In my 19 years of being in the fitness field, working in big and small health clubs, I have witnessed the once a month visitor, the obsessive twice a day, 5 hour cardio junky and then there are the few and far between, that can get it as Goldie Locks said… “Just Right”. So how does one find the right balance of working out long enough, hard enough and incorporating all the right exercises to get results without spending hours at the gym?

An easy way to get started is utilizing the F.I.T.T. principle – Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type.

Frequency: As you might expect, this refers to how often you will exercise. After any form of exercise is performed your body completes a process of rebuilding and repairing. So, determining the frequency of exercise is important, in order to find a balance that provides just enough stress for the body to adapt but also allows enough rest time for healing.

Intensity: Defined as the amount of effort or work that must be invested in a specific exercise workout. This too requires a good balance to ensure that the intensity is hard enough to overload the body, but not so difficult that it results in overtraining, injury or burnout.

Time: Time is simply how long each individual session should last. This will vary based on the intensity and type.

Type: What type specific exercise will you perform? Will an exercise session be primarily cardiovascular, resistance training or a combination of both?

The ACSM (American College of Sport Medicine) has F.I.T.T. guidelines both for cardiovascular work and strength training. For cardiovascular benefits, ACSM recommends exercising for a frequency of 3-5 times per week, at an intensity equal to 60-85 percent of your maximum heart rate, for a time of 20-60 minutes. For strength straining it’s recommended to workout a minimum of two times per week at an intensity that is equal to 70-85 percent of your one rep maximum (maximum weight you can use for one rep) for 8-10 reps and 1-3 sets.

Please be aware that these are minimum recommendations for basic or general health benefits. So for those infrequent gym goers that think once a week is enough to stay healthy, the above recommendations are where to start. I know these recommendations may be easer said then done, so here are some guidelines on where to start.

For the beginner or infrequent exercisers, choosing the type of exercise may be the best place to start in mapping out your routine. After all, if you have the perfect frequency, intensity and time, but hate the actual exercise, then you’ll never do it. So, start with something you like. This may be walking, biking, swimming or something else you enjoy. As a trainer it is crucial that you talk with your client and discover how you will be making your exercise routine as enjoyable as possible for your client.

Next determine the Frequency. Consider how much time each week you truly will devote to this workout. Be realistic. There’s no purpose in setting expectations so high that you likely will fail. Remember, the ACSM guidelines are 3-5 times per week, so a good start would be three days.

If like the rest of the world time is a factor, this would be the appropriate next step to factor in. Otherwise, choose your Intensity level, which will help determine how long your workout session should be. For example, a higher intensity will typically provide more benefit (such as burning more calories in a shorter amount of time). So, choosing to jog may require only 30 minutes of commitment versus walking which may require 45-60 minutes.

My recommendation for any beginner or someone who has the best of intentions to come in more often, but for as many reasons as they can think up, does not, would be to schedule an appointment with a Fitness Professional. It’s simply the best way to start. They will help establish a balanced exercise routine and make the guidelines above become part of your life.

So what about the over exerciser? How much is too much? Over exercising may be just as difficult, if not more difficult to pull back from, then it is to begin a program. So how much is too much?

There is no certain amount of exercise that is automatically “too much” for every person. In general, exercising for up to 60-90 minutes a day 4-6 days of the week, is reasonable and healthy for most people, as long as recovery and downtime is built in. Competitive athletes may exercise for hours each day without any problem. The right amount of exercise for you may differ from your friend or neighbor and should take into account your fitness level, lifestyle, current health status, etc.

So how do you know if you’re exercising too much? It’s a matter of attitude and whether your thoughts and behaviors about exercise mirror the list of symptoms described below. When exercise becomes one of the most important aspects of your life, and when your life revolves around exercise, it could be more than dedication—it could be an unhealthy obsession.

Associated Health Problems

Exercise is usually a good thing, but rest and recovery are very important, too. Excessive exercise can weaken the body and cause a host of problems, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Lack of menstruation (amenorrhea) in women due to a lack of body fat
  • Reproductive problems
  • Heart problems (such as muscle wasting and rhythm problems)
  • Dehydration
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Stress fractures and sprains
  • Kidney failure

Beyond physical ailments, excessive exercise can cause mental and emotional upset, interfere with normal, healthy relationships, and is often associated with anxiety and depression, as well. If you experience health problems like these you could be excessively exercising. Talk to your doctor and take some time off from your fitness routine. If the thought of taking a few days or even a week off from your exercise routine upsets you, that too could be a sign that your dedication to fitness is unhealthy. Creating balance between exercise, nutrition and rest is often a challenge. Every individual who is on a journey to find balance of any kind, needs a road map, a guide to get them from where they are, to where they want to be, safely and effectively. Getting general fitness recommendations is a good place to start. Then define specific goals and use the tools and guidelines above to help develop an individualized balanced fitness routine. Stay focused and before you know it, you’ll be on your way to getting your exercise routine….just right.