Changing the variables of a fitness program; the what,when and how.

It’s no secret that in order to continue to improve your fitness and avoid a plateau its essential that you change the variables of your program now and then. Many people do not know how to go about making the appropriate changes and then end up getting bored and frustrated with an unchanging program. So, the question is how to go about changing the variables that will make  enough of a difference in the workout to elicit progress and when should the changes  be made for optimal results?

Its first important to understand what the variables are. When it comes to strength training the basic variables consist of frequency, order of exercises, number of sets, number of repetitions and weight lifted. Cardiovascular training variables consist of frequency, duration and intensity. Once you have established a basic program and been consistent with your training  for 3-4 weeks it would be appropriate to make some changes.

Often when people begin a fitness program they will focus on the cardiovascular fitness first. Although cardio is an important piece of the fitness equation, for best results you should consider a program that includes both cardiovascular and strength workouts. Adding the strength training will help to increase muscle mass, thus increasing the metabolism.  The result is a lean, tone, strong physique.

The following are some general guidelines for changing the variables of a workout for continued progress. As fitness levels improve and goals change it is important to take a more individual approach as everyone is different. One of the more basic changes that can be made for someone who is new to strength training would be the number of repetitions for each set. To continue to improve your strength begin with a weight that will allow you to complete 10-12 (the last 4-5 should be challenging) repetitions and then incorporate an additional rep for each workout until you are up to 15 reps and no longer feel challenged. This is the point when you should consider increasing the weight so that you are only able to complete 10-12 reps and once again work in extra reps until 15 is no longer challenging. The next step in the progression of your strength training program would be to consider adding a third set. Order and selection of exercises is another way to shake things up a bit, but I would recommend seeking advice from a fitness professional to implement this type of change.

As for the progression of cardiovascular workouts, your fitness level will predict your current abilities as far as frequency, intensity  and duration. If you are new to cardiovascular workouts you must first determine what your goals are and think about any physical limitations that you may currently have. Given you have no major joint issues and you are interested in beginning a running program it would be safe to start with a walk/jog workout 2-3 days a week with some cross training on opposing days. Begin by using landmarks or time as your goal for your intervals. For example, you may want to begin by jogging between the first two to three telephone poles, then walking between the next one. You could continue this pattern for a given amount of time, say 20 minutes and slowly begin to work longer jogging intervals and shorter walking until you are comfortable with a consistent jog for the full 20 minutes. The key is to build on that foundation in order to increase your cardiovascular fitness.

If you are a seasoned runner and you are looking for a new challenge you may begin by building speed and hill work into your run to increase the intensity. When you first begin to add new work you will want to decrease the duration of your run, so if you are running several times a week for 3-4 miles on average you may want to add a hill day with only a 2 mile distance, then slowly begin to add more distance. The general rule is to safely increase your run distance by about 10% each week until you reach your desired distance. (example: if you typically run 3 miles on your long runs but want to begin to add more distance the first week you should run about 3.3miles, and gradually add 10% each week until you reach your desired distance)

In order to progress safely to a more challenging workout be sure to take it slowly and listen to your body. Doing too much too fast will most definitely result in injury which will create more frustration. A slow, steady increase in fitness will result in better results in the long run.

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