10 ways to put more work into your workouts

10 ways to put more work into your workouts

Want to make your workouts harder? Believe it or not, some people do. Make the exercises more difficult and you will increase muscle mass, burn more fat, lower workout time, alleviate boredom and keep yourself challenged.

  1. Add weight. Obvious, but effective, adding weight demands more from your muscles and speeds up results. For most exercises you can safely jump up an extra 2.5 – 5 lb (1.1 – 2.2kg) in dumbbell weight. It is usually a good idea to add more weight before you begin to add on reps. Remember that going heavier doesn’t mean you should compromise on your form, so keep close attention to your movements.
  2. Add more reps. A no-brainer here. If you can do 10 pull-ups, simply add on some more. The same goes for any bodyweight exercise such as sit-ups, push-ups and squats. The advice is slightly different when lifting weights. Experts advise to lift to your point of fatigue (e.g. usually after 15 – 20 reps) and if you can easily lift more then it’s time to add some weight otherwise effectiveness will wane.
  3. Choose the right music. Many people report putting more effort into their exercise when accompanied by a good tune.  Apparently this is down to music’s ability to distract attention from the fatiguing feelings of exercise. However, while this may help people performing moderate exercise like running, it is less effective on more intense exercise where the physiological feedback is too intense to ignore.
  4. Vary the elevation. No, we don’t mean choosing a gym on the 5th floor (although the great views may be a bonus!) Instead, something as simple as adjusting the vertical incline on the treadmill requires your body to put in extra effort to overcome gravity. Try 5% - 7% to mimic hill walking. Other lofty ideas are choosing up uphill routes when walking, running or cycling. Lifting your limbs higher in the air obviously requires more effort than a small raise. For example, knee raises really get the heart going when performed above 90 degrees.  However, remember tougher doesn’t necessarily mean higher. For example, lying on your back doing ‘scissors’ with straight legs is much harder when keeping your legs lower than if you raise them up.
  5. Make the surface unstable. Working out on different surfaces is a simple way to raise your workout difficulty. Performing exercises on an unstable surface exercise balls or ‘stability balls’ forces your body to call more muscles into action (stabilisers and core muscles) to control the body. For example, doing push-ups and sit-ups on an exercise ball are proven to be more effective than basic ones. However, because the exercises are more intense, you shouldn’t attempt to do them until you can do at least 20 basic ones on the floor. Exercises performed on stability balls also have the added benefit of calling other muscles into action e.g. doing left lift while balancing your stomach on an exercise ball gives a harder workout to your shoulders, abs and glutes.
  6. Make the surface narrower. Similarly, an exercise with a narrow base of support will be tougher to perform. For example, a single-leg squat is more intense than the usual bilateral squat which has a wider base of two legs standing apart.
  7. Make the surface contact dynamic. Exercises are more challenging when performed dynamically – that is, when we destabilise the base of support by jumping, switching hands or clapping. Some common examples include jump squats vs. squats; clap push-ups vs. push-ups; split-squat jumps vs. split-squats.
  8. Negative-only training. This is a tough way to train, often used by bodybuilders as a useful way to get past plateaus or lift increasing weights. It is a way of building muscle strength based on the three phases of weight movement: the ‘positive’ contraction as you curl the weight up, the ‘static’ as you hold the weight, and then ‘negative’ as you extend the muscle when lowering the weight. You can use almost any gym exercise (which includes muscle extension) for negative training, but the best include bench press, bicep curl and bicep preacher curl. Simply perform the negative part of the movement for a tough workout. Try just one at first and build up to a full set if you like the effect. Disadvantages are that you will need a partner to assist you, plus some people even consider it dangerous.
  9. Don’t lean on the machine! Many people offload their bodyweight by leaning on a machine while exercising. While this might seem like it’s helping you to keep going for longer, it’s counter-effective as it significantly lowers the intensity of your workout.
  10. Consume more protein. Finally, remember that working harder means your body will need extra nutrition. Aim to consume at least 20g of protein after a tough workout to maximise the results and kick start the muscle recovery. Ideally this would be a fast-absorbing protein like whey, but any high-quality protein is beneficial. 

 

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