Someone wicked smart once said,
Change is the only constant.
Why are we surprised then, when our workout routine hits a rut?
In their book Decisive, bestselling authors Chip and Dan Heath explain an interesting human phenomenon when it comes to change.
- We gravitate toward the familiar
- We are averse to the unknown
To dig a little deeper, we have a natural tendency to hold onto what we know. The same friends, the same restaurants, the same music, and so on.
Conversely, we are inclined to resist the unfamiliar. Especially when faced with the choice between say, our favorite restaurant or some new joint we’ve never heard of.
Naturally, we all have varying degrees of risk tolerance, but even if you’re adrenaline junky, that is your personal status quo. White knuckle shenanigans are familiar and comfortable. The idea of visiting a Barnes & Noble, browsing the shelves for hours with a Starbucks latte in hand, is foreign to you and induces anxiety (though it sounds like a slice of heaven to others).
Trying to implement initial and sustainable change faces the double-edged sword of a death grip on the familiar, and a brick wall resisting the unknown.
These same principles are in play when it comes to your workout program (or lack there of).
Highway to the comfort zone
If you’ve been couch surfing for awhile and are trying to start a new fitness routine, the first day or week can be torture.
You’re fighting against your natural instinct to grab hold of the familiar (Netflix and chips) and push away the new change (hitting the gym).
Like all change, this process takes time because letting go of the familiar is a gradual shift. At the same time, you’ll likely struggle to establish a new habit until it feels common.
Fortunately, there are two simple steps you can take to make the transition smoother.
Get real to get real results
There’s no way you’re going from curling donuts to flipping monster truck tires in 30 days. You’re also not going to make it to the gym every day.
No matter what change you’re going for, take your initial goal, and cut it in half.
- If you’re trying to lose 20 lbs, make it 10 lbs.
- If you’re trying to run 5 miles, make it 2.5 miles.
- If you’re trying to workout 6 days a week, make it 3 days.
- If you want to bench press 250 lbs in 30 days, make it 125 lbs or 60 days.
You might think that it’s a lame “hack”, but here’s a funny thing that happens. When you hit that 50% goal, you’ll have the momentum to push through to 100% in even less time.
Managing your expectations this way gives you the opportunity to achieve a quick win. In turn, you’ll be motivated to keep going and to challenge yourself even more.
Confuse your muscles, not your mind
Much like you must mentally overcome the resistance to giving up nightly Netflix binges and embrace a mindset of fitness, your muscles themselves will resist the change.
Unfortunately, we all have exercises we hate for whatever reason. It hurts, it’s uncomfortable, it looks weird, or we feel weak doing it. Myself included.
When we find a routine that helps us achieve some initial results, we get comfortable. We go to the gym and our brains can disengage while our bodies go through the motions.
This is helpful when you’re busy and only have a limited window to swing by the gym or duck out to the garage to exercise.
But unless you progressively overload your muscles, you’ll soon discover that the trend line of your results begins to flatten out as the months go on.
If you really like your routine, and the idea of change makes you want to revert to chomping on Cheetos, there are some alternatives that’ll help you conquer boredom and jump start your results without throwing a wrench in your schedule.
6 exercise variables
These variables will work your primary and supporting muscles in different ways regardless of which exercise you’re doing.
WARNING: Bad form is one of the easiest ways to injure yourself.
When implementing these variables, be quick to lower the weight/resistance while trying it out at first. Be attentive to your form and listen to your body.
- Grip placement. Adjust the distance between your hands on the bar (or handles of a machine) and rotating grip position while pulling and pressing (dumbbells, bodyweight, cable machines, etc).
- Foot placement. Alter the space between your feet or move one foot more forward than the other while performing an exercise.
- Speed. Do the same movement, but with more/less speed per rep. Do not compromise form.
- Weight. Increase the weight you are moving per rep (which may impact the number of reps).
- Volume. Increase your reps per set, or total sets to lift more in a given workout.
- Rest. Use a timer on your phone or watch to manage the amount of rest between sets.
Finding a routine you enjoy and gets results can feel difficult. The idea of abandoning it (even for good reason) can seem insane. Fortunately, you can change things up for the better without starting from scratch.
What are your favorite exercises? Which ones do you hate?