Most of us who exercise on a regular basis find that we tend to dedicate ourselves to one activity. I’m looking at you, runners. As a (slowly) blossoming runner (stumbling jogger) myself, I absolutely know that feeling of committing to an activity and working to get better and reach your personal goals. But sticking to one exercise for the majority of your workouts can be detrimental to your athletic development. Using the same body motions can lead to stress injuries, and will eventually cause you to plateau. This post is dedicated to exploring some alternatives for those of us in long-term monogamous exercise relationships. Let’s re-invigorate ourselves!
It can be helpful to focus on the environment in which you prefer to workout. If you love your gym and look forward to walking through those doors, by all means keep going. But if you consistently find yourself on the treadmill, why not try cycling or the elliptical? These cardio pieces will place less stress on your ankles and knees and might save you a stress injury in the future. If you can’t bear to part with one piece of equipment, switch up how you utilize it. Here are some ideas:
1. Try interval training instead of going at a consistent pace and resistance.
2. Set the incline higher and walk, instead of keeping it at 0% and running.
3. Use the “reverse” method on the elliptical and work out different parts of your lower body (if you’re brave, you can walk backwards on the treadmill…but PLEASE hold on to the handrails and start slow!).
The same principles apply to strength training. We know that a rest period of at least 24 hours is necessary in between working out muscle groups to avoid injury and allow your muscle fibers to physically grow and repair themselves. But doing the same amount of weight/reps/sets will lead to a plateau in your progress. Challenging your muscles with a pyramid or circuit routine might be something to look into if you find yourself easily completing the typical Monday/chest and back, Wednesday/legs and core, etc. plan.
If you’re beginning to think a break from the gym might be nice, why not dig up that old bike from the storage shed (or, dare I say it…roller blades) and take a zip around the neighborhood? Breathing fresh air during a workout can be surprisingly invigorating compared to the AC-controlled gym environment. Running outside is beneficial as well to avoid relying on the momentum of the treadmill belt and to experience some different terrain.
Some other options to consider might be swimming or yoga. Heated Vinyasa yoga (not quite Bikram, but not AC-controlled) is a fantastic way to get your circulation pumping while toning every muscle you have. Lots of studios will offer a one-week free pass or something similar, so it’s really no skin off your nose to try it out at least once. Swimming, of course, is another killer workout that lengthens and tones your body while sparing your joints.
Try something new whenever you can! Have you had that rock-climbing place stuck in the back of your mind for months? What about a rappelling class? How about one of the hiking trails in the area? Sometimes we rely too much on convenience and ease of access, but a gorgeous weekend day would be a great time to drive somewhere you normally wouldn’t go to for a day hike.
Most of all, it’s important to listen to your body and know when you just need to rest. If you can’t bear the thought of not doing anything physically active for a whole day, spend 15 or 30 minutes doing an in-depth stretch routine. A foam roller might be something to invest in to spend some time identifying what is sore and what kinks you need to work out. Working out too long, too hard, or too often can cause our immune systems to weaken. The worst experience is pushing yourself too hard only to end up bedridden for days on end due to malaise and fatigue. LISTEN to your body. There is no shame in taking a day or two off if you can’t bear the thought of putting on your sneakers.
If you’re able to, schedule a massage every once in awhile: this will help to cleanse your body of built-up toxins and release the tension you just can’t get out yourself. You’ll feel invigorated and ready to go afterwards. Just don’t forget to drink lots of water afterwards!
You have to find your own meaning in your workouts. Being active should be fun, effective, and ultimately a habit. The key components of this are remaining energized and interested in your activities. Varying your workouts will save you from injury and boredom and will help to make or maintain activity as a habit in your life. This will be an individual process for everyone, and it takes time to learn how you will benefit most from your workouts.