Components of Exercise Program Design |
Jackie Wright / The Fitness Trail
Grand Lake, CO Colorado

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Components of Exercise Program Design

Last week, we highlighted exercise set design and organization and this week we will concentrate on the components of a well-designed exercise program. We will discuss and describe eight components of exercise program design with a few examples to clarify and apply the principles of each component. While digesting this information, note the synergistic relationship between the components-very interesting! As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.

Components of Exercise Program Design

Intensity – This may apply to intensity parameters such as measuring heart rate/ratings of perceived exertion or intensity training zones, during both cardiovascular endurance/power training or to momentary muscle failure when performing muscular strength training exercises. We may measure a client’s intensity for specific muscular strength exercises as a certain percentage of their one-repetition maximum (i.e. percentage 1RM-the amount they can “lift” in one repetition-e.g. 70% of the 1RM).

Repetitions – The number of times that a client is able to perform a specific exercise, without breaking form, prior to a recovery interval. For example, a client may be asked to perform the bench press exercise, three sets of eight repetitions. To apply the above component of intensity to repetitions, they would be experiencing momentary muscle failure in the final one to two repetitions of each set (i.e. unable to perform another repetition without compromising their form).

Sets – A set is a group of repetitions. And, the number of repetitions within each set and how that set is organized will depend upon the specific purpose of the training. For example, if the goal is to train specifically for strength, then the intensity may be high and the number of repetitions may be lower. The reverse of that would be the case if you were training for endurance (i.e. intensity lower/repetitions higher).

Volume – Is the total amount of work a client performs during a training session or within their entire program. This takes into consideration the intensity, the sets and repetitions completed.

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Tempo – This is the speed of the movements and there is a rule of thumb regarding tempo described as time under tension (i.e. TUT). In other words, in order for there to be a positive training effect, the muscles need to be “under tension” long enough to evoke change (i.e. stress/adaptation).

Recovery Interval – This is the time the client requires to adequately recover from a specific set of exercises or from the training program itself. Recovery is when the body grows and repairs. Without adequate recovery, the body may eventually begin to breakdown potentially leading to poor performance and injury.

Frequency – Is the number of times -how often- that a client performs a specific exercise (i.e. pull ups), specific training modality (i.e. muscular strength training) or total training program (i.e. increasing muscle mass/improving lean to fat ratio).

Type of Exercise – This refers to the five components of physical fitness–cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition. Often training programs, will include all five components, however, in some cases, we are training clients for one of these components. Other aspects of “type” may refer to power or agility training a topic we will address in next week’s column.

Jackie Wright is the owner/manager of Never Summer Fitness, LLC located in Grand Lake, Colorado. She may be reached at her website at, her email at, her blog at and her Facebook page at Never Summer Fitness.