8 1.8 Training Principles

Adherence to specific principles of exercise training may aid in the development of an intentional and successful physical activity regimen. Participating in regular physical activity and exercise throughout on a weekly basis may positively impact an individual’s overall health, and improve various components of physical fitness. However, an individual’s specific physical fitness goals may not be achieved if their physical activity program is not designed with respect to major exercise training principles. Adherence to specific principles of exercise training may aid in the development of an intentional and successful physical activity regimen. The core training principles which will be subsequently discussed include:

  • Specificity
  • Overload
  • Progression
  • Reversibility
  • FITT
  • Individual Differences

Specificity Principle: Only the body parts, muscles, or systems involved in a workout will be experiencing training (American College of Sports Medicine, 2013). For example, upper body weight training will only facilitate improvements to muscles groups which were engaged (i.e. shoulders, arms, back muscles). Therefore, an individual must evaluate the specific type of workout that will provide the greatest likelihood of physical activity and fitness goal achievement.


Comprehension check:

Will doing push-ups improve one’s abdominal/core strength? Will swimming laps improve one’s time when biking 10 miles? Please provide your rationale for your answer.


Overload Principle: Overload (i.e., “greater than normal workload or exertion”) is required to improve components of health-related fitness: cardiorespiratory (aerobic) endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility. According to the principle of overload, an individual must work (“load”) the body using a step-by-step increase in physical activity duration, time, and/or intensity in order to facilitate optimal fitness improvements (American College of Sports Medicine, 2013). This step-by-step increase is often known as progression.


Comprehension check:

How might an individual utilize the Overload Principle to enhance cardiorespiratory (aerobic) endurance while training for a marathon? Hint: Exertion of “greater than normal load” by progressively increasing total weekly mileage during the training regimen.



Room with rows of dumbbells with a woman lifting weights in the distance.
The overload training principle refers to an individual adding workload to their current exercise regimen in order to improve fitness. An example of the overload principle is when one increases the weight of equipment lifted in a resistance training plan. Photo by Danielle Cerullo on Unsplash

Reversibility Principle: Individuals may lose the beneficial effects of training when participation in an exercise program is terminated (i.e., fitness gains are reversed; colloquially known as “use it or lose it”). Conversely, as an individual’s fitness level improves, s/he will be required to adjust the exercise program in order to procure further improvements (i.e., the previous work exerted to reach overload may no longer be sufficient) (American College of Sports Medicine, 2013a).


Comprehension check:

How might you alter or adjust your workout program to account for the possibility of reversibility?


FITT Principle: The exercise training principle which outlines how an individual may design and monitor their individualized exercise program (American College of Sports Medicine, 2013).

  1. Frequency: How often the individual performs the targeted exercise or physical activity.
  2. Intensity: How much work or effort is exerted during a physical activity period (may be measured in a variety of ways such as heart rate, RPE, MET value, etc.).
  3. Time: Duration of physical activity or exercise bout.
  4. Type: Specific physical activity mode or exercise which an individual chooses to engage in (i.e. aerobic exercise, resistance training, sports-specific activity, etc.).

Individual Differences Principle: All individuals are unique in their exercise programming needs. Personal, environmental, and behavioral factors should be considered and assessed when planning to engage in a physical fitness training regimen (American College of Sports Medicine, 2013).


Comprehension check:

What personal, environmental, and behavioral factors should you personally consider when planning your own workout program?



Several hikers on a trail.
The individual differences training principle describes how each person holds unique needs and preferences regarding their physical activity participation and fitness plans. For example, individuals may select specific physical activity modalities due to current health status and abilities, environmental access to the chosen activity, or their personal desire to engage in a particular exercise. Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

Works Cited

American College of Sports Medicine. (2013). ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.


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A Guide to Physical Activity Copyright © 2019 by Eydie Kramer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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