Why Your Workouts Need The Spice of Life: Variety.
Variety is not only vital to keeping life fascinating, it is also essential to ensuring your fitness routine remains interesting and progressing.
We often find ourselves in a rut, doing the same thing over and over. In some areas of life having consistent rituals can be beneficial. When it comes to things like cardio and weightlifting, however, the body is highly adaptable and if you don’t mix things up, if you don’t ‘shock’ the body, you will end up on plain that makes the Tibetan Plateau look like an ever traveling upward slope. I see guys in the gym doing the same thing over and over, literally just going through the motions, and they wonder why they don’t see any changes to their bodies, energy levels, etc.
So what are some ways to break through plateaus? Here is a list, there are of course many others, but this will get you started. Just pick one or two and give them a try!
Do drop sets, meaning that if you normally curl 80 lbs 4 sets 10 repetitions, instead do 90 lbs 10 times, then drop the weight to 70 lbs for the net set, then 60 lbs, then 50 lbs for the final set. In general the number of reps you can do will increase, but you can just experiment. The important thing is that you are surprising your body, and lifting hard (more on this another time). The ‘drop set’ concept can be applied to any lifting exercise. You can also do the opposite where you add weight to each subsequent set (clearly here the # of reps declines as you do each set). So this might be a set of 10 reps at 80 lbs, 7 reps at 90 lbs, etc.
Perform super sets. This is when you do 2 or more different exercises for the same muscle group back to back. It is important not to rest between exercises (you can rest between super sets). So for example you could do military press immediately followed by lateral raises for your delts. I often do triple or even quadruple super sets where I pick 4 different exercise and go from one to the next without stopping. Then I rest a minute once done with the 4th exercise. I repeat this sequence 4 or 5 times, meaning you could get in as many as 20 sets (4 exercises X 5 sets) in a very short amount of time. If you are time constrained and/or looking to get lean quickly, super setting is a great way to go.
Go to failure when lifting. Sometimes failure IS an option. In this case, you lift as much as you possibly can on your own (eg 10 reps), then with a buddy or personal trainer spotting you, do 2 or 3 additional reps. For an exercise like lat pull downs it is easy to spot; just make sure when doing things like bench press that you have someone spotting you who knows what he is doing. Going to failure – actually past failure – is vital for muscle growth, and a great way to mix up your workouts.
Do negative reps. This is when you resist the bar on the eccentric contraction, not just the concentric contraction. Translating this into laymen’s terms, if you are doing curls, you let the bar back down to your waist very slowly, counting to 4 on the way down for example – rather than just letting the bar drop from gravity. Negative reps are a great way to build muscle strength and size.
Lift a body part more or less per week than you currently do. If you now lift your shoulders 3X per week as part of an overall (or just upper body) routine, cut down the number of days per week you lift for shoulders but make the shoulder session longer. Or to put it another way, do more concentrated volume for any given muscle group. Rather than spreading your lifting out over several sessions per week for a body part, do more sets for any given body part per day, and have more rest days between lifting sessions.
Try different exercises for any given body part. Experiment with different machines or free weight exercises. You can find great examples online, or ask me for ideas. Make sure to perfect your technique before going heavy/intense on a new exercise. Travel represents a great time to try new machines as the local gym or hotel workout facility will invariably have equipment you’ve never tried before. Do your body a favor and use it!
There are dozens more ways to mix up your lifting – working out at night (changing the time of day you work out), shortening the time you spend between sets, etc – try some of the above and if you need more ideas contact me!
For whatever type of cardio you do – run, bike, swim, elliptical (boooo!!!), etc, do interval training. Rather than going steady state for a half hour or whatever, go very hard for 30 seconds then easy for a minute (with all exercise, make sure you are well warmed up and stretched out). Interval training is one of the best ways to boost your metabolism, make your workouts more interesting & effective, and maintain muscle (versus slow steady state which tends to eat away at muscle – just look at a marathon runner vs. a sprinter).
Change the landscape. If you normally run flat, find some stairs or a hill and do sprints up it, then walk down. Lather and repeat.
Do different types of activities. If you normally run, hop on a bike. If you haven’t been swimming lately, get in the pool.
Add some volume to your workout. If your typical run is 3 miles, throw in a 5 miler once in a while. Then bump that up to 6. Etc.
Here is a great trick. Find a song on your music device that is totally jamming. When you get near the end of your run/bike, put this song on and go as hard as you can for the entire song. Then cool down/stretch.
Do adventure travel. Combine travel with some type of physical activity. Hike a mountain, bike through a new area, etc.
Learn an entirely new activity/sport. Try kitesurfing. Learn to play tennis. This will keep things interesting and use new muscle groups. You may even meet some interesting new people!
If you have kids, join them in their favorite activities! You would be surprised how challenging it is to play tag on a jungle gym for a half hour. This is a great way to combine quality time with young ones and exercise.
Chew gum while lifting. I know this sounds silly, but just try it!
Listen to music while working out/change your tunes if you already do so. Music is highly motivating and new music can put a spark in your routine.
Find a (new) workout partner. This will lead to more motivation, accountability, a variety of exercises (since he/she will invariably bring something different to the table), etc.
In order to produce change in your body, you must change your workouts. Not only will you find your body responding to a new routine, but the variety will keep things interesting and motivating. Above are just a few ideas on how to mix it up. Be honest with yourself: if you find yourself doing the same things over and over, you are probably not progressing. I don’t want to say you are wasting your time, but you could be using your precious heart beats far more effectively by just switching things up a bit. Let me know how it goes.