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Training & advice

F.I.T. Factors: getting it just right

F = Frequency

I = Intensity

T = Time (or duration)

What do these mean and how do they relate to each other?


This is how often you run and could relate to how many times you train during the week or how many repetitions you do during a session, for example.


This is how hard you run and, again, could relate to how many hard days you do during the week. how many hard efforts you do during a session or even how many hard weeks you do during a block of training.

Time (or duration)

This is how long your run/session/efforts are.

They all relate to each other.

If you train often ie every day or even more than once a day your sessions will probably need to be fairly easy and short. If you want to put in some hard or long sessions you will probably need a recovery day the following day.

If your hard session involves you running fast or long efforts you will probably do few of them and have fairly long recoveries, whereas, if you are striding out rather than pushing hard you will be able to do more of them with a shorter recovery between.

The question you have to answer is, how much is too much, how hard is too hard, how long is too long and how much recovery do I need?

That's a tricky one to answer because every runner is different, each individual has a different level of fitness from the next and has a different training background. One individual is not the same as the next. However a golden rule is to gradually progress training, whether this is distance or intensity, by no more than 10% in any week and should only increase one thing at a time ie frequency, intensity or duration. You should also schedule in easy training weeks every now and again where every session is easy. This could be when you have a hard week at work or a lot of social activities or it could be planned into your programme every six weeks at the end of each block of training.

It is important to understand how training works. When we train we overload our bodies. This is not a bad thing and shouldn't be confused with overtraining. Overload is where we cause tiny microtears in the muscle fibres. We then need to recover from this overload. During recovery our bodies adapt and repair the damage that we have done but they don't just repair it to the level that it was at before the training session, they make them stronger so that the next time we train we are fitter and able to take a bit more stress.

To ensure that this happens effectively we have to get the recovery just right. If we don't allow ourselves to recover enough and train before the adaptation has taken place we will just break the body down more and then are in danger of overtraining. If we allow too much recovery and don't schedule that next training session at the right time we lose some of the fitness that we have built up.

The trick is to know what is right for you and to understand this you have to listen to your body.

The things that you need to listen to are:

Catching coughs, colds and other illnesses - if you are doing too much you may damage your immune system and so your body can't fight off viruses and infections as effectively. Depending on the kind of illness or cold you need to back off the training and either stop completely or schedule in an easy week or two to allow your body to fight back.

Fitness levels plateauing and not improving - there is a saying that if you do the same you will stay the same. If you want your fitness levels to improve change can be as good as a rest. Have a look at your programme and check your FIT factors. Are you doing too much? too little? or are you getting the relationship between them wrong? It may be time to change things around a little.

Not wanting to train when your schedule says you should - The training plan needs to be flexible. It is not the "be all and end all". If your day has been hectic and your training plan says you should do a hard session that night, common sense tells you to shelve it for another day. Sometimes we get too hung up on plans and programmes and don't step back to see the bigger picture. Missing one training session won't decrease your fitness levels but putting in a hard session when your body isn't up to it will.

Elevated heart rate - Do you know what your resting heart rate is? If not then you should find out. The best time to take it is first thing in the morning upon waking, unless you need to jump out of bed because you are late for work! Another good time may be when you are relaxing in front of the television with your feet up. You should get into the habit of taking your pulse every now and again. If you notice that it is higher than usual - maybe by only 5 beats - you should take it easy. It is often a sign that you haven't recovered properly from your previous session or that your body is fighting an infection. On the other hand not being able to get your heart rate as high in training as you normally can is a sign that you are overtraining so you should beware of this and stop the session if this happens.

Injury - If you have more muscle soreness than usual or have recurring niggles you may be putting yourself at risk of an overuse injury. Check your training load and make sure you are not increasing anything by more than 10%.

Other signs of overtraining are disturbed sleep patterns, feeling irritable and loss of appetite. If you are experiencing any of these you should plan more down time or take complete down time for a period. You could use this time to do some alternative exercise, such as walking or swimming or work on your flexiblity and core strength in yoga or pilates classes. Many runners find that they come back stronger and faster by taking a break and working on other things.

You should also remember that it takes time to make a difference to your fitness levels and this can be positive or negative. If you get it right you may not notice your fitness levels shooting up but gradually improving. If you get it wrong it could be a gradual decline and you may not see the results of overtraining for sometime. If you are suffering from any overtraining symptoms you may need to look back a long way to see when your overtraining first started. Keeping a training diary is important for this reason, where you record your training and other things in your life that may affect it. Have you been adapting your training to suit your lifestyle? Are your easy weeks easy enough after hard blocks of training? Are your easy weeks easy enough when you have other pressures in your life?

You also need to consider diet and nutrition. When you are training hard you need to put more into the fuel tank. Eating healthily is great but this may only give you enough fuel for normal, everyday living. You need extra fuel if you are training hard so should be able to include some "treats" or larger portions of your favourite foods.

If you haven't already, you should also consider joining your local Run England or jogscotland group where the leader will ensure that your future fitness programmes are well balanced and sensible.

Finally, if you think you have become addicted to exercise you should speak to your GP and seek professional help.