2020 has been a tough old year...and we're only halfway through. I know many of you have had to take an extended break from your normal workout routine. We can use this opportunity though, as we start picking up where we left off, to come back fitter and stronger. Rather than getting stuck into the same old rut we were in before, here are some ideas on how to liven up your workout routine.
Our bodies adapt to any training routine that has been followed for longer than 6 to 8 weeks. So, over time, your improvements slow down and you may reach a plateau. So use this opportunity to try new exercises, new activities and protocols to make sure you are inspired, time-efficient and maximising your fitness gains.
Adopt single-leg exercises
Even if you recognise the benefits of free weights over machine weights for greater stability and body awareness, you'll probably still have both feet firmly fixed on the floor.
So recognise that single-leg exercises such as single-leg deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats (where the back foot is positioned on a step or bench) and walking lunges, for example, ensure greater isolation of your muscles and reduce imbalances, compared to double leg exercises, such as squats and dead-lifts.
Incorporate them into your workout now.
This method of training is super time efficient.
Performing two exercises for opposing body parts right after each other with little or no rest between. For example, quads then hamstrings or biceps then triceps. You don't waste time waiting for one muscle group to recover before you perform a second set.
Do 3 super-sets of each pairing, aim for 10 to 12 reps of each exercise.
Take part in exercise classes
It's widely recognised that people are more likely to keep working out and reach their goals if they're not alone.
Group training is fun and motivating. Find a class you enjoy, book your place and treat it like any other appointment. Think of it like the dentist or hairdressers, so that it's not an option to miss.
My favourites are weight training classes, BodyAttack classes and yoga for when I need a little mindfulness.
Alternate between 'heavy' and 'light' workouts
If you want to increase the number of days you workout without burning out, then why not adopt this method of alternating each heavy workout with a lighter one.
One day could be a high-intensity circuit workout and the next could be an easy form of yoga or some light cardio training. This is great for keeping motivation high and makes sure you're raring to go for each heavy session.
Understand your circadian rhythms
It's thought that circadian rhythms (a complex network of body clocks, or timekeepers, that control everything from our hormone fluctuations to sleeping patterns) can have a powerful influence on our workouts.
For instance, our body temperature is at its lowest before we wake up in the morning. This makes early morning the optimum time of day for moderately-paced activities like jogging, as you're not likely to overheat.
By contrast, the ideal time to hit the weights room or do a high-intensity session is later in the afternoon/early evening, when body temperature and muscle strength are at their optimum.
Circadian rhythms are a complex phenomenon, but understanding them just a little could maximise your training results. You can read more about how circadian rhythms affect your body here.
Think and train like an athlete
You may not be an Olympic hopeful, but adopt the mentality and practices of an athlete. That is, a no-nonsense approach to exercise and meeting your goals.
- Treat training like a task at work. That is to say, something on your `to do' list that you must carry out by the end of the day.
- When selecting exercises, think about function. For example, how will this exercise or routine improve my tennis at the weekend? Will it help me climb the stairs or kick a ball around with the kids? One simple example would be multi¬directional lunges for stability and joint protection in tennis. If you can see that your gym efforts are improving the energy and performance of your sport/life's activities then you'll be motivated to continue.
Athletes see direct results from their training and so can you.
At-home workout solutions
If time is tight or you can't physically get to the gym then don't despair. There are many ways to get fit in your own home, including my own online workout options.
For example, use the stairs for step-ups, split jumps, cardio stair climbs and triceps dips. Efficient home workouts should be based on circuit training. You can do all exercises in a small space in a short amount of time. Work for 30 seconds and take 30 seconds recovery. Perform the circuit as many times as you can in 20 minutes.
If you want to isolate one body part then simply perform an abdominal, arm or leg circuit only.
Keep a training diary
Log your workouts after each session to help future planning and progression.
I also recommend you record the time of day of the session and how you felt before, during and after it. You may also like to note down what else you've done that day. Particularly items that may have been stressful or exhausting - this may explain a slightly under-par workout.
A training diary will help track your progress and better understand what other factors may improve or jeopardise your efforts.
Follow a solid post-exercise routine for a better workout tomorrow
A few healthy post-workout habits will get your muscles recovering quickly and make your next gym session more productive.
- Cooldown by moving at a low intensity for about 10 minutes after your workout to bring your heart rate down and flush out the lactate/lactic acid. These are chemicals, that although present in your body at all times are elevated by exercise.
- Stretch slowly to help relieve any muscle soreness and stiffness.
- Re-hydrate by increasing your fluid intake post-workout
- Refuel with a snack rich in proteins and with a high glycaemic index to replace blood sugar levels instantly. Try a protein shake with a banana
Fish oils for faster recovery
Omega-3 fats are important in the anti-inflammatory process.
When you strength train, you break down muscle protein. It's when you are not training that this protein regenerates and muscles grow stronger. Part of that process uses inflammation to initiate the rebuilding phase.
However, sometimes this inflammation is excessive and it creates more damage and soreness than required, which can inhibit your training. Omega-3 fats help reduce the inflammation and allow you to recover better and therefore maximise training gains.
Row your boat
Working out on a stationary rower, or ergo, is a great way to build all-over strength and fitness.
It works all major muscle groups in the body. Keep your stroke rate low (around 22 to 26 strokes per minute). Ensure that you master optimum rowing technique (seek PT advice if you're not sure).
Try the following workout:
- 5 minutes steady warm-up at even pace.
- 5 x 500m row at a faster stroke rate with an increased drive (the 'push' effort with the legs)
- aim to complete each effort under 2 minutes
- Take 60 seconds recovery between efforts. Build up to 10 efforts.
- 5 minutes cool down (as per warm-up).
Log your workouts after each session to help future planning and progression
Giving yourself small rewards as you begin to reach your goals will motivate you each step of the way.
But beware not to use food treats as a reward these may jeopardise your good efforts.
Instead, book a massage or buy yourself a new pair of jeans. Even some new gym gear to make you feel great the next time you hit the gym floor.
The bottom line...
Remember, be patient... it takes at least 21 days to get into the groove of a new routine.
So use some of my tips and strategies to develop a lasting habit to refresh your fitness permanently.