How to Apply FITT Principle to Your Workout to Avoid Plateauing

There are many variables that contribute to creating a sound workout plan. Among them are how often you’ll work out, how hard you’ll push yourself, the length of your workout, and the type of activity you’re doing.

You’re more likely to see better results faster because your workouts will be effectively organized in a manner that delivers the most benefits for your effort which is what the FITT principle is all about.

What is a FITT principle?

The FITT principle is a set of guidelines to help you understand how long and how intense your exercises should be.

FITT is an acronym for the framework of a solid fitness program and stands for frequency, intensity, time, and type.

Each of these variables needs to be adjusted throughout your workout routine over the course of weeks and months in order to keep your results from stalling, which is also known as plateauing.

When you start training, the most effective approach to creating a results-driven program is to use periodization.

This refers to the method of using different phases to break up your training and address specific goals one at a time in a progressive manner.

Periodization is usually what athletes will use in order to increase their performance for competitions, but it’s also a useful training technique for someone who wants to maximize their training.

Using the FITT formula makes it easier to periodize your training by giving you clear guidelines to work with and adjust as you improve.

What are the 4 FITT principles?

The FITT Principle can be broken down into the following 4 components:

1. Frequency

Various office items are spread out on top of the desk including a calendar, sticky notes, pen, etc

Frequency is how often you participate in physical activity whether it’s aerobic exercise, strength training, or some other form of movement.

This metric will generally depend on your previous workout history, health, your schedule, and your goals or the types of workouts you’ll be doing.

Determining how often you work out will help you to figure out how to balance your fitness goals and priorities.

It’s a good idea to start by figuring this out first because it will help you to determine how to go about applying the other principles of FITT.

Your body requires a period of recovery after engaging in physical activity so if you’re going to do a vigorous activity like sprinting then you may not be able to do it as often as you would a lighter activity such as stretching.

For example, if you are going to lift heavy weights at the gym, you’ll want to account for the stresses being applied to your body and balance it with adequate recovery time between sessions.

Weight training the same muscle groups every day won’t provide the same benefits as if you spread your sessions throughout the week.

2. Intensity

Close up shot of a fit woman's torso holding a towel over her neck

The types of exercises you’re doing, the number of sets and reps, rest times, and rate of perceived exertion (or RPE) all play a role in determining the intensity of your workout.

Applying the proper amount of intensity to your workouts is also dependent on your goals, and a significant factor in the types of results you can expect.

If your workouts are consistently too intense, then you may end up stuck in a cycle of healing and incur overuse injuries that can hinder your results.

However, the opposite is also true.

If you’re applying too little intensity then your body won’t have a strong enough stimulus to adapt to and you’ll just be going through the motions without actually benefiting as much as you could.

There are 3 levels of intensity: low, moderate, and high.

1. Low-intensity workouts don’t affect your central nervous system as much, so your heart rate tends to stay pretty normal to slightly elevated.

If you’re exercising at lower intensities then your rate of perceived exertion will likely be less than 12 on the Borg scale of 6-20.

Your RPE refers to the Borg Scale, which is a measure of how hard you feel like you’re working while engaging in specific activities.

A 12 on the Borg scale falls between “fairly light” and “somewhat hard”, meaning it’s not enough to make you breathe hard but still takes some effort, like grocery shopping.

2. Moderate-intensity exercise is more of a 12-13 RPE range, which is described as “somewhat hard”, during which your heart rate and breathing increase.

Some examples of moderate-intensity activity would be taking the stairs, going for a brisk walk, and doing water aerobics.

3. High-intensity activity is rated as a 14-16 RPE and feels vigorous or hard.

When you’re participating in a high-intensity activity you’ll probably be breathing faster and harder, and be able to feel your heart beating aggressively.

Examples of high-intensity activities are high-intensity interval training or H.I.I.T., hiking while wearing a heavy backpack, playing a competitive game of basketball, or lifting heavy weights.

3. Time

Close up shot of a fit man's torso in the middle of the gym

Time refers to how long your workout or activity will last per session. It’s usually measured in minutes and will be based on the frequency and intensity of your workout.

More intense workouts last for shorter durations, while less intense workouts can go on for extended periods of time.

A good example of this would be long-distance running versus a heavy weight lifting session.

