Applying the Principles of Exercise to your Personal Fitness Program
Sometimes no matter how hard you work in your personal fitness program, it can be very difficult to identify positive results. These difficulties can lead to frustration and a lack of motivation to continue with the program. However, small adjustments to your routine can make the program more effective.
Every day you see suggested fitness programs in fitness magazines on the supermarket’s register aisle. But how do you know if these programs are appropriate? Are there ways to evaluate a program in order to find out how well it is written? Can a program be assessed in order to gain a better understanding of its benefits? The purpose of this article is to introduce you to eight principles of exercise that can be utilized for evaluating a fitness program. Through the lens of these eight simple concepts, you can ensure that you are giving yourself a chance to succeed on your fitness journey and, more importantly, you will put an end to the “cookie cutter” approach to fitness.
The principle of progression states that your program needs to allow for more challenging workouts over time and in each particular component of fitness (i.e., muscular strength and endurance, cardio respiratory endurance, body composition, and flexibility). Let’s take cardio respiratory fitness as an example. For a beginner, an 8–10 week program should start with walking, then move to walk/run combinations, and finally, to running. If progression is too fast, it could lead to injury, failure to accomplish goals, and a loss of motivation. As you look at the progression integrated into a program, see if the program allows for a steady, realistic opportunity to advance to the next level.
The frequency of a particular component of fitness is also critical. If the body does not receive stimulus on a regular basis, the physical adaptation benefits will not remain. It takes energy to sustain a bigger/stronger muscle; therefore, an unchallenged body will choose to resign the support to those areas and the adaptation will suffer. Though regularity will vary depending on the individual, a program suggesting that you work only once a week on a particular component of fitness is an immediate red flag and should be evaluated and modified.
The previous principle, mentions the concept of adaptation. If a program has you doing the same routine, at the same intensity, with the same resistance, you will not gain any benefits. Bottom line, the body needs to feel the need to adapt because it is being challenged. Therefore, if the program you are evaluating does not include more challenging levels, you can count on a physical activity but not the necessary workout for improvement.
Variety is the principle ignored the most. For instance, when people see an infomercial on a specific piece of exercise equipment, they are in awe of the possibilities for the advertised improvement. Most will rush to buy the piece of equipment and will probably proceed to use it consistently for about 2 weeks. After becoming bored with the activity, the equipment becomes a hanger for clothes or other items. As previously mentioned, there is no cookie cutter approach to fitness but it is important to find creative ways to get your heart rate up without losing interest in physical activity. Find a routine that you enjoy—if it becomes boring or less challenging, try something else. Variety is the key to long-term involvement in physical activity.
This principle is a little tricky because it is different for every individual. Most people need at least 48 hours between strenuous workouts to allow the body to make necessary changes and adaptations to the overload presented during the previous session. If the workout program that you are evaluating does not allow for some recovery time between workouts, it may have been designed for high level competitive athletes and a beginner will not benefit from using these training strategies. As a fitness and wellness professional, you may have to modify the program or select a new strategy.
A program must be realistic not only when it comes to the goals that are set but also in regards to the resources that you have available to complete the program. For example, let’s say that you plan on training six times a week; however, you are a single parent that works 40 hours a week and also needs to take your kids to soccer practice in the evenings. Is this a realistic setting for you? How would a missed workout affect your motivation? The same can be said for muscular strength routines that you see in body building magazines. What many magazines fail to mention is that the participants are full-time body builders who train, sleep, and then train some more. If a program cannot fit into your life due to limited time and resources, consider a variation and implement a more realistic program.
The principle of balance refers to two concepts of program evaluation. First, there is balance among all the components of fitness. For example, some individuals are strong but not flexible, others can run a lot but cannot lift much weight, and so on. You can probably think of other examples of people who have an off-balance fitness base. The other side of the balance principle refers to the upper body versus lower body focus of training. Those individuals who have an “ice cream cone” body shape—a highly developed upper body but slightly developed lower body—are a primary example here. When you evaluate a program, consider the following balance questions: Does this program help you develop all components of fitness? Does it create an even balance throughout your body?
While variety in a program is key to success, the principle of specificity states that you must exercise in the precise area where you seek improvement. For instance, if you want to be a competitive runner then you must run—it’s as easy as that.
The next time you are considering a personal fitness program, use these eight principles to evaluate the program’s potential. Some may be right on the money, others will surprise you and, as a professional, you may wonder how some programs end up advertized at all. Have fun!
Dr. Hector R. Morales-Negron
Dr. Morales-Negron is an adjunct professor in the School of Health Sciences at Kaplan University, where he teaches Scientific Foundations of Fitness and Wellness and Critical Issues in Stress Management and Prevention. He completed his undergraduate in education with a major in kinesiology at the University of Puerto Rico in 1990. In 1997, he attended the University of Georgia and obtained his Masters of Education in Kinesiology and Exercise Science. He graduated from Florida State University in 2008 with a PhD in Educational Psychology, majoring in exercise and sport psychology.
Throughout his career, Dr. Morales-Negron has obtained several fitness certifications, including American Counsel for Exercise (ACE) group fitness instructor, ACSM fitness leader, CPR Lifeguard and First Aid, U.S. Army Master Fitness Trainer, and U.S. Army certified combatives instructor.