I love teaching group fitness. Seeing a community of people move together just makes my heart happy, but for all its amazing benefits like the bomb playlists, the accountability of your peers, and a much lower cost than personal training, group fitness has a major pitfall- lack of personalization. While all exercise has a myriad of benefits, in order to improve your level of fitness you must continually increase the difficulty of your workouts. This concept is known as the Principle of Overload, and it is an essential training principle.
This seems like common sense, but it is much harder to adhere to in a group fitness format. While group fitness instructors are pretty amazing, we definitely cannot remember which weight each of you picked up in your last class or monitor your heart rate week to week. And we can’t design all of our classes to get progressively harder because we have classes full of everyone from first time clients to seasoned veterans. We can provide an awesome foundation for your fitness improvements, but how much and how quickly you improve that fitness is up to you.
So how do you apply the Principle of Overload to create improvements week to week? There is an acronym to help with that! FITT stands for frequency, intensity, time, and type.
Frequency- This is a measure of how often an activity is performed. To overload using frequency, you can take more classes per week.
Intensity- Depending on the activity, intensity can be increased in a different ways. For resistance training, use a heavier weight. For cardiovascular activities, increase heart rate by making the exercise more challenging (for example, increase your RPMs or resistance in a cycle class or aim for more reps in a shorter amount of time during a Bootcamp). If the instructor offers modifications to increase the difficulty (adding a resistance band or working on an unstable surface, for example), you can take these as well. I offer options to both increase and decrease difficulty in my own classes. You may have heard me refer to them as “layers.”
Time- This is a measure of how long an activity is performed. While most group fitness classes are a set length, you can overload using time by taking less rest during class.
Type- If you’ve been going to the same type of class forever, mix it up and try a new format. You can still keep your faves, but adding in variety will challenge your body in new ways.
If you come to the same number of classes every week, take the same modifications, and give the same effort, you can maintain your current level of fitness, but improvements will be slow and inconsistent. Use the FITT acronym to gradually overload the body to generate improvements. A few things to note:
Overload should be gradual to avoid overtraining. Don’t suddenly increase from 3 to 5 classes a week, pick up heavier weights, take all modifications to increase difficulty, and push harder in cardio all in the same week. Pick one or two of these variables to modify at a time.
Measure your progress. Write down what weights you chose for class, what resistance you chose, or any other measurable variables you can think of for your class. Use your fitness tracker to monitor your heart rate, or make a note of what you thought your effort was from 1-10 that class. This way you can see if these variables have stayed the same for several weeks.
Prioritize Recovery. Recovery is an extremely important component to overload. Your body is intelligently focused on keeping you alive and healthy, and if is not recovered from your previous workout, fatigue will prevent you from overloading your system. Nutrition and sleep are two key pillars to recovery. Make sure these are on point as you work to safely and effectively progress toward your goals.
If you are working toward improvements in your fitness, it can be easy to slip into feeling like you, the you that exists today, isn’t enough. I love this quote from Molly Galbraith, founder of Girls Gone Strong and body positivity champion:
“You can love or embrace your body while wanting it to look or perform differently than it does right now. Both can be true. Believing that you can’t like your body and want change means how you feel about your body is only about aesthetics and performance. There are so many OTHER reasons to like and be grateful for your body.”
Can you think of some other reasons to love your body? Put it in the comments along with how you can level up your group fitness game using the Overload Principle.