Starting a fitness plan

How to keep up your fitness and exercise training

Getting started in exercise training may at first appear a daunting experience. Finding the motivation to go for a run or visit the gym may be difficult if you're not used to regular exercise. However, to feel the health and fitness benefits of exercise, it's important to keep going. Here's the guide to sticking to your exercise principles.

Stick to your exercise principles

First off, you need to decide what it is you want to achieve through exercise and fitness training. It could be any of the following examples:

  • Weight loss through exercise
  • Toned, sculpted muscles through fitness training
  • Improved running speed through exercise
  • Better posture after exercising

The principle of specificity states that your exercise training must be geared towards the goals you want to achieve. For example, there is no point in taking up Pilates if your main goal is weight loss; or swimming, if you want to run a 5k fun run.

In general, cardiovascular training will improve your cardiovascular fitness (the heart and lungs), burn calories, boost stamina and energy levels, and reduce body fat (for example, swimming, brisk walking and jogging).

Resistance training will make your muscles stronger and firmer (and bigger, if you exercise in a particular way), will preserve your bone health, make your body more injury resistant and contribute to overall good health (for example, sit-ups, press-ups and bicep curl exercise).

Flexibility training will enhance your suppleness, maintain or increase your range of motion, contribute to good posture and muscle balance, and aid relaxation (for example, stretching and yoga).

Finally, core stability training — a fairly new concept in fitness — will help you build strength from the inside out by improving the responsiveness and function of the deep muscles of the body. These muscles protect the spine and stabilize the ‘core’ of the body during exercise movement (for example, pilates and stability ball exercises).

For good all-round fitness, experts recommend that we work on all of these major components, rather than focusing on just one. That may sound as if it contradicts the principle of specificity, but all it really means is that striking a balance is important. You can still focus on one aspect of fitness without completely neglecting the others.

How to get FIT!

Once you’ve decided what exercise activity you want to do, you need to think about the FIT principle, which is an acronym that stands for:

Frequency (how often you are going to do your exercise training)
Intensity (how hard you are going to work at your exercise)
Time (how long you will exercise for)

Remember to balance intensity and time, by making shorter sessions more intense and longer sessions more gentle.

Progressive exercise overload

Whatever level of fitness you start at, apply the principle of progressive overload. This means slowly but surely increasing the overall volume (frequency, intensity and time) of your sessions as you get fitter, in order to keep making fitness gains.

Why? Because for any type of physical improvement to take place, there needs to be a ‘stress’ placed on the body, to which it has to adapt. Therefore, the next time that same challenge is laid down, it will be better able to cope.

For example, if you started walking regularly four weeks ago, initially, walking a mile in 15 minutes was a real challenge, but now it feels pretty easy because you have undergone a ‘training effect’.

If you don’t either walk faster or further, the fitness benefits you have gained from walking will tail off, because your body is no longer being challenged. It will only adapt when the workload placed upon it is greater than that which it can already cope with. Focus on one variable at a time rather than trying to increase them all at once, though ...

The final essential principle is reversibility; in essence if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Exercise must be regular and consistent to maximize the health and fitness benefits. If you go too long between sessions, or don’t heed the progressive overload principle, then your fitness will begin to backslide.

A summary of recommended exercise guidelines for each component of fitness is shown below:


3-5 workouts per week

55–90% maximum heart rate (the maximum number of times your heart can beat per minute).  20-60 minutes continuous or intermittent


2-3 days per week

Dependent on desired outcome Dependent on desired outcome

2-3 days per week

Stretch to the point of mild discomfort, not pain

15-30 seconds per stretch for flexibility maintenance. Up to a minute for remedial postural work

5-7 days per week

Low intensity, to improve endurance and responsiveness of the postural muscles 10-15 minutes per day

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