45 & Thrive: ‘F.I.T.T.ness’ – A formula for success

Photo by Victor Freitas.


In previous articles, I’ve described both the philosophical orientation of 45 & Thrive as a synthesis of Minimal Effective Dose and Evolutionary Fitness, as well as the Eight Guiding Principles which support this approach to optimizing wellness from mid-life and beyond (available here: Part 1, Part 2). These are the program-specific considerations of 45 & Thrive which I believe support the goal of robust longevity for mature adults. Having said this, all training programs are fundamentally comprised of the same four building blocks. It doesn’t matter whether one is an Olympic sprinter, a high school rugby player, or a fitness enthusiast in her 60s. All training programs are made of the same four core elements, namely, frequency, intensity, type, and time (F.I.T.T.). Training professionals then consider these four parameters and prescribe exercise programs tailored to specific clients needs. So, in order to have a better understanding of what your personal trainer is considering when they are preparing a program for you, let’s take a look at the four components of the F.I.T.T. Formula.


Frequency – This refers to how often one exercises, usually described as a number of sessions per week. Some programs outline daily exercise regimes. Others prescribe three, four, five, or more sessions per week. The frequency of training depends upon overall training goals and is taken in context with the other three building blocks of one’s program, as well as the realities of one’s lifestyle and commitments.


Intensity – This element considers how hard one trains while exercising. When the focus of the exercise is on endurance training, this is usually gauged by measuring the degree to which this exercise taxes one’s cardiovascular and respiratory system through monitoring heart rate. Such training protocols would then prescribe a training intensity based upon a certain percentage of Maximum Heart Rate – for example training on a stationary bike for a period of time at 75 per cent of Max Heart Rate.  Maximum heart rate, otherwise understood as the upper limit of one’s cardiovascular capacity, may be different for different individuals, but the standard formula is 220 subtracting your age. So if one is 45 years old, then that person’s Max HR would be 220 – 45, or 175 beats per minute. With this information one can adjust the pace of exercise to work at an intensity as prescribed. Heart rate can be tracked using a heart rate monitor, through a ‘smart-watch’ or other type of wearable, using an app on your phone, or often through settings on cardiovascular-focused machines, like treadmills or exercise bikes.

If, however, an exercise is focused on muscular strength then the intensity measure is usually noted as a percentage of a person’s one-rep max.* For example, if your one rep maximum lift, unaided and using proper form, on the bench press exercise is 100lbs, and your trainer has prescribed that you should do three sets of eight repetitions of bench press at 75 per cent intensity of your one rep max, then you would set the bar for 75 lbs for this exercise.

Both of these gauges of intensity are valuable to set benchmarks for your program, and should also serve to complement and confirm your own feelings of training intensity as you begin to get comfortable with new exercises or routines, and you understand your physical capacities. Further, as you progress and make improvements, it is important to reset these intensity levels to ensure that you continue to exercise at effective levels.


Time – This one is pretty staring forward… sort of. Basically, as a key component of one’s program, time accounts for how long one works out – is your training session 30 minutes, 45 minutes or perhaps an hour? However, there is more to this element than just the measure of total time training from start to finish. Trainers must also consider the time between sets, reps and exercises during a workout; rest is as important as the exercises themselves. This not only effects the total time spent training, but also effects the ‘intensity’ element described above. A 45-minute workout comprised of three exercise spaced 10 minutes apart will not be as intense nor as effective as a training session which is 45 minutes long and contains 10 exercises with no more than one minute or so between each. So, a key consideration is the amount of time, or rest, between sets, exercises and workouts. Rest is often an under-appreciated element in physical training. Too much rest takes the body out of optimal conditions for getting the most out of your program; too little rest can make your efforts less effective and indeed may lead to injury due to overuse, repetitive strain, or poor form. Your training schedule, which dictates the frequency of training sessions, should also prescribe the rest time or interval between sets and/or exercises in consideration of the overall goals of the program.


TypeType refers to the specific nature of the exercises and the goals of your training program. These may be centred around endurance and cardiovascular goals, functional strength training, muscle hypertrophy, or perhaps sport-specific training. Individuals training for CrossFit competitions will have a variety of both cardiovascular and strength training exercises included in their sessions. Working toward body shaping and development goals will, in many cases, include different exercises organized in different patterns than those who have already achieved training goals and simply wish to maintain their fitness level. Athletes competing in and training for specific sports like volleyball, basketball, or track and field events must include skill development exercises that place demands on the body which mimic those in the sport itself and reflect the demands of that sport. Therefor your training professional must align the specific exercises and the way they are conducted with your overall program goals.


These four core components of all training programs – frequency, intensity, time, and type (often referred to as the F.I.T.T. Formula) – must be considered when prescribing a training regime, but it doesn’t end there. The human body has an amazing capacity to improve, adapt, strengthen and perform. Any well-considered training program followed as prescribed will begin to deliver real, meaningful results before too long. This inevitably leads to the necessity to reassess one’s capacities as progress is made and goals begin to be reached. Mindful reflection upon progress to date and overall wellness goals will help keep one both motivated and on track towards optimizing physical wellness. Checking in with one’s training professional, or, better yet, being given the skills and confidence for objective self-monitoring of one’s progress – such that the client may revise, adjust and move their own program forward as goals shift – is the most rewarding and productive outcome one can hope for. To me, by emphasizing an understanding of the F.I.T.T. Formula, which fosters training independence, even to the point where I become the redundant trainer of a successful client, is the highest compliment I can receive.


Until next time…

Michael Patterson, M.Ed.
Lift long and Prosper 

Michael Patterson M.Ed, has spent 30+ years as a fitness and health professional. He holds degrees in Physical and Health Education, Psychology, and Education. Find out more about Michael and follow him on his website at www.45andthrive.com, and on Instagram @45andthrive. Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected]. 


*The testing of a one rep max should ALWAYS be done at the direction of and under the supervision of a certified training professional following accepted protocols.

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