Five Easy Ways to Level Up Your Fitness Routine Without Changing It Entirely
The new year often inspires us to change our routines, and our fitness routines are one of the areas so many people try to address. If you still enjoy your usual workout or simply don't have time to explore new forms of exercise, it's more than okay to keep doing what you're doing. If you're hoping for a bit more intensity, however, you can make your current fitness routine more difficult (and rewarding) with just a few minor tweaks. "The human body is a very intelligent instrument, so there will come a point of adaptation in your workout where you can plateau," explains Sonya Robinson, a NASM certified trainer. If you want to overcome this plateau in order to reach a new level, then you need to increase the demand on your body—also known as progressive overload, Robinson says. Using different equipment or moving for just a few extra minutes each day are some of the ways you can challenge yourself.
Before diving into our experts' suggestions, Robinson advises against incorporating too many of these changes into your routine simultaneously: "Your body needs to recover, so increasing stimuli all at the same time may be counterproductive." Ahead, find some of the best ways to level up your workout routine according to fitness professionals—then take your time figuring out which methods work best for you.
Increase Time Under Tension
The eccentric part of an exercise—or the"lowering" component—refers to movements such as slowly sitting into a chair or bending into a squat. If you already incorporate eccentric movements into your workouts, you can make these exercises more challenging by simply slowing down or increasing your "time under tension." "Slow down the eccentric (lowering) part of the exercise to three to four seconds instead of the normal one second," recommends Robinson. When you're squatting more slowly (or doing any lowering exercise more slowly), you're causing "greater stress to the muscle," personal trainer Josh Schlottman explains, "which will also cause it to become stronger."
Increase Reps and Weight
Repetition and intensity can take your workouts to new heights. If you don't want to incorporate weights (or heavier ones) into your existing routine, then you can increase reps or sets of exercises to make things more challenging. For example, Robinson suggests doing three sets of 10 reps one week, followed by three sets of 12 reps the next week. Gradual change can lead to impressive results. If you're comfortable upping the intensity, Robinson says that increasing weights—we like Bowflex's dumbbells ($399, bowflex.com), which allow you to level up as needed with just one convenient set—by just five pounds will make a big difference.
Add In-Between Exercises Into Your Routine
Try moving more throughout your day—even for just 30 extra seconds—to reach another level of fitness. When you finish a set, instead of taking a break by standing still, fit active recovery into your routine, says Holly Smith, an ACSM and NASM certified trainer and Assistant Director of Fitness and Aquatics at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. "Incorporate 30 to 60 seconds of core or cardio [during rest times] to challenge your body in between working sets." An added bonus? "If you're pressed for time, this is a great way to make your workout more efficient, too," Smith explains. "Supplement your workouts with mini ones," says personal trainer Len Glassman. These in-between exercises can be low-key chair workouts or wall workouts—all of which add up to benefit your physical fitness in the long run, Glassman explains.
Incorporate New Equipment
Bringing new equipment into your workout is an important part of switching up your routine. "If you aren't challenging the muscle, you can't change it," Smith says. "Adding a new stimulus is a great way to challenge yourself." Swapping barbell exercises for dumbbell exercises or switching from machines to cables may be all you need to do to make a difference. Gia Calhoun, pilates instructor and Vice President of Pilates Anytime, suggests adding resistance bands, an exercise ball, or arm or wrist weights to your workout. For example, while doing a plank, you can increase intensity with a resistance band around your legs or you can wear ankle and/or wrist weights; adding a bit more weight or resistance to any exercise will do the trick, Calhoun says. Finally, don't be afraid to use multiple pieces of fitness equipment at the same time, Glassman says. This method creates compound movements, in turn making your workouts more effective. "Combining, for example, a stability ball with lower body exercises while using dumbbells or resistance bands for upper body exercises is like getting a two-for-one deal!" he shares.
Combine Cardio with Strength Training
If you alternate between cardio sessions and strength training, put these separate parts of your routine together. "Cardio strength training—or adding resistance training to basic body movements—is a great way to create infinitely challenging routines while maximizing your calorie burn," Glassman says.