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How to Scale Training to Your Fitness Level

Knowing how to scale your training effectively is an important tool to have available to you, especially in the current climate where training at home and using online resources for fitness are at an all-time high. There is no one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter program out there that works for everyone. We are all individuals with varying needs. We vary in age, ability level, strengths, weaknesses, habits, likes, dislikes, goals, injury history, body type, response to exercise, and many other factors. The only person who has the most up to date information on all of these factors is you, and that’s where you need to put your thinking cap on when it comes to adjusting your training.

There are a number of ways you can scale your training to make a program work better for you. Six of our favorite ways to scale training are outlined below.

6 Ways to Scale Training to Your Fitness Level

1. Adjust the volume. Adjust the volume of a workout by decreasing or increasing the prescribed number of reps or sets. Ideally, you should have gas left in the tank at the end of a workout and you should not be extremely sore. If either of those things are out of line, reduce your volume. While there is a time and a place to increase your volume, crushing yourself increases risk of injury and decreases motivation to workout consistently. It’s better to be conservative when it comes to volume than to be overly aggressive (it's easier to come back from the first one, and harder to come back from the second one).

2. Change speeds. Slowing down an exercise builds strength through the full range of motion, increases mobility and stability, and improves proprioception while moving your body. Think 5-10 seconds per repetition, going equally slowly on the concentric (upward) and eccentric (downward) phases of the movement. Going slow increases your time under tension, which increases the difficulty of an exercise without using a heavier weight. A good guideline to follow is you should be able to do a movement slowly before you do it quickly. Speeding up has its benefits, however, going slow should be given its proper due before moving fast is even on the table.

3. Vary the load. We all go through fluctuations in training, just like in life, and it’s important to adjust the load you’re lifting accordingly. Bodyweight and light weights should be given their due before increasing the load. As you move through a training program, it’s okay to use a lighter weight than prescribed and ensure you are very comfortable there before progressing. Slowing down your tempo with a light weight is a great way to increase strength before going up in weight. It’s optimal to increase the load when you have mastered technique, your energy is high, and your nervous system has recovered well from the last training. If the weight feels iffy, don’t risk it! There will be other opportunities to go heavier.

4. Modify rest periods. The time of your rest period between sets will change based on your goals. For instance, increase rest periods to build strength and practice high-quality technique, especially during the learning phase of a new exercise program. Conversely, if your goal is to build endurance and improve cardiovascular fitness, decrease the rest period between sets.

5. Add or subtract recovery days. Pay attention to your body’s response to a workout; ideally, you are mostly recovered before you perform the next workout. It’s okay to feel muscular soreness when you train again; however, if you are feeling exhausted it may be a signal to add more recovery days than prescribed before doing the next workout. Recovery days give muscles time to adapt to the workout stimulus and repair before training again. Additional factors to account for that affect recovery time include sleep, nutrition, hydration, and stress levels, and these factors vary from person to person. Remember: your results are only as good as your ability to recover!

6. Listen to your intuition. While there are times when pushing through discomfort makes you stronger, popular fitness adages like “no pain, no gain” and “push till ya puke” have made it seem okay to ignore important messages from our bodies. There is absolutely no reason to push yourself to a place of pain, puking, or intense discomfort while exercising. In fact, these things risk injury and suppress your ability to intuit what your body truly needs. Huge strides in strength and fitness can be made by taking it slow, being gentle with your body, and listening to your inner voice. This can be as simple as resting when you’re tired or cutting a workout short when you’ve had a stressful day. Alternatively, you may go through an entire workout with high energy and decide to add a few extra sets and reps. Listening to your intuition means if something doesn’t feel right, stop or change what you’re doing, whether that is to make it easier, harder, faster, slower, or something completely different. The more you practice paying attention to your internal cues and making adjustments to a training program accordingly, the better your results will be.

We do the best we can at KPP to create online training programs that are accessible to everyone. That being said, you are still responsible for adjusting the program to your needs and abilities. Use the six ways outlined above to take responsibility for your health and get more from any training program you follow!

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