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Whether you are a casual exerciser, an Olympic athlete there are five key principles of fitness you must apply to your routine every time you work out (no matter how many cocktails you had at the Christmas party the night before!).

If you don’t, you may never see the best results possible, and even worse, you could risk an injury through or a breakdown in muscle tissue caused by over-exercising and not giving your body chance to recover.

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Specificity

This principle refers to improving of certain aspects of your fitness by using a method of training that challenges that system or area of your body – in other words, ensure your training is relevant and specific.

For example, long-distance runners who are training for a marathon will see their breathing and circulatory systems become much stronger, which will help them run faster and longer.

Someone who undertakes regular yoga sessions will see their body become stronger and suppler as their muscles and joints gain flexibility.

The person undertaking a weight-training program will see their muscle mass increase as they lift progressively heavier weights.

Periodisation

Periodisation is a regular, long-term plan of exercise that incorporates periods of both intense activity and rest.

Athletes can use periodisation to allow them to reach their peak physical fitness when they need it the most, for example, for a marathon.

It can be used to improve any aspect of physical fitness, and the approach you take to this principle should reflect your goals.

This principle is also important to keep you mentally fresh, ready, and focused, as each period of rest and time away from the gym will hopefully reduce the risk of you getting bored of your routine.

Overload

The principle of overload dictates that, in order to increase your levels of fitness, you must continually increase the stressors you place on your body.

The body adapts to the stress you place on it during exercise, to make it easier to cope with the next time you do the same; improvement requires you to increase a stress factor to push your body.

There are a number of ways you can increase these stressors, including increasing the frequency, difficulty or intensity of your workout.

Reversibility
Fitness is not something that can be stored in your body; if you stop exercising or reduce the frequency of your workouts, your body will start to revert to its former level of fitness.

This could take a couple of weeks to start having an effect, though it wouldn’t occur if you only missed a couple of sessions.

You don’t want to get started into a new routine that works well, take a few weeks off, and have to start all over again.

Several studies have demonstrated that fitness decreases at about one-third of the rate that it took to originally acquire it.

Recovery

When you apply the principle of overload and push your body past what it has become used to, whether by lifting heavier weights or running faster and longer, your body then needs to recover so it is ready for next time.

When you rest after a period of exercise, your body enters what is known as an anabolic phase, wherein your body repairs itself.

If you don’t rest between workouts, your body can turn catabolic; instead of increasing lean muscle mass, your body will use the muscle to fuel itself, thereby causing the muscle to break down.

A recovery period doesn’t necessarily mean you have to not exercise at all; you just need to dial it down to about one-quarter of what you would usually do.

This keeps your body healthy and strong, while giving your muscles and joints have a chance to repair themselves.

Athletes often utilize three-week training periods, with a one-week rest period, also known as a deload week.

Alternative therapies to help your body repair itself and stay supple during this time are a great idea.

Consider yoga, Pilates or even basic gymnastics to keep you flexible and strong.

A regular sports massage during your deload week is also highly recommended.

These principles should be the cornerstone of any routine, to help you constantly improve your fitness and hit your targets, whether your target is to add muscle mass or improve your running time.

If you don’t have a plan, start one; think about how and where you can apply these principles and use them to improve your routine all Summer long!

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