Feel like your workouts are too easy? Not seeing results? Just a few easy alterations to your workout—doing it both smarter and harder—could make a big difference.
Harder workouts?! Don’t panic and go running for the hills (well actually hill running is what you may end up doing); your workouts get easier as you get stronger. This means in order to progress you need to change things up.
So, here are some tips on how to do just that:
1. Go Heavy
This might be the most obvious way of making your workout harder, but that’s because it works. As you get stronger, you need to increase the weight you are lifting commensurately. This is what challenges your muscles and, thus, helps them get bigger. No challenge, no change! That said, don’t go so heavy that you sacrifice your form; go as heavy as you can for your rep range. Go heavy enough that you’re just able to get that last rep out while still keeping good form throughout the movement.
2. Full ROM
Use your full range of motion when completing your exercise. You should be doing this already, but not everyone does. Take, for example, the squat: it’s one of the best exercises for your lower body and yet it’s all too common to see people not using their full range of motion and only competing half squats. A full squat means lowering your backside at least parallel with the ground, but you can try to take it even further, ass to grass! A more full exercise may mean lighter weight, initially, but this pays off. If you’re unable to complete full ranges of motion with lighter (or no) weight, you need to focus on increasing your range of motion and flexibility.
3. Try Different Exercises
Choose more challenging exercises. For example, if you have been doing lunges, try squats instead. Or, add in full-body movements that will get you working all your muscles together. Think about what your current exercises are and think about what could make them more challenging.
Do you already reap the benefits of doing lunges? How can you make this great lower-body exercise do even more for you, other than adding weights? Simply change your terrain! You can lunge up a hill or on a treadmill.
5. Use Free-weights / Kettlebells
An easy way to make your workouts harder is to move from machines to free weights. Leg presses, leg curls, leg extensions, shoulder presses, chest presses, and so on are relatively difficult, but have the intrinsic consequence of isolating your muscles. Free weights, on the other hand, require stability and balance that further activate your muscles. Using kettlebells also increase the challenge of certain exercising, requiring different movements and techniques.
6. Run Hills / Increase the Incline
You may think improving cardio exercises is as easy as jogging or running further or faster, but that’s not all. When running on a treadmill, for example, you can increase the incline to simulate running up a hill. Simply slowing your speed can result in a more challenging workout. When running outside, try to incorporate hills into your route.
7. 21s – Bicep curls
The Bicep Curl is a common move but what makes this exercise different, and more challenging, is that we will be breaking down the move into 3 parts, with each part of the exercise being repeated for 7 reps –a total of 21 reps when all three parts have been completed – hence the name being 21s! This will help to increase your range of motion, as discussed in tip number three.
8. Unstable Surface
By introducing a somewhat unstable surface, such as a Bosu or stability ball, you can make certain exercises more intensive. Take push-ups, for example. Doing one on the ground may feel easy, but try it with your hands on a Bosu ball. Notice a difference? Or, try swapping the gym bench for a stability ball for shoulder presses, hammer curls, sit-ups, and so on. If you are going to use an unstable surface, make sure you are careful and take it slowly. Also, if you use weights, you will need to reduce the weight. Try the movements with no weight to begin with.
Instead of moving from one exercise to another after completing a set amount of reps and sets, and taking a rest between each set, do timed circuits. Plan to do around five consecutive exercises with no breaks in between. Then, rest after you have completed one of these circuits. Repeat until you have completed your desired number of circuits.
10. Train Different Muscle Groups
While this doesn’t increase the difficulty of your work outs, it does increase their effectiveness. If you already incorporate rest days into your exercise schedule, this will not affect you, but for those who want to work out every day: pay attention! Working your same muscle groups two days in a row won’t give them enough time to recover and, although it will feel like you’re working harder based on fatigue, you will actually be using more energy to get the same results as they day before. Try splitting your routines up so one day you work your lower body and the next day your upper body or vice versa. If you do full body work outs then it is better to have a rest day in between or a cardio only day.
Intervals refer to exercising a set amount of time at one speed and then a set amount of time at a faster speed. You could work on a ratio of 2:1, for example: two minutes at your normal speed and one minute at a faster speed. The speed and ratio will vary based on the individual, but the basic idea is to work out at your average speed and then push yourself to a more intense speed for a short period of time. This is also an effective way of burning more calories in a shorter amount of time.
Be careful of over-training; it can feel like you are working harder, but you may be doing more harm than good. Your body needs time to recover (during this time the small tears in your muscle fibers repair themselves and it is this that helps increase their strength), so it is important that you take one or two days off per week. Otherwise, chances of injury increase.
Remember that, in your exercising practices, your mind often gives up before your body. Remembering to not go overboard, you can successfully push yourself to get out that last burst of speed or finish off that last rep. Then, just watch the results come in as your muscles grow and grow.