Prescribing physical activity: applying the ACSM protocols for exercise type, intensity, and duration across 3 training frequencies

Phys Sportsmed. 2009 Jun;37(2):51-8. doi: 10.3810/psm.2009.06.1709.


When physicians advise patients to attain more physical activity, they usually recommend a walking program. However, in a similar way to no exercise, those embarking on a walking program will typically lose 4 to 6 lb of lean weight and reduce their resting metabolic rate 2% to 3% every decade. These effects may be mitigated by the inclusion of resistance exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) minimum exercise guidelines recommend 20 minutes of aerobic activity 3 days per week, and 1 set (8-12 repetitions) of 8 to 10 resistance exercises to train the major muscle groups 2 days per week. However, large-scale testing of these recommendations in a field setting has been minimal. Men and women between 21 and 80 years (N = 1725) [corrected] participated in a 10-week combined strength and aerobic activity program based on the ACSM protocols for exercise intensity and duration across 3 training frequencies (1, 2, or 3 sessions/week). Across all training frequencies, mean changes included a reduction in body fat of 1.97%, a decrease in fat weight of 1.7 kg, an increase in lean weight of 1.35 kg, a reduction in systolic blood pressure of 3.83 mm Hg, and a reduction in diastolic blood pressure of 1.73 mm Hg. More frequent weekly training sessions were associated with greater improvements in body fat percent, fat weight, and lean weight. Participants responded favorably to the ACSM exercise program with a 91% completion rate and a 95% satisfaction rating. This article presents recommendations for prescribing safe, effective, and time-efficient exercise programs.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Body Composition
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Compliance
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physical Fitness
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Resistance Training
  • Societies, Medical
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States