doing steady-state cardio, like jogging or using a cardio machine, might exercise for 30 to 60 minutes.
  • For individuals doing interval training and working at very high intensity, the workout will be shorter, around 10 to 15 minutes of high-intensity interval training.
  • Having a variety of workouts of different intensities and durations will provide a solid, balanced cardiovascular program.

Strength Training

  • How long an individual strength trains will depend on the type of workout and schedule.
  • A total body workout can take over an hour.
  • A split routine can take less time by working fewer muscle groups in one session.

Type

The type of exercise you do is the last part of the FIIT principle.
It is easy to manipulate to avoid overuse injuries or weight loss plateaus.

Cardiovascular Workouts

  • Cardio is easy to adjust and change because any activity that increases heart rate counts.
  1. Walking, dancing, running, cycling, swimming, and using an elliptical trainer are a few activities that can be incorporated.
  2. Having multiple cardio activities is recommended to reduce burnout and keep workouts fresh.

Strength Training

  • Strength training workouts can also be varied.
  • They include any exercise where some type of resistance  –  bands, dumbbells, machines, etc. are used to work the muscles.
  • Bodyweight exercises can also be considered a form of strength training.
  • Strength workouts can be changed from total body training to adding, for example, supersets or pyramid training.
  • Incorporating new exercises for each body area is another way to vary the type of workouts.
  • Spending a few weeks working on functional strength movements, then switching to hypertrophy or strength-based training.
  • Each modality includes various alternative types of strength-based exercises.

Using FITT

The FITT principle outlines how to adjust workout programs to achieve better results. It also helps figure out how to change workouts to avoid burnout, overuse injuries, and plateaus.

For example, walking three times a week for 30 minutes at a moderate pace is recommended for a beginner to start out with. After a few weeks, the body adapts to the workout. This results in burning fewer calories, burnout, or weight management efforts, and goals are put on hold. This is where the FITT principles come in. For example, a change-up could include:

  • Changing frequency by adding another day of walking or jogging.
  • Changing intensity by walking faster, adding more challenging terrain like a hill, or jogging at certain intervals.
  • Walking for a longer time each workout day.
  • Changing the type of workout by swapping one or more of the walk sessions for cycling or aerobics.
  1. Even just changing one element can make a big difference in the workout and how the body responds to exercise.
  2. It’s important to change things up regularly to keep the body healthy and mind engaged.

Injury Prevention

One of the best things about using FITT is that it allows individuals to monitor the length and intensity of their workouts. When individuals work out too frequently or don’t get enough rest, they run the risk of overuse injuries, burnout, and muscle strains. The FITT principle encourages adding variety to workouts. When following this practice, it allows the body to rest and recover properly. Because individuals are not working the same muscle groups over and over again, better results are achieved.


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References

Garber, C. E., Blissmer, B., Deschenes, M. R., Franklin, B. A., Lamonte, M. J., Lee, I. M., Nieman, D. C., Swain, D. P., & American College of Sports Medicine (2011). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exercise. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 43(7), 1334–1359. doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e318213fefb

McCall Pete. 8 reasons to take a rest day. (2018) American Council on Exercise.

National Strength and Conditioning Association. (2017) Determination of resistance training frequency.

Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 46(11), 1689–1697. doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8

Cardoos, Nathan MD. Overtraining Syndrome. (May/June 2015). Current Sports Medicine Reports 14(3):p 157-158. DOI: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000145

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