Individualizing Exercise: Some Biomechanical and Physiological Reminders

Article excerpt

Biomechanics and exercise physiology form the knowledge base for selecting and evaluating exercises. Individuals perform exercise to improve personal fitness, control body weight, improve psychophysical well-being, improve rehabilitation efforts, and achieve optimal performance. Whether improving personal fitness, leading exercise for a group, or revitalizing a routine workout, a person needs to individualize his or her exercise. Individualizing exercise means identifying needs that are unique to the exerciser (e.g., fitness level, abdominal muscle weakness, muscles involved in swinging a golf club), and then designing an exercise program to meet these needs.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM, 1995) notes that systematic, individualized endurance exercise includes the appropriate type, intensity, duration, frequency, and progression of physical activity. These general guidelines for prescribing cardiorespiratory (endurance) exercise appear in table 1. For improving muscular strength and endurance, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Baechle, 1994) has specified guidelines that include specificity, intensity, progressive overload, frequency, periodization, and exercise order (table 2).

While these guidelines are familiar to many physical educators, exercise specialists, and sports medicine personnel, their individualization is sometimes overlooked as exercise programs become routine and serve a large number of participants. ACSM and NSCA have produced several publications to assist individuals with this task (ACSM, 1993; ACSM, 1995; Baechle, 1994). This article will review several key points that may help exercise leaders to individualize new exercise programs or act as reminders to rejuvenate routine workouts.

Cardiorespiratory Training

Before beginning a cardiorespiratory training (i.e., aerobic exercise) program, it is important to determine the goals of the program. Two questions should define these goals:


(1) are you training for a specific skill, activity, or sport, or are you simply training to improve overall health and fitness, and (2) if training for a specific skill or sport, is the goal of your training endurance or power? The guidelines presented in table 1 are important regardless of the answers to these questions, but they should be varied depending on those answers. If the program aims for overall health and fitness, then balance should be maintained between developing endurance and power. If training for a specific activity is the goal, then one of these may be emphasized more than the other (e.g., long, slow, distance training to improve endurance versus high-intensity speed training to improve power). In order to individualize a program, the following five concerns should be addressed as well.

Specificity of Training. Specificity of training for cardiorespiratory training means having exercise that is suited to the muscle groups, the energy pathways (i.e., biochemical pathways, aerobic vs. anaerobic, that produce energy to do exercise), and the movement patterns involved in performance of the activity. Cross training (completing a number of different activities during a workout) has become a popular training method. During cross training, an exerciser may spend six minutes on the stair climber, move to the stationary bicycle and exercise for eight to ten minutes, and finish with six minutes on the rower. By adding variety, cross training can prevent boredom in a workout. However, if the exerciser is not achieving his or her training goal(s), it may be that "specificity of training" has been neglected. Exercise routines need to be matched to the exerciser's goals.

For aerobic exercise to be specific, two criteria should be considered: (1) intensity and duration of exercise, and (2) type of exercise. Short term, high intensity exercise (e.g., sprints or stop-and-start activities in racquet sports) depends on anaerobic biochemical pathways. …