Insanity has been described as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you love to exercise regularly and follow a favorite routine, but find that you aren't achieving the results you used to, it might be time to switch up your exercise program.
It's important to remember that exercise is simply physical stress applied to the body. According to Hans Selye's General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), when a stress is applied to the body it first goes into shock as it adapts to the stress. This is when exercise is most effective and you are most likely to experience the greatest results. However, when the same exercise stimulus is applied over a period of time, the body adapts and experiences compensation, which means that doing the same exercise routine over and over will not yield the same results.
Many people start a program only to stop when they don't experience immediate weight loss. Don't be concerned—weight loss will occur, but it will take time and commitment to achieve. The primary goal of starting an exercise program should first be to find an activity that is fun and enjoyable. Once you've been successful at making exercise a regular habit for a period of two to three months, you can turn your attention to achieving specific goals.
The two most important things about exercise are consistency and variety. Consistency is essential because the greatest benefits occur when exercise is performed on a frequent, regular basis. Variety simply means that to work best, the type of exercise you do should change on a regular basis so that your body stays challenged.
Listed below are five specific ways to boost your fitness program and make 2013 your healthiest, fittest year yet. Perhaps opening up your mind to new exercise experiences could help you find a new favorite hobby or even meet that special someone who will be your fitness buddy for the rest of your life.
1. Set a goal to have a unique fitness experience
Rather than the standard goal of "lose weight and tone up," choose a goal that is fun, challenging and stretches your comfort zone. For example, instead of training for a traditional road race, sign up for an obstacle-course race or a mud run where races are usually held off-road on dirt trails and feature obstacles such as mud pits and monkey bars. Or you can try one of the latest fitness trends, such as stand up paddleboard yoga (SUP) or mixed martial arts. Not only are these fun activities, but they are great workouts for the entire body, so take some time to search for classes in your area.
2. Stop counting your reps and start challenging yourself with sets for time.
Counting reps is so Pumping Iron. Not to put down the ultimate weightlifting movie of all time, but in the second decade of the 21st century, doing sets for time (instead of counting reps) is a sure-fire way to give your training program an immediate boost. The Tabata protocol, which features 20 seconds of maximal intensity work output combined with 10 seconds of rest for eight cycles, has helped popularized the idea of performing sets for time. After a complete warm-up, select your favorite exercise with a moderate-to-heavy load, set your countdown timer for 20 seconds and try to push out as many reps as possible. Start with a 2-to-1 rest-to-work ratio (if working for 20 seconds, rest for 40 seconds) and do your sets of time. Try linking a number of exercises that alternate body parts (legs, back, chest, arms) or movement patterns (squat, upper-body pull, lunge, upper-body push) and work up to cranking out a number of sets for time before taking a rest. This is an excellent way to boost the calorie-burning effect of your workouts.
3. Make exercise a social experience by participating in a group
One challenging thing about making the time to exercise is that it often takes away from other fun activities. If you think working out alone is boring, or you need additional motivation to get to the gym, try a group fitness class or join a small-group training program. Many health clubs offer group fitness classes as a part of the membership, and if you aren't taking them then you're missing on the added social benefits of working out with others. Small-group training is a fee-based training program focused on a specific format, piece of equipment or outcome-based goal and features a smaller participant-to-instructor ratio than traditional group fitness classes. If you currently take classes, you already know the group dynamic can make exercise especially fun. If that's the case, try a couple of new class formats to find a new favorite.
4. Play. Life is too serious—exercise should be about having fun.
Playtime is not just for kids anymore. Thanks to numerous research studies showing that skill-based games are an effective method of conditioning, many athletes in sports such as soccer, rugby and hockey are using competitive games to make their training more intense and engaging. When compared to using traditional cardio and strength equipment, playing games can burn additional calories because the exerciser moves in response to his or her opponents. Games for exercise have even shown an improvement in the neurotransmitters responsible for improved cognitive function, which means that you could be getting smarter while losing weight! Ask your friends to join you for a pick-up game of your favorite sport or look for a local sports league to get out and make new friends while burning calories.
5. Rest and recovery—muscles don't get stronger during the training session. They get stronger and grow after your workouts.
To get the most from your workouts, you need to develop a post-training nutrition, hydration and relaxation strategy to help your body rest, recover and recharge. Top athletes understand that what they do after their workouts will help them experience the greatest adaptations to their training program. The U.S. Olympic Training Center has an entire program dedicated to post-workout recovery for its athletes. To experience the greatest benefits, it is important to copy what the pros do and have the right nutrition and rest strategies to recover from exercise stress. Nutrient timing refers to taking in the right amount of carbohydrates and protein (research suggests a 4-to-1 carb-to-protein ratio) within the first 30 minutes post-exercise, which can have the greatest effect on replacing spent muscle glycogen and promoting growth of muscle protein. Getting a full night's sleep can help your body repair muscles used in the workouts. Alternatively, skipping sleep can increase levels of the hormone cortisol, which can reduce levels of protein available for muscle growth. Allow yourself to take at least one full day a week off from exercise and treat yourself to the occasional massage or spa day to rejuvenate your muscles. Your body will thank you.
No matter which type of program you follow, workouts should be changed approximately every 12 to 16 weeks. Each season lasts approximately 13 weeks, so make a commitment to yourself to change your exercise program when the season changes. Doing so will help you avoid dreaded plateaus, while continuing to experience results throughout the year.