Coach Tom’s Corner

Ease in to conditioning and adapting



“A year from now you will wish you had started today!” – Karen Lamb

Over the last few columns I’ve been talking about having a plan for physical activities over winter. And winter is definitely here! Let’s consider what you might expect if you’ve been sedentary for awhile but are now committed to improving your physical condition.

It’s important to remember that consistency over time is your greatest available asset in conditioning. Personally, I like a regular, predictable routine with only slight variations over time. I know others who find a regular routine boring, choosing instead to constantly mix things up. In either case, what remains critical to positive results is consistency in taking actions at specific intensities.

I’ve spoken previously about the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). While not the end-all metric in training, it’s nevertheless extremely user-friendly and simple to understand and apply. RPE is a subjective, personal assessment of the level of intensity of the activity you are engaged in. Generally given as a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being lowest intensity, 10 being highest possible intensity), research indicates that higher levels of intensity achieve better physical adaptations. In general, we want to engage in our physical conditioning activities at an RPE level of 7 or 8 to optimize our physical adaptation.

Your physical output changes over the course of a conditioning activity. Consider any physical activity. You might start out strong or fast and gradually (or even immediately) weaken or slow. The output changes. Even with declining output you can still maintain your intensity – the sensation of how hard you are working – at the upper range of the scale. That’s what we’re after: consistent training at a consistent intensity.

I suggest sedentary but otherwise healthy adults take a few weeks to ease into this process. Perhaps aim for an RPE of 5 to allow you to decide how your physiology is reacting to this new onslaught. But at some point, you will want to ratchet up that intensity to 7-8.

It’s entirely likely that you will experience muscle soreness, perhaps in areas that adversely impact your other daily activities. Throttle back on working those body areas if it’s a significant problem. However, ease back up to 7-8 RPE when the soreness is less of a problem.

Muscle soreness, more properly referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), is normal and most of us know the difference between DOMS and an injury. When in doubt, check with your health care professional. In my experience, muscle soreness tends to fade as our bodies adapt to the new training reality around the four-week mark. There are a number of variables that might affect the duration of your soreness but figure on four weeks from the start of higher intensity training. This is our body adapting.

By four weeks you should also be noticing improvements in output. You are accomplishing more conditioning work in the same amount of time. Perhaps you’re doing more pushups or running further without stopping. Whatever it is that you’ve been working on, you’re able to do more than you could just a few weeks previously.

At six weeks you should be finding a groove. If you’ve been consistent in your conditioning and intensity you may be adjusting your program to provide greater challenge(s).

If you’ve been consistent in your conditioning and intensity for eight weeks, you are on a roll! You will feel like a completely different person. My experience is that eight weeks is a magic timeframe. It’s a point in the process when you’ve discovered a considerable amount about your physical reactions and capabilities and are able to take your process to an entirely new level.

Of course, life rarely allows such seamless progressions. All manner of things can intrude on our good intentions. Therefore, keep a positive outlook even if your conditioning becomes derailed. And keep in mind that you are always only eight weeks away from an entirely new you!

And get out there and play! Consult with your healthcare professional before starting any weight loss or exercise program.

Tom Duffy is the owner of Good Sports Fitness, a wellness, fitness and athletic conditioning business based in Babbitt, MN. Email:

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