Have you ever wondered how personal trainers do the programming for their clients? Want to use the same methods for yourself? The principles that fitness professionals use to deliver programs to their clients is based on creating a safe but effective regimen that considers the goals, lifestyle, and present fitness level of the person who will be doing the program. It’s called the FITT Principle, and it can help you workout more effectively and efficiently.
Introduction to The FITT Principle
The FITT Principle was developed around a nifty acronym that carries the same meaning as its purpose—to help you get fit. The letters stand for Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type; and all are in reference to the exercises within your program. The FITT Principle puts your workouts into an acceptable range that works against injuries. Knowing the frequency, intensity, time, and type that fits into your lifestyle and fitness experience level will keep you from doing too much, overtraining, and getting negative consequences from your efforts.
Each component of the FITT Principle fits together like a puzzle to give you a larger, more detailed picture. Keep this in mind as we get into the different dimensions of the principle and when attempting to make a workout regimen based off the FITT Principle.
An important piece of the FITT Principle, however, is to be realistic about what you can and cannot do. How long do you want to spend on each exercise? How often can you workout in a single week? What is your current health status? All of these connect to the Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type.
The frequency is the number of days you spend working out per week. You will notice that most example workout programs discuss groups of workouts by days, such as Day 1 or Day 2. There is always at least one rest day programmed into the week.
Frequency helps you adjust the times your exercise throughout the week by considering how often you can attend a class, get to the gym, or do an at-home or outdoor workout. Some people might only be able to realistically fit in 3 days a week, while others might be able to do 5-6 days a week.
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The intensity of a workout or exercise is a gauge of how hard you work. Are you feeling the burn or just enjoying a light sweat? Are you lifting heavy or swimming in a pool? In other words, is your workout low, medium, or high intensity?
Some exercises are going to be harder for you than others. Using the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale to help you select the correct activities for low to high intensity days. The RPE is based off the maximum heart rate for a workout. The lower the intensity, the easier the workout. Optionally, you can buy a heart rate monitor to wear when working out.
Another way to measure intensity is the Talk Test. This one is less scientific and is based off how well you can complete a sentence while performing a specific activity. For example, when you’re doing burpees, you’re probably not reciting the Declaration of Independence but huffing and puffing instead. This means that burpees are high intensity. Yet, if you’re jogging around the block with a friend and carrying out a full conversation, that jog is low intensity.
The amount of time you can spend working out in a single session is as important as the frequency and intensity time. The relationship works like this: if you can have a higher frequency, you can workout for shorter periods. If you have low intensity workouts throughout 6 days, you can workout for longer periods every single day. Similarly, if you 3-days high intensity at 30-45 minutes in length, the other two days in your program might contain swimming and yoga classes, which could span 2-3 hours.
It’s recommended that you spend at least 20-30 minutes in nonstop exercise to increase your cardiovascular fitness. For weight loss, you need to do at least 40 minutes a day of moderate, weight-bearing exercise to boost metabolism.
However, if we’re looking at Time for a resistance training program, then it’s no longer about the time the whole workout takes but the time you spend on each exercise. Time is measure in sets vs. reps. For example, in an upper body split, you might write Chest Press as 3-4 sets, 8-10 reps each. To improve strength, the recommendation is 3 sets, 8-10 reps. Muscular endurance is 3-4 sets, 12-15 reps.
The final piece of the FITT Principle refers to the type of exercise you do. This is largely goal-oriented. Those who are focusing on improving cardiovascular fitness will use exercises like swimming, walking, hiking, stair climbing, jogging and running. Those who want muscular gains will do strength training and bodyweight calisthenics, like pull-ups, push-ups, squats, leg presses, and kettlebell exercises. Athletes who are cross training might add in skill-related drills, like agility and balance or focus on pairing training in their specialty alongside an opposing activity.
For example, dancers might strength train or do plyometrics. Swimmers might do yoga. Baseball players would do HIIT, as so on.
How to Program With the FITT Principle
Whether you want to create an entire fitness program that is unique to your needs or want to modify a workout plan you found online, the FITT Principle can make everything much more manageable and effective. By breaking your plan into the four parts discussed, you can use SMART goals to figure out the ideal schedule. You will be able to not only meet your goals, but you will be able to do it in less time.
Furthermore, the FITT Principle can be tweaked. As your body grows stronger, you can change the frequency, intensity, time, and type of exercises, so you never have to worry about plateauing. Ideally, you want to switch one or two variables within the principle every 5-8 weeks. For example, if you are weight training, you might leave the frequency, time, and type alone but increase the intensity of the workouts by upping the tempo, weight, and so on.
If you want to work out more productively and get the results that you have been yearning for, then give the FITT Principle a try. It’s a tried and true method for coming up with a workout regimen that fits into your life and will help you stay committed in the long run.
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