The recommended rate of progression in an exercise conditioning program depends on functional capacity, medical and health status, age, and individual activity preferences and goals. For apparently healthy adults, the endurance aspect of the exercise prescription has 3 stages of progression: initial, improvement, and maintenance.
1. Initial Conditioning Stage
The initial stage should include light muscular endurance exercises and low level aerobic activities, exercises which are compatible with minimal muscle soreness, discomfort, and injury. Exercise adherence may decrease if the program is too aggressively initiated. This stage usually lasts 4 to six weeks, but the length depends on the adaptation of the individual to the exercise program. The duration of the exercise session during the initial stage should begin with approximately 12 to 15 minutes and progress to 20 minutes. It is recommended that individuals that are starting a conditioning program exercise three times per week on non – consecutive days.
Individual goals should be established early in the exercise program. They should be developed by the participant with the guidance of an exercise professional. The goals must be realistic and a system of rewards – intrinsic or extrinsic – should be established at that time.
2. Improvement Stage
The improvement stage of the exercise conditioning program differs from the initial stage in that the participant is progressed at a more rapid rate. This stage typically lasts 4 to 5 months, during which intensity is progressively increased within the upper half of the target range of 50 to 85 %. Duration is increased consistently every 2 to 3 weeks until participants are able to exercise for 20 to 30 minutes continuously. The frequency and magnitude of the increments are dictated by the rate at which the participant adapts to the conditioning program. Inexperienced individuals should be permitted more time for adaptation at each stage of conditioning. Age should also be taken into consideration when progressions are recommended, as experience suggests that adaptation to conditioning may take longer in older individuals.
3. Maintenance Stage
The maintenance stage of the exercise program usually begins after the first six months of training. During this stage the participant may no longer be interested in further increasing the conditioning stimulus. Further improvement may be minimal, but continuing the same workout routine enables individuals to maintain their fitness levels.
At this point, the goals of the program should be reviewed and new goals set. To maintain fitness, a specific exercise program should be designed that will be similar in energy cost to the conditioning program and satisfy the needs and interests of the participant over an extended period. It is important to include exercises that the individual finds enjoyable.