There's something just as comforting about tucking yourself in bed after a long, stressful day, as there is about settling into a workout routine. After all, who doesn’t feel awesome when they’ve mastered something that was once a huge challenge? While we completely support that sense of accomplishment (great job, guys and gals!), sticking to the same old workout routine can hinder results.
Kick a stale routine to the curb—and pump up your progress—with these 17 rut-busting strategies.
1. Pump up your playlist.
The tunes thumping through our headphones are pretty powerful—the right ones can help improve energy efficiency and help us power through the hardest moments of our fitness routines. Research also suggests music at a certain tempo might boost our motivation and reduce how much effort we feel we’ve put into a workout—which can allow our bodies and minds to push for more.
Researchers believe the optimal tempo for workout songs is 125 to 140 beats per minute (when we're not syncing our movements to the music). That said, past research has shown that the faster the beat, the more intense the workout. Plus, synching our movements to the beat of the music can actually improve your workout. Effect of music-movement synchrony on exercise oxygen consumption. Bascon, C.J., Myers, T.R., et al. Sheffield Hallam University. The Journal of Sports Meidicine and Physical Fitness. 2012 Aug;52(4):359-65. Effects of synchronous music on treadmill running among elite triathletes. Terry, P.C., Karageorghis, C.I., Saha, A.M., et al. Department of Psychology, University of Southern Queensland, Australia. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 2012 Jan;15(1):52-7..
2. Grab a workout buddy.
Whether it’s with a friend, family member, or significant other, working out with a partner can not only help us squeeze in a workout, but it may also inspire us to work harder Aerobic exercise is promoted when individual performance affects the group: a test of the Kohler motivation gain effect. Irwin, B.C., Scorniaenchi, J., Kerr, N.L., et al. Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2012 Oct;44(2):151-9.. But not just any workout buddy will do. Getting our sweat on with someone we think is fitter than we are can increase how long and how hard we work out by up to a whopping 200 percent.
3. Add interval training to your routine.
Slow and steady doesn’t win the race to fitness. Beat boredom, save time, and up the ante on your workout with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Studies show that just three sessions of sprint interval training can be as effective as five longer, more moderate exercise sessions Sprint interval and endurance training are equally effective in increasing muscle microvascular density. Cocks, M., Shaw, C.S., Shepherd, S.O., et al. Exercise Metabolism Research Group, School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, United Kingdom. The Journal of Physiology, 2013 Feb 1;591(Pt 3):641-56..
4. Get outside.
There’s plenty of reasons we call it the Great Outdoors: the fresh air, the scenery, and, of course, the fitness benefits. Exercising al fresco can boost our energy, make us feel more revitalized and positively engaged, and help us cut back on tension, anger, confusion, and depression. Pretty solid for breathing some life back into a tired workout routine Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Thompson, Coon J., Boddy, K., Stein, K., et al. Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Exeter, Veysey Building, Salmon Pool Lane, Exeter, United Kingdom. Environmental Science & Technology, 2011 Mar 1;45(5):1761-72.. And that’s not all. Past research shows just five minutes of sweating outside boosts both our mood and self-esteem What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Barton, J., Pretty, J. Interdisciplinary Centre for Environment and Society, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester, United Kingdom. Environmental Science & Technology, 2010 May 15;44(10):3947-55.. Ditching the gym never felt so good.
5. Be more time-efficient.
It might sound counterintuitive, but spending too much time at the gym might result in less than stellar results. Luckily, research suggests 30 minutes of daily exercise can be effective at reducing both weight and BMI almost as much as a full 60. By cutting down on training time, we may actually boost both our energy and our desire to work out. The action plan: Save time and work out less, but do it more efficiently. Power through a plateau by combining two moves into one (for example, add a shoulder press to a regular squat or a bicep curl to a lunge), make a strength-training plan (and stick to it once you’re at the gym), and get more out of a cardio routine.
6. Perform supersets.
We expect anything with the word “super” in it will do a body good, and supersets are no exception. Performing one set of an exercise right after another without resting in between will keep our heart rate up, triggering more efficient calorie burn. Supersets will also help the body build muscle and get us in and out of the gym a whole lost faster.
7. Cross train.
Branching out from a typical, go-to workout will keep both the body and mind guessing. With each new and different workout, we target different muscle groups, which can reduce the risk for injury, boost fitness levels, and keep boredom at bay. Plus, cross trianing can also be effective as an active recovery technique.
8. Track your activity.
Although focusing on the number on the scale can lead to disappointment and frustration, tracking our physical activity and progress can help us figure out smart tweaks to turbocharge our results. Grab a brand-new notebook and keep a fitness diary (like a food diary). For a more high-tech approach, we recommend tracking your fitness online using gadgets like the Nike FuelBand, BodyMedia LINK Fitness Tracker, or using any of these 64 awesome health and fitness apps.
