So you finally realized the value in exercising, and you took the steps necessary to build a workout routine into your life little by little. Congratulations, because the simple act of getting into the habit of working out can be one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do.
As time goes on, however, your exercise routine can start to feel a bit stale. Perhaps you feel like you’ve reached a plateau and you’ve stopped making progress, or maybe you’re just ready to step up to a bigger challenge.
If that strikes you as familiar, then it’s time to hone your workout routine into something that is more effective. Sure, you’ve been running or ellipticalling and lifting weights, but the action in itself is not the end-all to the process. There are a lot of little things you can do to improve upon the foundation you’ve already built that will help you burn fat and pack on muscle faster.
Expand Your Workout and Track Your Efforts
Improving your body’s performance is all about doing more, working harder, and going faster.
It can be easy to get into a set routine of doing X reps of this, that, and the other over the course of each workout session, but if you’re going to continue making progress, you need to be building upon that base level. That means doing more reps, lifting heavier weights, adding more speed or time to your cardio, and adding new workouts that exercise different muscles.
Once you start expanding your workout, it helps to track your efforts so that you can verify that you are actually doing more. This can be as simple as writing down your time, weight, and reps, or you can use one of the many exercise phone apps.
One app I use is called One Hundred Pushups. It tracks your progress as it helps train your body to do 100 pushups in a single session. I’m not all that concerned about being able to accomplish the 100 per session goal, but it is useful when it comes to pushing me to do more reps and tracking my progress.
Don’t Take Shortcuts
As you increase your number of reps, it can be easy to allow yourself to half-ass the final one or two in a set, but if you’re taking short-cuts, you’re reducing your opportunity for progress.
If you find it difficult to maintain form as you increase reps, use the countdown method. This means that you do set of ten of a particular workout, then a set of nine, then eight, and so forth. For harder workouts, I’ll sometimes do ten, eight, six, etc. That way you’re getting in a solid number of reps without trading quantity for quality.
Lift Fast, Drop Slow
When you lift a weight quickly with an explosive effort, you force your heart rate and metabolism to increase, which supports both fat loss and muscle gain. Then to get the most out of the movement, you need to lower the weight (which in cases like sit-ups or pull-ups is your body) gradually to get the maximum activation possible from your muscles.
A lot of people do the opposite—they lift slowly because it’s hard, then they drop quickly because it’s easy. Reverse your thinking. Think of it this way—the harder you can make any aspect of your workout, the more effective it will be.
Perform Compound Exercises
A “compound exercise” is anything that delivers a workout to multiple parts of your body. This is both more efficient in terms of time, and more all around effective.
Pushups are a good example. They work out your biceps, triceps, chest, shoulders, and even your abdomen and lower back. Lunges, burpees, and pullups are also great compound exercises, as well as just about anything involving a Russian kettlebell. A quick Google search will provide you with dozen of options.
Burn Fast Faster by Doing Weights before Cardio
A lot of people like to start out their routine with cardio. They say that it helps get them focused and in the mood for what’s to come. If you want to burn the most calories possible, however, start out with weights.
When you start with weights, you burn off all the glycogen stores that your body prefers to use for energy. That way, by the time you get to your cardio, all you have left to burn are calories.
When you force your body to run uphill, it takes significantly more energy to propel yourself, resulting in more calories burn. It also helps develop more strength and explosive power in your legs.
Until you get used to it, running uphill (whether outside or using a treadmill incline) can be tremendously difficult. One method that makes it easier involves running uphill in short bursts.
Start out walking toward the hill for about two minutes, then when you reach it run up at full speed for about forty-five seconds to a minute. Then turn around and jog back down, walk for a minute or two to recover, then repeat. It might seem silly to be running up and down a hill, but it works.
Before working out, eat something that contains slow-burning carbs like whole wheat bread or oatmeal. Don’t over-do it—remember that you need to burn off those carbs before you start burning fat. But a small dose of them will help you keep up your energy while you’re hitting the weights.
After working out, ingesting 20 grams of rapidly absorbed protein such as whey powder has been proven to help increase recovery and muscle gain. Then as the rest of the day goes on, make sure you eat well. Duh.
There are probably an endless number of other tricks that can improve your workout, but these are just a few that have worked for me. I think the most important thing is to keep learning and trying new things, so do your research. The more multi-faceted you can make your exercise routine, the better.
Do you have any tips or tricks to share with me? Feel free to comment below. Like I said, I’m always looking to learn more.