Even in my studios where we rant and rave, and beg and plead with our clients to get attendance up to where it needs to be to make progress, attendance is down. Maybe it really is the economy. If that's the case now is in fact the BEST time to pick up your exercise volume ...to look and feel healthier, increase your productivity, reduce stress, sleep better, and on and on.
1. Get a Grip!
Changing how you grasp a bar can dramatically alter the kinetics of a resistance exercise, and create exciting new interest in upper body pushing and pulling exercises. I also frequently find that people with joint ailments (the rotator cuff in the shoulder in particular) can avoid impingement and discomfort by experimenting with grip adjustments.
Alter the width of where you grasp a bar, the rotation of your wrists (palms up or down), or change the bar entirely. A Traditional grip is palms facing down when your hands are extended on a plane in front of your eyes. Change your routine by continuing to use a traditional bar grip, but vary the distance of where your hands grasp the bar to recruit additional or different muscle fiber groups. Two or three inches narrower or wider are usually sufficient. Try varied grip widths for chest, triceps, and shoulder presses to effectively train muscle groups on range of motion boundaries not normally recruited with a 'monotonous' grip position.
Try using a reverse grip for lat pull downs, seated pulley rows, supported T bar rows, and single arm movements of the same. Selecting a different bar or cable attachment can also introduce variety into an otherwise mundane program. Experiment with straight, cambered , EZ curl, V-shaped, and rope attachments for arm exercises. Choose between straight, cambered, wide grip lat, wide grip cambered, and bent lat bars for back & traps.
Use your modified grip (or bar choice) consistently for a minimum of 2 to 4 weeks, then try another one! But don't switch more frequently than that: the initial adoptions from a varied grip will be neurological; the muscle strength & fiber growth you're looking for occurs only after primary neurological adoptions are complete, so don't switch too often!
One Critical piece of advice here: if you are unsure of the proper movement, or the safety of the exercise, DO consult with a fitness expert before experimenting. Modifying grip and bar choice changes joint rotations that can be unsafe for the uneducated.
2. Be Promiscuous
Hey, it's OK ... it's just a workout! But you'd be surprised and amazed with how much fun, exciting, and refreshing training with a new partner or trainer can be! And effective! Here's bonus a tip for you: training with a partner or trainer is one of the true key elements to reaching heath and fitness goals you never before thought possible. Knowing that someone is expecting you to show up for a workout - someone who will hold you personally accountable for making it to that fitness appointment dramatically improves the likelihood that you will actually show up! Having someone help you with a few forced reps, and assist with some negative repetitions not only increases the safety of your workout, but it increases intensity as well.
If you've been with a partner or trainer for more than 6 months, try making a change for a while. If you like your partner current partner/trainer, try forming a small club of 'workout buddies'' and rotate through the group periodically. Not only will you make new friends, but you'll grow if only through a handful of favorite tips, tricks, and techniques we've all collected over time. More likely, however, is that you'll also change the tempo, repetition rate, sequence of exercises, and content of your split routines. All of this puts your body at a high state of 'nervousness' which encourages neurological adaptations required for increased muscle group recruitment. Especially with today's hectic schedules, you can never have too many workout buddies, and some of the best workouts I've ever had have been 'reunion' workouts with former partners from high school and college.
Finally, I strongly recommend AGAINST training with your significant other. Your workout needs to be free from the baggage and agenda from that relationship if you truly want results.
3. Know and Feel your Pain
Herb Brooks was right: "...you must grow through pain." Realize, first, however, that not all pain is good!
Being able to understand, recognized, and differentiate good pain from bad pain is a key element in making consistent progress towards your fitness goals. The burning sensation felt from fully exhausted muscle groups is due to the accumulation of a waste product known as lactic acid. Excessive lactic acid buildup is also responsible for muscle soreness after your workout. Generally speaking, it is a good pain giving you reassurance that you've recruited otherwise inactive muscle groups and have trained them to momentary exhaustion. Even so, training muscle groups to exhaustion with high intensity exercises should be moderated to avoid over training.
Plan to train to train each body part to complete exhaustion (and feel the burn that comes with it) no more than once per week, and less so after age 40. The burning feedback from lactic acid is much different from that which you feel when joints, tendons, and ligaments are strained. Especially as you hit the mid years of your life, not all pain is equal, so learn to differentiate the good from bad. Pursue active rest to reduce lactic acid buildup,but completely rest when you have an injury. If in doubt, check with a trusted personal trainer.
4. Have a Ball!
A medicine ball, that is. They're inexpensive (less than $20 each), and can introduce new fun into an otherwise tiring routine! Did you know that medicine balls have been used in in physical therapy since 1000 BC! Sizes and shapes vary from 1 Kg to 11KG, but all medicine balls will be soft enough to bounce on a firm surface (like a wall or floor). Indeed, it's ability to absorb impact is what makes a ball a medicine ball. Most balls with come with brief instruction guides for things to try. A few of my favorites are:
- Walking diagonal lunges with a gentle hand to hand shot-put-like overhead toss (glutes deltoids, balance);
- Explosive seated overhead throw and catch against a flat wall (lats, abs),
- Sit-up and overhead throw to partner (abs, lats);
- Explosive squat position basketball chest pass against a wall (gluts, delts, tris); and
- Russian Twist - balance on your butt with feet lifted off the floor and rotate ball in a twisting motion (abs, obliques);
5. Get Roped!
One of the most effective cable attachments ever invented is the rope attachment. Part of what makes it so effective is that the flexibility of the rope allows the exercise range of motion to follow a more natural joint motion than any fixed bar ever could. Use the rope attachment for:
- Split triceps pushdowns from a pull down pulley
- Single Arm triceps pushdowns ... try grabbing both rope ends, or just one;
- Split biceps curls from a seated row pulley
- Single Arm biceps curls
- Seated Crunches from a pull down machine
One thing to note with most ropes, however: unlike it's metallic cousins, ropes will absorb and hold moisture from your gym brethren, so be sure to wash your hands immediately after your workout to leave the fungus at the gym!