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Principles to Follow in Personal Fitness Planning

Whether your key personal fitness goal is to lose weight, strengthen up or to get lean for Summer, you won’t get far without a plan. Learning how the different components of fitness work together will allow you to achieve result faster. This article will ensure that you are able to do just that.

A balanced exercise program contains a mixture of strength training, aerobic exercise, flexibility and posture work, along with daily doses of lifestyle activity. In the real world, however, we often don’t have the time to achieve the ideal. As a result, we end up prioritizing and doing what we can.

The principles to follow in personal fitness planning apply to every type of activity, from gardening to yoga, from running to lifting weights.

The Specificity Principle

The specificity principle states that you need to focus on the thing that you most want to improve at. When it comes to your muscles, and the changes that take place in the processes that supply them with oxygenated blood, nutrients and signals from the nervous system, the method of training is very important.

That means that the fitness benefits that you get from swimming won’t necessarily make you a better cyclist or runner. The specificity principle applies within activities as well as between them. For example, bigger muscles require different training than if you want to firm and tone up your muscles. In a similar way, if you want to run a marathon, you don’t train by doing 100 yard sprints on an athletic track.

Maintaining Perspective

Unless you are training to be an Olympic athlete, so it is important to maintain a balance of strength training, stamina and flexibility in your program. A base level of endurance, functional strength and body awareness are invaluable, whether you want to run dance, do yoga or be a bodybuilder.

You do not want the specificity principle to cause you to have a lack of variety in your program. Adding something new or trying something different not only gives your body an extra range of challenges, it also keeps your mind fresh and makes exercise more interesting and fun.

When it comes to working out with weights, it is essential that you vary the amount of weight, the type of exercise and the number of reps and sets each session, challenging the muscles in different ways will provide the best stimulus for them to grow and get stronger. Varying your routine also reduces the chances of injury.

In applying these two principles to your program, you should focus on the main goal of your training. To do that, you need to quantify your desired outcomes before you start. At the same time, you should build on other types of training as auxiliary work to allow for full fitness training.

The Overload Principle

Progressing at the right pace is crucial to the success of any training regime. Overload is important whether you are wanting to increase your strength, boost your stamina, enhance your flexibility or bolstering your core stability. For any type of physical improvement to happen, you need to place stress on your body. This forces the body to adapt to that stress. Then, the next time the body is presented with that challenge, it will be able to handle that stress level. This is part of your body’s inbuilt survival strategy, that can be used to make your body better.

As an example of this principle in action, let’s say that four weeks ago you started walking. You started out walking one mile in 15 minutes, which was a real challenge to  you. A month later that feels pretty easy. This is due to the ‘training effect.’

If you fail to adapt by either walking faster or walking for longer, then your fitness gains will stop happening. The reason is that your body has adapted and will no longer respond. If you want to continue making health and fitness improvements, you need to continue to challenge your body with an increased workload. Your body will only adapt further when the workload placed on it is greater than it can currently handle.

The overload principle tells you that you, every time you train, you need to do a little bit more than you did the last time. This might mean walking a little further, doing an extra rep or lifting a heavier resistance.

The Reversibility Principle

You can maintain a certain state of fitness only by continuing to exercise regularly and consistently. No matter how hard you train, you won’t even reach a day when you can put your feet up and enjoy the benefits you have accrued. If you do, the fitness benefits that you have worked so hard for will slip away. We call this the principle of reversibility.

Reversibility also comes into play if you do not train consistently enough. Long gaps of between bouts of intense overload will not give you the results that you desire. The good news is that it takes less exercise to maintain fitness than it does to achieve it in the first place. In one study, subjects who had trained for ten weeks, for 40 minutes, six days a week were then out on either a four or two days a week program. Both groups maintained their aerobic capacity on this reduced training schedule.

As far as strength is concerned, research suggests that you can maintain gains on two days a week, even though it may have taken you training sessions of three times per week to get there in the first place.

For you, the reversibility principle tells you that it is really important that you remain consistent with your exercise program. When you reach the point where you want to maintain your results, as opposed to improving them, you can train a little less regularly, but you need to maintain the same level of intensity.

The Rest & Recovery Principle

You will not benefit by working out every day, without taking a break. Your body needs rest. This is the time that it recovers, rests, recuperates and grows. If you don’t give your body the down time that it needs, and the essential adaptation process that we spoke about earlier will be compromised – and so will your progress.

Exercise physiologists at Ball State University in the 1980’s did studies on the university swim team. The swimmers were training a total of four hours per day. Yet they were not getting better. When half the group was put on a two hour per day training schedule, their improvements were dramatic.

Individual differences have a big part to play in how much is too much, and in how much rest and recovery is required. When you get started on an exercise program, you need more time for recovery. However, you will need to experiment to find out just what balance of exercise and recovery is right for you.

When it comes to aerobic exercise, you should always take a day or two off each week. Do not train heavy two days in a row. Instead follow a heavy / light regimen. For strength training, make sure that you do not work the same muscle group on consecutive days. You can still train every day, but you need to divide the body up seems to work different muscles groups in each session.

The FIT Principle

FIT stands for:

  • Frequency
  • Intensity
  • Time

These considerations are somewhat dependent on the type of exercise you are doing and the results you hope to gain. However, there are some general guidelines.

When you work to increase the effectiveness of your training, you should only step up one of the three variables. Do not increase all three at once. So, if you want to up the intensity of your swimming regime, do not swim for longer or more often. Similarly, if you are increasing your walking session from three to five sessions per week, do not increase the speed of your waking at the same time.

All three FIT factors influence one another. So, while how long and how often you work out for are inevitably going to be dictated to a degree by your available time, the intensity at which you can work is determined by your current fitness level. This will, in turn, have a say in how long you exercise for. There is also an inverse relationship between intensity and duration – when one goes up, the other goes down.

General Exercise Guidelines

Aerobic exercise 3-5 sessions per week 55-90 percent max heart rate 20-60 minutes continuous or intermittent
Strength training 2-3 sessions per week Dependent on desired outcome Dependent on desired outcome
Flexibility 2-3 sessions per week Stretch to the point of mild discomfort, not pain 15-30 seconds per stretch for flexibility maintenance; up to one minute for remedial postural work
Core stability 5-7 sessions per week Low intensity, to improve endurance and responsiveness to the postural muscles 10-15 minutes per day
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