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What Is an Incremental Exercise?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

Incremental exercise is any physical routine that is done to improve health, and increases in difficulty over time. This method allows a person new to exercising to ease into the practice without injuring himself or otherwise putting too much stress on the body. This is also a good way to monitor one's heart rate to find the optimal training zones for burning fat, building muscle, or improving cardiovascular performance. Many incremental exercise routines exist for different purposes, and the best method will depend on the activity being undertaken.

Weightlifters, for example, sometimes perform incremental exercise in the form of a pyramid workout. This method starts with the weightlifter performing many repetitions of an exercise with less weight, and then gradually increasing the weight over the course of the workout. As the workout progresses, the weightlifter will decrease the number of repetitions. This is an incremental exercise routine aimed at building muscle and muscle efficiency. A ladder workout is similar to a pyramid workout, except the weightlifter continues with the same amount of repetitions as the weight increases until he or she experiences muscle failure, and the muscles can no longer lift the weights.

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Woman posing

Fitness tests usually take the form of incremental exercise so the person participating in the activity can gauge how fit he or she is. This is a good baseline for determining what exercise routines will be necessary in the future; a person who cannot perform basic exercises will need a beginner's exercise routine. Conversely, a person who completes all the incremental exercise stages may need a more advanced exercise routine. This is a good way to identify weaknesses in one's fitness as well. A person may, for example, discover that his or her core muscles are not adequately developed, though his or her arms, shoulders, and legs may be strong.

Incremental exercise can also be used to test the strength and health of the heart. A doctor may monitor a patient as he or she performs such exercise routines to find out how efficiently the heart is working, or whether certain cardiovascular problems are developing in the patient. People who suffer from chronic cardiovascular illnesses are likely to be subject to such testing so a doctor can monitor improvement or degradation of the condition. Athletes are also likely to undergo such testing in order to figure out ways to make their cardiovascular systems more efficient for a particular athletic activity.

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Discussion Comments


I had been out of the gym for year so when I finally signed back up at the new year I knew that I needed a plan. I went in the first day and saw so many guys kind of working out listlessly that I knew I would need the help of a pro.

The gym has personal trainers on staff and I was able to work with one of them to develop a plan that stated slow but increased the intensity over time. At the start I was barely even lifting weights. But I have stuck with it and I have lost a lot of weight and gained a ton of strength. I am 65 and I haven't felt this good in what seems like decades.


I underwent a very long hospital stay and when I got out I was basically weak all over. I could barely run I had lost so much strength and endurance. I knew that if I was going to get back in shape I needed to develop an incremental plan. There is a high school just a block from my house and so every morning I went and walked around the track.

On the first day I did one lap. On the second I did two and on and on. Two weeks later I could run a lap and a month after that I could run three miles. It took a while and it was never easy but I am now in better shape than when I went into the hospital.

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