Updated: Jul 6
From this article you will: learn how to stay fit | discover a range of the best exercises | the benefits of fitness training | know how to structure a training regime | receive 5 training sessions that’ll help get you going.
5 Fitness Training Sessions
If you’re struggling to keep fit don’t beat yourself about it. Millions of people across the globe struggle with the very same problem. In fact, it probably wouldn’t be too much of a generalisation to say that maintaining a fitness regime is a common difficulty shared by the majority of people who want to stay fit.
According to one publication only 12% of people in the UK exercise on a regular basis (Marks et al 2018). And of that 12% it is estimated that fewer than half exercise for more than 150-minutes a week – the minimum dosage recommended by public health officials.
The reasons why people relapse on their training regime range from ‘time constraints’ to loss of motivation to any excuse that’ll appeases the inner self-critic.
But as anyone who’s had time off training will know, the longer you leave it the harder it becomes to get back in shape. This is a positive feedback loop: you skip a couple of sessions because of X, Y, Z reasons and before you know it a week has become two months and all those hard-won fitness gains have dissolved like the Wicked Witch of the West.
It’s at this point that it becomes almost prohibitively difficult to motivate yourself to get back in the gym. For you know that you’re going to feel as weak as kitten and you’ll be out of puff before you even surmount the gym steps.
If you see shades of yourself here then know that you can get back in shape, you can reclaim your former physical prowess, and with the ideas presented in this article you’ll learn how to implement and habituate a lasting fitness regime and never again suffer the dreaded relapse.
Why You Should Stay Fit
The health benefits that fitness training can confer are becoming better understood with each passing week – so it often seems with number of emerging research articles showing the correlative link between exercise and reduced disease risk.
Truly, the health benefits of fitness training are wonderous. In our other article, The 10 Benefits of Exercise, we cite an Australian study that linked exercise with lower cancer susceptibility. Not only that but when cancer patients were ‘prescribed’ exercise alongside their treatments they showed quicker recovery rates than patients who weren’t prescribed exercises.
This led one doctor to say "If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented."
But the benefits of exercise are broader still. As well as reducing cancer susceptibility, exercise has been shown to help mitigate the onset of type 2 diabetes, a disease that is fast becoming a global epidemic which causes ‘an estimated 1.5 million deaths’ each year and effects more than 400 million people world wide.
In addition, exercise, in conjunction with healthy eating habits, is one of the most effective methods of maintaining a healthy weight. Obesity, defined as ‘abnormal or excessive fat accumulation’, is a serious condition that can cause a plethora of highly undesirable diseases.
According to the NHS 1 in 4 people in the UK are obese and, more shocking still, 1 in 5 children are afflicted with what has been called childhood obesity. This completely preventable and reversible condition has been linked to type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, some types of cancer (such a breast and bowel cancer), stroke and mental health problems, such as depression and low self-esteem.
One of the key weapons in the fight against the above diseases and conditions is exercise – that is, staying fit. On the websites where many of the references for this piece were sourced, exercise is always recommended as a method of reducing disease risk factor.
For example, of the three suggested methods of avoiding obesity the WHO advise ‘engag[ing] in regular physical activity (60 minutes a day for children and 150 minutes spread through the week for adults).’ To avoid type 2 diabetes altogether or help control the symptoms the NHS prescribes ‘keeping active’ and staying fit.
Benefits of Exercise
o Weight control
o Improved body composition
o Protection against coronary heart disease (CHD)
o Improved cardio-respiratory performance
o Protection against stroke
o Improved immune function
o Decreased depression
o Reduced anxiety
o Stress reduction
o Promotes a positive attitude
o Enforces self-efficacy
o Improves self-confidence and self-body image
If this article is performing it’s job right you should by now be feeling quite eager to learn how to implement an exercise regime so that you can stay fit. Below you will discover a fitness ‘starter kit’. After a preliminary overview of training principals and methodologies, and you’d be wise to familiarise yourself with them as they will provide you with the knowledge of how to shape a safe exercise regime, you will be shown how to develop a training programme and create safe and effective exercise sessions.
But first, let’s consider the basic principals of training and staying fit.
Use the FITT Principal
It would be fair to say that there is lots of conflicting advice ‘out there’ regarding how best to approach a training regime. Some say that you shouldn’t train every day, some say that you should. Some say that continuous training (cardio) is best for maintaining all-round fitness, some say circuit training is better. And while it is true that some forms of exercise are more effective than others, the type of training that forms the focus of any fitness regime should be dependent on a person’s goal.
