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- FITT Principle
What is the FITT Principle?
Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type and how they relate to cardio, strength, stretching and injury prevention.by Brad Walker | First Published September 24, 2003 | Updated May 6, 2019The FITT Principle (or formula) is a great way of monitoring your exercise program. The acronym FITT outlines the key components, or training guidelines, for an effective exercise program, and the initials F, I, T, T, stand for: Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type.
- Frequency: refers to the frequency of exercise undertaken or how often you exercise.
- Intensity: refers to the intensity of exercise undertaken or how hard you exercise.
- Time: refers to the time you spend exercising or how long you exercise for.
- Type: refers to the type of exercise undertaken or what kind of exercise you do.
Lets take a look at each of the components in a little more detail.
Frequency is a key component of the FITT Principle. Remember that its important to know why youre exercising and what you want to achieve before rushing into any exercise program.
Adjust the number of times you exercise per day/week/month to reflect: your current fitness level; the time you realistically have available; your other commitments like family and work; and the goals youve set for yourself.
This is an extremely important aspect of the FITT Principle and is probably the hardest factor to monitor. The best way to gauge the intensity of your exercise is to monitor your heart rate.
There are a couple of ways to monitor your heart rate but the best way by far is to purchase an exercise heart rate monitor. These can be purchased at most good sports stores and retail from $50 to $400. They consist of an elastic belt that fits around your chest and a wrist watch that displays your exercise heart rate in beats per minute.
If you dont want to spend the money on a heart rate monitor, simply count your heart rate over a 15 second period. All you need is a wrist watch that has a seconds display. Feel for your heart beat by either placing your hand over your heart or by feeling for your pulse in your neck or on your wrist. Count the beats over a 15 second period and then multiply by 4. This will give you your exercise heart rate in beats per minute.
The time you spend exercising is also an important part of the FITT Principle. The time dedicated to exercise usually depends on the type of exercise undertaken.
For example, its recommended that to improve cardio-vascular fitness youll need at least 30 minutes of non stop exercise. For weight loss, more time is required; at least 40 minutes of moderate weight bearing exercise. However, when talking about the time required for muscular strength improvements, time is often measured as a number of sets and reps. A typical recommendation would be 3 sets of 8 reps.
The type of exercise you choose will have a big effect on the results you achieve. Thats why its important to know what you want to gain from your efforts.
For example, if youre looking to improve your cardio-vascular fitness, then exercises like walking, jogging, swimming, bike riding, stair climbing, aerobics and rowing are very effective. For weight loss, any exercise that using a majority of your large muscle groups will be effective. To improve muscular strength the best exercises include the use of free weights, machine weights and body weight exercises like push-ups, chin-ups and dips.
Transcript from video (click to open)
Emily: Awesome, theres so much more I want to cover, but we only have so much time. So, Im curious if you could explain to us what the FITT principle is, FITT and tell us how that can help us recover and feel better in our lives.
Brad: Yeah, so the FITT Principal, its just a really simple acronym that is typically used with athletes just to sort of measure their training and so forth. So, fit; FITT stands for Frequency Intensity Time and Type and its just a way of sort of monitoring your exercise and monitoring what youre doing. So, obviously frequency can refer to how often youre exercising and for a professional athlete that can be on a daily basis, if theyre exercising two, three, four times a day, for us average folks its usually measured over the course of a week. So, you might have six sessions a week that you do, or it can even be broken down over like a periodization program. So, again, more for like professional athletes they might look at doing like a six-week training block and theyll look at the frequency of their exercise throughout that training block intensity pretty self-explanatory this just refers to how hard youre going to exercise.
So, its really important that you include both some easy exercise, maybe some long, easy cardiovascular exercise, and then also mix it up with some more higher intensity type stuff as well. So, again, just looking at your week, you might schedule in say youve got six sessions, but you might set a schedule in three or four relatively easiest sessions, and then you might put in one or two, like really hard, tough type sessions. And thats how you sort of keep a track of the intensity of your exercise time. Thats just how much time youre spending exercising. So, if youre a professional athlete, you could be exercising 35 to 40 hours a week. If youre just an average person, you might exercise anywhere from say five to 10 hours a week.
