When you first start working out, everything is new. Every exercise is a challenge. Your muscles are moving in ways they aren’t used to, and your mind is fully focused on recruiting the right muscles, with the right force, to produce proper execution of everything from a squat to a push-up. If you stick with it, you start to notice changes in your strength and, eventually, body shape. It’s exciting to challenge yourself and motivating to get results! So you keep doing the same thing, because it’s working, and it’s fun. Until it doesn’t. And it’s not.
Exercise programs are based on progressions. You must continually create a challenge for your body in order for it to change and get better. Whether “getting better” means lifting more weight, showing more muscle, or running faster, your workouts need to change to avoid a rut. There are two “ruts” you can fall into when your workouts never change; mental and physical.
Your workouts should take mental power. If you find yourself going on autopilot and day dreaming during a deadlift, you aren’t challenging yourself. Maybe it’s not so much the challenge of the exercises that’s boring you, but the routine in general. Perhaps you go to Spin on Mondays, run on Tuesday, Thursday and Fridays, and strength train on Saturday. That’s a great plan, but if you’ve been doing this same thing for 3 years, are you sure it’s still the best fit for you?
If you look forward to these workouts and this schedule fits your lifestyle, that’s great! But if you feel it’s an obligation, or your job has changed and it’s now a stress to make run group after work, adjust your plan.
Pressing on with a routine simply because it’s what you’ve always done is a sure way to burnout, and worse, you could start to dread these activities. Avoid a mental rut by changing your focus and plan for a break.
If your focus has been total body strength training, pick one exercise to excel at. To train for a pull up, you’ll want to pick exercises that support it, like lat pulldowns and even enhancing your grip strength. You can still do full body routines, but having a specific goal will change the way you look at your program and measure your progress.
Plan for a few days, or even a week, every 4-6 weeks where you break from your routine. It could be as simple as cutting back on intensity, or as radical as trying 3 new classes. You’ll feel refreshed and could even find a new element to add to your training.
Also known as a plateau, a physical rut can stall your progress whether in strength gains or aesthetic goals (weight loss, muscle definition, etc.). The physical act of training is a huge stress on your body, affecting both your neuromuscular and immune systems. To reap the rewards getting stronger, leaner, etc. of your training, your muscles need to rest to repair themselves, and pounding away week after week will not let them fully recover. To continually see improvements, it’s recommended to take a full week off so you come back in full force.
This week is often referred to as a cut-back week. You could go to the gym the same number of days, but your intensity and/or length of the workouts will be scaled back.
Avoid feeling like Mindy!
Tune into how your body – mentally and physically – is reacting to your workouts, to stay engaged and energized! There’s no one way to lose fat, get stronger or run faster. Play with programs until you find one you truly enjoy, and track your progress so you know where you came from, and can see where you’re going!
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