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Exercise Prescription: Definition, Examples, and How-to

What is Exercise Prescription?

Exercise prescription is the specific fitness plan you design, individualize, and prescribe to an individual. It considers the trainee’s health status, fitness level, injury history, goals, and preferences. For instance, a strength coach might develop a workout plan based on the big three to help trainees put up a bigger total during a powerlifting competition.

Components Of An Exercise Prescription

Exercise is highly individual and must account for a person’s unique needs. As a coach writing programs (or an everyday trainee looking to create a plan for yourself), you must keep a few things in mind.

1. Type

The first thing to consider is the type or modality of exercise. This will largely depend on the trainee’s unique goals, preferences, and abilities. 

For instance, if you’re a track & field coach, you would prescribe running. 

However, if the trainee can’t safely do that activity, be it due to an old injury that gets aggravated from running or because they are overweight or obese, you might start them off with a different type of endurance work––for example, cycling or swimming.

2. Workload

Workload refers to the total amount of work the athlete does and the physical stress it puts on their body. 

Depending on the type of exercise, you can measure workload in different ways. For example, a runner or rower’s workload could be the distance they cover every week, whereas a weightlifter’s workload could be measured through volume load (sets x reps x weight).

3. Intensity

Intensity is a component of workload, but the two are not the same, as intensity measures how hard the athlete works out. 

Like workload, you can measure intensity in different ways, depending on the type of exercise done. For instance, it could be the percentage of 1RM lifted in the weight room or the percentage of maximum heart rate in endurance activities.

You can also measure intensity as subjective effort through the feedback you get from your trainees. Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is one method that is particularly popular in weight training.

4. Duration

Duration is also a component of workload and refers to the time trainees spend training. 

Longer workouts are typically less intense but result in a higher workload, whereas shorter sessions tend to be more intense and beneficial for metabolic conditioning.

5. Frequency

Frequency measures how often someone exercises within a week and is influenced by the other components, such as intensity and duration.

For instance, if someone doesn’t have enough time for longer sessions, they may work out more frequently to achieve the same workload. 

In contrast, if the workouts are more intense and demanding, the athlete might need more days off to recover, leading to a lower training frequency.


1. How is exercise prescription different from exercise selection?

Exercise prescription refers to the broad plan a fitness professional creates for a client. In contrast, exercise selection is a term primarily used in weight training, referring to the movements a coach assigns to a trainee.

2. What is the difference between an exercise prescription and a workout plan?

An exercise prescription is a tailored approach to working out that accounts for individual factors like injury history and preferences. A workout plan can be similar but may not be designed for a specific individual.

Related Terms in Periodization and Planning Category