And lastly, the type of exercise that you do you, are youre going for a bike ride, are youre walking along the beach, are you going for a swim? Are you hitting the gym? You know what youre doing? So, that just gives you sort of an overview. Its looking at your training from a holistic point of view. Now when it comes to this FITT principle, I feel is most beneficial when it comes to recovery and rehabilitation and so forth. And this is where I use it sort of personally, and with some of the athletes that I work with in regards to sort of measuring their recovery its really important that you include some recovery time in your training program. And theres a couple of reasons for that, but one reason that a lot of people arent familiar with, and when I sort of explain this to them, they sort of think, wow, I never looked at it that way.
But what happens is when you start training your body goes through a process whereby firstly it has to adapt to the exercise that youre doing. So, typically if you havent trained for a while and you go to the gym or you start running again, you have that soreness that we all experience for a week or two. But after we get over that your body starts to adapt to the training and starts to getting stronger. The problem is that your muscles adapt much quicker to the training than the rest of your body does. So, your joints, your ligaments, your tendons, the joint capsules, your bones, everything else takes a lot longer to catch up. And so, what happens is you start exercising and you get over that initial sort of soreness, and then you start feeling really good.
Your muscles start feeling stronger, you feel like you can run further, you feel like you can lift more weight and you feel really good. You feel encouraged and you feel sort of encouraged to push and do more and more. The issue is that your muscles have adapted, and your muscles have got stronger. But the tendons that attach those muscles to the bones are still lagging behind the ligaments that provide the structure and the support of your joints. They havent developed as much, if youre doing running your bones havent developed that density and that strength that they need to be able to cope with the exercise youre doing. So, while you may feel like you can do more and more, and your muscles are feeling great, the rest of your body hasnt caught up yet.
And what typically happens is about two to three months into an exercise program, or after someone started an exercise program, they typically start to get these little aches and pains and little niggles and twinges and knee starts hurting a little bit, or my shoulders a little bit sore. Well, thats the rest of your body, that hasnt caught up to your muscles yet. So, its really important to schedule these recovery weeks in so that it gives your body a chance for all those other tissues to catch up. And this is where I use the FITT Principle. So, what I do is I look at what an athlete been doing from the point of the FITT Principle. And then what we do is we just cut in half the frequency. So, if they were exercising six times a week, we just cut that down to three times a week, and we cut the time in half.
So, if you were doing six, one-hour sessions, we just do three, half hour sessions for that one week and thats your recovery week. Now thats going to give you plenty of exercise so that you continue to maintain all those gains that youve achieved, but it gives your body that time and that recovery that it needs to recover and look after itself. And if you schedule one of those recovery weeks in every six or eight weeks, youll find that you dont have these big troughs where youre always fighting this little here and there or whatever else. So, cut the frequency in half, cut the time in half, you can keep the intensity and the type of exercise the same but just cut that frequency and time in half.
FITT for Cardio and Weight Loss
The FITT Principle is most commonly used for cardiovascular (aerobic) training and weight loss, although its also commonly used as part of strength training recommendations (see below). The standard recommendation for cardio training is as follows.
- Frequency 5 to 6 times per week.
- Intensity Easy to moderate, or about 60-75% of your maximum heart rate.
- Time Anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes or more.
- Type Any exercise you can do continually, like running, walking, cycling, swimming, rowing, stair-climber, elliptical trainer, etc.
FITT for Strength
When the FITT Principle is used as part of strength training, the standard recommendations are as follows.
- Frequency 2 to 3 times per week, but NOT on consecutive days (leave 1 or 2 days rest between each strength session).
- Intensity The intensity of your strength training depends on the amount of weight lifted and the sets and reps you do. Basically, the heavier the weight, the less sets and reps, while the lighter the weight, the more sets and reps you can do.
- Time The time you spend doing strength training will depend on the intensity of the workout. If the intensity is extremely high, then reduce the time spent doing strength training or include extra rest. If the intensity is low, the time spent doing strength training can be a lot longer.
- Type The best types of strength training exercises include free weights, machine weights, hydraulic weight machines, resistance bands and body-weight exercises like push-ups, chin-ups and dips, etc.
FITT for Stretching
Lets take a look at how the FITT Principle can be applied to stretching as it relates to improving flexibility and range of motion. Remember, stretching can be used for other activities like warming up and cooling down, but for the purpose of this article lets stick with stretching for improving flexibility.
The FITT Principle for stretching would look like the following.