For example, if your goal is to develop strength and size, then you would dedicate most of your training time to resistance exercises. If, by contrast, your goal was that of losing weight and staying fit, then your regime would feature lots of cardio and circuit training.
Because it is not possible to produce an exercise regime that incorporates multiple fitness/training goals, the advice in this article has been crafted to suit the individual who harbours the goal of keeping fit and healthy.
For such a broad fitness goal a training programme can encompass a wide variety of training modalities. In fact, a nebulous goal is, in some ways, better because it doesn’t require such a strict training approach and affords us the opportunity to include multiple exercise methodologies.
However, before we get ahead of ourselves, we first need to consider the framework around which we plan to tailor our training regime. For it’s all well and good deciding which exercise methodologies and fitness components you’re going to focus on. But these are largely pointless if you have yet to settle on the frequency of your training sessions, the intensity that you plan to exercise at, or the time each session is to last.
These form the principals of the acronym FITT and they ought to be understood before you implement a training programme. It is to these principles that we shall now turn our focus to.
F = Frequency
Frequency relates to how often you perform exercise across any given week. If, for example, you exercised twice a week, this would be regarded as a low-frequency training regime. A high-frequency regime typically consists of 5 or more individual sessions per week. But this is currently being challenged.
It was previously believed that the individual who trained every day was ‘over-training’. Moreover, over-training was thought to be both excessive and physically detrimental. However, emerging research is showing quite the opposite. That, on the contrary, engaging in some form of light to moderate exercise every day is not only not detrimental to your physicality but is actually highly beneficial.
So, when implementing a regime, you should look to plot seven sessions across the week. And don’t think that this could result in an over-use injury. As long as you mix the exercise modalities – one day training cardio, another resistance, another a combination – and adhere to correct training principals – warming up, cooling down and stretching (see below) – you will unlikely experience an over-use injury.
I = Intensity
Intensity is precisely that: how hard you push yourself during each training session. Though there are numerous different ways of measuring intensity, it is largely subjectively interpreted in accordance with the ‘Rate of Perceived Exertion’ (or RPE) scale – a 10 point scale that is primarily used by fitness coaches to ascertain how easy or difficult their clients are training. See opposite for an example of the scale and how the numbers correspond to perceived exertion.
A good training regime will be situated primarily between points 2 to 4 – light to somewhat heavy – and occasionally 5 and above. If we only every train at a low intensity the body will not be forced to adapt, thus little to no physiological development will take place. However, if we train at high intensities too often, we run a greater risk of injury as damaged tissues are not given adequate time to recover.
To strike the perfect balance the majority of sessions should be light to somewhat heavy with the occasional ‘beasting’ thrown in at the end of the week.
T = Time
Time relates to the length of each individual session. Up to now you’ve decided to train seven days a week at a light to somewhat heavy intensity with a bit of a beasting on Saturday. But how long should each of those seven sessions last? Typically, an optimal training session will last for between 30-minutes to 1-hour. Your Monday morning steady state 5-mile run might take a full 60-minutes whereas your Saturday high-intensity circuit might take 30-minutes.
What this is supposed to make clear is that the duration of a session should meet the type of training and the intensity trained at. Few people possess the physical prowess to sustain high-intense outputs for much more than 30-minutes. And short duration, low-intensity sessions confer little to no physiological benefit.
T = Type
Type, or ‘specificity’, refers to the relationship between the exercise modality selected and the exerciser’s fitness goal. Put another way, the type of training should be commensurate, or in government with, the desired physical objective.
The individual who wants to lose weight would be committing an act of folly if they populated their training programme with static resistance exercises, for these exercises do not stimulate the energy system that ‘burns’ fat for fuel. A person pursuing such a goal would engage in continuous, steady state exercises – such as running, rowing and circuits.
How to Develop a Fitness Regime
The benefits of implementing a fitness regime cannot be overstated. For the person who is struggling to maintain training motivation a regime could well keep them on the fitness straight and narrow. What makes a written regime or programme especially potent at promoting participation is the structure it provides. The exerciser quickly becomes accustomed to following the dictates of programme and soon a habit is formed.
