Hitting the gym shouldn’t be a pain, but sometimes working out seems more like a chore than a pick-me-up. Stagnant routines and training plateaus can zap motivation, not to mention valuable time. We’ve got five proven tips and hacks to spice up any training regime and make the gym fun again.
(Check It: 54 Unexpected Ways to Hack Your Health)
Photo by Justin Singh
Do the Most Important Lifts First. Working on a weakness? Studies suggest the order of exercises matters, and the lifts we do first in a routine — before we get tired — can have the biggest impact on training Exercise order in resistance training. Simao, R., de Salles, B.F., Figueiredo, T., et al. School of Physical Education and Sports, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. Sports Medicine. 2012 Mar 1;42(3):251-65. Effects of exercise order on upper-body muscle activation and exercise performance. Gentil, P., Oliveira, E., de Araugjo, Rocha Junior V., et al. College of Physical Education, Catholic University of Brasilia. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2007 Nov;21(4):1082-6. . If general strength and conditioning is the goal, do full-body, compound moves first to maximize strength gains and recovery from one workout to the next.
- Use Your Towel on the Pull-up Bar. Grab an extra gym towel (or two) and modify common exercises and increase grip strength. For example, try pull-ups with a towel wrapped around the bar. This will give your hands an extra workout by increasing the bar’s circumference. For a further challenge, throw a towel over the bar and start repping “towel pull-ups” for some seriously challenging grip, forearm, and back work.
- Lunge Between Stations. Training legs? Try lunging between stations at the gym instead of walking. This is a quick way to get extra exercise between sets. (Extra points if you take a pair of dumbbells along for the ride.)
- Stop Using the Smith Machine, Sort Of. While the machine, used for weight training, is a staple in gyms around the world, research indicates that the Smith Machine isn’t nearly as effective at building strength and muscle as free weight exercises A comparison of muscle activation between a Smith machine and free weight bench press. Schick, E.E., Coburn, J.W., Brown, L.E., et al. Exercise Physiology Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, California State University. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012 Mar;24(3):779-84. A comparison of free weight squat to Smith machine squat using electromyography. Schwanbeck, S., Chilibeck, P.D., Binsted, G. College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2009 Dec;23(9):2588-91. . Instead, use the Smith Machine’s adjustable-height, locking barbell for inverted rows, an especially great exercise for those working toward a pull-up.
- Load the Bar With Smaller Weights. Strength plateaus have a big mental component, so if numbers aren’t increasing, the problem could be in the brain. To blast past an old personal record, try loading the barbell with smaller plates. This makes it harder for the brain to associate a tough weight with a particular visual setup. While more research is needed to prove the technique’s effectiveness, it could be just the thing needed to set a new PR (some increments can get really, really small).
Bonus! 4 Fitness-Tracking Apps to Try Today
- Fitocracy: Love games? Fitocracy gamifies fitness by awarding points for workouts, which you can track and compare against friends. Price: Free!
- My Fitness Pal: This app lets users track their daily activity and food intake. Nutritional info’s available for almost any food, from filet mignon to PB&J. Price: Free!
- StrongLifts: StrongLifts guides users through a strength training workout, with instructions on exercises to try and how much weight to lift. It isn’t super useful if you’re doing something other than the preset program, but that preset is a good one! Price: Free!
- Zombies, Run! This app turns running into an action-packed adventure. Users put on their headphones and hear zombies chasing after them, along with instructions on how to avoid them. (Pro tip: RUN!) Price: $7.99