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12 ways to stop sleepwalking through your workout

Grace Chalon, group exercise instructor, leads a Tight & Toned class at the fitness and recreation center at TWU in Denton, Texas.
Grace Chalon, group exercise instructor, leads a Tight & Toned class at the fitness and recreation center at TWU in Denton, Texas. TNS

You’ve been exercising for a while, and are feeling a bit smug. Why wouldn’t you? You look good, and you feel good because you have this workout thing down.

Every day, you run the same route in the same length of time, you lift the same amount of weight with each gym visit, and you cycle the same number of miles.

Consistency. That’s the key, right?

Not exactly. Workouts, like pizza, and routes home and bedtime stories, benefit from a little shake-up.

“In very simple terms, your body is really smart,” said Spencer Nix, an owner of Cross Fit Dallas Central. “As soon as your body realizes this is repetition week after week, it’s already found a way to accommodate itself to find the path of least resistance.”

This likely explains why you may not be losing weight like you did when you first started working out. Or why you need to put out more of an effort to achieve results that initially came so easily. Or you’re basically bored with your workout.

“The simple, honest truth is that your body needs constant variations,” Nix said. “They don’t need to be extreme measures or incredibly dramatic, but constant progression and evolution is making you a better human being. Routine is the enemy.”

Bill Neal has been teaching physical education and health for 44 years. Although such information has been out there for a while, “we get in a rut,” said the Richland College instructor. “We’re oriented to do the same thing over and over. Your body finds the easiest way to do things.”

So Grace Chalon, group exercise instructor at Texas Woman’s University, makes sure classes offered at the college are different every day.

“We have a cycle class on Monday. Someone teaches kettlebell on Tuesday. Wednesday, I have a weight training class,” she said. “Thursday, someone teaches yoga. Friday, I teach a combination of cycle and yoga. And that’s just the noon classes.”

The whole principle, she said, is to “eliminate boredom, but you have to change the stimulus.”

Not only is this good for your body, it’s also good for your brain, she says. Plus, “it’s good for your lungs, it burns calories, it can raise your metabolism, boost your immune system and get rid of stress.”

Nix went the routine route for a long time, he says.

“The part that was frustrating to me was that I didn’t know if I was getting more healthy or more fit, because I was doing the same thing all over again. That’s the definition of insanity.

“When the results stop coming, what can you do?”

Here are 12 suggestions to help shakeup your workouts:

In general

1. Find a workout buddy. “There are days you don’t want to work out, and it helps to have someone else,” Neal said.

“It’s a big social thing,” Chalon said of her classes. “And then, it’s not a chore.”

2. Smile and say threes. “I tell people who are doing something brand new to give it three weeks and learn the language of the workout – sitting in the saddle for cycling, holding weights correctly, standing erect,” Chalon said. Then switch.

3. Do just one thing differently. “You can do longer, shorter, pick up a heavier weight, vary time and intensity,” Chalon said. “Oh, you can change so many things!”

To help you remember what, think of remember the acronym FITT: frequency, intensity, time, type.

“Use just your body weight, or a light weight, or heavier weight,” Nix said. “Set a goal to continuously move, or a goal to stop and start. All manipulations are ways to trick your body into thinking it really, really needs to change for the better in order to survive.”

4. Live by the switch. “Do cardio one day, muscles another day,” Neal said. “Another day, combine the two; one day do cardio first and then muscles. The next, do muscles and then cardio. It’s kind of like taking another route home.”

For running

5. Incorporate strength training. Adding squats, overhead presses and other resistance training is an easy and effective challenge for those whose only workout is running every day, Nix said.

6. Break it up. “Some days work for speed, where you’re going a little faster but can’t hold the pace for long, so you go a shorter distance,” Neal said. “Other days, go a longer distance. When you break up distances and speed, you break up monotony as well.”

7. Add hills. “Strength comes from slowly coming down because you’re fighting gravity and weight,” Neal said. “Sometimes run up and jog down; other times, sprint down.”

For strength training

8. Heavy? Light? Yes, please. “On some days, lift for weight; on others, for endurance,” Neal said. In other words, some days choose heavier weight and use fewer repetitions; other days, use lighter weights with more reps.

9. Disrupt the routine. “It’s easy for me to manipulate the variables to take a weightlifter out of their comfort zone,” Nix said.

So Instead of doing eight reps 12 times, for instance, “why don’t we do 50 in a row? The weight will be extremely accommodated for that. Or, heaven forbid, instead of separating weight training and cardio, mix them together.”

10. Or skip weights altogether. “Let’s squat with your own body weight for 20 seconds” – as quickly as possible – “rest for 10 seconds and repeat for 4 minutes,” Nix said. “That could be it for the day.”

For cycling

11. Go up, go down. Pedal up and down hills, alternating which whether you’re speedier going up or going down, Neal said, and whether you’re standing or sitting.

12. Some days, think distance; others, speed.

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