After you’ve committed to an exercise routine for a while, it can start to feel quite stale. You may be tired of doing the same thing each time or feel like you’re not making your desired progress. Don’t worry — this is a common fitness struggle called the “plateau.” Examine your routine from a bird’s-eye view and read on for tips on getting the most out of your exercise.
1. Skip the Machines
Many gym machines are chiefly utilitarian (think weight machines). They’re designed for exercising a certain part of your body without bells or whistles. But due to the way that they force pressure on those specific muscle groups, they can sometimes cause injury. They can also be less effective than more holistic methods of training and quickly become the most boring part of your routine.
Instead of focusing your workout around exercises and equipment that only tick various muscle group boxes, try finding fun strenuous activities. You can attend a class, join a sports team, or even skip the gym altogether and go paddle boarding. Figure out which of your interests work out which muscle groups, and you can exercise without going to the gym.
2. Occupy Your Mind
Since exercise is mostly physical, getting through your routine can feel like an eternity when it’s all you’re mentally focused on. Give your brain something stimulating to look forward to, like a favorite playlist, a podcast, or an episode of a TV show. Beginning your routine is easier when you’re excited about it, and it will zoom by as your mind focuses elsewhere.
This is particularly effective if the content you like to consume is exclusive to your time at the gym. If there’s a podcast you really enjoy, make the effort to only listen to it while working out. It will help you enjoy your routine and get you in the door tomorrow when you otherwise wouldn’t want to!
3. Pace Yourself
Physically, you just won’t benefit from working too hard at the gym or recklessly rushing through each set. It’s important to pace yourself and take your time with each exercise to make sure you’re doing it optimally. Proper form is a frequent casualty of hasty exercise, and without it, you’ll progress slower and invite possible injury.
Also, take care not to push yourself past your body’s limits — listen to what it has to say every second. Pay attention to how you are physically feeling before, during, and after each set (when you should be resting). If you are feeling dizzy or strained, then that’s your body telling you to be careful and lighten your load.
4. Rest Properly
Once you’ve completed your daily workout, make sure you give particular muscle groups time to rest and heal. In the process of exercising, your muscles actually develop microscopic tears, which — when healed — make the muscles stronger. Without time to recuperate, though, these tears will not heal. This will prevent muscle growth and, naturally, cause injury from overuse.
Working out also uses up energy that is stored in those muscles and needs time to build up again. Two days in a row of the same intense workout will likely be too exhausting and difficult to maintain. It is possible to go to the gym the next day, however, as long as you focus on different muscle groups.
5. Assess Your Gear
Sometimes a workout may lack effectiveness simply due to the quality or condition of the gear you have access to. For instance, if you run a lot, wearing shoes that aren’t designed to protect your feet can damage them. If you’re using the wrong weights, they might be unbalanced or too light to make a difference for you over time.
It’s also very possible that certain equipment just doesn’t work for you like other things do. If you’re not getting the results you want from a weight machine, try using free weights instead. Whichever approach proves more effective is the one that you want to stick with to make the most progress.
6. Log Your Progress
At the end of the day, you may just be feeling like you aren’t making progress even if you are. What you need are some metrics. Create a physical log to mark down how far your body has come since the beginning. You can use it to track things like endurance, dumbbell weight changes over time, and your mile running times/speeds.
Each time you complete a workout, check it off on your progress log and mark down what you did. This record will make your progress feel more tangible and may be all it takes to encourage you to continue. Over time, you can plot your growth and more accurately plan your fitness journey for the future.
Figuring out the right amount and type of exercise you need can take some experimentation to produce the best results. This is why it’s important to keep trying even when you feel like you’ve hit a plateau. There’s always an alternative, even if it means ditching the gym for a surfboard or running laps around the block. As long as you’re attentive to your body, you’re likely to find the approach that helps you get the most out of your exercise.