The FITT Principle: Recommended Exercise Guidelines

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What is the FITT Principle?

F: frequency – how often? This is the number of times a week one should exercise
I: intensity – how hard? This is how much effort you are putting in while exercising
T: time – how long are you doing it? This is the duration of each session of exercise, or the number of repetitions, sets, and time between sets
T: type – what kind of exercise are you doing? Eg. biking, walking, pilates, etc.

These are the ACSM guidelines for the four large categories in exercise, set for healthy adults. Note that seniors, previously-sedentary adults or novices, and children, all have different standards and these are NOT the guidelines for them.

Closeup portrait of senior Caucasian woman hugging cheerful little granddaughter

It is important that every exercise regimen is adjusted to suit the individual. For instance, a 75 year-old stroke patient will be prescribed a very different exercise routine than a 14 year-old elite gymnast.

Ellette Craddock Senior man walking with walker, woman helping

What is the ACSM?
The American College of Sports Medicine is an organization and a certification body. They are a group of scientists who pride themselves in reviewing studies and scientific research to come up with guidelines and recommendations for exercise. Most of the time, science-y papers are boring, way too long, picture-less, and written in Times New Roman (EW). Thanks to the ACSM, regular people don’t have to go through these research articles to find out what is best for our bodies in terms of exercise. This organization does all of that for us – they examine and cite thousands of papers and integrate the evidence, to give us the best recommendations based on their research of the research. We can then apply these guidelines to our personal exercise routines.

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Fun Fact!
The ACSM is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world! The CSEP is another group of professionals – the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists parallels the ACSM – and improves the health of Canadians by doing research into exercise physiology, biochemistry, and fitness.
Let’s keep the principle of SPECIFICITY in mind – you must work each muscle group in order to have strength gains in that particular part of the body. In other words, the body part you exercise will become stronger.
Now, let’s take a look at how the FITT principle applies to four broad categories of exercise.

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Cardiorespiratory Capacity
F: 3-5 days a week
I: 40-60% of maximum heart rate, or a 4-6 on the Borg Scale (0 = no exertion, 10 = maximum effort). This is moderate intensity.
T: 150 minutes a week, or 30-50 minutes a day. This amount of exercise can be split up into 10-minute “doses” separated throughout the day, because 10 minutes is the minimum time to get your heart rate up.
T: Engaging major muscle groups, such as the trunk and core

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Muscle Strength
F: 2-3 days a week
I: 40-60% of your one-repitition maximum, or moderate intensity. Seniors, or previously-sedentary adults should start light or very light to prevent injury.
T: 2-4 sets, 8-12 repetitions each
T: Engaging major muscle groups, such as the trunk and core (a variety is best: running, swimming, etc.)

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Muscular Endurance
F: 2-3 days a week
I: Less than 70% of your one-repetition maximum (40-60% is recommended, moderate intensity)
T: 2-4 sets, 10-25 repetitions each. Note that this has the same number of sets as Muscle Strength, but involves MORE repetitions because the goal is to improve your muscle’s ability to work continuously without fatigue.
T: Entire body (free weights and machines are equally efficient)

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Flexibility
F: 2-3 days a week
I: You should feel tightness and slight discomfort, but no pain. The stretch should NOT be unbearable, and you should be able to hold it for 10-30 seconds (static), no matter how deep into the stretch you are.
T: 10-30 seconds per stretch, done in a cycle so each stretch is performed 2-4 times. In the end, each stretch should be done for a TOTAL of 60 seconds. For example, you can touch your toes for 20 seconds, do a butterfly stretch for 20 seconds, then a cobra pose for 20 seconds. Repeating this cycle three times will give you a minute of each pose.
T: Stretches can be static, dynamic, ballistic, or PNF. Static stretches are “normal” stretches, where you hold a pose. Dynamic stretches involve moving, such as twisting your upper body, swinging your arms, kicking your legs out to stretch your hip flexors, etc. Ballistic stretches involve bouncing. Think rapid, “back-and-forth” movements. PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation: 6 seconds of contraction followed by 10-30 seconds of an ASSISTED stretch.

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Other things to keep in mind:
  • Your specific fitness goals
  • Current level of fitness
  • Your genetics (ontogeny, body composition)
  • Even if you aren’t reaching the recommended intensity or frequency, that doesn’t mean you are not improving. Your body will still benefit from the exercise – remember that these are only GUIDELINES and must be tailored to fit the individual.

Whew! Well, that’s it for now. Only three days until I’m back home in BC, and I can’t wait to see my parents, sister, and doggie again. Sometimes, when I’m thinking of my family, it helps to look at old posts and think of all the awesome moments we spent together and how many more great times we’ll have in the future. And, of course, it helps to look at photos of yummy food! These are some of the posts and pages I like looking at 🙂


Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone!

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