The Best Fitness Program: The One You Keep Doing!

Written by Blake KoehnAugust 10, 2016
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   When someone decides to make a positive lifestyle change and begin dieting and exercising, it usually causes an initial overwhelming feeling. What type of foods should I eat? What workout routine should I do? Is this a good one? I’ve heard a lot about this and that, which one should I do? They often don’t know if they are making the correct choices and it can slow or even keep them from starting altogether. In this article I’m going to talk about what the best exercise routine for anyone who wishes to make a lifestyle change and become more physically fit is. You may be pleasantly surprised by what has been found over the past years of research!

   We’ve all heard that January is the worst time to join a gym. New years resolutions have everyone fired up and determined to reach their goals. We’ve also heard that if you wait, the crowd will die down and the people will fall off. But why is it that every single year people set goals to make a lifestyle change and end up failing to follow through with it? Many times people wishing to make this change go for the “all out” approach and try to do it all at once or do things they are incapable of doing at that time. Eventually the external motivators such as looking better fade and their initial optimism decreases. The issue isn’t their determination so to say, but rather their ability to keep going day after day, month after month, year after year. The issue is exercise adherence! Adherence can be thought of as “sticking to” or “staying devoted” to a choice you’ve made. Intrinsic motivators such as enjoyment and competence have been shown to cause a greater desire in people to adhere to a lifestyle change. So what is the best exercise routine for someone wishing to get back into shape? It’s the one you keep doing! And, as you will see, there is a high degree of variability that works in your favor. I will begin by breaking down the different variables using the FITT Principle (Frequency, Intensity, Timing, Type), addressing each area.


Frequency and Time
   When you make the decision to take action, the first thing that comes to mind is probably how long and how often should I exercise? Research shows that when different combinations of frequency and time are used, there is no difference in exercise adherence as long as the total volume of physical activity remains the same. This is great news for anyone who has a hectic work or home schedule! The ability to work out twice a week for 60 minutes will give the same results in adherence as working out four times a week for 30 minutes. When planning your workouts for he week, it can be easier to have a total amount of desired time to workout and work backwards from that.
This also allows a more lenient approach to planning your weekly exercise routine. Got a busy week ahead? Probably best to work out 2-3 times rather than 4-5 as long as you keep the volume of activity the same. By playing with these two variables, you can schedule longer workouts on days you don’t have a busy schedule and shorter ones (or take the day) on days your schedule is busy. The goal is to hit your target amount of time, regardless of what combination you use to get there!

   It is a no-brainer that when beginning something new, especially physical activity, you should ease into it. Research again backs this up showing that adherence was greater when individuals began with moderate intensity programs and progressed over time. However, those with prior exercise experience (former athletes, etc.) are more likely to adhere to a higher intensity program initially. In order to do this, you must first know what qualifies as moderate or high intensity. Moderate intensity can be thought of as 45-55% of one’s heart rate reserve. High intensity requires 65-75% of heart rate reserve. To find your target heart rate zone you should strive to work within, the Karvoven Formula can be used.

Karvoven Formula:
Target Heart Rate = ((max HR − resting HR) × %Intensity) + resting HR.
   For instance if I had a maximum heart rate of 195 bpm (220-age) and a resting heart rate of 60 bpm, my heart rate reserve would be 135. By multiplying by both 45% and 55% (for moderate intensity) and 65% and 75% (for high intensity), I then just add 60 bpm (resting HR). For moderate intensity exercise, the target heart rate range would be 120-134 bpm. For high intensity, the target heart rate range would be 148-161 bpm. By assessing your physical conditioning prior to begin a new exercise routine, you can more accurately place yourself in the correct intensity range when beginning a new routine. A simple way to do this is to check your pulse for 15 seconds, multiply by 4 and you get your resting heart rate. Plug that into the above formula and you will be given the initial target heart rate you should be exercising in. Your ability to progress will be largely dependent on your prior exercise experience, current health status, and mental approach to your new exercise program. This will likely vary from person to person, but consistently moving forward is the biggest goal with any new lifestyle change. A physiological training adaptation is improved function of the heart. As you become more trained, you heart will become more efficient and needs few beats per minute to deliver the same amount of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the body. This means you will have a lower resting heart rate and ultimately be able to exercise at a higher intensity (increased target heart rate).

