Good to Great: Take Your Workout to the Next Level

Whether you go for short walks around your neighborhood, sprint through 10-mile-bike rides, or sweat it out at the gym, at some point you'll think, "This isn't as hard as it used to be!"

That’s good progress. But it might be time to move on.

You may have gotten so used to your routine that it’s simply too easy now. To get faster or stronger, or just beat boredom, it's time to change things up.

It’s a fact: The best way to keep building muscle mass or burn calories is to make it a habit to switch up your workout -- especially when you notice that your current plan has become comfy. It keeps you on your toes. You’re ready to turn your walks into jogs, lift heavier weights, or swim faster than you might have thought you ever would.

Get 'FITT'

First, think about what you could do differently. Use the "FITT" principle of exercise -- frequency, intensity, time, and type -- to guide you.

Frequency: How many days a week do you work out?

If it’s twice a week, try to add a third day and see how it goes.

Intensity: How hard do you exercise?

Do you reach your target heart rate? That will help you boost your fitness. Your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age. Your target heart rate zone is 50% to 85% of that.

If you don’t want to do the math, ask yourself if you feel like you're really pushing yourself, or if the activity feels pretty easy. Could you work a little harder, whether that means picking up the pace or adding more weight or resistance?

Time: How long are your workouts?

If you jog for 20 minutes, try to keep it going for 30. Strolling around the neighborhood for 45 minutes? Go a few blocks farther and make it 60.

Type: What specific exercises are you doing?

Consider going from walking to jogging, jogging to running, or add a completely new activity -- biking, swimming, Pilates, weight training, etc.

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Turn to a Pro or a Pal

Consider a session or two, or more, with a certified personal trainer or exercise physiologist. They can tweak your plan, whether you're working toward a marathon or you want to lose those last 10 pounds. And they can make sure you don’t make too many changes, too fast.

If you're not interested in hiring someone -- maybe getting professional help seems too expensive or time-consuming -- you could team up with a workout buddy. It makes you more likely to stick with the plan and show up.

For the best results, pick a partner who's slightly fitter than you are. Research shows that working out with a person who's in better shape can motivate you to push yourself harder.

Reap the Benefits

Need some extra incentive to get out of your current comfort zone? You can opt to "reward" yourself for meeting mini-goals along the way.

Focus on small treats that aren’t food. For example, you could plan to go to a concert, get a manicure, or buy a pair of shoes you like after you've met your workout goals for this month.

Even better, steer yourself away from tangible items and focus on how getting fitter would benefit your life. Do you want more energy to play with your kids or grandkids? Better sleep? Be in shape for an active vacation halfway around the world? Cross the finish line at a race or even take home a medal? 

It’s all possible if you push yourself just a bit further, over and over. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on February 25, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American College of Sports Medicine: "ACSM Fit Society Page," July 2013.

The American Council on Exercise: "How to Tell if You've Reached a Plateau;" "The Most Effective Way to Motivate Your Workout Partner;" "Periodized Training and Why It Is Important."

American Heart Association: "Overcoming a Fitness Plateau."

University of California, San Francisco: "Getting Started With Exercise."

University of Wisconsin Health: "Fitness Plateaus and How They Can Help."

American Heart Association: “Target Heart Rates.”

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