Principles of Training 2: FITT.

In order to get fit and improve our heath or reach our training or physique goals, we need to be able to structure a training program that puts us on the right path to success.  One of the underlying basic principles that trainers are taught to employ is designing sessions around training ‘Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type’ or ‘FITT’.


When we consider the first part of the principle, frequency, this relates to how often we perform a specific activity. For bodybuilding this could be how often we train a body part, or for powerlifting, how often we squat, bench and deadlift, and for endurance athletes, how often they run, cycle and swim.


The important thing to note here is that the frequency in which we can train is determined partly by the intensity at which we train and also the amount of volume. If we think back to part 1 in the series, it is not sensible to train consistently if recovery has not taken place, therefore our frequency needs to take into consideration our overall training load, which is a product of our intensity, and the amount of time we spend doing that activity. Intensity for weight training typically refers to the percentage of our maximal lift for a particular exercise that we are working at. As a general rule, the higher the intensity, the lower the amount of overall volume, or time spent lifting that load needs to be reduced otherwise recovery becomes challenging. At lower intensities of 1 rep max, we can spend more cumulative time (more reps and sets with less rest between them) under the bar, leading to potentially very high training volumes that will take a long time to recover from if not careful.


For endurance activities, intensity in a non-scientific environment is usually determined by working at a percentage of maximal heart rate. In a research environment, this can be more accurately measured using measurements of the exchange of gases from the lungs to work out fuel usage and the amount of oxygen that we are up-taking given as a percentage of volume of maximal oxygen uptake, or V02 MAX. Again, the higher the intensity (heart rate or VO2), the less time we can perform this activity for and the more rest we will need before working at that intensity again, both within that training session and before the next high intensity bout. At lower intensity, we can spend more time performing that activity, so again, we still need to be aware of training volume and although certain tissues in the body may be adapted enough to recover quickly, we need to consider more than just the main systems being challenged which would fundamentally be the muscles and cardiovascular system, regardless of exercise type.

We also need to consider the stress and load placed on the joints and connective tissues which may have their own adaptation rates; the muscle might feel fine, the heart rate recovered back to normal, but the stress to connective tissues and bones is something that is difficult to measure and this is one of the main reasons why many runners at some stage in their career develop stress fractures and weight trainers/lifters will inevitably suffer with some form of tendonitis in at least one joint in the body. Once we understand the principles of how training frequency, intensity and volume interact, we can formulate progressive programs to help support positive adaptations whilst allowing adequate time for recovery.


The final component of FITT is type and this really relates to the activity being performed: is it stretching, resistance training, running or swimming? And although this comes last in the list, it is arguably the most important for a few reasons. Firstly, if we want to reach a certain goal, our training has to be specific enough to reach that goal. For some goals this does not have to be very specific, whereas for others it needs to be very, very focused on the performance of a certain type of sport or activity. Secondly, it is only when we know the types of exercise or activity that we need to perform to reach our goals and the understanding of the activity’s specific demands of the sports that we can start to think about how to structure our training in such a way to make progress without injuring ourselves.


On a final note, much of the programming required, if doing this for yourself, comes down to a process of ‘autoregulation’ and this is, in some regards, a measure of experience and understanding of your own body about when to push things harder and when to back off and allow time for recovery. For many people this is challenging (myself included), as they do not possess the right mind-set to make these decisions properly... ‘Am I taking a rest because I need it, or because I’m being lazy?’ ‘My knees hurt, but not enough to stop me training… Let’s do it anyway’ are two examples of how sometimes we cannot trust our own minds to make the right decisions for us and these kinds of self-doubts can lead to either injury or not reaching our goals, depending on whether we have the skills to listen to the ‘right voice’ in the right situation. For many people, especially when starting out or when pushing the body to its limits, that a reputable trainer is highly recommended and if you are not using a trainer of some sort then having a trusted, wise, old head to use as an occasional sounding board can be a very useful tool indeed!

Thanks for reading,

Dr P.