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Progressing Your Exercise

What Does it Mean to Progress My Exercise?

Progressing your exercise means changing it to make it more challenging.

A change in your exercise prescription could mean changing the:

  • intensity of your exercise (making it more vigorous)
  • duration of your exercise (making it longer)
  • type (trying a different exercise)
  • frequency (if you are exercising less than 5 days per week, try adding an extra day)

Why Should I Progress My Exercise?

Our bodies adapt to changes. When you introduce something new to your body, like exercise, it might feel challenging at first. In the first few weeks of your exercise program you may have felt:

  • a bit breathless
  • that you were working hard
  • that your heart rate was at the higher end of your target training range

But after exercising for a few weeks, your body started to get used to the exercise and it started to feel easier. Your breathing was not as heavy, your exertion level went down to a rating of “light” work and your heart rate while exercising was a little slower.

These are good signs that you are making progress. If you continue at the same exercise level, you would maintain the same level of fitness. To continue to improve your fitness level, something has to change in your exercise program.

How Do I Know If I Am Ready to Progress My Exercise?

You are ready to progress your exercise when all four points below are true for you.

  1. Your goal is to continue to make improvements in your fitness level.
  2. Your rating of perceived exertion (RPE) is less than 11 (light work) on the scale. View or download the rating of perceived exertion scale (PDF, opens in new window) »
  3. Your heart rate during exercise is below the training heart rate set by your cardiovascular prevention and rehabilitation team.
  4. You want to try a different activity or do more of the same one.

You are not ready to progress your exercise if any of the points below are true for you.

  • Your current level of exercise is challenging (your RPE is greater than 13 or somewhat hard work).
  • You feel unwell.
  • You have had a change in your medical status (new symptoms, new diagnoses.)
  • You have had a muscle or joint injury.
  • You have had a recent change in your medication.
  • You are getting used to exercising in new weather conditions.
  • Your heart rate during exercise is above the training heart rate set by your cardiovascular prevention and rehabilitation team.
  • It is a very busy time in your life or you are experiencing a major life event (such as moving or changing jobs).
  • You are happy with your current level of fitness.

How Often Should I Progress My Exercise Program?

This depends on how long you have been doing regular exercise. In the first 3 to 6 months of starting an exercise program, progression may happen every two to three weeks. This stage is called the “improvement stage”.

After about 6 months of regular exercise, you will notice that improvements in your fitness may not happen as frequently and progression or changes in your exercise program will take place less often. You will likely be in what is called the “maintenance stage” where the goal is to keep your exercise program going for the long-term. Occasionally, the program can be progressed.

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