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Breakthrough Fitness

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The 3 Principles of Exercise (For Optimal Results)

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi would begin every season with a speech to his team that started out, “Men, this is football.” He would then start breaking down the fundamentals of the sport.

Just as the pros needed a refresher of football basics, the rest of us need to brush up on the basic principles of exercise, namely: specificity, overload, and progression.

Whether you are strength training, running, or pole dancing, knowing the principles of fitness can help you stick to your new lifestyle and reach your goals.


Three Principles of Exercise

The principles of exercise aren’t something I made up to sell gym memberships.

The human body works in a certain way and—if you want to get the most out of it and reach your physical fitness goals—you need to understand how exercise works.

When it’s looked after properly, your body can grow stronger and work better than you ever thought possible.

So what are the principles of exercise?

1. Specificity

You get what you train.

If all you do is walk, then you’ll only get better at walking. (While we’re on the topic, walking is not exercise. It’s an inherit trait that was necessary for survival.)

woman with barbell on shoulders

The exercise program you choose should match your goals. If you want to change the shape of your body, you need to do activities that will change the shape of your body. But for your body to change, it needs a reason to.

“Changing your body” is much different from “losing weight.” Losing weight can be accomplished without exercise and ultimately, all you’re really doing is making a smaller version of the same body. Sure, the scale might have a lower number, but the image hasn’t changed: same slumped shoulders, jiggly arms, and a smaller (but still flabby) belly.

To change the shape of your body you have to do specific, targeted work, like strength training and intense cardiovascular exercise.

2. Overload

In order to improve, your exercise needs to be intense!

Let’s continue to use weight loss (fat loss) as an example. Everyone wants to run to lose fat. (It’s not effective but that’s another article.) You begin running a mile and burn, say, 100 calories in 15 minutes. You’ve gotten better at running that mile and now you are more efficient at using energy (i.e. burning calories).

Don’t get too excited! Being efficient means burning less calories to run that mile. You now have to ramp up your physical activity to prevent plateauing. So how do you make it more intense?

The overload principle.


Go faster. Run up a hill. Carry someone on your back. Increase your frequency, intensity, or speed and push your body to the next level.


3. Progression

Let’s say you are hooked on pole dancing. (Don’t knock it; it’s a great workout!) Remember how sore you were from swinging around the pole a few times? You created a stress on your muscles because they worked in a new way. You even burned some calories.

But after several months, you’re a pro. If you were in a club, men would be making it rain! Those simple swings around the pole are so easy that you don’t even break a sweat.

shoes going up stairs

The next step is progression. Start by climbing up and down the pole, flipping upside down, and all the other priceless moves. By increasing those fitness levels, you’ll be constantly pushing your body to the limit.

Once you body adapts to something, it becomes efficient at doing it. Progression takes you back out of that comfort zone and introduces a whole new ball game.



If there’s one thing everyone knows about muscles it’s this: use it or lose it.

Which brings us to the oft-forgotten fourth and fifth principles of exercise: regularity and reversibility.

Health and fitness isn’t a “one-and-done” thing. You have to do it regularly or your results will reverse. You’ll get weaker, you won’t be able to run as far or as fast, and your body will adapt to its new lifestyle.

Specific, progressive, challenging workouts aren’t always easy to do on your own. But at Breakthrough Fitness, our passion is on creating customized exercise and nutritional guidance that grows with you. Encouraging trainers, positive group sessions, and constantly changing workouts make sure you’re never bored.

Make a fitness breakthrough and realize permanent results!