Many people often ask me what the “best” method for achieving workout goals should be. Since there are MANY ways of working out, different goals, different body types, different schedules, and different interests, the answer to that question would vary drastically from person to person. So, I want to share with you a principle that should help you to answer that question for yourself and to help you design your own workout program. It is called the FITT principle. “The FITT Principle applies to any type of resistance training, whether it is for limit strength, speed-strength, anaerobic strength or aerobic strength. It is especially suited to beginners’ efforts because it spells out exactly what they should do to get started. Applying the FITT Principle will ensure that your training is reasonably effective.” (Taken from Fitness: The Complete Guide, p. 6.12)
1) Frequency of exercise: How often should you exercise each week? Twice for maintenance, 3 times for beginners, 5 times for serious fitness enthusiasts and up to 14 or more times for elite athletes. This is just a rule of thumb; everyone must learn his/her body and how it responds to training. Because I wasn’t born with a super metabolism, I work out A LOT longer and more often than my husband (for example) in order to maintain my weight and stay at my peak performance.
2) Intensity of exercise: How hard should you exercise? If training 2 or 3 times weekly, train with high intensity (you should really push yourself); if training 5 or more times weekly, you should split your workouts between certain muscle groups, vary the exercises performed, vary the amount of weight/reps between sessions, and make sure you have enough rest between workouts to prevent overtraining. In general, if you are lifting heavy in order to build bulk (i.e. 4 to 8 reps to muscle failure), then you will need a longer rest between sets (anywhere between 1-1/2 to 3 minutes). If you are lifting for toning and sculpting with lighter weights (i.e. 12 to 20 reps), you can keep the rest between sets to 30 seconds to 1 minute. This will increase the amount of calories burned and feel somewhat like a cardio workout. I also like to “superset”, which is doing an exercise for one muscle group & then switching immediately to another muscle group (ex: back/chest); then go back & forth between exercises until all sets are performed. This allows you to work out intensely and get a lot done in a short amount of time.
3) Time to exercise: How long should you exercise each session? For weight training, 45 minutes to 1 hour is usually sufficient, but it depends on what your goals are. For cardio workouts, usually 30 to 45 minutes is sufficient, but the heart rate needs to remain within the training zone to have any benefit. To find your training zone, use this formula: Subtract your age from 220. Your exercise heart rate needs to be between 65% and 85% of whatever that number is. To find your exercise heart rate, periodically check your pulse for 6 seconds, and then add a 0 to the end of that number. That will tell you what your exercise heart rate is. If it’s below 65%, then you need to pick up the pace. If it’s above 85%, then you need to take it down a little. In order to burn more calories and speed up your metabolism, you should try to do an interval workout once or twice a week (i.e. work intensely for several minutes and then bring your heart rate back down for a “rest” interval for a few minutes throughout the duration of your cardio workout).
4) Type of exercise: What exercises should you do? Beginners training 2 or 3 times weekly should choose an array of exercises and exercise methods to reverse the processes of disuse in all major muscle groups and bodily systems; athletes do likewise, but only during their off-season. Pre- and In-season training must be highly specific to the tasks/skills of their respective sports. If you are into body sculpting using weights like me, then you can split your workouts between different muscle groups. Currently, my personal training schedule is Monday – Chest/Back/Biceps/abs; Tuesday – Legs; Wednesday – Shoulder/Triceps/abs; Thursday – off day from weights, but still do cardio; and Friday – back to Chest/Back/Biceps/abs – I sometimes throw in some light training for legs on Fridays, too. I usually do cardio 30 to 45 minutes 5 to 6 days a week. I try to have at least one total rest day (Sunday) from exercise to prevent overtraining. I also take a break from weights approximately every 3 months for the same reason. It’s important to listen to your body, because it will let you know when you need a break from training (i.e. undue fatigue/exhaustion; body aches and pains that won’t go away; pain in joints; irritability/depression; and other symptoms). Also, don’t push yourself to the extremes until you have reached a higher level of fitness. I usually start out my clients on a “total body workout” for the first month or two. After that, I evaluate what her interests are, how her body is responding, how much time she has to devote to strength training, etc. and then decide whether to start doing “split training” workouts (i.e. working out upper body one session and lower the next, etc.).
Good luck, and HAVE FUN!