This quality is amplified if the training programme is printed and placed somewhere prominent, such as on the fridge door or beside your bed. By making the programme visible you will receive regular reminders to keep fit. (Of course there are a million and one 'apps' that perform this function, but I personally believe that a good old fashion printed programme is superior by far.)
When it comes to developing a general training programme it is best to keep the KISS acronym in mind – that is, Keep It Simple Stupid. Many people find the process complicated but it needn't be. However, if you do find yourself struggling we offer a personalised tailored training programme service. For more details contact us at email@example.com.
The best way to approach the development of a training programme is as you would when writing a to do list. Simply produce a 6/8/10-week grid (see example document below) and plot your training sessions in the programme as they pop into your head. That’s all there is to it at this stage. If you try and make your programme too complicated, if you ‘over think it’, it’ll not only take hours to complete but you will probably end up including too much detail which will make it hard to follow.
If you’re new to designing a training programme, aim to keep your first ‘draft’ as simple as possible and avoid over-complicating what is a fairly straightforward process.
To support you in designing a training programme, follow the 6-step method below.
Step 1: Identify your preferential modality of exercise(s): gym, running, circuit classes. It’s important to start off with a form of exercise that you find enjoyable . . . or dislike the least.
Step 2: Once you’ve identified your preferred mode of exercising you need now to consider for how long you are prepared to engage in the exercise. If your training goal is to pursue a healthy lifestyle and get your hands on some of the amazing benefits exercise outlined above, then between 30- to 60-minutes per session will suffice.
Step 3: After deciding on the type of exercise and the duration of engagement you must determine the weekly frequency: 2/3/4/5/6/7 x per week. If this is the first exercise programme that you have developed, it is advisable to start off with 2 to 3 weekly training sessions and incrementally increase the frequency across your programme.
Step 4: When you have established the duration of each session and decided on your weekly training frequency, it is now time to choose the length of your programme. Typically exercise programmes span 8 weeks. However, this isn’t an immutable law and you can opt for fewer weeks, say 6, or more: 10 or 12. Irrespective of how many weeks you select, what is important is that your programme possess a start and end as it is the desire to reach the destination – i.e. completion of the programme – that keeps the fires of motivation burning bright.
Step 5: At this point you should have 1) identified a range of different methods of exercising that you plan to populate your programme with; 2) decided how long you will exercise for; 3) determined the number of weekly sessions; and 4) settled on the duration of your programme. If you have satisfied all four points then it is time to 5) plot where you plan to actively participate in each exercise session. When you have inputted the sessions you must decree that, come hell or high water, they are immutable; set in stone!
Step 6: Now we have reached the point where we must dispense with the theory and get practical.
How to Create a Fitness Session
I’ve trained with literally hundreds of people over the years, from elite soldiers, to college students to professional athletes. What I’ve noticed after all those many exercise experiences, and still notice today, is that many people struggle to conceive of a fitness session.
I used to train with an elite level triathlete. We struck up health competition in the gym and we’d compete in arduous circuits, the loser receiving some kind of remedial physical punishment (usually 100 burpees). One week I’d bring a circuit to the gym and the next week my partner would.
Yet, even though my training partner was an exceptionally well trained athlete, he was rubbish at designing training sessions. Often he’d text me an hour before the session to say that he couldn’t think of anything and if I could come up with something.
This isn’t a problem, for me designing training sessions is like a form of therapy. However, with so much exercise experience under his belt, I couldn’t understand why my training partner struggled so much. During a gruelling 2-hour-long circuit I asked him why he suffered with writer’s block. He shrugged his shoulders, wiped the sweat from his brow and, after gulping down a mouthful of water, said that he’d never been shown.
I told that I hadn’t and that I simply throw exercises together and hope for the best. Even though I was being honest he didn’t believe me. I think the reason why he struggled to conceive of a training session is because he put too much thought into it.
When it comes to creating sessions for a nebulous goal such as ‘staying fit’, or developing ‘whole-body physicality’, the exercise world is literally your oyster. You could randomly throw together exercises from multiple components of fitness – strength, muscle endurance, cardio – order them in the most illogical manner and, with the right intensity and duration, such a session would more than meet your training goal.
The truth is, to design a good fitness session you don’t have to get technical. Sometimes the best fitness session is the one that you just pulled out of the hat on the fly. Some of my best sessions were cooked-up on the way to the gym.
