Components of a Customized Exercise Prescription

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Regular exercise is important for health and wellbeing. For this reason, many healthcare providers will issue an exercise prescription as a way to help keep health issues at bay. With the help of a personal trainer or sports medicine physician, you can get your prescription "filled" with an exercise plan and guidelines. do are develop exercise "prescriptions" or exercise guidelines for their clients and patients.

Additionally, getting an exercise prescription from a trained professional can increase the safety and efficiency of your program. A professional trainer also can help integrate all of these pieces into a simple plan that can be followed and adjusted as needed.

Ideally, your program will be designed specifically for your health status, goals, abilities, and interests. A general exercise prescription will consider the principles of conditioning and include the following basics. Here is what you need to know about exercise prescriptions.

Health Status Questionnaire and Physical Exam

Your physician will perform a general physical exam and may have you complete a questionnaire to determine if you have any health issues that would limit your ability to exercise or require modifications to your program. Most personal trainers require a physician’s clearance before they design your program.

For your safety, you do not want to skip this step, especially if you are new to exercise. While exercise is almost always recommended and an essential part of good health, you also need to ensure that you are mindful of any limitations you may have. For instance, certain medications—like beta blockers—may make it difficult for your blood pressure to raise adequately when you are exercising.

Be sure to communicate your limitations to the personal trainer helping to design your program. Transparency is important not only for your safety, but also in creating an exercise program that helps you meet your goals.

Fitness Assessment and Evaluation

A fitness assessment is the next step in designing your exercise prescription. This assessment is used to establish a baseline of your current fitness and help determine what sort of exercise you can safely perform.

The assessment often includes simple blood pressure and heart rate measurements, strength, flexibility, body composition, cardiovascular endurance, exercise history, and goals and interests. A variety of assessment protocols are used, and these are often repeated at regular intervals to gauge your progress. 

Overall, a fitness assessment provides valuable insight for your trainer. They can use this information to determine where your weaknesses are and formulate a plan to address them. They also will pay attention to your strengths and help you build on those to build confidence in yourself as you move through the program.

Exercise Type

A big part of your exercise prescription is what exercises you will do. A good prescription will include a variety of exercises and a balanced routine to build core strength, endurance, flexibility, and base fitness first and then become much more specific to your fitness goals.

Everyone has different fitness goals. Some people begin training to run a marathon while others simply want to lower their blood pressure. Here is an overview of the types of exercise that might be included in your exercise prescription.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Rhythmic movements using large muscle groups—such as bicycling, walking, or swimming—are one of the best ways to increase blood flow to the muscles and raise the heart rate for a more extended period. This type of exercise improves the heart's ability to pump blood through the body to the working muscles and improves overall cardiovascular health.

Cardiovascular exercise is also linked to several health improvements. These may include a decreased risk of many diseases and decreases in total cholesterol, blood pressure, and body fat levels.

Strength Training

Strength training is an essential fitness component and is one area of your exercise prescription that may vary widely from person to person.

A good program will include the core and major muscle groups in various combinations working against resistance and building strength, agility, and balance. That resistance can be weights, gravity, tubing, or your own body.

A capable trainer will find the right combination for you. But the most basic routine involves 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions for building strength.

Flexibility and Balance Training

As your trainer is preparing an exercise plan for you, they may also incorporate stretching, flexibility exercises and balance training. Not only will these exercises help you move better, but they also may reduce injuries and improve the condition of your muscles.

Additionally, having good balance is something people often overlook. But having good balance can not only make you lighter on your feet but also improve your performance. Balance training is particularly important as you age because having good balance can help prevent injuries and falls.

Exercise Parameters

The frequency, duration, intensity, order, and progression are all considerations that must be considered in any exercise program. Based on your results and goals, these factors will be adapted to your current fitness level and progress. Here is a closer look at each of those elements.


How often you exercise is an essential aspect of fitness to make safe, yet continued progress. This prescription usually starts with two to three times per week and progresses to four to five times per week.


Depending upon your current fitness level and exercise history, your exercise prescription could begin with as little as ten minutes of steady exercise and build from there. Ideally, you should be exercising at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity per week.


The intensity of your exercise prescription may be the most crucial aspect of an efficient, safe, and fun program. This is also where the skills of the specialist or trainer are put to the test. Because every person responds differently to exercise, finding the right intensity and a balance between effort and rest are critical.

Trainers use heart rate as a primary measure of exercise intensity guidelines. A variety of protocols can help professionals find the most appropriate heart rate range that will help you improve but not overdo it. Your trainer will often monitor your heart rate and other vital signs while exercising.

A beginner may start at 50% of their maximum heart rate range, whereas an elite athlete may work at nearly 90% of their maximum capacity during intense interval training.

Exercise Session Order and Progression

Your exercise program will usually follow a similar order depending on your training goals. All programs will begin with a warm-up and end with a cool-down and stretching. The rates of progression for new exercisers are generally broken into three separate 6-week phases: (1) initial conditioning, (2) fitness improvement, and (3) fitness maintenance.

This is how your physician or trainer keeps you on track and reaching your fitness goal. Both you and your trainer need to provide regular feedback and communicate openly. Most trainers will keep a written record of your training details, but it’s wise to keep your training log. Write notes about the type of workout, time, distance, weight, reps, and how you felt.

Exercise Modifications

A good exercise prescription is adaptable and flexible and can be modified often and efficiently while moving toward your goals. Adjustments are a constant and ongoing part of your exercise prescription for the rest of your life.

You will find that you need to constantly change your routine, try new activities, take breaks, and increase and decrease your time and intensity over the years. Periodic visits to your physician and personal trainer will help keep your routine fresh.

Still, by this time, you will have enough skill and experience to go it alone. You can design your own exercise program, and set a personal best if that’s what you desire.

A Word From Verywell

A properly designed exercise program can be all the difference when it comes to getting results. A professional trainer can track and modify your training plan so you continue to enjoy your activity and work toward your goals. Just be sure to meet with a healthcare provider to determine if you have any limitations or special guidelines.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. U.C. Davis Health. Flexibility.

  4. American Heart Association. Balance exercise.

  5. American Council on Exercise. When is it Time to Change Your Workout?

  6. American Council on Exercise. How to Select the Right Volume and Frequency for Your Clients.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.