Sunday August 12, 2012
Vary your workout
By REVATHI MURUGAPPAN
A little variety is just the thing you need to prevent an exercise plateau.
ARE you an avid jogger or hiker who finds that despite decades of exercise, you canít progress to the next level? Your triceps waggle when you wave goodbye to your friends, and your spare tyre refuses to disappear.
Chances are, your muscles have hit a plateau because your body has adapted to the repetitive training stimulus. What youíre doing is no longer effective, and youíre not gaining any benefit from your workouts.
Youíve entered the lull zone, and have stopped seeing results in your fitness routine Ė so itís time to shake up your exercise regime. Unless youíre a professional athlete or entering a marathon or cycling event, consider varying your workouts to up your fitness level.
Iím always amazed when I see gym members laboriously running on the treadmill or riding the bicycles day in day out. Then they lift some weights, do some crunches, guzzle a Gatorade, and go home with a satisfied grin.
They do this every time they hit the gym. With due respect to factory line workers, my body will be screaming for mercy out of boredom if I had to perform the same routine everyday.
An acquaintance once lamented that he does 200 sit-ups daily, but yet, couldnít seem to lose his whiskey belly. He probably wasnít doing the exercise correctly, his workout had reached a plateau, or his nutritional intake was questionable.
Of course, following the same workout is not necessarily a bad thing, but many of us need ways to stay enthusiastic and motivated about our workouts.
Some people enjoy a predictable, consistent routine. They donít mind the possibility of experiencing a training plateau, and are content to maintain their health and fitness levels with a comfortable exercise habit.
If youíre one of them, then you can stop reading this article.
Personally, Iím a big believer of trying new workouts to stimulate my mind and learn something new. Whether itís trying out a boot camp class, surfing, swinging from the trapeze, or finding new ways to lift weights, varying my workouts provides a challenge and helps eliminate muscle memory, which is the ability of the mind to capture a particular activity or movement.
Our muscle memory registers certain muscle movements, and these movements can be performed flawlessly even after a decade-long break. Walking, driving and swimming are a few common examples of muscle memory. For example, when a baby learns how to walk, it will never forget for the rest of its life.
However, to maximise your fitness level, your muscles should not store memory. Once the memory is stored, unlike the computer, itís hard to delete and send it to the recycling bin.
If youíre been doing squats, repeating it for years doesnít offer any benefits because your muscles have gotten used to the exercise. Consider doing squat jumps to shock the muscle into doing something different. Itíll become more efficient over time.
Similarly, doing sit-ups daily isnít going to help get you a six pack. Replace it by doing a plank or do crunches on a stability ball.
Research has shown that adding variety to an exercise programme can improve adherence. According to an article published by the American Council of Exercise (ACE), exercise scientists at the University of Florida observed that individuals who modified their workouts every two weeks over an eight-week period, appeared to enjoy their workouts more, and were more inclined to stick with their exercise programmes, when compared to individuals who followed the same workout regimens week after week.
Varying your exercise routine can also help you stay physically challenged. Many of the bodyís physiological systems (eg the muscular system) adapt to an exercise programme within approximately six to eight weeks.
Hence, to spice up your workout and to get better results, consider varying your routines every six to eight weeks.
For example, if you like running, incorporate some intervals of sprinting into it. Run for five minutes, sprint for 30 seconds and repeat the cycle. Or add incline or jog uphill for a few minutes. Six weeks later, do some backward runs. Or cross-train and perform different activities to provide your body with a new challenge.
By fatiguing the muscles in a new order or pattern, you are requiring them to adapt to a new training stimulus.
Varying your workout is also important in helping prevent injuries and keeping your body structurally balanced Ė besides preventing boredom. Everyone improves at a different rate, and even a subtle change in the routine can prevent a plateau.
Here are some tips provided by ACE to help avoid a fitness plateau:
If youíre looking to change your current routine, determine the different muscle groups youíre working in each of your exercises and replace these with alternate exercises that target the same groups.
For example, replace pushups with bench presses or dumbbell presses.
∑Increase the intensity
If you hope to see more results in your current strength training workout, know that your physical intensity is a major factor in success. Contrary to what many think, the most effective way to increase strength is to make your muscles work harder, not longer.
So, the next time youíre at the gym, try using heavier weights, but be careful not to overdo it and get injured.
∑Diversify your cardio workout
Cardio workouts are a crucial aspect of maintaining a strong and healthy lifestyle Ė it aids in weight loss, lowers cholesterol, helps prevent certain diseases, and has even been proven to slow the aging process.
Yet, running the same route daily wonít offer your body the challenge it craves, and chances are high that you will get bored and possibly even give up. Make sure you incorporate hills and flat planes into your walks or runs, and remember to vary speed and intensity each time to get the most out of your cardio workout.
∑Try something new
Trying new fitness classes or a different form of exercise is the easiest way to change your workout and put the fun factor back into fitness.
If you typically jog to satisfy your cardio needs, try a step training or kickboxing class. If you only use dumbbells for weight training, work in some moves with a kettlebell or use resistance bands. Not only does this keep your muscles challenged, it keeps your body guessing, and the results coming.
If your workout leaves you more tired and sore than before, then itís an indicator that you need to vary your workout. Exercise should give you more energy, not leave you feeling rundown.
If youíre feeling overly tired or perpetually sore, you could be overtraining. Your body needs time for rest and recovery. It is during this down time that you build strength and endurance by allowing your muscles to rebuild and repair.
If you donít give your body ample recovery time, youíll become weaker instead of stronger.
Exercise isnít something that should be a chore. Yes, itís hard work, but it should also be pleasurable. All the feel-good endorphin hormones released during exercise should leave you feeling high, and eventually, youíll be on your way to a good-looking, fit body.
Now, what can top that?
Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who continues to dance, but longs for some bulk and flesh in the right places. For more information, email email@example.com.