The Three Components of Developmental Fitness
by Craig Smith
In the last segment, we talked about the four principles of a properly designed developmental physical training program: specificity, overload, body alignment, and muscular control. Now we will take a look at the three components of a program designed for fitness benefits: frequency, intensity, and time, which can be remembered by the acronym "FIT", and the relative importance of each.
Frequency, of course, refers to how often you do something. In developmental physical training, we usually express this in "times per week".
Determining the optimal frequency of any exercise regimen depends upon the system being overloaded and the type of overload it is experiencing. The reason for this is that body systems develop best when allowed proper recuperative time, and different systems recuperate at different rates.
The cardiovascular and respiratory systems, for example, recuperate fairly quickly. Muscle, however, takes longer to recuperate from developmental overload. This is because the growth of muscle, in size and strength, occurs not during the exercise, but during the recovery period in response to the stimulus of the overload.
In most cases, muscle will recuperate within 36 to 48 hours after a developmental overload. The time may be longer if a person is involved in a program of high weight/ low reps and shorter if the person follows a program of lower weight/higher reps. This is because a program of lower weight/higher reps builds more muscle endurance than the high weight/lower rep program, while putting less train on the muscle and tendon structure.
Recovery time will improve as a person gets in increasingly better shape, allowing them to increase the frequency of their workouts, and thereby get more overall developmental training. This is how elite athletes in high-intensity sports such as boxing, wrestling, and gymnastics are able to train as often as they do, and for such extended periods.
Although the next component is "intensity", we will put that off for a minute and address "time" first, as it has been proven not to be as important as intensity.
Time, or duration, refers to the length of time a particular workout lasts. Many over the past 20 years have tried to make a case that time was actually the most important aspect of exercise, maintaining that a lower intensity workout was superior to a higher intensity workout, because a person could continue the lower intensity activity for a longer period of time. This was simply a case of inverted reasoning, as they were essentially trying to prove their case by using the very assertion that they were claiming to prove. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
As relates to aerobic, or cardiovascular, conditioning, it is true that it is necessary to work within your target heart rate zone for a period of 15 minutes of more, at least three times per week, in order to increase aerobic fitness. But this is just a minimum not the goal that many in the fitness/wellness community would have you believe.
Increasing both the frequency and intensity will result in far greater gains than will extending the duration of your workouts at a lower frequency and intensity.
Undoubtedly the most important component for a developmental physical training program is intensity. Professional athletes and the military, whose success depends of performance, not public acceptance, have always known this.
Many in the non-competitive world have been misled concerning this aspect of fitness. Sadly, there were misled by those in the so-called "fitness" or "fitness/wellness" industry who: 1) knew there was more money to be made appealing to the laziness of the masses; and 2) preferred to remain within the safety of a self-perpetuating mediocrity rather than having to increase their own efforts to better themselves and thereby have to actually compete or measure themselves against those who worked harder than they did.
The example the minimalists often used in trying to support their contention was as follows: When you walk, half of the calories you use come from fat, but when you run (a higher intensity exercise), only a third of the calories come from fat.
This was enough to convince those who wanted to be convinced (meaning those who didn't want to exert themselves very much) that lower intensity exercise is superior to higher intensity exercise. However, following their example a step further (which they never did), we find that 75% of the calories we burn come from fat when we sleep. So, according to their "reasoning", sleeping would be the ultimate fitness and fat-burning activity! Anyone believe that?
The fact of the matter is that, while low intensity exercise may result in increased "wellness" levels (decreased blood lipids, etc.), it does not result in increased fitness levels. Nor does it precipitate the same fat-reduction that higher intensity exercise does. In fact, a study conducted at Laval University in Quebec recently proved what many of us have known for years, that high intensity exercise results in an increase of metabolic rate and the burning of 9 times more fat than results from lower intensity exercise.
So, if you want the most out of your workouts, the magic word is INTENSITY!