General Principles:

The general principles underpinning exercise prescription is that in order to experience improvement, the systems of the body must experience progressive overload. In the simplest terms, more exercise must be performed on a regular, consistent basis than the individual is ordinarily used to. This progressive overload represents the training stimulus and the response of the body to repeated training stimuli is the training adaptation.

The factors that are normally manipulated in order to produce the most appropriate training stimulus are:

  1. Exercise Frequency
  2. Exercise Intensity
  3. Exercise Duration
  4. Exercise Type

These factors should never be taken in isolation. Rather they should always bear in mind:

  1. The current health and fitness status of the individual
  2. Their exercise or training goals
  3. Their exercise likes and dislikes
  4. The individual’s drive, motivation and time constraints
  5. The specificity of the individual’s training adaptation

Exercise and Training Goals:

Different people are attracted to exercise and training for different reasons, and these reasons must be established so that realistic exercise goals can be agreed between my client and me. The fundamental principles of goal setting can be remembered using the mnemonic:


S:   Goals should be SPECIFIC and say what is to be achieved

M:   They should be MEASURABLE

A:   They should beACHIVABLE

R:   They should be REALISTIC

T:   And planned in terms of TIME(target dates for goals must be set)

E:   They should be EXCITING


Exercise Likes and Dislikes:

This is less of a problem with the competitive sports performer, who, if they are made aware of the relevance of different exercises or training methods to improved performance, seldom find an excuse not to do that exercise or training. However, the recreational exercisers will invariably only exercise consistently – and thereby achieve their fitness goals – if what they are doing is enjoyable.

Drive, Motivation and Time Constraints:

Some people are highly driven and motivated; others less so. So people are happy and able to devote the maximum amount of time to their exercise programme; others want maximum results in minimum time. Drive, motivation and available time are important considerations when the exercise programme is being prescribed.

Specific, Individual Adaptation:

This is a common observation that is less well understood. Some people respond dramatically to training stimuli; others less so. It may be that the ‘starting points’ are different (less fit individuals tend to show greater initial improvement), but this should have been noted in the fitness assessment. Equally, whether somebody is putting in more or less work will also be noted by working at individually specific heart rates for definite times. However, by careful monitoring of training workloads and the response to training using HRMs can help ensure that every individual progresses at the rate that matches their adaptation and physiological response. In other words, a HRM can help you customise each workout to each individual.

Exercise Prescription: Health and Fitness

The exercise prescription for individuals whose goal is an overall improvement in their general health and fitness follows the ACSMs 1990 Position Stand (‘The Recommended Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardio respiratory and Muscular Fitness in Healthy Adults’).

  • Frequency of training: 3 – 5 days per week
  • Intensity of training: 60 – 90% of maximum heart rate
  • Duration of training: 20 – 60 minutes of continuous aerobic activity (lower to moderate intensity activity of longer duration is recommended for the non-athletic adult)
  • Mode (type) of activity: any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously and is rhythmical and aerobic in nature
  • Resistance training: strength training of a moderate intensity, sufficient to develop and maintain fat-free weight should be an integral part of an adult fitness programme. One set of 8 – 12 repetitions of eight to ten exercises at least twice a week is recommended minimum

Exercise Prescription: Weight Management

It is well established that one of the most effective methods of weight management is a combination of diet and exercise. Exercise increases energy expenditure and can increase lean mass, thereby increasing an individual’s metabolic rate. It is only through exercise and a healthy diet that fat mass can be lost and kept off, forever.

The exercise prescription for weight management is not that different to the prescription for health and fitness. Indeed, depending upon the starting point, the recommended exercise intensity may well be the same. However, after a few weeks of regular exercise, most people exercising for weight management will probably increase the exercise intensity slightly, to 60 – 70% MHR, so that they are working in the so-called ‘Weight Management Zone’. This is sometimes also referred to as the ‘aerobic fitness threshold’, since aerobic benefits are readily seen from working at this intensity.

Exercise Prescription: Sports Specific Training

I have often been asked to assist in the design of sports specific training programmes for competitive sportsmen and women. Sports scientists have developed the following twelve principles of sports specific conditioning.

  1. Know your sport
  2. Know your performer
  3. Establish a baseline
  4. Set appropriate goals
  5. Know and understand training
  6. Consider gym training as a vehicle for skill and for improving technique
  7. Understand the nature of injury and its prevention
  8. Have performers screened professionally where appropriate
  9. Correct muscle imbalance if appropriate
  10. Ensure that all athletes have an appropriate stretching routine
  11. Have as many sports specific exercises in your training programme as possible
  12. Ensure that all exercises are valid and performed with excellent technique

Bearing in mind that the ACSM’s recommended exercise intensity band is quite broad (60 – 90% MHR), it is sometimes useful to sub-divide it into more precise training zones:

  1. The introductory Moderate Activity Zone 50 – 60% is ideal for those people who are beginning an exercise programme for the first time, for those who have been sedentary or inactive for a considerable length of time or for anyone who is relatively poor condition.
  2. With the next one, representing 60 – 70% MHR often being referred to as the ‘Weight Management Zone
  3. The next zone, between 70 – 80% MHR is then the classic ‘Aerobic Zone’.
  4. Working in what is often called the Anaerobic Threshold Zone 80 – 90% MHR effectively helps the endurance athlete increase the amount of work he can do at his ‘OBLA.
  5. Finally, there is a training zone known as the ‘Red -Line-Zone’. This is training at your maximum and corresponds to the heart rates above 90% MHR. High intensity interval training as used by middle-distance runners for example falls into this category. Training at this intensity helps increase speed and power and is faster than race pace. It should be used intelligently and with caution since the risk of injury is high.

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