It’s time. You’re ready, ready to start that fitness program you’ve been thinking about but you’re not sure how to begin. Getting started is often the hardest part because of so much conflicting information and downright misinformation about exercise. One way to take that first step and to make it personally yours is to follow the F.I.T.T. principle. This acronym stands for Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type. If you are a novice exerciser, the F.I.T.T. principle can help you develop a program. If you’re already exercising, it provides a framework for making some changes in your program. This week, I will focus on how you can use the F.I.T.T. principle to take that first step. Next week, I will discuss ways to add variation to your program using the F.I.T.T. principle to progress.
Frequency refers to how often you will be exercising and is determined by several factors and guidelines.
Intensity is how hard you work at any given exercise session.
Time, or duration, refers to how long each workout will be.
Type refers to the kind of exercise you will be doing, for instance, cardiovascular, weight training and stretching. It also refers to the specific exercises you will be doing, for example, walking, swimming or biking.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has F.I.T.T. guidelines for the components of an exercise program which I have addressed in prior articles. For the sake of review, they recommend a frequency of 3 – 5 days per week for cardiovascular benefits, at a moderate intensity, for a time between 20 – 60 minutes. For resistance training, a schedule of 2 – 3 times per week on non-consecutive days, using weights, resistance bands or weight machines that you can do 8 – 12 repetitions for 1 – 3 sets is the ACSM recommendation.
As you begin, perhaps the most important of the F.I.T.T. components is the type of exercise you choose to do. It should be something that you like to do and will be motivated to continue. An idea for getting started is to look at a map of your neighborhood and draw a one-to-two mile radius around your home. What is there? Is there a park nearby? Is there a swimming pool, a bike path, a gym, a high school track, anything within a convenient walking or jogging distance? The more convenient it is to get to where you plan to exercise, the more likely you are to be consistent. If you plan to start walking or jogging, pick out a couple of courses–an out and back, a loop and maybe a hill or two.
When you’ve decided what you will be doing, be realistic as you get started about how often you can exercise and what the best times are for your schedule. Keep your goals small and manageable. Pick two or three days initially if you’re planning to start a regular walking program. Start with 15 – 20 minutes and work up to 30 over a period of three-to-four weeks. Signing up for a class can be helpful especially in the cold and rain of winter. Find a community program or a gym and commit to a Tuesday-Thursday or a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule for six weeks.
There will be days when you have more time to exercise. Perhaps you could go for a longer walk of 45 – minutes one day but the next day you may only have 20 or 30 minutes. That’s where you can vary the intensity of your workout as you vary the time. If you only have 20 or 30 minutes, pick up your pace since you won’t be going as far as you did on your 45 – minute walk. In that instance, you can walk at a slower, lower intensity since you are walking for a longer duration or time. Higher intensity workouts burn more calories in a shorter time. What you do in a 30-minute jog or run may take an hour or more of walking. Both are great exercises but done at different intensities and times. It all comes down to how much time you can devote and, more importantly, what you like to do. It’s also a good idea to vary your program from day to day or week to week to avoid injury, overuse and boredom.
Let me end with a specific example using the F.I.T.T principle for a cardiovascular (aerobic) and a weight (resistance) workout. For the cardiovascular component:
Walking (Type) at 3.5mph (Intensity) for 30 minutes (Time) 3 days a week (Frequency). For the weight workout: Hand-weights (Type) using a weight, for example 5 -10-lbs (Intensity), that you can do 8 -12 repetitions (Time), 2 – 3 times per week, (Frequency).
Substitute the underlined words in the above paragraph with your own choices and you will have a “F.I.T.T.”-ness program that is personally yours.
Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM