Recently, one of my former clients from Ohio got in touch with me to inform me of her progress in the weight room. She asked an interesting question that I would like to address in order to help others with their weight loss efforts.
If you feel like you've reached a plateau in your fitness plan, it's time to mix up your routine.
Since she has recently hit a plateau in her training, she asked me for some tips to turn her routine from boring to intense. Once you start a workout plan, whether it is something you read in a magazine or something that was designed for you, it is very important that it becomes harder as you get in better shape. The goal of any program is to make progress, in whatever form it comes. So, once you see progress, your body is adapting to the demands of your workout and you must make adjustments to accommodate greater intensity. If your body is no longer adapting to physical demands, the progress will stop. Examples of challenging your body during a workout include adding weight to an exercise, changing the movement, adjusting speed, etc.
I would like to share some personal techniques that raise the intensity and force you out of your comfort zone. If you recently started an exercise program, stick to weight increases during strength movements and speed/resistance increases during cardio exercise. The tips below are for the intermediate to advanced exerciser that has been at it for at least 4-6 months with a higher level of knowledge on how to perform weight room exercises safely and correctly.
1. Drop sets – Instead of religiously sticking to the three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, throw in a week or two of drop sets. A drop set is a workout set done normally, followed by you adjusting the weight to a lower setting. Without resting, immediately go into a second set at the lighter weight (10 to 30% lighter). For example, after you finish a set of dumbbell bench presses with 25 pound weights, grab the 15s or 20s immediately after and keep going. You can also do a triple or a quadruple drop set if you’re really feeling strong. If done correctly, this will greatly fatigue your muscles after just one set.
2. Interval Supersets – These are a good way to break up the monotony of a generic cardio routine that has you on a machine for 20-30 minutes. A superset is a combination of two exercises that are done back to back without rest. For this one, pick two total body movements; one of them being high intensity, while the other is low intensity. For four to ten minutes, alternate between the two exercises. You will need to come prepared with a watch or stopwatch.
For my example, jumping jacks will be my high intensity exercise and alternating high knees will be my low intensity exercise. Perform 1 minute of fast moving jumping jacks followed by alternating knee lifts for a minute in which you allow your heart rate to go back down. Each minute, switch back and forth between exercises. Sandwiching 10-20 minutes of these intervals in the middle of 10 minutes on a bike or treadmill will make for a high intensity cardio workout. Some other examples of high intensity movements include jump squats, quick jumping rope, mountain climbers, burpees and step-ups done on a platform at a quick pace. Some examples of low intensity movements include the modified jack, alternating punches in place, slow jogging in place or step-ups at a much slower pace.
Try doing interval sprints on a track or treadmill for a short and sweet workout.
3. Track sprints – This is a good way to make cardio exercise short and sweet. An ideal track for these is one that is sized 1/8 to 1/10 of a mile, but this can also be done on a larger track or a treadmill if needed. Start by walking a lap and follow that with a lap running as fast as you can. Repeat this 6-12 times. On a larger track, such as the quarter mile tracks at most high schools, walk half of a lap and run half of a lap. When doing this on the treadmill, walk for two minutes then run at a fast pace for two minutes. When running, your goal is to sprint at a nice fast pace. For advanced exercisers, try jogging instead of walking. For beginners, your sprinting pace may be a jog. Start out at the pace that feels challenging, but not impossible, and continue to work your way up to build stamina, endurance, and strength.
4. Time under Tension – This is an interesting exercise for people who are becoming bored with their resistance training program and are looking for something different. Time under tension is a routine in which you take an exercise and slow it down greatly so that one repetition takes 20 seconds to complete. For my example, we will use a chest press machine. While pressing the weight up, count 10 seconds in your head and slow the movement down so that it takes you the full 10 seconds to extend your arms. Repeat the counting as you lower the weight back down. Try this for 4-6 repetitions. Your weight should be between 40-50 percent of what you would normally do. This can be done on just about any exercise including leg presses, squats, curls, rowing machine and etc. If done correctly your muscles will be burning quite a bit at the conclusion of your workout.
5. Isometrics – Another way to change up a workout that has become monotonous is by incorporating isometrics. An isometric exercise is one in which you hold resistance at a certain position without movement. For my example, we will use the dumbbell side raise (an exercise in which you hold dumbbells in both hands and lift them out to the side, elbows slightly bent). In the isometric version of this exercise, you raise your dumbbells to the side, and hold them there. Pick a weight that is between 50-60 percent of a weight that you would use normally. The goal is to hold those dumbbells up so your arms are parallel with the ground for 30-60 seconds. These can also be done with squats (the bottom part of the motion), pushups or chest press machine (the bottom part of the motion) and crunches (the top part of the motion). If you start shaking towards the end of a set, then congratulations, you are doing it correctly.