Knowing when to push yourself and when to hold back can be quite difficult, particularly if you’re relatively new to regular exercise. So we’ve put together some basic tips and tools you can apply when starting out to ensure that you’re progressing at a healthy rate and that you avoid overload and injury.

Define your goal

Whatever level you are, it’s essential to set your goals and define what you’re hoping to achieve. Is it weight loss? Is it strength? Is it general fitness? Are you training for an event?

Defining your goal first will make knowing what to do later a lot easier. 

Progression for the novice

There’s a big difference between progressing as an athlete, and as someone who’s just started exercising. While athletes will go through sustained periods of overload and adaptation to achieve peak performance, you’ll most likely have different goals - the first one being, don’t get injured!

The biggest priority for the exercise novice is to simply do more than you did yesterday. You walked 30 minutes around the park today, tomorrow do 32, or maybe you did 5 push-ups yesterday, today try 6.

It’s as simple as that. By doing a little more each time, your body will adapt and your cardiorespiratory fitness and strength will increase over time. It might be that after three weeks of walking you start jogging lightly, then gradually built up to a run. Go at your own pace, and you’ll be fine!

If you’re feeling exhausted after a few workouts, take a rest day and get back on it tomorrow - there’s no harm in having some downtime.

Progression for the more advanced

Say you’ve been exercising for a while, you feel quite fit, you can run 5km, you can deadlift, you can squat and you feel ready for a new challenge, but you don’t really know what to do from here? Neither do most people, which often leads to boredom, which then leads to you giving up altogether!

To try and avoid this, let’s introduce the FITT principle. The FITT principle can be used for two different scenarios: 1) to manipulate an exercise programme to avoid boredom and maximise performance, and 2) to avoid burnout and ensure you’re not overworking your body.

FITT stands for frequency, intensity, time and type. These are the basic principles:

Here are a few questions which can help you to self-evaluate your current exercise regime using the FIIT principle:

1) How difficult do you find the exercise?

• Easy: apply the FITT principle

• Moderate: keep persisting and re-evaluate your regime in 4 weeks time

• Hard: apply the FITT principle

2) Are you achieving your goals?

• Yes: what you are doing is probably working! Re-evaluate your regime in 4 weeks time.

• No: apply the FITT principle, how can you change things up to suit your requirements?

3) How do you feel generally?

• Full of beans: your exercise is clearly complimenting your lifestyle

• OK: apply the FITT principle, how can you adjust your exercise to make more of an impact?

• Awful, tired, achy: you are possibly overdoing it, apply the FITT principle and adjust your exercise accordingly. Try to include more rest days if you’re currently exercising every day.

4) Are you enjoying the activity?

• Yes: great! This is the most important thing, you’re more likely to stick at something you enjoy.

• No: time to find something new!

Essentially, you should be going through periods of overload and adaptation to get the best results from your exercise. Evaluating your exercise every 4 weeks or so with the above questions should help to ensure that you are pushing yourself when you need to, and holding back when the time is right!

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