Progression is probably the most sought after and least understood of the main principles of training. Understanding how challenges to the human body trigger preferable adaptations to an environment or sport is, after all, an entire field of science. And timing those challenges simultaneously to make a great athlete perform well is akin to an art.

by Kristina Pattison, DPT, CSCS

But remember from my last article, How to Log Meaningful Training Changes, that when you start to exercise consistently toward reaching a goal, you can start simply by recording input and output variables.

The FITT Principle is a good way to cover your bases with input variables.

Frequency: how often you perform the exercise.

Intensity: how hard you go when you do exercise.

Time: the duration spent exercising.

Type: what kind of exercise you do.

Keeping these variables in mind, progression can happen on many fronts. So to make sure you’re not trying to increase everything at once here are a few steps to get started toward a realistic progression:

  1. RECORD: record these variables for several weeks. Don’t worry about anything but gathering information.
  2. AVERAGE: average your inputs and outputs (or performance variables). This gives you a fair picture of where you are currently in terms of a baseline fitness routine.
  3. DREAM: as covered in Dreams to Goals, identify a long term outcome goal you’re dreaming about, and determine a date when it would or could occur. (Also, I encourage these to be based on something functional—like completing an event, versus something dispassionate like losing weight).
  4. IDENTIFY LANDMARKS: now you know where your journey is going, what milestones are there along the way. For example, if you want to do a longer distance, are there shorter races you can use as lead-up events?
  5. CREATE A MAP: this is kind of the fun part. In a visual sense, you should now have a time line with your outcome at one end and your landmarks (performance goals) along the way. The next step is to look at each leg of the journey. Like running to the next aid station. What do you need to get to the next check point? Infinite variables may exist if its an ultra—from fitness to environmental to logistical concerns. Start to list all these like treasures to collect along the way. It’s easy to get lost in the trees here, so if needed, refer back to the ultimate goal—what’s really important?
  6. ATTACK: start from where you’re at. Remember every step along the way is a step toward something you’ve never done before. It won’t be perfect or easy, but you’re on an adventure so who cares? Just keep referring back to that big happy vision at the end of the tunnel.
  7. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY: in every journey, you’re likely to start much more enthusiastic than you will remain. There will be times to push and times to reassess and restructure the remaining timeframes. But if you find you’re constantly re-adjusting your program, or getting discouraged, you’re likely working on too short of a time frame for a huge, gutsy goal. I’ve done that many times. And it can bleed some of the enjoyment off a normally exciting process. So be kind to yourself if you need to draw a new map. Nothing’s permanent, it’s yours.

*Note: I’m public about being a spreadsheet nerd for these steps, but a table can work too.

Next up: Micro, Meso, Macro: What’s Up With Cycles


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