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MAY 13, 2024

Exercise Made Personal: Finding Your Fitness Level


Honest advice and helpful tips to cater your health and fitness journey to your needs and abilities.

Read time: 5 minutes

What do we mean when we use the term ‘personalized exercise’ or when we say ‘exercise being relative to the individual’? Well, someone’s couch-to-5K will be another person's marathon. My dear old mom’s walk to the shop and back will leave her feeling the same as I do after a HYROX. So it’s important not to compare your progress with others, instead you should compare your current results with those from one week ago. One month ago. One year ago. Real progress is what we want to see, not deflation because you can't keep pace with Olympic athletes like Sir Mo Farah or Galen Rupp.

Let’s Look at Some Influences and Considerations

It would be fair to assume that we’re able to sustain greater levels of exercise in our 20’s than we can in our 50’s, not always the case, but generally speaking. So age is the first factor to consider in personalized exercise.

Individual fitness levels are next; we don’t all have the same start line. And both genetics and childhood lifestyle form the foundations for who we will become.

We all have individual goals, meaning we need individual exercise plans to accommodate our goals. Someone who is planning to run 2 marathons in 2 days will have a very different plan to someone who has just decided to lead a less sedentary lifestyle and start running for the first time.

Finally, health conditions are hugely individual. Everyone can benefit from exercise, but certain activities like brisk walking are thought to help prevent diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels, or high intensity exercise that gets the heart pumping could help to prevent heart attacks by reducing the levels of “bad” cholesterol in your blood.

It’s also important to identify your end goal, and then work backwards to where you are today. By doing this you will be able to understand how much time and effort it is going to take to achieve that end goal. Don’t rush the process and risk injury or corners being cut.

Getting Creative with Your Plan

The first step to personalizing an exercise plan for yourself is to identify the end goal and then test your current fitness state, thereby measuring the gap. We’ve all seen the 16 week marathon prep, but what about those who have never run more than a mile? Or those on the other end of the scale who’ve been exercising their entire life? Neither of these will need the 16 week plan; one may need longer, while the other could do with a 10 week prep. So it’s all relative.

Ideally, the longer the gap between current state and end goal, the better. This is because it would be beneficial not to overload the body too soon. So, gradual increases in load (whether that be strength, cardio or flexibility) is always the best way to approach this. The human body is an incredibly resilient biological marvel, and it will respond best to progressive loading.

The second key thing we should be considering is variety. This is something I can attest to; I’ve played soccer and kept relatively fit my entire adult life, so when I took on my first HYROX I was under the impression that I’d be above average for my age group. How wrong I was! My body had been conditioned to play 90 mins on a weekend, and train for an hour twice per week, so football started to feel easy as my body adapted to the conditions. But when I threw something new into the mix, like a HYROX, my lungs were in shock, muscles that I hadn’t trained started to fail and I definitely wasn’t as strong as I thought I was.

This can be applied to everyday life. You want a well-rounded routine where possible. So think of strength, cardio and mobility as the big 3.

The Right Tools for the Job

There are tons of great tools out there which you can use to track progress over time, and let’s face it, none of us want Father Time creeping in too early. These trackers and feedback tools are great for helping you stay younger for longer:

WHOOP

WHOOP tracks the daily strain our bodies endure through a rating system, from 0 - 21. It will also track the quality of your sleep, giving you insights such as resting heart rate (RHR), heart rate variability (HRV) and body temperature. WHOOP will also provide you with a recovery score in the morning, letting you know how rested and recovered you are from last night's sleep.

OURA

Similarly to WHOOP, OURA tracks sleep, strain, recovery and blood oxygen. But instead of wearing it on your wrist (like the WHOOP), this fits snugly on your finger.

Strava

Strava is the largest sports community in the world. And whether you wish to track runs, bike rides, hikes or any of the other 27 activities in the app, Strava is a great place to store your data and look back on the progress you’ve made.

Overcoming Barriers to Exercise

While exercising can seem like a daunting prospect, rest assured that you don’t need hours on end to achieve your goals. Time is often one of the biggest barriers to exercise, but simply monitoring how you’re spending your time over the span of 1 week and identifying 30 minute pockets which you can start dedicating to exercise is a great place to begin. A quick Joe Wicks HiiT class on your lunch break is a winner!

Motivation is another key barrier between you and getting the exercise you need. I've found strict scheduling to be a great way to make time for exercise. If it’s in the diary, it’s happening. I do this in weekly blocks on a Sunday night, or sometimes daily the night before. And classes are an awesome way to get that little extra push, simply turn up, follow along, get your sweat on, and leave. No planning required.

Access or resources can be a third barrier, and with some astronomical gym prices I'm not surprised. But if it’s cardio you’re interested in, then regular brisk walking should do the trick. Or a step up will be hill walking, or go one more and climb those stairs… and again… and again. Ultimately if you have the motivation, then you will find a way.

If you’ve decided that personalization is what you really need, and you’re feeling a little swamped with so much information online, then investing in professional help and advice can be a great long-term solution. Take the wisdom of a qualified health professional, apply it to your daily life and retain the information for years to come.

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Written by Joe Bignell

Joe is passionate about all things health and fitness, pushing through barriers to find his body's limits. He has completed several endurance events, raising thousands for charity.

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