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Exercise principles - what every trainer should know by heart [article]

This is the first of two articles looking at the exercise principles and how they are vital to prescribing effectively for clients. Every trainer should have these as a foundation for their programme design work.


With 79% of adults participating in sport and recreation activities every week and 34.9% of adults currently signed up to a club or center, it’s fair to say that physical activity plays a large role in peoples lives in New Zealand. Whether people take part in activity for enjoyment or because they’re aiming to achieve a specific goal, exercise will place stress on our bodies. Understanding exercise principles allows trainers to monitor the stress (exercise load) placed upon their client in order to make the training safe and effective, helping the client to achieve their goals.


This article looks at what the exercise principles are. The next article Exercise Principles in action’ will look at examples of how these principles apply to different clients.



Exercise should be specific to the individual completing the training


People respond differently to exercise so in order to maximise the benefits, training programs should be built around the person’s needs and capabilities.



Exercise should be specific to the client’s goals, needs and capabilities.


Our bodies response to training is based on the specific stimulus (training) applied. So to increase adaptation (results) exercise should be specific to an individual’s goals, tasks, movements and capabilities.



Exercise should overload the body in order for a positive adaptation to occur


For the body to adapt it needs to be overloaded. This means it needs to be placed under greater stress than it is accustomed to. This is accomplished by using the F.I.T.T principle to make the body do more than it has done before.

F = Frequency of training

I = Intensity of training

T = Type of training

T = Time of training (duration)

Progressive overload

Exercise needs to continually overload the body if positive adaptations (change) are to continue to take place.


For the body to keep adapting to exercise the stress it is placed under should progressively increase (i.e. the intensity / loads should continually increase). Similar to overload, stress can be gradually increased using the F.I.T.T principle.



Exercise needs to be varied for optimal adaptation to occur, avoiding boredom, overuse, injury or hitting a plateau.


For optimal change to occur and to decrease the risk of an individual getting bored, overtraining, getting injured or reaching a plateau, the training must constantly be varied.


Rest and recovery

Rest and recovery are required to allow the body time to adapt to exercise.


Optimal adaptation requires recovery time. It is only during the recovery phase (days between workouts) that the body is able to change and adapt to the stress of the workout. Recovery can be improved in a variety of ways, such as effective nutrition and hydration, light aerobic exercise and stretching sessions. It is believed that 90%+ of an individuals time is spent recovering from exercise. If we get this wrong positive adaptations will not occur as quickly.



If you don’t use it you lose it


Adaptations which occur through exercise are reversible, so when training is stopped for prolonged periods the adaptations from previous exercise will be lost.



Fitness can be maintained by altering the F.I.T.T principle.


By maintaining the intensity of training and decreasing the volume or frequency of training by 1/3 – 2/3 the current fitness levels of an individual can be maintained.



Room for positive development decreases the fitter you become


As we get fitter, the amount of improvement possible decreases based on the client getting closer to their genetic potential (ceiling).



Training contrasting fitness components at the same time can reduce adaptation (results) in both.


Training certain components of fitness at the same time can lead to the interference effect. For example training to increase muscle size and increase aerobic endurance at the same time will lead to the client making slower progress to both goals, even though there will be increases in both of the components being trained.


 So we know exercise principles, now what?

What ever a clients reason for taking part in exercise, it is imperative that every fitness professional understands the exercise principles and how to use them.


Abiding by the principles will help trainers create a safe, injury free, exciting and effective programme, allowing clients to achieve their goals.


Read Exercise Principles in action to see examples of the principles used for both general population and athletes.



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