What are the basic elements of exercise programme design?

Personal/Fitness Training Blog

Although exercise programmes are individualised for each client, there are basic and fundamental elements to all exercise programme design. These fundamental elements include mode, intensity, duration, frequency and progression.


To encourage physiological changes in the body – such as body composition and bone strength – many expert personal trainers recommend using more than one type of exercise as a training mode. For body composition, one should prescribe a combination of aerobic and resistance training as both of these training modalities are effective for building bone mass.


Like exercise mode, exercise intensity encourages specific physiological and metabolic changes in the body during training. The initial exercise intensity in the exercise programme depends on the client’s goals, age, capabilities, preferences and fitness level.


Duration and intensity during exercise are closely related. The higher the intensity, the shorter in duration a routine will be. Exercise duration depends not only on the client’s health status or initial fitness level and functional capabilities but also on the programme goals.

As a client adapts to their training, the duration of a programme may slowly be increased about every two or three weeks. For most clients the duration of an aerobic, resistance or flexibility exercise workout should not exceed more than 60 minutes. This will lessen the chance of injury or “burn out” in a client.

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‘Frequency’ refers to the total number of exercise sessions performed on a weekly basis. Research shows that exercising three times per week on alternate days is sufficient to improve various components of physical fitness.

However, fitness is related to duration and intensity of exercise and varies based on the clients, needs, abilities and goals. It is critical to vary the mode of exercise in a programme to minimise the risk of injury and overuse of the bones and joints.

Progression of the exercise

Throughout the exercise programme, physiological and metabolic changes allow the individual to perform more work. For continued improvements, the heart, muscles and skeletal system must be progressively overloaded though subtle changes in frequency, intensity and duration of the exercise.

When applying the principle of progression to exercise programmes you should increase the frequency, intensity, and duration gradually and one element at a time. Increasing elements together may over lax the individuals physiological system thereby increasing the risk of injury and “burnout”. For older and less fit clients, it is better to increase the exercise duration instead of the intensity, especially during the initial stages of the exercise programme.

Once you hit on a comprehensive fitness programme which you like, ensure that you change it up periodically in order to prevent boredom as well as encourage progress. Explore a variety of modalities in order to determine which activities you like the most. If you actually enjoy the activity that you are doing, it is more probable that you will commit to, and remain consistent in, a regular exercise programme. Irrespective of your current fitness level, each program can be adapted to your current wants and needs. If you are not of where to begin, hire a certified personal trainer. This will ensure that you learn proper form and technique.

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