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July 29, 2022
The FITT principle is an acronym, so you know it must be important. But how important is it, and what does FITT stand for? You may be surprised to learn that the FITT principle lays out the 4 most important training variables for building an effective exercise program. Your fitness plan already contains these variables, but the question is whether you took them into consideration when crafting your workout program.
Or, do you err on the side of not actually having a fitness regimen to follow, instead haphazardly figuring out your plan when you get to the gym each day? The FITT principle, while extremely basic, is a fundamental building block of an effective exercise program and will prevent you from going to the gym with no solid plan in place. In turn, this will help you see better results.
This article will go over everything you need to know, including:
FITT stands for frequency, intensity, time, and type. These are the 4 foundational training variables FITT describes, which are used to create an ideal fitness program for you based on your specific needs.
Understanding what each of these is and how to manipulate them is the key to building an effective exercise regimen. We will explain each one in greater detail below but to give you some foundational knowledge, FITT stands for:
It is vital to address each of these components when beginning any exercise program. Following the FITT formula will instantly improve the quality of your training.
Before we learn more about the FITT principle, there is one variable that is even more important, and that is defining your fitness goals. If you don't clearly define your goals, your fitness journey will be much harder than it needs to be.
Whether you are a beginner hoping to start a HIIT training program, you have aching joints requiring a low impact workout, or you're an experienced lifter ready to make major gains with a 7-day split, defining these goals will help you identify what you need to do each week to achieve them.
So do yourselves a favor. Before you start working toward any of your fitness goals, sit down and clarify them!
Too many people start training without real goals. And while they may have an arbitrary one such as "get fit" or "lose weight", these are not quantifiable or measurable. But if you don't have one you can actually track, how do you monitor your progress?
For example, if you want to lose weight, you should also consider these questions when writing your goals and preparing your plan:
All three of these questions can affect each other and your workout plan. If you want to lose 20 pounds in one year, you can alter your training pretty easily as you only need to lose .4lbs a week.
Now let's say you need to lose that in 6 months. You just halved the time you have, meaning you will need to lose twice as much weight every week. Your training and diet must be adjusted as you need to burn more calories. If you're hoping to lose fat while gaining muscle, you'll want specific goals to help you undergo body recomposition.
The same idea can be applied to strength training, bodybuilding, powerlifting, or even running. Each mode has various factors that make it unique, and they can all be made quantifiable and more specific.
Being able to actually measure your success, like with a 5km run time, biceps circumference, or deadlift 1RM, is a huge benefit. Not only does it keep you on track, but it can also keep you motivated as you see yourself progressing.
The frequency of your training is one of the very first factors you need to decide on as it will dictate other decisions. In the context of the FITT principle, the frequency of your training refers to how many days a week you are willing to commit to training.
Can you make it to the gym 5 days a week? Are you really busy and hoping to get in 2 days? How you answer this can have a huge influx on your success.
Also, keep in mind that it's not the number of days a week you say you can go BUT the number of days a week you actually do go. We can not stress how important it is, to be honest with yourself about how often you can train when writing your program.
Unfortunately, all too often, a lot of lifters overestimate how often they will work out. As a result, they try to run a workout routine written for 5 days a week but actually only weight lifted 3 days a week. This doesn't work.
Understand that you can write an effective 3-day workout split, as well as a successful 6-day split. However, the workout program will be constructed in such a way to make it optimal for that specific frequency. Therefore, when you write a 5-day split but only train 3 days a week, you are not training optimally and your fitness goals will suffer.
When trying to decide how many times you can get to the gym, there are a few things to take into account.
These variables are an intricate part of everybody's life and can play a part in determining the best frequency. Be sure to take all of these into consideration when writing your program.
More importantly, think long-term! You might be able to train 5 days a week now when you're pumped and riding that fitness high, but what about 2 months from now? The point being: Be honest with yourself about what you can handle.
The best fitness plan is one that's sustainable!
This can be a bit confusing as intensity is seen by the general public as going hard and fast and sweating a lot. While not completely wrong, there is a lot more to it than just that. Therefore instead of thinking of intensity as a "hard day" or "easy day", it's much more effective to measure intensity based on physiological markers.
When measuring the intensity of cardio exercise, like during these killer assault bike workouts, look at heart rate and its relation to your maximum heart rate. Varying your levels of intensity is beneficial for cardiorespiratory training and working your different energy systems. Generally speaking, there are 5 levels of intensity in cardio training.
In comparison, the intensity of weight lifting refers to the percentage of your 1 rep max. Similarly, working different lifting intensity levels when lifting weights will target your large muscle groups in different ways. Each of these intensities could be used to train for various outcomes.
There is some rep range variance here, but it's important to know what you're training for. And it’s always a good idea to alter the intensity of your training. Doing so can prevent injuries as well as provides a more well-rounded training plan.
You should also plan deload weeks or recovery weeks. These are periods that are similar to the concept of an “easy” day, using a much lower intensity than normal. You should also include both LISS cardio and HIIT in your routine for variety and to work both your aerobic and anaerobic systems.
In addition to the frequency of your training, another factor concerning how much training you'll be doing is how long a workout should be. Do you just have 30 minutes during your lunch break to sneak in a quick steel mace conditioning workout? Or do you have 3 hours to kill?
