Want to start a successful exercise program? Want to get into shape while you’re having lots of fun? Try the FITT process. It provides a simple method for developing an exercise regimen that will help you achieve your health and fitness goals. FITT stands for Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type.
1. Type. The first question you must answer when developing an exercise program is, “What type of exercise will I do?” I have two suggestions. First and most importantly, select an exercise you really enjoy. I am often asked, “What’s the best type of exercise?” The answer is simple. Any exercise you enjoy that you will do for the rest of your life. That’s the best exercise for you. Second, to the extent possible, try to select a variety of activities. This can reduce boredom, and give you a more well-rounded exercise regimen. For example, you will obtain the greatest training effect if you perform both aerobic and strength training exercises. However, make sure you do what you really enjoy.
2. Time. Your next step is to decide how long you will exercise. Try employing the concept of less is more. A common mistake, especially for beginners, is to exercise too long and/or too hard. This usually leads to soreness, injury or illness and is a primary reason people abandon their exercise programs. Start out with 10 to 15 minutes and slowly build up to 30 to 40 minutes per workout. This is plenty for almost everyone. The only exception might be competitive athletes but even they need to start slowly and build up duration over time. If you are wondering what I mean by slowly, I suggest you follow the 10% rule which states, never increase your exercise duration by more than 10% per week. For example, if you are jogging for 20 minutes, 4 times a week, do not increase the duration by more than 2 minutes per run or a total of 8 minutes for the week.
3. Frequency. How many days a week will you exercise? The 2007 Physical Activity Recommendations released by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association call for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity (e.g., a brisk walk) 5 days a week or at least 20 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity (e.g., a hard run) 3 days each week. They also recommend resistance training 2 days each week that consists of 8-10 exercises of 8-12 repetitions each (e.g., weightlifting). If you can exercise this often that’s great. But if you can’t, just remember it is better to exercise 2 or 3 days a week than not at all. Anything you do will give you health and fitness benefits. Also, keep in mind that you can start with 2 or 3 workouts a week and build up to 4 or 5 over time.
4. Intensity. Exercise intensity (i.e., how hard you work during an activity) is often the most confusing element for beginners. My general rule of thumb is that you should keep your exercise intensity at a low-to-moderate level. Numerically, this is 40 to 65% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). You can get a rough estimate of your MHR by subtracting your age from 220. However, a simpler way to do this is to use the talk test. You should be able to carry on a conversation while you are exercising. Once you start working so hard you have trouble speaking, you are probably overdoing it.