- Frequency 5 to 7 times per week. Unlike other types of exercises, like cardio and strength training, stretching (when done properly) is very relaxing and therapeutic, and will help you recover from your other activities. So feel free to add stretching to your exercise program every day.
- Intensity Slow, easy and relaxed. When the goal is to improve flexibility and range of motion you should do your stretching at a low intensity. Move into the stretch position and as soon as you feel deep tension within the muscle group, stop there. If its hurting or painful, youve gone too far. On a scale of 1 to 10 aim for a tension of about 6 or 7 out of 10.
- Time Anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes, and hold each stretch for 40 to 60 seconds.
- Type Static, Passive and PNF. For improving range of motion and creating permanent changes in your flexibility the best types of stretching to use are long-hold static stretching, passive (or assisted) stretching and PNF stretching.
How does all this relate to injury prevention?
The two biggest mistakes I see people make when designing an exercise program are:
- Training too hard, which often results in overtraining or injury; and
- Not including enough variety. The problem, most commonly, is that people find an exercise they like and very rarely do anything other than that exercise. This can result in long term, repetitive strain to the same muscle groups, and neglect, or weakening of other muscle groups. Leading to a very unbalanced muscular system, which again is a sure-fire recipe for overtraining or injury.
When using the FITT Principle to design your exercise program keep the following in mind.
After you finish exercising your body goes through a process of rebuilding and repair. Its during this process that the benefits of your exercise are forthcoming.
However, if youre exercising hard every day (or even 4 or 5 times a week) your body never has a decent chance to realize the benefits and gains from the exercise. What usually happens is that you end up getting tired or injured and just quit.
My frequency recommendation: Only perform intense or strenuous exercise 2 to 3 times a week MAXIMUM! The rest of the weeks training can be made up of a combination of easy to moderate days and complete rest days.
This may sound strange and a little hard to do at first, (because most people have been brainwashed into believing that they have to exercise to the max everyday) but after a while exercising like this becomes very enjoyable and something that you can look forward to. Sure beats dragging yourself out the door everyday because you feel guilty about taking a day off every now and then, or just having an easy training day.
It also dramatically reduces your likelihood of injury because youre giving your body more time to repair and heal. Many elite level athletes have seen big improvements in performance when forced to take an extended break. Most never realize theyre training too hard, too often.
Intensity, Time & Type
The key here is variety. Dont let yourself get stuck in an exercise rut.
In regards to intensity and time, vary your effort. Dedicate some of your workouts to long, easy sessions like long walks or light, repetitive weights. While other sessions can be made up of short, high intensity exercises like stair climbing or interval training. And remember, if youre not feeling 100%; take the day off or schedule an easy workout.
The type of exercise you do is also very important. Like I said earlier, many people get into a routine of doing the same exercise over and over again. If you really want to lower your risk of injury, do a variety of different exercises. This will help to improve all your major muscle groups and will make you a more versatile, well-rounded athlete. Cross training is a great way of adding variety to your workout schedule.
What else can you do?
While the recommendations on this page are a good place to start, you'll get a lot more benefit when you add the right stretches to your training program. With the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility you'll...
Do away with stiff, tight muscles and joints;
- Improve your freedom of movement;
- Get rid of injuries, aches and pains;
- Improve your sporting performance; and
- Take your flexibility to the next level.
You'll get 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretches for every major muscle groups in your body. Plus, the DVD includes 3 customized sets of stretches (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core. And the Handbook will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly and safely. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly.
If you want to improve your flexibility and loosen up stiff, tight muscles fast, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility for yourself.
Research and References
- Walker, B. (2018). The Anatomy of Sports Injuries, 2nd Edition (ISBN: 978-1623172831)
- Pollock, M. L., Gaesser, G. A., Butcher, J. D., Després, J. P., Dishman, R. K., Franklin, B. A., & Garber, C. E. (1998). ACSM position stand: the recommended quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, and flexibility in healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 30(6), 975-991.
- Katsukawa, F. (2016). FITT principle of exercise in the management of lifestyle-related diseases. Clinical calcium, 26(3), 447-451.
- Oberg, E. (2007). Physical activity prescription: our best medicine. Integrative medicine, 6(5), 18-22.
- Garber, C. Blissmer, B. Deschenes, M. Franklin, B. Lamonte, M. Lee, I. Nieman, D. Swain, D. (2011). Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 43(7):1334-1359.
About the Author: Brad Walker is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon (author page) has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.
Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.
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