Several aspects make this a crucial part of your training program. Here are some factors to consider:
The CDC, WHO, and all the other 3 letter agencies suggest getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week or 90-minutes of rigorous exercise¹.
In addition to their requirements, you should also engage in at least two resistance training sessions per week. Regardless, you can already see the crossover with the different FITT variables.
If you can train 5 days a week, you only need to perform cardio for 30 minutes each session. If you only have 3 days, you need to perform cardio for 50 minutes. We are aware there is a ton of nuance with this which we will discuss later, but for now, just keep it in mind.
Your total exercise time must be sufficient enough to get in all of your training. If you only have 20 minutes to train before picking your kids up from their after-school activities, trying to complete a powerlifting routine would be a complete failure.
Instead, you may need to use this day for some high-intensity exercise like interval training or this 21-minute full body resistance band & bodyweight workout. Or, if you are wanting to do weight training, you may even want this exercise session to follow a circuit training style. Following a vigorous intensity exercise routine like this would allow you to quickly hit all of your muscle groups fast.
As seen above with the minimum training time for general health, the time per exercise session can be affected by how many times you go to the gym. The best example is to look at the difference between a 3-day resistance training program and a 5-day resistance training program.
Generally speaking, the program for the 3-day workout plan will have more exercises than the 5-day workout plan. This is to offset the fact you'll be going to the gym considerably less. To improve the effectiveness of your program, you'll need to spend a bit more time in the gym per session so you can effectively target your lower and upper body. Once you know how many days you can get to the gym, you can then select the best workout split for your goals.
The type of exercise refers to the specific activity you are going to perform on that day. To reach the fitness goals that you wrote out in the beginning, you must choose the proper forms of exercise training that will cause the correct physiological adaptations to take place.
This may sound obvious but if you want to improve your deadlift, you need to focus on strength training. To train optimally, you will need to look at your frequency to write a program that hits all your muscle groups.
In addition, you should keep the majority of your training in the 4-8 rep range as this is the correct intensity to improve muscle strength.
On the contrary, if you just signed up for a marathon, you're going to need to choose some training to improve your cardiovascular system. In addition, you'll want an upper and lower body split to improve the muscle strength of all the upper and lower body, especially your lower body and core. And don't forget the importance of cross training to ensure you don't overuse the same major muscle groups while neglecting others.
Maybe you have a limited selection of equipment and can only perform bodyweight workouts. In that case, creating a routine filled with effective bodyweight exercises makes much more sense than attempting a program that requires equipment. Or, perhaps you just want a well-rounded program, consisting of both cardio and strength training, so you can gain muscle and improve your cardiovascular training. Take note of your specific circumstances and plan accordingly.
The FITT principle lays out 4 foundational variables you need to consider when planning your training. If you follow these, you'll be in a good place when writing your program. But, wait, you're not done just yet.
Here are a few other factors and exercise tips to consider when planning your workout schedule.
We mentioned this above with your intensity level, but your current fitness level can have a massive impact on just about every other factor on this list.
It's probably not a great idea for a beginner to start training 6 days a week with 90-minute sessions. In fact, injury prevention would indicate a slow and steady approach would be much more beneficial.
In comparison, for an experienced bodybuilder who wants to prep his "summer bod" and resemble a Greek god, two days a week probably won't be enough to produce any meaningful changes to his physique.
Related to your fitness level, yet different in several aspects, is your training age. Your training age is the amount of time you have spent training a particular sport or mode of training.
For example, if you have been involved with proper weight training for 5 years, your training age would be 5 years. Now let's say you want to try to compete in triathlons. That's an awesome endeavor but your training age just went down to 0.
While you may have a high level of fitness and experience in bodybuilding, you are a newbie to triathlons. You will likely be able to progress faster but you still don't want to start with 15 + hours of weekly training.
Knee and joint injuries are far too common in the world of sports. The good thing is there are plenty of effective alternatives to prescribe for strength training and cardio workouts. To improve your cardiovascular activity, you could choose to use the elliptical trainer or stationary bike. A bonus is that both are great forms of exercise to help with weight loss if that fits into your goals.
In weight training, box squats are commonly prescribed by some of the best coaches and lifters in the world. Its limited range of motion combined with the decrease in reactive force has made it a staple in the gym.
The point is that every muscle group needs to be trained. If you are recovering from an injury or mobility issue, you will just need to use some alternatives as you don't want to make the issue worse. Keep this in mind when assigning the type of exercise.
When people hear the phrase "Consistency is key!", they get it twisted. To start, the gist of this message is 100% true and we have spoken about it many times.
With this in mind, realize that this does not mean you continue to follow a program that is detrimental to your mental health or physical health. When you see "be consistent", it's referring to the aspect of being consistent with your physical activity.
You will always use the FITT principle when designing your program but feel free to make adjustments if things aren't working. Perhaps an exercise doesn't feel good, or maybe your work schedule changed and you can only go to the gym for 3 days instead of 4. Maybe you've been at it for a while, and you're ready to take on a more challenging program, like the Arnold Split.
Instead of continuing your program designed with FITT principles from the past, sit down and make the necessary changes. Remember, the FITT principle is not designed to make your circumstances work for a training program.
Rather, the main purpose is to make an effective training program based on your circumstances. Now you have the information, so spend just a little bit of time preparing your next program. It’ll be worth it!
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