Are you bored with going to the gym and doing the same old thing? If so, it’s time to switch things up! Simply by changing the repetition range, lifting technique or body part split, you can infuse your workouts with something new and exciting. If you really want to ramp up your routine, add plyometrics or calisthenics, or perform supersets or giant sets.
If you don’t exactly know how to make the changes I am suggesting, I have broken down different exercise elements so that you can easily make changes to your workout routine which will keep you interested.
CHANGE REPETITION RANGE – If you have a habit of doing four sets of 15 repetitions regardless of which exercise you are doing, how about switching it up? Perhaps you can do a warmup set at the same weight which you usually eke out 15 reps, but push yourself to do 20 really good reps. Then increase the weight and do 3 sets of 8-10 reps, and perform them with intensity.
STACK REP RANGES IN PYRAMIDS – Another thing you can try is pyramids, which basically consist of gradually increasing or decreasing the rep range, while decreasing or increasing the weight lifted accordingly. You can perform ascending, descending, or ascending-descending pyramids.
Ascending Pyramids = You will gradually increase the weight used, and decrease the number of repetitions accordingly, with each set. For example, your first set may be 20 repetitions, the second 15 reps, the third 10 reps, and the fourth set 7 reps. Ascending pyramids are effective for increasing strength since you gradually increase the load on the muscle worked.
Descending Pyramids = You perform your first set at a heavy weight, eking out about 6 to 8 solid reps. Subsequent sets will consist of gradually decreasing the weight used, and increasing the number of repetitions accordingly. For example, the second set may consist of 10 reps, the third 15 reps, and the fourth set 20 reps or to complete failure. Descending pyramids are effective for increasing muscle girth since the gradual drop in weight enables you to perform sets to failure.
Ascending-Descending Pyramids = With this pyramid approach, you gradually increase the weight used, and decrease the number of repetitions accordingly, with the first few sets, then DECREASE the weight used and increase the number of reps to finish out the routine. Because of this, I recommend performing odd numbers of sets. For example, your first set may be 20 repetitions, the second 15 reps, the third 8 reps, the fourth set 15 reps, and a fifth and final set can consist of 20-25 reps.
CHANGE THE NUMBER OF SETS PERFORMED – If you are in a rut because you always perform four sets of every exercise, challenge yourself and do 5 or 6 sets. A great way to shake out the cobwebs in your routine is to go for volume, perhaps performing 8 to 10 sets of each exercise to really work your muscles to exhaustion.
CHANGE YOUR LIFTING TECHNIQUE – Many people tend to perform exercises rather rapidly every time they train, so they don’t really focus on what they are doing. There are a couple of ways in which you can challenge yourself and break through plateaus if you have this tendency. One method is to perform negatives, which basically means that after you lift the weight in the concentric phase (in a bicep curl, this would be the phase in which you curl the weight toward your shoulder), you slowly return the dumbbell to the starting position for a count of 5 or 6 seconds. Another great method is rest-pause, in which you perform a repetition at a normal rate, pause briefly, then go to your next repetition forcefully. When using rest-pause technique, slightly increase the weight used to really challenge yourself.
CHANGE YOUR BODY PART SPLIT – If you always train legs on Tuesdays and chest on Fridays, perhaps you might want to switch things up. If you aren’t seeing enough desirable changes in your lower half, add another leg day and focus on the areas which you would like to improve. If you always train your entire body every time you hit the gym, start splitting up body parts so that you devote more time to getting maximum recruitment in the muscles you train.
ADD PLYOMETRICS OR CALISTHENICS – Adding ballistic movements like plyometrics or calisthenics can serve as the catalyst for rapid body transformation. Just be careful if you have hip, knee, or ankle issues. Try adding moves like jumping jacks, jump squats, mountain climbers, burpees, and X-jumps.
PERFORM SUPERSETS OR GIANT SETS – Try stacking two or more exercises together without resting in between exercises to increase muscle fiber recruitment. You can either stack weighted exercises, or perform a combination of weighted moves and plyometrics.
Leg press machine/jump squats
Incline bench chest presses/pushups/dumbbell pullovers
Though I consider myself blessed to have a full plate, my schedule requires me to move at a frenetic pace every single day, switching gears constantly, and trying to pack as much as I can into each day. My determination, organization and just plain stubbornness usually ensure that every single item on my to-do list gets done, and that certainly includes my workout regimen. I work out five to six days per week, and I also take 1 to 3 aerial classes each week. It’s downright challenging, fitting all of my workouts in, while also attending to my career, family, and personal responsibilities. So why not just abandon the crazy gym schedule? Not a chance!