Long-distance running can go on for more than 60 minutes and uses a different energy system within your body to sustain that level of activity over an extended period.

While a heavy weight-lifting session shouldn’t last for much more than 60 minutes or you’ll risk burnout, in addition to a decrease in performance.

A more intense workout also uses different energy systems that can’t be sustained for long durations of time.

This is why it’s helpful to use the principles of FITT in their respective order and to figure out the frequency and intensity first.

4. Type

Muscular young woman posing at the gym

Finally, it’s time to decide what type of activity you’ll be doing.

There are several types of activities that you can choose from such as strength training, stretching, sports, aerobics, mobility, leisure activities, and hobbies such as dancing, and stability training.

Depending on the type of activity you choose, there are still other variables to consider. For example, if you choose strength training then the types of exercises will also matter.

Compound exercises that use multiple large muscle groups will place a greater demand on your central nervous system and deplete your energy stores faster.

Whereas if you choose to do isolation exercises that only use one joint and fewer muscle groups simultaneously, then there’s less of a metabolic demand placed on your body.

This basically means your body doesn’t have to work as hard so it won’t require as much energy or burn as many calories.

How can you apply the FITT principle to your workout?

The following are examples of how to apply the FITT formula to 3 different types of training, and how the principles vary depending on the type of activity you choose.

1. Strength training

Man doing bench presses with a bar while being spotted by his training partner

Frequency: 2-6 days a week depending on how much recovery time is needed.

  • 2-3 days a week would be appropriate for full-body workouts that work all of your muscles each session, with about a day or two of rest between sessions.
  • 4-6 days a week is geared toward more of a body part split where you’d only work certain muscles on specific days in order to give your body adequate time to recover between sessions.

Intensity: heavy or light weights, number of sets and reps, duration of rest time.

  • Lower intensity workouts may have lighter weights with higher reps, fewer sets, and more rest between sets.
  • Higher intensity workouts may mean lifting heavier weights, more sets, and less rest time between sets.

Time: depends on the frequency and duration of the workout with more demanding exercises dictating a shorter session.

  • If you’re lifting heavier weights at higher intensities then your workout will usually be shorter, around 45 to 60 minutes.
  • When lifting lighter weights, and placing less of a demand on your system the workout may be able to last 60 to 90 minutes depending on the type of workout and exercises.

Type: the type of strength training workout you do will depend on the types of exercises and equipment you use.

  • Bodyweight
  • Machines
  • Exercise bands
  • Suspension system
  • Free weights

2. Cardio

Woman running outside on a nice sunny day

Frequency: 3-5 times a week.

  • For general health, it’s recommended that you try to get in at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week.
  • 5 sessions per week for moderate-intensity activities.
  • 3 times a week if you’re doing higher intensity vigorous activity.

Intensity: breathing and heart rate should increase, general recommendations are 60-85% of your max heart rate.

Time: between 20-60 minutes at a time, dependent on the frequency and intensity of the cardio activity, more intense sessions will be shorter while less demanding activities will be longer in duration.

  • 45 to 60 minutes or more for athletic training or long-distance aerobic activities
  • About 30 minutes for a less intense cardio
  • About 20 minutes for vigorous cardio

Type: activities that raise your heart rate and increase your breathing, usually repetitive but not necessarily

  • Jogging, running, sprinting
  • Biking
  • Playing sports
  • Dancing

3. Stretching

Young woman doing a split stretch at the gym while her friend assists her by holding her back

Frequency: at least 2 and up to 5-7 times a week, stretching can be done multiple times a day on a daily basis.

Intensity: should feel minimal to mild discomfort, but your heart rate should stay pretty normal, stretch slowly and breathe normally to allow your body to relax into the stretch.

Time: hold each stretch for 10-60 seconds.

  • Hold the stretch for less time if you aren’t used to stretching and are just beginning.
  • Hold stretches for more time if you’ve already been stretching for a few weeks and can do so without sharp pain and extreme discomfort.
  • Aim for about 15-30 seconds on average per stretch.

Type: yoga, static stretching

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Vlad is a dad, entrepreneur, traveler, and die-hard fitness fanatic. With over 15 years of experience, he enjoys helping others live healthier lifestyles through his writing and education.

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