3 Essential Principles of Exercise Programs

Beginning an exercise routine can often be quite daunting.  There are so many questions to ask, and so many different methods to choose from. 

With so much information out there, it's very difficult to decipher who is credible, and who isn't.

Unfortunately, anyone who has gained some strength, or has lost a couple of pounds automatically assumes that they are a fitness expert.


If you're like us, you are very busy, and have no time to waste. Therefore, it is important to make the limited time you have to workout meaningful, and of course, worth your while.

In this series, we will answer all of the basic exercise and fitness questions you have.  We will give you a step-by-step walk through on exercise basics, identify which exercises are the best, how to perform them, how much, how often, and most importantly, how to achieve your goals.

First, we will discuss 3 Essential Principles that you must understand about exercising, before you begin your journey.

Sit tight, we are going to cover a lot of information.


The number 1 central concept of exercise and fitness, is that you must provide your body with a stimulus that it has not been exposed to before.

If done correctly, this stimulus will challenge your muscles, forcing your body to rebuild itself stronger and better than before.

Your body is an amazing machine- it will evolve and adapt to the new stimulus you are presenting to it.

In order to continue to make adaptations, the stimulus must gradually change over time.  

If the stimulus does not change, your body will not change.

This is a critical concept.

Misunderstanding of this concept is one of the main reasons why so many people fail to accomplish their fitness goals.

Every training session must have some type of measurable change that makes it different than the one before it.

exercise progress

The changes could be very small; in fact, they should be small. Slow incremental changes in your exercise regime is what will allow continuous progressive adaptations over your life time.



It's also important to note that your body will adapt differently to different stimuli.

For example, you can train specifically for

  • Muscle hypertrophy,

  • Muscle toning,

  • Muscle strength,

  • Or Muscular endurance

Each of these fitness attributes aren't mutually exclusive, and there is often some overlap between them. In other words, certain types of exercise programs can train multiple categories at the same time.

In addition, there is a range in which exercising will be beneficial. Perform too little, and you're body won't break a sweat. Perform too much, and you won't be able to sustain your progress.

Finding the effective dose can mean the difference between achieving your fitness goals and wasting your time.


  • In order to make successful progress towards your fitness goals, you must continue to provide your body a new stimulus.

  • Each training session should have a small incremental yet measurable change from the prior session.


The next principle that we will discuss is the concept of training versus working out, as we previously described in The Most Powerful Reason to Exercise.

Training is a dedicated effort designed to accomplish a well-defined goal.

Many people go to the gym and just ‘work out’- aimlessly performing a random assortment of exercises in an unscheduled manner.

If you want to make your goals a reality, you cannot ‘wing it.’ A well thought out plan is necessary.

Therefore, it is important to specifically identify what your goals are.

  • Be as specific as possible.

  • Set a deadline.  

  • Make the goal realistic

Once we know your goals, then we can set a training plan in place for you.

It doesn't have to be a complicated plan. In fact, you will learn that setting up effective training programs is actually quite simple.


You didn't become a doctor or any other professional by winging it- you probably made an intricate plan for your study schedules, your business model, or whatever it is you do for a living.

Your health and fitness should not be treated with any less regard. Set your goals, make a plan, and stick with it.


  • When it comes to exercise and fitness, it is important to specifically identify what your goals are.

  • A well thought out plan will increase your chances of accomplishing the goal and provides you with a way of measuring your progress.



Another frequently asked question is, which exercises are the best exercises?

Anyone who has a basic understanding of kinesiology would agree that you should spend the majority of your time performing functional exercises.  

At least 80% of your time should be devoted to this type of training.

A functional exercise is one that mimics real world movements.


Just think about the activities that we perform on a daily basis: we sit, we stand, we bend down, we lift items, we reach for items, we carry items, sometimes unevenly etc etc.

Believe it or not, there exists an exercise that incorporates and strengthens all of these functional movement patterns and more.

Bicep curls are not functional. I don't know about you, but I do not remember the last time that I needed to curl my biceps throughout the day.  

By performing functional exercises, you are fostering natural movement patterns that help ingrain useful body positions in the real world.



In addition, functional exercises are usually compound exercises; meaning they train and strengthen multiple muscle groups at once.

As a result, you get a bigger bang for your buck.  For doctors and other busy professionals, compound exercises should comprise the bulk of your training to save time and energy.

The opposite is an isolation exercise. These movements train a single body part, and very rarely resemble anything in the real world.

If you go to any gym, you will see that almost everyone is exclusively performing isolation exercises. A lack of understanding of basic exercise principles is usually the cause.

Isolation exercises will not cause any significant adaptations from your body and should not comprise more than ~20% of your training.


  • Dedicate the majority of your time performing functional exercises.

  • When in doubt, choose a compound exercise rather than an isolation exercise to train more muscle groups in less time.


There are many different reasons why people begin to exercise. Some do it to improve their body composition, to gain muscle, to lose weight, to build confidence, to improve health, or for recreation.

Exercise can do all of these things and more. I encourage everyone to exercise, especially doctors and other busy individuals.  You will thank yourself immensely.

So in a nutshell..

  • Exercise works best when you progressively modify the stimulus dose in a manner that will get you closer to your goals.

  • It is ideal to have a training plan to tackle your goals, and your exercise selection should include high yield functional exercises that mimic real world movement patterns.

In Part 2, Creating Quick and Effective Workout Routines, we discuss the most important functional exercises, and recommendations for the ideal number of sets and reps you should perform to achieve your goals.

Are you guilty of mainly performing non-functional isolation exercises?

Post your comments and questions below.  


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Alex & Brittany Robles are the founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and wellness of busy individuals. Learn more about them here and connect with them on instagram and Twitter. Feel free to send them a message here