Use this simple guide to become familiar with the FITT Principle and you can say goodbye to workout plateaus for good!
Whether you've just found the inspiration to start exercising or you just want to change up your routine, the sheer volume of fitness advice and training programs at your disposal can be overwhelming. How do you know if a workout is right for your fitness level or if it will really help you achieve your goals? Is the plan aimed at weight loss, toning, marathon training, building strength, or just to maintain fitness levels? These are important questions to answer before you start any new routine, which is why you need become familiar with the FITT principle. Here, fitness expert Jamie Press, of Orbit Fitness, breaks it down.
The FITT Principle is the most basic rule of thumb used to guarantee your workout plan matches both your experience and your goals. So before you can put it into practice, you need to define both of those things.
1. What is your current fitness level? Are you a beginner, intermediate, or advanced exerciser?
2. What do you want to achieve in the next six to 12 months in terms of your speed, muscle tone, endurance, strength, weight, and overall fitness level?
Once you’ve outlined your specific objectives and experience, find a workout routine you’d like to try (on the Internet, in a book or magazine, or from a fitness professional), and then it's time to apply the FITT Principal to perfectly tailor the plan to fit your needs.
FITT stands for:
Frequency: How often you exercise
Intensity: How hard your workout will be
Type: What kind of exercises you will do
Time: How long your workout will last
Each of the FITT factors are interdependent, meaning the frequency of your workout will depend on the type (cardio vs. weights), while the intensity and time will depend on the frequency, and so on. Now let's take a closer look at each of these components.
How often you work out in a week will depend on a number of factors, including:
Your goals. If your objective is to lose weight, you may need to train up to five times per week, whereas if your goal is to maintain fitness levels, you may only need to train three or fours times per week.
The type of training you do. It’s recommended to leave one day in between resistance training workouts to allow the muscles time to rest and repair, while cardiovascular workouts can be more frequent.
How often will you really be able to work out? If you want to do cardio training to lose weight but your schedule or fitness level prevents you from making it to the gym five times per week, you may need to increase the intensity and/or the time you spend on less frequent workouts and build from there.
This will determine how fast or far you should run, how many reps you should do, and/or how heavy your resistance should be. How hard you push yourself during work outs will depend on:
Your current fitness level. Make sure to keep an eye on your heart rate during workouts, particularly when trying out a new routine. Know your maximum heart rate and your target heart rate (50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate) and stick to this safe zone. Any lower means you won’t be increasing your fitness or losing weight, and any higher could mean you’re putting too much pressure on your body.
Your goals. Weight loss, endurance training, or strength training will require higher-intensity workouts than a maintenance workout.
The type of training you do. The intensity of your cardio workout can be altered by changing the speed, distance, and difficulty level or incline of your workout, while resistance training intensity can be altered by changing the amount of weight you lift and how many repetitions you complete.
The frequency of your workouts. Depending on your schedule and goals, you may opt for low-intensity workouts five or six times per week or higher-intensity workouts less often.
While all of the other factors depend heavily on this element, choosing the type of exercises you do during your workouts (cardiovascular or resistance training) very much depends on your fitness objectives.
Resistance training is often the focus for those who want to increase strength and muscle tone and includes weight lifting and classic exercises such as squats, pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups etc.
Cardiovascular training is used to achieve goals such as weight loss or endurance training and focuses on exercises that increase the heart rate, such as running, cycling, swimming, rowing, hiking etc.
Mixed training, which combines cardio and resistance workouts, is great for improving general fitness and/or training for a particular sport.
The amount of time you spend on each workout is very much dependent on all the other factors we have discussed above.
Type of training. Cardio workouts are generally longer than resistance workouts. A cardio session should last a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes and can take several hours (a long run or bike ride, for example), while resistance workouts usually last 45 to 60 minutes.
Objective. There will clearly be a difference in the amount of time spent on marathon training compared to a workout aimed at maintaining general fitness level.
Intensity and frequency. As previously mentioned, you may opt for longer, lower-intensity workouts over shorter, higher-intensity workouts. Same goes for frequency; You may want to train longer for fewer days or do short workouts every day.
Let’s take a look at three common fitness goals to see how the FITT Principle can be applied to help achieve them faster.
Goal 1: Increase strength and endurance or improve muscle tone
Frequency: Three or four resistance training sessions per week on non-consecutive days (leaving a day for your muscles to rest and repair) is best for achieving these goals.
Intensity: When starting out, aim for no more than 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps (you want to just be squeezing out the final rep every set). Once you find your body can handle the load, you can increase the load a little or push to 12 reps each set.
Type: Resistance training includes any exercise that repeatedly flexes and relaxes a targeted muscle or muscle group, including weight lifting and bodyweight exercises such as pushups, squats, lunges, and planks.
Time: Experts recommend keeping resistance training workouts relatively short—45 to 60 minutes max. If you’re working out at the proper intensity, any longer than this might over-train the muscles, which can actually set you back in strength gains.
Frequency: Cardiovascular training is the optimum workout for these goals, and frequency can range from two to seven days per week.
Intensity: Once again, your intensity depends on your current fitness level. Keep your heart rate within your target range (50 to 70% of your maximum heart rate) to get results without risk. A heart rate monitor makes it easy to track your intensity, but you can do it the old fashioned way too:
1. Determine your maximum heart rate (MHR). The commonly used formula subtracts your age from 220, but new research from Northwestern Medicine in Chicago says calculating a woman's MHR is a little more complicated: 206 minus 88 percent of a woman's age. A 32-year-old woman's MHR, for example: 206 - (0.88 x 32) = 178 beats per minute (BPM).
2. Multiply your MHR by 0.7. In our example: 178 x 0.7 = 125. This means that a 32-year-old woman who wants to improve aerobic fitness needs to exercise at 125 BPM to operate in the correct zone.
Type: Cardiovascular training can be anything that increases the heart rate over a prolonged period of time, including jogging, running, cycling, swimming, hiking, or rowing.
Time: Aim for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes per session. As with strength training, you don’t want to overdo it. Instead of heading out for a two-hour jog, concentrate on working in your target heart rate zone up to 40 minutes at a time and you’ll see great results.
Frequency: Weight loss requires a training routine that will help you to burn off excess calories that are ingested each day. Depending on your goal, it may be necessary to exercise anywhere from three to six times per week, but a good rule of thumb is four weekly workouts.
Intensity: High-intensity cardiovascular workouts are great for fat loss. Try to keep your heart rate in the higher section of the target heart rate zone (60 to 70% of your max), and for best results, pair your cardio with some resistance training to tone up problem areas.
Type: As mentioned above, weight loss requires a focus on cardiovascular exercises like running and cycling, with support from resistance training such as planks and squats—also great for burning calories and toning problem areas.
Time: This will depend on your fitness level and the intensity of your workout. You should aim to increase the time and intensity of your workouts as your fitness levels rise.
FITT provides the building blocks for the optimum workout routine. Many training plans at your disposal were designed with men in mind, but in addition to different objectives (tighten and tone vs. bulk up), our bodies also adapt to fitness routines at a different rate to men. For example, women are generally better at adapting to endurance while men find it easier to increase speed. Therefore the FITT Principles are always necessary to make sure that we can adapt our workouts to the intensity and frequency that our bodies can handle. No matter what you're trying to achieve or how your goals change over time—toning up, improving strength, speed, or endurance, or losing weight—you can always apply the FITT Principle to stay on track.