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June 28, 2010 | Exam Preparation Blog

The ACE Integrated Fitness Training Model - Nuts and Bolts

***8/26/14: Please refer to our blog series on the ACE IFT Model for more detailed, up-to-date information on this topic:

Practical Application of the ACE IFT Model
Practical Application of the ACE IFT Model—Phase 1: Stability and Mobility Training
Practical Application of the ACE IFT Model—Phase 2: Movement Training
Practical Application of the ACE IFT Model—Phases 3 and 4: Load and Performance Training
Practical Application of the ACE IFT Model—Cardiorespiratory Training: Phase 1

IFT ModelLast week we talked about what the ACE IFTTM model is, and why it’s such a great change in how we approach exercise programming. Now it’s time to get down to the nuts and bolts of the ACE IFT model.

One continuum, two components, and four phases

The big picture starts with the health–fitness–performance continuum. The continuum is based on the principle that exercise programs follow a progression that starts with improving health, then developing and advancing fitness, then enhancing performance. Everyone falls somewhere on this continuum.

Next, the ACE IFT model breaks down the continuum into four distinct phases ranging from beginning fitness enthusiast to advanced fitness performance. Which phase your client fits into depends primarily on their current fitness level.

But before we can discuss the four phases that make up the health-fitness-performance continuum we have to clarify those two components I mentioned earlier. For the ACE IFT model, the two principal training components are Functional Movement and Resistance Training, and Cardiorespiratory Training. Below is a list of the four phases for each of the two principal training components:

Functional Movement and Resistance Training 

Phase 1: Stability and Mobility Training (focus on core and balance exercises to improve strength and function of muscles responsible for stabilizing spine and center of gravity during movement)

Phase 2: Movement Training (developing mobility within the kinetic chain without compromising stability)

Phase 3: Load Training (what we consider ‘traditional’ resistance training for hypertrophy, strength, or endurance)

Phase 4: Performance Training (sport specific training for speed, agility, quickness, reactivity and power)

What is new to personal trainers, and perhaps challenging to clients, is that load training/traditional resistance training doesn’t happen until Phase 3. This phase is what most clients associate with strength training and there may be some confusion as to why you’re training on single leg stance and pelvic tilts instead of bench press. The responsibility for explaining the importance of core strength and strong body movements falls on the trainer. But that means you, as the personal trainer, must understand it first!

Cardiorespiratory Training 

Phase 1: Aerobic Base Training (establish an aerobic base with steady state, low to moderate exercise)

Phase 2: Aerobic Efficiency Training (increase duration and frequency, add aerobic interval training, this may be the highest training level for most clients)

Phase 3: Aerobic Endurance Training (improve performance for endurance events, or train for high levels of cardio fitness)

Phase 4: Aerobic Power Training (training for competition or sport specific goals, high intensity training)

Cardiorespiratory follows a more traditional pattern of programming, although the emphasis on building a strong base, and creating a positive exercise experience, is greater than before.

When considering the ACE IFT model, keep in mind that the health-fitness-performance continuum isn’t a race with an end goal in mind. Not all clients will move through all four phases – and  that’s okay. The ACE IFT model is there to help you place your client in the correct starting phase, then to provide a framework for progressing their exercise program.

A client who has been sedentary would start with improving his health (Phase 1 in cardio training) way before you considered endurance training. A client who has been weight training for years may start in Phase 3 (load training) for Functional Movement and Resistance Training. But…they may need to start back in Phase 2 (movement training) to relearn some of the basics body movements.  

The goal with the ACE IFT model is to provide a framework to empower trainers in programming for their client’s specific goals. In future blogs we’ll talk about assessment timing and functional testing…all important things to know!

For more information or get a general overview of the model and earn 0.1 CECs with ACE's free one-hour recorded webinar. If you have questions, don’t forget that you can also contact an Education Consultant at 1-888-825-3636 x782


By April Merritt
April Merritt holds a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science, a master’s degree in Health Promotion, and several ACE certifications including Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach.

April Merritt holds a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science, a master’s degree in Health Promotion, and several ACE certifications including Personal Trainer and Health Coach.