9. Play a game.
Avoid boredom and burnout by putting the fun back in your fitness routine. Consider signing up for a race (bonus points for one with a theme), joining a local team, or trying alternative workouts like surfing on dry land and antigravity aerial yoga. And for on-the-go workout inspiration, equip your tech toys with fitness apps — they’ll help you become a better yogi, master interval training, end even run faster and smarter.
10. Take an active rest day.
As important as it is to actually work out, it’s crucial to allow for enough recovery time—but that doesn’t mean not moving at all every time soreness hits. Speed recovery by incorporating strategies, tools, and even gentle workouts (like these restorative yoga poses) to help boost the healing process.
11. Get certified.
We end up becoming devoted to our favorite workouts — whether it’s yoga, CrossFit, SoulCycle, or just regular strength training. Taking our fitness goals a step further to become certified as a personal trainer or instructor is a pretty a kick-ass way to stay motivated, make new fitness friends, and keep things challenging.
Illustration by Shannon Orcutt
Between everday stressors and the physical strain from working out, we put our bodies through a lot. And when our muscles are strained and aren’t working together properly, it can create imbalances in our bodies, which can lead to injury—or at least prevent us from performing at optimum levels Mobility impairment, muscle imbalance, muscle weakness, scapular assymetry and shoulder injury in elite volleyball athletes. Wang, H.K., Cochrane, T. Department of Sports Science-Balls, Taipei Physical Education College, Taipei, Taiwan. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 2001 Sep;41(3):403-10.. Two ways to improve mobility and increase your range of motion: foam rolling before strength training and a solid dynamic stretch warm-up An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. MacDonald G.Z., Penney M.D., Mullaley, M.E., et al. School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2013 Mar;27(3):812-21. Current Concepts In Muscle Stretching For Exercise And Rehabilitation. Page, Phil. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 2012 February; 7(1): 109–119..
13. Rethink your warm-up.
Just like we need to preheat an oven before popping our food in, it’s crucial to prep our muscles before hitting them with a workout Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Woods, K., Bishop P., Jones E. Human Performance Laboratory, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA. Sports Med. 2007;37(12):1089-99.. That said, not all warm-ups are created equally. Static stretching, the more traditional practice of holding a pose for 30 seconds or more, can actually decrease muscle strength and power. Our best bet: a dynamic warm-up, which stretches our muscles as we move, prepping our bodies for the main workout.
14. Get back to basics.
Chances are we all could use a refresher course on workout form. Going back to step one (even as a seasoned workout warrior) can help maximize results and may even teach us tiny things we missed the first time around. Rediscover the building blocks of a movement to lift smarter and truly master the technique—and any more advanced variations.
15. Enlist a trainer
Sometimes, we all need a little extra help in the motivation department. And who better to give us a boost—and maybe even some much-needed tough love—than a professional? In fact, studies show having a personal trainer supervise our workout makes for a more intense session—and better results Influence of supervision ratio on muscle adaptations to resistance training in nontrained subjects. Gentil, P., Bottaro, M. College of Physical Education, University of Brasilia, Brasilia, Brazil College of Health Science, University of Brasilia, Brazil. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2010 Mar;24(3):639-43.. Better yet, working out with a trainer also seems to improve future workouts: People who have worked out with a personal trainer are more likely to lift heavier weights and think they’ve worked out harder while exercising on their own than those who have always hit the gym alone Self-selected resistance training intensity in healthy women: the influence of a personal trainer. Ratamess, N.A., Faigenbaum, A.D., Hoffman, J.R., et al. Department of Health and Exercise Science, The College of New Jersey, Ewing, New Jersey, USA. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2008 Jan;22(1):103-11..
16. Focus on nutrition.
If there’s one thing we know, it’s that "six-pack" abs are made in the kitchen. Diet has a huge impact on the appearance of a ripped core. We can’t justify eating cookies and cupcakes just because we worked out really hard that day—doing so might actually be stalling our progress. Consider keeping a food diary to track how certain meals affect performance, and when eating on the cheap, load up on these healthy, completely affordable foods.
17. Get more sleep.
Getting too few Zzz’s won’t just up our grouch factor: Research shows that it may influence how long we spend at the gym the next day and may even increase our risk for packing on pounds Exercise to improve sleep in insomnia: exploration of the bidirectional effects. Baron, K.G., Reid, K.J., Zee, P.C. Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2013;9(8):819-824. Association between reduced sleep and weight gain in women. Patel, S.R., Malhotra, A., White, D.P., et al. Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University Hospitals of Celeveland, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2006 Nov 15;164(10):947-54.. In turn, exercising seems to improve sleep quality over time Exercise to improve sleep in insomnia: exploration of the bidirectional effects. Baron, K.G., Reid, K.J., Zee, P.C. Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2013;9(8):819-824.. So whether it means sneaking in a power nap or just sleeping better at night, making the most of our snooze sessions might help us boost our fitness results.
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What are your favorite ways to boost a workout routine? Let us know in the comments below!