Type of Exercise Chosen
   Many times people will feel most comfortable choosing a type of exercise they have prior experience with. For instance, someone who comes from a sports background may enjoy running and/or weight training. On the other side, someone with no prior sports experiences may enjoy walking on the treadmill, yoga, spin class, or a form of exercise along those lines. Research has shown that programs initially designed around someone’s personal capabilities increases exercise frequency over time. This may seem like a no-brainer, but all to often new exercisers, and trainers, believe that there is a “best way” to do things or adopt the “my way or the highway’ mentality. The primary concern with exercise selection is to choose things you can do well first, and build from a solid foundation over time. This will require willingness to learn, teach, and try new things from time to time in order to progress. As with any effective program, the goal should be to empower either yourself or someone else to be able to practice what they have been taught or learned and be capable of doing them on their own. Increased self-efficacy and competence will correlate to a much higher likelihood of adherence, ultimately leading to greater results and a healthier lifestyle.


Place of Working Out
   The social stigma of being the “new guy” in the gym is also another aspect of beginning an exercise program that people face. In some instances it may even keep you out of the gym altogether. So how does someone overcome this hurdle that may stop their journey before it gets started? An effective alternative for those who do not feel comfortable working out on their own in a public gym is to get a personal trainer. Someone who is knowledgable, has experience, and fits your personal needs is absolutely imperative to get the best experience. Factors such as education, exercise history, and perceived social support have been shown to impact one’s adherence. Another alternative would be to workout from home. Again, you likely will want to begin with a trainer if you have little to no prior exercise experience. Even those who do have experience with exercising may want the extra push, motivation, and critiques to keep them moving in the right direction each day. Studies investigating adherence differences between public gyms and exercising from home show that those who exercise from home are actually more likely to continue to exercise when compared to those who go to the gym. This may be for a couple reasons. First, they may feel it’s easier to get a workout in if they do not have to travel to the gym. Second, they will likely feel more comfortable at home, especially if they are just beginning. However, no difference in adherence between the two was found when positive reinforcers or rewards were used in the public gym setting. This further supports the idea of getting a qualified, compatible personal trainer to push you toward your goals each and every day…whether at home or at the gym!

The Solution!
   So what is the best approach to those beginning an exercise program for the first time or getting back into after years off? Choose something you’re going to keep doing! Research has shown there are ways to increase your likelihood of continuing your journey and we can use that to our advantage. The first and most important aspect is committing to a lifestyle change. Setting short and long term goals are vital to your success and will help keep you motivated. Know why you want to change, the results you’re after, and take action each and every day!
   When it comes to the research, we can take pieces of vital information and incorporate that into your exercise programming immediately. If you are just beginning, start slow with someone who has experience and knowledge in the exercise field. If you are uncomfortable in a public setting, train from home and do what you can until you establish a base level of fitness. Choose the types of exercises you are most comfortable with initially, while continue to work variety and new things each day. Variety will be your best friend to keep things fresh and challenging in a fun way. By setting your goals prior to each week, you can plan your workouts for that week while keeping in mind that activity volume is the biggest concern. Whether you are busy and can only workout once or twice, or you are available for more days to workout, you can reach your activity total goal to keep moving in the right direction.
Remember diet and exercise should be viewed as a lifestyle in order to get the best results. In order to practice a balanced, healthy lifestyle you must keep it going. Invest in yourself and take the to learn, have fun, and remain flexible. By beginning with the end goal in mind, you will be able to consistently move in the right direction. A program that increases adherence will increase the number of times you work out, helping you transition into your new, healthy lifestyle. Adherence is the priority!


  • Desharnais, Raymond, Jacques Bouillon, and Gaston Godin. “Self-efficacy and outcome expectations as determinants of exercise adherence.” Psychological Reports (1986).
  • Frederick, Christina M., and Richard M. Ryan. “Differences in motivation for sport and exercise and their relations with participation and mental health.” Journal of sport behavior 16.3 (1993): 124.
  • McAuley, Edward, et al. “Enhancing exercise adherence in middle-aged males and females.” Preventive medicine 23.4 (1994): 498-506.
  • Rhodes, Ryan E., et al. “Factors associated with exercise adherence among older adults.” Sports medicine 28.6 (1999): 397-411.
  • Richard, M., et al. “Intrinsic motivation and exercise adherence.” Int J Sport Psychol 28.4 (1997): 335-354.


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