A smart man once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Whether it was Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain or Albert Einstein seems to be the subject of some debate. But what you can’t debate is that doing the same thing over and over in the gym will result in a whole lot of plateauing. Essentially, the body is a master adaptor and eventually will stop responding to the same stimulus when it’s applied repeatedly. Joe Weider codified this concept in the Weider Muscle Confusion Principle, and it has been accepted as workout law ever since. “If you’ve been performing the same workout for a while, then you need to change things up,” says Jan Love, a certified fitness trainer with more than 35 years of experience. “Or else you’re gonna drive yourself crazy. Or give up.”
When Love works one-on-one with her clients, she effects change by implementing different strategies. “Variety is not only the spice of life, it’s also the key to making major improvements in how you look,” she says. Now it’s time for you to do the same. Not only will your workouts be more interesting, but they’ll also be much more effective in helping you reach your goals. “Adding variety to your regular workouts will also help reduce boredom, increasing the likelihood that you’ll stick with your program and get better results.”
CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN
When you want different results, you have to change your approach. “Changing the exercises you perform is a classic way to create different workouts,” Love says. She adds that the lack of variety in your exercise choices is unlikely to be the key reason that you aren’t reaching your goals. She explains how you can change the techniques that you use to perform basic moves so that you can turn these staples into “new” moves, shocking your body so that you get the results you want. Here are some of the best ways to change up the same exercises.
Change the amount of weight you’re using. You probably think that you already do this, but we’re talking about making a radical shift. Think about what you can curl for 10 reps. How many reps do you think you can perform with half that amount? Try using that weight throughout your entire workout, taking it to failure for a set or two. Or double the weight (especially if you tend to perform more than 12 or so reps per set).
Change the length of your rest periods. Most people tend to rest about the same length of time between sets. “You can make tremendous changes in your workouts by shortening or lengthening the amount of time you rest between sets,” Love says. Much shorter rest periods make the workout more aerobic, helping to burn more body fat. Longer rests may allow you to lift more weight for more reps, encouraging better muscle building.
Change the number of sets you perform per exercise. One of the most common habits is to consistently perform the same number of sets per exercise — typically three to four. Love suggests that you can perform more sets of fewer exercises for some workouts to work your target muscle group more thoroughly in one or two particular ways. “Try performing six sets of two moves per bodypart for a total of 12 sets,” Love suggests. This will work your target muscles differently compared to performing four moves for three sets each. Alternating between these strategies will help provide better results than just relying on one exercise-and-sets scheme every time you work that bodypart.
Change the number of bodyparts you work per session. One common error of repetition is to always train the same number of bodyparts in a workout, Love says. Whether you hit every bodypart in every workout or if you only work one or two, you can make improvements by switching back and forth between these ingrained habits to create the muscle confusion necessary for optimal growth.
Change the way you integrate cardio into your workouts. You probably have a set way that you include cardio in your gym training — you perform it before your workouts, after your workouts or on days when you don’t weight train. Consider placing short bursts of cardio between weight sets. This will challenge your body in new ways, promoting muscle growth and fat burning, Love says.
Change up your cardio tempo. Many people view cardio as a minimum of 30 minutes on a treadmill, but research shows that the most effective way to burn body fat through cardio activity is by alternating short bursts (60 to 90 seconds) of very intense cardio with short periods of moving at a comfortable pace. “Try including four or five of these intensity sessions over the course of 20 minutes of your preferred form of cardio,” Love suggests.
Change your stance or angle. Whether you’re working an upper bodypart or your legs, the angle of action can change how you work your target muscle. “You can turn an exercise that you routinely perform into, essentially, a different move by shifting the stance or the angle of movement,” Love says. “Angles are your best friend for making improvements.” They’re also important because we don’t move in one plane. “We’re reaching, twisting or performing activities with one arm while the other is full of groceries.”
Change your rep cadence. When you watch people at your gym, you may have noticed that each person tends to lift weights at the same pace during every workout. Explosive Guy always explodes. Slow Girl always lifts slowly. But one of the biggest surprises you can provide to your body is to vary the pace at which you perform each rep. In other words, Explosive Guy and Slow Girl would get better results if they just swapped rep cadences a couple times a week. Consider shaking up your workout by using explosive and slow rep cadences in some workouts.
Because of the number of variables at your disposal, there are hundreds of workout permutations you could undertake. We’ve put together four to get you started.
This short workout supersets legs and arms so that you never stop moving.
Perform one set of walking lunges, then perform one set of dumbbell curls. Take a quick break (no more than 30 seconds), then repeat this for four sets. Next, perform Smith-machine squats alternating with triceps bench presses. (You can use the Smith machine to perform triceps presses, moving a bench in and out between sets.)
Bodyparts: arms, legs
Bodyparts: chest, back, shoulders
HIGH-REP TOTAL-BODY WORKOUT
High-rep sets give you an incredible muscle pump and increase muscular endurance, improving the body’s ability to grow stronger and add muscle mass in subsequent workouts. For each move, choose a weight that allows you to complete at least 50 reps without failing, working continuously. If you can perform 100 reps, then increase the weight the next time you do this workout. Rest three minutes between sets and complete this workout once a week.
Bodyparts: whole body