What Does it Mean to Progress My Exercise?
Progressing your exercise means changing it to make it more challenging. A change in your exercise prescription could mean changing the:
- intensity of your exercise (making it more vigorous)
- duration of your exercise (making it longer) type (trying a different exercise)
- frequency (if you are exercising less than 5 days per week, try adding an extra day)
Why Should I Progress My Exercise?
Our bodies adapt to changes. When you introduce something new to your body, like exercise, it might feel challenging at first. In the first few weeks of your exercise program, you may experience:
- a bit breathless
- that you were working hard
- that your heart rate was at the higher end of your target training range
But after exercising for a few weeks, your body will start to get used to the exercise and exercising will become easier. Your breathing will not be as heavy, your exertion level will decrease to a rating of “light” work, and your heart rate while exercising will be a little slower.
These are good signs that you are making progress. If you continue at the same exercise level, you will maintain the same level of fitness. To continue to improve your fitness level, something must change in your exercise program.
How Do I Know If I Am Ready to Progress My Exercise?
You are ready to progress your exercise when all four points below are true for you.
1. Your goal is to continue to make improvements in your fitness level.
2. Your rating of perceived exertion (RPE) is less than 11 (light work) on the scale. View or download the rating of perceived exertion scale (PDF, opens in new window) »
3. Your heart rate during exercise is below the training heart rate set by your cardiovascular prevention and rehabilitation team.
4. You want to try a different activity or do more of the same one.
You are not ready to progress your exercise if any of the points below are true for you.
- Your current level of exercise is challenging (your RPE is greater than 13 or somewhat hard work).
- You feel unwell.
- You have had a change in your medical status (new symptoms)
- You have had a muscle or joint injury.
- You have had a recent change in your medication unless specified by your rehabilitation team.
- You are getting used to exercising in new weather conditions.
- Your heart rate during exercise is above the training heart rate set by your cardiovascular prevention and rehabilitation team.
- It is a very busy time in your life, or you are experiencing a major life event (such as moving or changing jobs).
- You are happy with your current level of fitness.
How Often Should I Progress My Exercise Program?
This depends on how long you have been doing regular exercise. In the first 3 to 6 months of starting an exercise program, progression may happen every two to three weeks. This stage is called the “improvement stage”.
After about 6 months of regular exercise, you will notice that improvements in your fitness may not happen as frequently and progression or changes in your exercise program will take place less often. You will likely be in what is called the “maintenance stage” where the goal is to keep your exercise program going for the long term. Occasionally, the program can be progressed.
How to Progress Aerobic Exercise
The first step in progressing your exercise is to determine if you are ready to move forward.
In the Aerobic Training section of the website, we discussed the FITT principle for developing an exercise prescription:
- Frequency of the exercise
- Intensity of your exercise
- Type of exercise
- Time or duration of the exercise
A progression in your exercise program could occur in any of these areas. Only make changes in one area at a time.
The goal of the program is to help you developing an exercise routine and being active every day.
If you are not currently exercising daily, you can increase the frequency of your exercise as a way of progressing your program.
You can progress the intensity of your exercise by working harder.
You are not ready to progress the intensity of your exercise unless all three points below are true for you.
- Your rating of perceived exertion (RPE) is less than 11 (light work) on the scale. View or download the rating of perceived exertion (PDF, opens in new window) »
- Your heart rate during your exercise is below the training heart rate set by your cardiovascular prevention and rehabilitation team.
- You currently do not feel any signs of shortness of breath, chest pain, chest discomfort, muscle or joint aches or pains.
Do not progress the intensity of your exercise if any of the conditions outlined above are present.
- The type of exercise you do will determine how the intensity could change. Here are some examples of walking, jogging, and cycling.
- To progress the intensity of walking, increase the speed of your walk or increase your walking time and distance.
- To progress the intensity of jogging, increase how often you jog or increase the length of time you jog in your routine.
- To progress the intensity of cycling, increase the speed (revolutions per minute) of your cycling or how much tension is on the flywheel.
Type of Exercise
You may want to try a new exercise. For example, you might want to start cycling in addition to walking.
Variety is important, especially if you feel bored with your program. Changing the type of exercise, you do is a way of progressing your program.
Time or Duration of Exercise
The duration of your aerobic exercise is important. The goal is to exercise between 30 and 60 minutes each session depending on your level of fitness, medical history, and goals.
The duration of your exercise is usually the first step in progressing your exercise program. You should increase the duration before you increase the intensity.
How to Progress Resistance Training
To make sure you continue to challenge your muscles and make them stronger, it is important for you to progress your resistance training exercises. This means that, as your muscles get used to the weight you lift, something must change.
This could be how much weight you lift or how many times you lift the weight.
- Progress your program when you can perform 2 sets of 10 repetitions comfortably.
- Gradually increase the number of repetitions from 10 to 15.
- Increase the weight by 2 to 5 lbs and reduce the reps back to 10.
Remember: your RPE should never be any higher than 16