Fitness: Principles, Components And Variables Of Fitness

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Michael Ryan of RnR Fitness in Tralee on basic exercise principles…

Michael Ryan 1In developing an effective physical fitness program, you must adhere to basic exercise principles, regardless of your fitness level.

In the first of a three part series I will look at the principles of an effective training programme. This week I will outline two of these principles.

1. Progressive overload

The principle of progressive overload means progressively placing greater than normal  demands on the exercising musculature during a training program on a continuous basis for a training adaptation to take place.

Without progressive overload, there is no adaptation by the body to the exercise, as eventually the body will eventually plateau and adapt to the consistent non changing nature of the exercise.

During progressive overload neuromuscular adaptations happen first, followed by increases in muscle and connective tissue strength, and bone mass.

Depending on the  specific nature and objectives of the training goals, improvements  in lactic  acid  tolerance,  lactate threshold, maximal aerobic power and output, and a variety of cardiovascular functions are conditionally and beneficial responses.

The human body’s innate response to a training program can be described as the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS).

GAS underlines the necessity for progressive overload in a training environment.

Three stages are involved in the response to stress of progressive overload include; (i) alarm, (ii) resistance and (iii) exhaustion.

The body initially experiences the alarm phase when a new or increased stress is placed on the body. An athlete depending on the individual may experience extreme soreness or a temporary drop in performance during this time.

The resistance phase occurs sometime after, where the body comes to terms with the increase in workload thus returning to normal. Neurological adaptations initially take place, while muscular adaptations usually occur later.

The exhaustion phase results, if the training stress persists for too long which will inevitably lead to overtraining, mental fatigue, and other symptoms.

It is important for a fitness instructor to help their client avoid the exhaustion phase. This is possible with proper periodization and adequate recovery is allocated between exercise sessions.

Through the proper and appropriate use of periodization, an athlete can continuously challenge the body with progressive overload, while avoiding plateaus or d the pitfalls of training.

The following are ways to  add  progressive overload to your conditioning  by manipulating the variables of specificity, frequency, duration, intensity, and load.

Exercise Variation

Implementing different variations of exercises occasionally will challenge the body in different ways as the body begins to adapt to the previous stimuli.

This ensures that the body is kept guessing on good regularity and training thus nut hit a plateau or rut.

Exercise Frequency

Frequency of training usually depends on exercise intensity, duration, the persons training capabilities. The number of daily or weekly training sessions depends on all these factors, and can be adapted appropriately.

Progress can continue from 2-3 and then 4 exercise sessions per week.

Exercise Duration and Intensity

The length of time or duration of the training session can be varied as well.

Exercise intensity will determine exercise duration. Generally, the more intense a workout the shorter the length of the workout and vice versa.

Exercise intensity should be closely monitored to ensure the proper amount of overload is applied and that exhaustion or over training does not occur.


The load or intensity of the exercises will depend on the goals of the current training program. If the goal is strength, then the load assignment will be high. If the goal is endurance than the load will be lower. As the load increases, the number of repetitions performed decreases.


Ensure that the type of exercise outlined in the exercise program matches the goal and objectives of the training.

2) Reversibility

The Reversibility Principle explains that people who are participating in exercise programmes will eventually lose the effects and benefits of the training when a cessation of exercising over a sustained or significant period of time occurs.

Conversely, it also means that such effects can be reversed and benefits regained when training is resumed, while rest and recovery periods are necessary, extended rest period beyond a certain time lapse will invariably lead to a reduction in reduce physical fitness.

The physiological effects of fitness training will inevitably occur over time, resulting in the body returning to pre training condition.

It is believed that approximately 10% of strength is lost eight weeks after training ceases, but 30-40% of muscular endurance is lost during the same time period.

The Reversibility Principle Does Not Apply to Retaining Skills

Sport skills are retained for much longer periods of time after training stops. A skill once learned is usually never forgotten.

Coordination is stored in the long-term motor memory and remains intact for decades, particularly for continuous skills (e.g., cycling, swimming).

Over time, strength, endurance, and flexibility are lost, but athletes remember how to execute sport skills and strategies.

The challenge that most often arises when training commences after extended periods of detraining is regaining precise timing. The motor skills and neurological responses remain but the body’s physical capabilities for executing the programs become diminished.

• Michael Ryan is part of RnR Fitness: Qualified and Certified Personal, Trainers, Fitness Instructors and Sports Nutrition Consultants. See their Facebook page here

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