Unleash Your Workout (Without Starting from Scratch)

A little bit of change can go a long way toward your commitment—and your results.

A workout routine helps us build confidence and an exercise habit. But what do we do when it starts feeling old? In this article, learn three easy ways to reinvigorate a workout you already know and find out why switching it up can supercharge your health.

For a newbie to the gym, a workout routine is the greatest gift. Instead of hiding out on the treadmills, wondering what else might be worth trying, we can use a routine to show us where to go, what to do, and when to start and stop. It takes care of our confusion and makes us feel like adventurers: We’re excited, confident and dialed-in.

And if life chucks a curveball, the familiar routine acts like a favorite pair of sweats—comforting, easy, uncomplicated—that helps us relax and enjoy ourselves.

But over time, the adventurous feeling can fade. And wearing only sweatpants can make us feel sloppy and sluggish. When a workout stops building us up and instead limits our growth, it’s time to find something new.

Variety—literally the spice of life

On every part of our planet, variety rules. Think about the many types of plants and animals, rock formations, and shades of blue. Think about the some 7 billion people walking this earth, each of whom has his or her own genome, fingerprints and iris pattern.

Not only are we part of the incredible biological diversity of the planet, but it is part of us. We need exposure to a lot of variety for good health and function. For proof, just check out the following:

Variety in a workout can get us out of a funk and helps us grow and thrive by changing the way exercise stresses us.

New potential

Any time we learn something new, we grow new neurons and create more connections between the ones we already have. These connections get stronger as we practice the new skill.

Similar skills use overlapping pathways in the brain. So learning a new skill can improve other ones. You know the saying, “It’s just like riding a bike”? Cycling has a lot in common with walking—alternating feet, balancing, forward motion—so as long as we can walk, we’ll be practicing some of the biking skills.

More of a good thing

Changing our workout takes us off cruise control. We have to pay attention and work hard to coordinate our movements. We don’t move efficiently or smoothly, and this has huge benefits. Working harder burns more calories and can nudge us up and out of a weight-loss plateau.

But how much is too much? A previous article explained the Goldilocks zone for exercise. Gradually making our workouts more challenging—instead of introducing changes all at once—helps us get it just right.

Ready for anything

Whether we’re stepping off a curb in a funny way, chasing a soccer ball down a hill at the park or hustling through a busy airport with luggage, a healthy body can handle it all. We mimic these situations in the gym by training in multiple directions, at different speeds and with various amounts of resistance.

Don’t ditch your workout—unleash it!

Talking about change and challenge makes it sound more complicated than it needs to be. Use this three-step framework to change a familiar workout into a creative challenge.

Step 1: Change the equipment or surface

Use dumbbells
Use kettlebells
Use a treadmill
Use an elliptical
Squat with a bar
Do leg presses
Wear shoes
Go barefoot
Stand on the floor
Stand on a mat
Move on a flat surface
Move on the grass or beach

Changing the equipment or surface forces us to adjust. Take the difference between bench-pressing a barbell versus two dumbbells. Even if the overall weight is lighter, dumbbells can feel heavier because we need to work harder to synchronize our hands since they’re not connected by the bar.

Changing the surface changes how our body stabilizes us. Think about walking on a treadmill and walking on the beach. The sandy beach forces us to sink in with each step, so even if the pace is the same, beach walking is harder.

Step 2: Change your stance

Stand normally
Half kneel or take a split stance
Balance on one foot

When we change our stance, we change how much effort goes into stabilizing and balancing. Practicing a variety of balance situations in the gym sets us up for better balance outside the gym and as we age.

Moving from unstable to more stable has benefits too. It can let us lift heavier weights, isolate muscles or increase time-under-tension, all of which build muscle and increase strength.

Step 3: Change your speed

Move fast
Slow down
Move slow
Speed up
Walk or jog
Walk briskly
Slow way down (walking meditation)

Moving slowly can stretch out tight connective tissue, reduce the risk (and symptoms) of dementia, and improve circulation. It can increase time-under-tension, resulting in a stronger growth-hormone response.

Moving quickly increases the elasticity of our connective tissue, making us quicker to react and improving our performance at the park with our kids or on the soccer pitch with friends.

Photo credits: SolisImages, Adobe Stock; william87, Thinkstock; anyaberkut, Thinkstock; alexshutter95 Thinkstock; XiXinXing, Thinkstock