However, that being said, all fitness sessions should be shaped around the following four key principals.
(Of course, you are not bounded by the below suggestions; change what you want to suit your training time frames and current fitness aspirations. It is advisable though that you always ensure to warm-up, cool-down and stretch.)
Phase 1: Warm-up (10-minutes)
Ideally a warm-up should last for around ten minutes. It should include a cardiovascular exercise – preferably the rower or cross-trainer (as they work the whole body) – and similar exercises that will feature in your main session. The warm-up should gradually increase in intensity so that when ten minutes has elapsed you are at, or very near to, the intensity that you plan on working through your main session.
It would be unwise to sit on a static bike for ten minutes, peddles listlessly turning, and then attempt, say, a kettlebell session. The warm-up should be reflective of the main session design. For detailed overview of the importance of warming up and a fully discussion on best warm-up practices, see our other article: Benefits of Warming Up and Cooling Down.
Phase 2: Main Session (20-plus-minutes)
The sky is quite literally the limit with the main session. In the past I’ve picked exercises out of a hat and arranged them arbitrarily – some of my best training sessions have been put together that way. The main session can last from between twenty minutes to a couple of hours or more. I once completed a circuit with a group of exercise enthusiasts which took 4-hours and 25-minutes – and that was first place; last place came in at seven hours!
Phase 3: Cool Down
The cool-down is really quite simple: do the warm-up in reverse. That’s it.
Phase 4: Stretch
On completion of every exercise session you should force yourself to complete a structured, whole-body stretch that lasts for between 5 to 10-minutes. Start your stretch from the top of the body, beginning with the arms then shoulders, and work down ensuring to include all major muscle groups. Try to stretch each muscle twice holding the stretch for thirty seconds. For more advice and guidance see our guide to stretching.
To help consolidate the above advice on session design, below you will find 5 example exercise sessions that you can use to populate your programme. Though simple in their design, the sessions are incorporated a mix of cardio, calisthenics and resistance making them perfect for the person who wants to stay fit. Of course, the sessions are fully modifiable and can be tailored to suit your training preferences.
Fitness Training Sessions
5 fitness sessions that you can use to get you going.
10-minute warm up: jogging and body weight exercises.
45-minute Pyramid Circuit – Ascend the pyramid: start at the first exercise and complete one rep before moving to the next. Once you’ve completed 1 rep on the 9 exercises go back to the beginning but this time complete 2 reps. Continue on in this fashion for 45 minutes.)
1) 50m Sprints – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 . . . 1 – 37reps
2) No-weight Squats – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 . . . 1 – 37reps
3) Burpees – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 . . . 1 – 37reps
4) Squat Thrusts – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 . . . 1 – 37reps
5) Plank – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 . . . 1 – 37reps
6) Press-ups – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 . . . 1 – 37reps
7) Kettlebell swing – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 . . . 1 – 37reps
8) Kettlebell pulls – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 . . . 1 – 37reps
9) Kettlebell squats – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 . . . 1 – 37reps
(total reps: 324 ±10)
10-minute slow jog (every 2 minutes perform 5 reps of each of the exercises featured below).
Pyramid Circuit – complete 10 repetitions of the first exercise then explode into the 50-metre sprint. Jog back to the start point and drop straight into the second set: 9 reps – repeat down to 1.
10 to 1 press-ups + 50m sprint between each level of the pyramid
10 to 1 squat jumps + 50m sprint between each level of the pyramid
10 to 1 plank + 50m sprint between each level of the pyramid
10 to 1 Kettlebell swing + 50m sprint between each level of the pyramid
10 to 1 burpees + 50m sprint between each level of the pyramid
10-minute slow jog – 5 X 100-metre sprints into press-up and star jump pyramid: 1 up to 5.
4min AMRAP (as many reps as possible) – the objective is simple: try and perform as many repetitions on the following six exercises as possible in 4-minutes. Between each AMRAP take a 2-minute rest.
1. Kettlebell swing (20kg)
3. Kettlebell thruster (12)
5. Kettlebell clean & jerk (12)
6. Plank (how many seconds can you hold inside 4 minutes?)
10-minutes walking/light jogging.
30-minute slow jog + 6 x 50-metre hill sprints
20 min resistance – 10 reps on each exercise, complete as many reps as possible without stopping)
1) Resistance band bent-over row
2) Resistance band dead lift
4) Kettlebell swing