Shake things up! After months of training to become familiar with exercise movements, you're ready to step up and out. If you don't, you'll surely face boredom, plateaus in your fitness goals and the risk of injury.
"Too much of one thing won't be beneficial if you don't vary it," said Dr. Len Kravitz, the program coordinator of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.
When you notice you are no longer progressing with your weight or fitness goals, you've just gotten "stuck" — an exercise plateau. The body's muscles are saying, "Hey we've been here, done that, now we don't have to work so hard."
This is called the principle of adaptation. The muscles have adapted to the stress placed upon them. If you want to maximize results, try introducing the muscles to new challenges every few weeks. You will stimulate muscle growth and be burning more calories and building more lean muscle.
Mixing up exercise movements will also help to prevent injuries from overuse.
"Repetitive stress injuries are common in people who do the same weight or running routine day after day because they're using the same tendons and muscles," said Dr. Cedric X. Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. "But people who cross-train or have several workouts to choose from on a given day achieve more well-rounded levels of fitness with fewer injuries."
Changing the routine does not mean you have to eliminate what you now do. It means making small changes, such as mixing up the order in which you perform the exercise, varying the tempo and occasionally introducing new exercise movements. If you always use machines, try free weights or resistance band exercises. If you walk, try cycling.
Cardio interval training differs from the continuous steady-state type of exercise in that it varies intensity levels. Interval training alternates moderate intensity periods with short and intense bursts of exercise. Here's a basic example: Walk five minutes, then jog or fast-walk for one or two minutes. Continue to repeat this sequence, setting intensity and duration according to how you feel. If you have a very low fitness level, begin with low-intensity bursts and do less of them, gradually building up. "Someone who performs intervals should be able to do more work in a given period of time and thus burn more calories," Kravitz said.
Circuit training typically consists of eight to 10 exercise stations where you work different parts of the body. You could use exercise machines, handheld weights, resistance bands or calisthenics with little or no rest between stations. To add cardio to the circuit, you would include a 20-second to three-minute cardio exercise between each exercise. The weights, repetitions and the number of circuits performed will depend on your personal fitness level.
Cross-training is when you alternate exercise activities. An example would be swimming several days, then biking, walking or jogging another few days. With cross-training you will be conditioning the whole body, not just specific muscle groups. Because each activity uses muscles in slightly different ways, you will be reducing the risk for an overuse injury.
Boot camps incorporate cardiovascular and strength-training exercises, core conditioning and traditional calisthenics. They can be enjoyed both indoors and outdoors, with minimal equipment. You'll move quickly from one exercise to the next, keeping your heart rate up. The boot camps of today can be as moderate or as challenging as you want them to be. The boot camp may not be for everyone, but if you have been seriously into exercising, it can be a fun and challenging variation. "Monitor your level of exertion and exercise within your physical range. If you find it enjoyable, then your body will quickly adapt," Bryant said.
If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Trainer Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.