Make Your Workouts Fun Again
You look around the weight room, and you see three kinds of people. At one extreme are the guys and women who are so into it they scare you. (Not a lot, but some.) At the other extreme are the people who are so unmotivated you’ve never seen them perspire. In the middle are the ones who are probably most like you: You’re still trying, but stuck in a bit of a rut. Same exercises, same weights, same routine, same results. You’re just kind of treading iron, to coin a phrase. I’ve got your back . . . and your chest, arms, abs, and legs, for that matter. I checked in with some of my favorite up-...
You look around the weight room, and you see three kinds of people. At one extreme are the guys and women who are so into it they scare you. (Not a lot, but some.) At the other extreme are the people who are so unmotivated you’ve never seen them perspire.
In the middle are the ones who are probably most like you: You’re still trying, but stuck in a bit of a rut. Same exercises, same weights, same routine, same results. You’re just kind of treading iron, to coin a phrase.
I’ve got your back . . . and your chest, arms, abs, and legs, for that matter. I checked in with some of my favorite up-and-coming fitness pros for their best advice on how to heat up a routine that’s gone cold. (And to truly shake up your sweat sessions, try musclemorphosis.com—an intense fitness DVD from Men's Health that will help you melt fat in less than a month and a half.)
The weight room tends to get tribal. Some of us lift like powerlifters or bodybuilders. Others follow one particular coach’s training system. If that works for you, great. If not? “Throw your normal training out the window,” says Brad Barber, C.S.C.S., a trainer in Kansas City.
If you train mostly for strength—heavy weights, low reps, compound lifts—let your inner musclehead loose. For the next few workouts, go for higher reps. In the second half of each session, do some isolation exercises (curls, lateral raises, triceps extensions), with the goal of pumping your muscles so full of blood your shirt feels like it’s two sizes smaller. Finish up with 10 minutes of staring at your engorged biceps in the mirror.
See What the Other Side of the Gym Looks Like
If you’re a guy who works exclusively with free weights, “try two or three new exercises on machines,” suggests Jess Howland, C.S.C.S., a trainer in Orleans, Ontario. For example, if your gym has a Hammer Strength machine for chest-supported rows, you’ll probably find that it targets your upper-back muscles more directly than dumbbell or barbell rows, which require more muscles to act as stabilizers.
Chronic machinist? Learn one new free-weight exercise a week to replace something you do with a machine. (In other words, learn the exercise the machine was designed to replicate.)
Try Another Gym Altogether
“In baseball, players often find a new spark, for lack of a better word, when they get traded,” says Darin Hulslander, C.S.C.S., a trainer in St. Louis. Something about going to a new city, or playing with new teammates, or working with new coaches, frequently renews a player’s passion for the game.
So ask yourself: Is your environment motivating you to get better, to try new exercises and routines? If it isn’t, now is the perfect time to switch things up.
Let’s say you train at home. Why not get a day pass, or a short-term trial membership, to a local gym? Look for new exercises you can do with the equipment you have, or new ways to do your current exercises, or even new equipment that falls within your budget. A good Olympic hex bar (also called a trap or shrug bar) should cost $150 or less, and give you multiple deadlift options you don’t have with a barbell.
Or say you train at a Globo Gym, one that’s filled with machines but offers limited free-weight options. Try a more hardcore gym, one that encourages heavy lifting, and see if you like it more. (Discover how to musclemorphosis.com and make 2015 your healthiest year yet!)
Punch the Clock
You know you’re in a rut when you use the exact same weight for the exact same number of sets and reps every time you do an exercise. Your muscles aren’t stupid; they know you’ll stop the set before you hit that deep level of exhaustion that forces them to make new adaptations.
The fix: “Randomize the times of your sets,” says Martin Rittenberry, a trainer in Minneapolis.
Two ways to do it:
1. Time your sets, shifting the focus from rep count to time under tension. Try 15 seconds for exercises early in the workout, and as much as 30 seconds for the final exercises.
2. Pick a number of reps—usually 3, 4, or 5—and do that number every minute for 10 minutes per exercise. You’ll have shorter rest between the final sets, forcing your muscles to work through a higher level of fatigue.
Another way to randomize your training: Invert your sets and reps, so instead of doing 3 sets of 10, you do 10 sets of 3.
Teach an Old Dog a New Trick
“Schedule a day to go into the gym and try something off the wall,” Howland says. If you can master new exercises, expecially ones that challenge your strength, stability, mobility, and balance, you’ll probably find that you’re a little stronger in everything, and perhaps a lot stronger in some.
At that point, you’re no longer the guy in the middle, working through a rut. You’re one of the fire-breathers who scares the hobbyists. And what’s more fun than that?
Want more ways to escape a workout rut? Check out Lou Schuler's musclemorphosis.com books, which are chockfull of fun beginner-to-advanced training programs from coauthor Alwyn Cosgrove.