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Exercise Pacing

Published: November 1, 2019

With summer just around the corner, and the weather warming up, many of us are increasing our activity levels. Whether it be to drop the few kilos that have somehow appeared over winter, training for a fun run, or so you can enjoy yourself a little more over the festive season without the guilt, any increase in activity is great. Around this time of year we often see and influx of clients who have developed an overuse injury by going too hard, too fast, chasing their goals. Planning and pacing your exercise regime is important in ensuring you don’t hurt yourself and end up back where you started or even further behind.


What is pacing?

Activity pacing by definition is ‘the regulation of activity level and/or rate in the service of an adaptive goal or goals’. The main purpose of activity pacing is to help you achieve your goals in a safe and sensible manner. Activity pacing is a strategy that is frequently implemented to modify activities among people with long-term conditions or returning to activity following a period of rehabilitation or rest. It aims to reduce overactivity and underactivity cycling (fluctuating between high and low levels of activity) in order to improve overall function and reduce the likelihood of exacerbating symptoms.


How do I pace myself?

There are a variety of ways in which to pace yourself and progress your fitness and activity. Below is a 6 step method that outlines one way to get you started on your way to achieving your physical activity goals.

1. Goal setting

Set a goal that is related to physical activity and preferably something you want to do more of. Then break that goal down into smaller, short-term goals that are realistic and relevant to the bigger, longer term goal.

2. Find your exercise or activity baseline

The key is to work out how long you can exercise or do a task without a causing increased pain. However it is important to note that some pain after increasing your activity level is normal. Work out the time, distance or number of repetitions that you can do an exercise, activity or task for without intolerable levels of pain. Your baseline should be set based on the most limiting factor for that activity (pain, fatigue etc.).

3. Repeat the activity regularly

Do this activity or exercise daily for the first week using your baseline time (e.g. standing, doing dishes), walking/running distance, number of reps and so on.

4. Increase by 10% per week

Slowly increase the time, distance, or number of repetitions each week by 10%. This becomes your baseline for the second week.

5. Every bit counts

Do small amounts often – break up your workout or activity. This helps to maintain the range of your activities and your tolerance to activity. Vary the activity by changing the environment or position, challenging your body in various ways will provide additional benefit.

6. Take planned breaks and relaxation periods

Regular planned rests and relaxation breaks, even on days when you feel pretty good, are essential. Make sure you plan short rests before and after particularly stressful or demanding tasks. Practising relaxation, stretching and daily walks, even on not so good days will ensure that pain stays away.


High quality research into pacing has shown it to be beneficial across a wide range of chronic pain conditions from fibromyalgia to post-stroke neuropathic pain. Pain management programs worldwide now incorporate pacing into their sessions and believe it to be an important element in the program's success. You can have confidence there is a high level of evidence that pacing works for many people living with chronic pain as well as being a great tool to use to get yourself back into an exercise routine safely.

If you would like advice on how to increase your activity levels in a safe manner, or have developed an ache or pain as a result of going too hard too fast, book in to see a Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist at Back in Motion Aspendale Gardens by calling 9580 1985 or online.