When I go to the gym, I have a perfect opportunity to recharge my body. I push myself to train harder and heavier with each day, and I love getting to that point where I may question whether I have the energy or strength to complete the entire routine (I always do though). The time I spend in the gym is my personal time, ME time, and allows me to take care of myself without worrying about anyone or anything else in my life during that small pocket of time. It’s like putting the oxygen mask on myself to ensure that I will be able to help others. My daily workouts keep me on a consistent schedule and provide structure to my day.
Another wonderful benefit of training as hard as I do is that I get to beat the aging process. Instead of wishing for a magic pill to keep me young, I rely on regular exercise to do the job. One of the joke statements I often make is that I am aging like a fine wine. What amazes and inspires me is the fact that there are many people in the fitness industry who are doing the very same thing. The population may be aging, but the newer crop of people over 40 who have embraced clean eating and regular resistance training looks better than ever and enjoys better vitality and health than the over 40 crowd from previous decades. It can be quite a guessing game to accurately determine someone’s age by looks alone these days!
Are you one of those people who has had an active gym membership for a while, but just can’t motivate yourself to avail yourself of the services which your gym offers? Perhaps you are new to a gym environment, and though you are interested in transforming your body and your lifestyle, you are intimidated by all the weights and machines. If that’s the case, a knowledgeable certified fitness trainer with whom you have a good rapport will familiarize you with the equipment and how to use it, while also motivating you to show up and move towards your fitness goals.
If you already know how to navigate around a gym, but just can’t seem to lock down a consistent regimen, the best motivation is to establish a specific fitness goal and develop a strategy to reach it. If you then pursue that goal with intention, you’ve already won half the battle. Hitting the gym with no real plan of attack is like trying to drive a race car when you haven’t even learned to drive yet. I firmly believe in the power of specificity, structure and accountability, because all of those elements provide a blueprint for you to follow.
Here is a step by step guide to developing a successful fitness overhaul.
1. Convince yourself that you WILL reach your fitness goals.
2. Print out images of people who have the kind of body you want and put them on your fridge or another prominent place you will see daily.
3. Give yourself a deadline.
4. Make your goals REASONABLE. Don’t put down, “I will lose 60 pounds in 30 days”, but pick a more reasonable goal, like losing 3 pounds per week.
5. Develop a workout schedule and stick to it.
6. If you don’t have a clue what to do while at the gym, hire a personal trainer.
7. Take progress pictures every week to monitor your progress.
8. Follow a specific meal plan to keep you on track.
9. If you have a setback, pick up where you left off. We are all human and have “off” days.
10. Don’t be intimidated by seasoned gym members. Most people are willing to help you if you have a question about how to operate machines.
11. Learn gym etiquette. The pace of a gym is rapid, especially during peak hours, so you need to be aware of concepts like “working in” (people will ask you if they can take turns with you on a machine or station). Don’t sit on benches unless you are actually exercising on them. Wipe down equipment if you sweat on it.
Now get off your computer and get serious about your goals!
Last week a guy at the gym approached me and asked me a question I hear frequently, which was “What exercises would you recommend for me to get six-pack abs?”. My response didn’t have anything to do with specific abdominal exercises, but centered around nutrition. I asked the guy what his diet was like, and he revealed that he was of Italian descent and just HAD to have pasta several times per week. He also admitted that he spent many of his evenings drinking an appreciable amount of alcohol. So I told him that his eating and drinking habits guaranteed that he would never see a washboard across his midsection, no matter how many crunches or planks he did. He was so intent on finding a way to get a toned midsection without changing his eating habits that he repeated his question a second time, which made me shake my head and wish him luck as I walked away.
If you are committed to getting a lean midriff, you MUST change your eating habits! You simply cannot have your cake and eat it too when it comes to coaxing those lovely abdominal lines and cross cuts out of hiding. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that you can somehow get a quick fix by doing a cleanse to repair the damage of a poor diet, or that you can perform a plethora of abdominal moves to somehow melt all the fat that is sitting around your waist. The only effective way to etch those abs is to consume whole foods with minimal to no processing, such as lean meats, grains such as quinoa, rice, and oats, fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, and eggs. If you are worried that these foods lack the flavor you crave from consuming processed foods, check out the various seasonings, flavored mustards, hot sauces, and other condiments which can add a new dimension to your food.
