The F.I.T.T Principle and the Fitness Rut

We have all been there! You start a new exercise routine, and one day you realize you’ve been doing the same exact thing for months or even years. While there are health benefits that are associated with moving our bodies in general, the biggest bang for your buck comes from continuously challenging and overloading our bodies. The F.I.T.T principle is a great guide on how to adjust your workout.

F – Frequency (how often?)

I – Intensity (how hard?)

T – Time (how long?)

T – Type (what activity am I doing?)

Aerobic exercise, such as walking, biking or swimming overloads the heart and lungs, causing them to work harder than at rest. Your heart pumps blood to your muscles bringing oxygen with it.

Oxygen + food =energy.

Using more muscle groups with exercise requires more energy, placing a larger demand on your heart and lungs. Therefore running, which uses both your upper and lower body, feels harder than riding a stationary bike, which uses mostly your legs.

As you do the same activity over and over, your body becomes more efficient at making energy, and the demand on your heart and lungs decreases. It’s like our bodies go from being SUVs to hybrid cars; less gas gets us further. To continuously create overload, it is important to change the activity. Below is an example of the using the F.I.T.T principle for aerobic exercise.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you are walking for 10 minutes at 3.0 miles per hour. You have been doing this for 1 month, and notice that by the end of the walk, you are no longer tired and are not breathing as hard.

F – Frequency – Add in a 4th day of walking

I – Intensity – Try walking for 2 minutes at 3.0 miles per hour and for 1 minute at 3.5 miles per hour, then repeat for a total of 10 minutes

T – Time – Add 5 extra minutes to your total walk time

T – Type –Try walking 2 days a week and use the rowing machine 1 day per week

The F.I.T.T principle can also be used for resistance training. Resistance training improves muscular fitness by exercising a muscle or a muscle group against external resistance. To benefit from resistance training, you must overload the muscles you are working by placing enough external force on them to break them down.

Once broken down, the muscles can rebuild bigger and stronger. External force does not have to come from handheld weights. Using your own body weight, such as when doing a squat or a pushup, is a great way to begin a training program. Just like with aerobic exercise, our bodies adapt and we need to change the activity to overload the muscle.

After completing 10-15 repetitions of an exercise, you should feel like you might be able to do one or two more repetitions at most. If instead, you feel like you can complete another 15, it is probably time to make a change. Remember, our muscles are all different sizes and naturally have different amounts of strength. Your triceps, the tiny muscles in the back of your arms, are much smaller and weaker than your chest muscles. So, it would make sense that you would be able to lift more weight with your chest than with your triceps. Below is an example of using the F.I.T.T principle for resistance training.

You have been doing 1 day a week of resistance training, exercising every major muscle group. You noticed that a lot of the exercises are beginning to feel too easy. Squats, however, are still very challenging.

F – Frequency – Add one more day a week to resistance training, but only do squats 1 day per week

I – Intensity – Try adding extra weight to the exercises that feel easy. if you are using 3 lbs. for bicep curls, try 4 lbs.

T – Time – Add an extra round of weights or extra repetitions (if you are doing 10 repetitions, try 12).

T – Type – Try a harder exercise, if you are doing wall pushups, try them on a counter or bench

When adjusting any type of exercise, focus on changing one part of the F.I.T.T principle at a time. If you are adding another day (frequency) don’t increase the intensity until you feel you are ready. Most importantly, always listen to your body!


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