Have you been doing the same exercises in the same order every week for an eternity? Maybe it’s time to press the refresh button on your fitness routine. A few years back, I wrote a regular column for a newspaper that involved a fitness assessment on a reader and giving feedback on their performance. Most of the readers were pretty hardcore-exercise types who loved being fit and exercised at least four to five times a week. I would cross-check their fitness test results with their training routines and suggest improvements. The same key points surfaced with nearly every person I reviewed and my guess is that plenty of people reading this blog are making the same fundamental errors with their training. To begin with, even though most of these people were near fanatical with their training and were definitely meeting the required volume, they were still generally unhappy with how they looked. There was a pattern emerging and I discovered a very good reason for their dissatisfaction. In general, all of them had been doing the same weekly routine for the past six to 12 months. Yes, six to 12 months and even longer in some cases. Now I don’t care if you have the most kick-ass routine in the world, if you do the same thing over and over again, you can expect the same results over and over again. It’s simple: exercise is a stress to our bodies. With effective exercise, our bodies react to this stress with positive adaptation (i.e. results, gains, beautiful bodies, etc.) With ineffective exercise, your body doesn’t need to adapt because the exercise stimulus doesn’t warrant it. Specifically, if your body could easily handle your fantastic routine a month ago, it will get no further benefit doing it again this month. Mix it up people. Break with routine and challenge your body anew.
oad – if you always lift the same weight for a given exercise you’ll never improve. When appropriate, up the ante and you’ll continue to improve.
reps – mix up your rep ranges. As a rough guide it’s 1-6 reps for strength, 7-10 reps for hypertrophy and 11+ reps for strength endurance.
sets – like reps you should mix them up. Generally speaking the less reps, the higher the sets but that will depend what you’re trying to achieve.
R.O.M. – range of motion refers to the depth you go into each movement. A half squat is easier than a squat where your butt goes to knee level, which is in turn easier than a squat where your butt goes within a few inches of the ground. Generally speaking, as you perfect each exercise you should ideally increase your ROM as much as possible, but avoid depths that induce joint pain.
time under tension – your body can’t count reps. All it knows is how much stress you’re putting it through. A slow-moving 3 reps may supply the same stress as a fast-moving 5 reps. Unless you’re going for sports specific speed, slow things down and maintain control.
stability – once you’ve mastered a move on a stable surface, reduce your stability to up the ante. To do this you can stand on one leg, train on an uneven surface, close your eyes or use a Swiss Ball or Bosu (half ball).
grip – dumbbells and barbells should be the mainstay of your free weights training but even this can be mixed up. These two types of free weights have easy-to-use grips. Up the ante by occasionally using kettlebells, clubbells, sandbags or the like, to challenge your body in fresh ways.
lever length – the further a weight is from your midline the harder it is to hold. And, the greater the distance between your ground points, the more stress on your system. Hence why a knee plank is easier than a toe plank and why a bent-arm front raise is easier than a straight-arm front raise.
uni/bilateral – a unilateral exercise has you using one side of your body by itself. A bilateral exercise has you using both sides simultaneously. A unilateral exercise is often more complex as your body needs to work harder to stay in posture. It also allows you to ensure both your dominant and non-dominant sides are working equally.