Once you make the switch to a healthy food regimen, you will probably notice a lot of subtle changes in your overall well-being, such as more energy and clearer skin. After a while, you might even notice your abs peeking out!
Have you ever run into people who are such die-hard weightlifting fanatics that they are restless during their rest days? I am one of those people, and I suspect that I will remain that way for another few decades. There are a few people who have asked me why I continue to train four to six days per week, EVERY week, despite the fact that I am not in prep for a contest. Why would I continue to work so hard at maintaining or building muscle if there is nothing specific to train for? The main reason is because I train for LIFE. I have no intention of allowing my gains to diminish simply because other people think I am too old for such “nonsense”.
How do I stay so consistent with such a frequent training schedule? I make going to the gym an essential part of my daily routine, and it is so important to me that it only comes second to brushing my teeth and putting on gym clothes before I head to the gym. Food and showering are always done afterwards, first of all because I plan to sweat when I am at the gym, and secondly, because I might throw some fasted cardio into the mix before I hit the weights.
I will never understand gym-goers who spend several minutes between sets chatting with others, checking text messages, and finding other distractions which deter them from starting the next set. I train rapidly, resting only 30 seconds between sets or supersets. That is part of the reason why I do NOT want to chat at the gym. I am so focused on my next set while I am resting that I often don’t hear others, especially because I listen to music while I train. I try not to allow random thoughts to creep in, because such thoughts can throw me off, especially if they are anxiety-provoking. When I am in the gym, I push distractions and worries aside, and truly enjoy the physicality of training. Besides, I have the rest of the day to address issues and responsibilities.
Whether you choose to train four days per week or more, or you prefer training fewer days per week, just make sure you are CONSISTENT. Make your time in the gym a time to decompress and tune into your body.
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Perhaps the ebb and flow of life has thrown you off your fitness routine, and you are ready to return to the gym. It might be that you are post-partum, or had to nurse an injury or illness. Or it could be that you have been moving at such a frenetic pace in your life that you got sidetracked from your “every damned day” gym schedule, and need to get back into the groove. Whatever the reason is for putting consistent gym visits on the back burner, the good news is that you can re-establish a consistent fitness regimen. In order to ensure the greatest success with your efforts, here are some suggestions which will motivate you and keep you on track.
I bet some of you may have forgotten about the power of setting specific goals for yourself. It may be that you have been away from the iron den for a long time, so you might want to set strength gain goals in which you move up in your 1 rep max every two weeks, increase the number of free dips or pullups you can perform every few weeks, or even increase the amount of time you hold a plank.
Another type of goal you can set for yourself is to increase muscle mass in a measurable way, perhaps a one inch increase in your calf girth over a 6 week period, for example. Instead of meandering back into the gym and having a general objective, like just getting back in there, make sure to hang a carrot in front of you so that you are even more motivated to stick to the program.
Thank goodness for muscle memory, because it enables those who are at a high level of fitness to regain their muscle mass and strength rather quickly after a period of inactivity. However, those who were at a lower level of fitness at their baseline will lose muscle and strength pretty rapidly, after even as little as two weeks of not lifting weights. Depending on what your degree of muscularity or strength was before your setback, you will have to give yourself some time to build back up to previous levels of muscle mass and strength. If you find yourself with more padding around the midsection, glutes, or thighs than what you had when you were hitting the weights consistently, make sure that you target fat loss with your training and food intake.
You can’t expect to achieve stellar results just by hitting the weights like a fiend, while putting junk food in your body, so make sure to establish healthy eating habits to support your return to lifting weights. If your eating habits have gone by the wayside, incorporate a consistent meal plan which provides your body with clean macronutrients and supports your weight training. Throw out the forbidden foods which may be lurking in your kitchen, such as sweets, crackers, chips, and ice cream. Stock your kitchen with whole foods like lean turkey, chicken breast, salmon, eggs, green vegetables, sweet potatoes, brown rice, almonds, walnuts, and avocado. Confine cheat meals to one evening on the weekends.
Make sure to give yourself time to get back into the swing of things, especially if you are returning after an injury or illness. You MUST take it easy, otherwise you run the risk of injuring or re-injuring yourself, causing an even bigger setback. If you were very fit before you took your break, your muscle mass and strength should both return to their previous levels within a couple of weeks.