8 Factors To Take Your Fitness To The Next Level & Beyond - Part 3 of 3

Mar 12, 2019

Welcome back to part 3 of 3 guys! Congratulations on reviewing everything thus far. Recall the 8 variables we've discussed in parts 1 and 2. We also covered why you should care about these variables, and how they apply in your workouts!

Some of you may be thinking, "Hey Ahad, these are a LOT of things to consider. How do I manage it all". Great question! My answer is right below :)

Which Is the Most Important Variable, and Why?

It’s difficult to call out one specific variable as being the most important because each of our situations is unique. But, tracking your training in a log (sample at the end of this post) using the FITT-VP-WW acronym will help you determine which variable is most important for you personally!

Some examples:

  • Light weight circuit training with many reps only: Intensity will likely be the most important variable for you. By increasing your intensity (i.e. a higher % of your 1 RM), your body will get ‘shocked’ by the change, and be forced to adapt (improving your fitness).
  • Only ever lifted near maximal weights: A period of lighter intensity will likely help your body repair itself adequately, and your strength levels will likely increase!

When you see the same intensity, time, volume etc. over weeks or even months (in your log), it will be a clear sign that you need to change things up to see improvement, prevent over training and burn out. Alternatively, if you aren’t doing enough, you will be reminded to push it!

Now if I HAD to pick a variable, I would choose intensity. Research has shown that for aerobic exercise, inadequate intensity is a complete waste of time since it will have absolutely no impact on your conditioning (ref #7). Specifically, in a group of male medical students, the researchers showed that training intensity (as measured by HRR – described near the start of this blog) must be at least 60%, and ideally getting closer to 70%. 

For example: My maximum HR is 200 bpm. Resting HR is (on average) around 50bpm. To achieve a 60% training intensity (and any cardiovascular benefit), my HR would need to be 140bpm (calculation below). If I exercise below 140bpm, it will have no impact on my cardiovascular fitness. The only exception may be in cases of deliberate, active recovery!

Exercise HR = {(HRmax – HRrest) x (% of target exercise intensity)} + HRrest
Exercise HR = {(200-50)*60%}+50] = 140bpm

On the flip side, too high of an intensity (cardio or weight training) can easily lead to:

  • Injury: excess loads placed on connective tissue (ligaments and tendons) without adequate conditioning are a recipe for disaster.
  • Negative Training Associations: extremely high intensity makes training very uncomfortable. For someone relatively new (or not fully committed to their training), the discomfort associated with high intensities can cause one to dislike (and stop) training completely!

EPOC: A Cardiovascular Measure of Workload

EPOC (or excess post oxygen consumption) is the oxygen consumption (above normal values) during recovery from strenuous cardiovascular exercise. It is a measure to determine the toll the session, by combining the demand associated with the restoration of ATP-PC, removal of lactate, restoration of O2 stores, elevated cardiovascular and respiratory function, elevated hormonal levels, and especially, elevated body temperature (ref #8)

As intensity increases, EPOC goes up exponentially. As duration increases, EPOC goes up linearly. This is another way to measure the training effect on your body after a tough cardio session. Several high-end training watches on the market have built in algorithms that estimate EPOC based on your heart rate variability, duration of exercise and other factors. I’ve used one by a company called Suunto several years ago. I question the accuracy of such watches since they are estimating the EPOC based on other variables. I can’t argue against the intriguing factor associated with tracking such variables though!

Does the Type of Exercise Machine I Use Matter?

As described earlier, the type of training generally refers to cardiovascular (endurance vs sprint), strength (endurance vs. true strength vs. power), stability, plyometrics, etc.

When completing any of the training types, the exercise modality you choose (i.e. the piece of equipment – bike vs. rower vs. machine weights vs. free weights) does impact your progress. 

Generally speaking, you should progress according to the following continuum given the following demands: (1) Isolation, (2) Stability / Balance, (3) Integration.

You should look to move away from machines that stabilize the weight for you, and progress to exercises that require your small muscles to stabilize the weight. Once you’re able to do that, look to switch to exercises that continue to require balance/stability, but that also require more than one muscle group to work (i.e. integrate whole body function). A progression for triceps may look like as follows:

1. Machine tricep extension – isolates the triceps, and the machine stabilizes the weight for you
2. Seated overhead dumbell tricep extension- isolates the triceps, but you’re stabilizing the weight
3. Standing overhead cable tricep extension – your core is now being integrated with the triceps
4. Forearm plank push ups – core, triceps, glutes and more are being integrated
5. Single arm cable woodchop ending in tricep extension (at various angles) – core, triceps, glutes and more are being integrated

Please refer to the image below for a brief overview of the continuum

Is There Anything Else That I Should Be Concerned about?

Yes, please focus diligently on your rest / recovery and nutrition! To learn exactly how to eat given how you’re training, check out my blog post that goes in to detail about energy system requirements, and what your body uses for fuel in different scenarios; along with food suggestions!

I will be writing more about rest / recovery in a future blog post. For now, between the training log sample, HRR calculations, and sRPE scale, you have a LOT of information at your disposal to begin tracking how you’re feeling.

I will also say that comprehensive warm ups specific for your activity, and thorough cool downs are essential. Complete static stretches after your workout, not before. Dynamic stretching is critical before training. 

If you have any questions before I get the post on rest / recovery up, please send me a message here!

What next?

Well, there you have it guys! Another, dare I say ‘epic’ blog series. Read all 3 parts a couple of times to really let the information sink in. I recommend the following next steps:

  • Create a training log immediately and begin logging as much information as you can – especially sRPE, your exercises, reps, sets, and weight for each day.
  • Start playing around with some of the intensity metrics: sRPE, HRR and % of 1RM.
  • Leveraging this post and my previous post detailing how to create your training plan, create a forward-looking plan for yourself for the next 3 weeks. Ensure that the fourth week is a rest / de-load week.

Most importantly, be honest with yourself about your goals, your current fitness levels, and be ready to see some amazing improvements!

Don't forget, #RiseUp

Sample Training Log








Weight (in lbs or kg)

Volume (weight*reps)

Subjective Feelings (sRPE)

Session Time (min)

January 21, 2019




87.5% 1RM

1-2 min



5,900 lb + 6,900 lb + 2,460 lb = 15,260 lb

Score from 0-10

1st session: 45 mins


2nd session: 20 mins + 20 mins




87.5% 1RM

1-2 min






87.5% 1RM

1- 2 min



Assault Bike



95% HR max

30 sec off

30 sec on



Core – plank variations





90 sec per variation

Body weight




Ref #1: The Talk Test and its relationship with the ventilatory and lactate thresholds. Pages 1175-1182 | Accepted 28 Apr 2011, Published online: 21 Jul 2011
Ref # 2: http://complementarytraining.net/percent-repetitions-chart/
Ref #3: ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal 18(3):4-7, May/June 2014.
Ref #4: International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2008, 3, 16-30
Ref #5: https://www.journalofphysiotherapy.com/article/S1836-9553(12)70078-4/pdf
Ref #6: J Sports Sci Med. 2011 Dec; 10(4): 600–606. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3761508/
Ref #7: Karvonen MJ, et al. The effects of training on heart rate: a longitudinal study. Ann Med Exp Biol Fenn 1957;35:307.
Ref # 8: Exercise Physiology for Health, Fitness, and Performance, third edition. Nanban et. Al.