Try Something New: Use Variety to Improve Your Fitness Level

Having an exercise routine is a wonderfully healthy habit, but don't expect great things to happen if your fitness regimen becomes too routine.

"The body will respond to what you put in front of it," said Jason Stella, a certified personal trainer and national brand developer for Life Time Fitness, based in Chanhassen, Minn. "If you're not changing your workouts, you're not going to continue to see the benefit."

There's no doubt that exercise offers an abundance of pluses. Getting 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lowers a person's risk of premature death, heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Even more benefits are gained from increasing the amount of time spent exercising and by doing muscle-strengthening activities in addition to a cardiovascular workout.

Focusing on a single type of exercise could result in an overuse injury. In addition, a person who neglects to increase the intensity or duration of an exercise program won't see improvement. The body will adapt, and a person who had been losing weight may plateau or start to see the scale figure climb upward.

There's also the psychological element to coming back to the same old fitness routine. "Variation allows people to keep their routine fresh so they don't get bored, it doesn't become stale," said Rex Wilcox, who has a master's degree in exercise science and is manager of an employee wellness program in Wichita, Kansas.

Adding Something New
If your routine has stagnated, there are a number of ways to get it back on track:

  • Try muscle-strengthening activities, which increase bone strength and muscular fitness. They include resistance bands, push-ups and even digging and hoeing in the garden.
  • Tennis, swimming, dancing, and cycling offer cardiovascular benefit.
  • Pilates builds core strength.
  • Yoga can reduce stress and improve balance, flexibility, and strength.

A person who loves exercising on a treadmill or elliptical machine does not have to give up that style of workout but can benefit from interval training. Rather than moving at a steady pace, Wilcox suggests doing a short warmup, increasing the pace for a few minutes, slowing down, and then returning to a faster pace. "Your body has to adjust and more efficiently deliver oxygen to your muscles," he said.

If you have questions about what to try, meeting with a personal trainer at a fitness center can yield a number of workout ideas. A gym or fitness center may offer an upbeat cardio workout in the form of a Zumba class or may provide kettlebell training, which has cardio and strength benefits.

Focusing on Fitness
An athlete looking to excel in a sport will likely have different fitness goals than a person looking to get in shape and drop a few pounds. Exercises can target a number of areas, Stella noted, including proficiency in strength, speed, power, endurance, flexibility, coordination, and agility.

The skills an athlete is looking to develop will depend on the activity being pursued. "A basketball player will have different abilities than a rower, a cyclist or a triathlete," Stella said.

Endurance is typically a goal of a cyclist, runner, or triathlete, while basketball or football players are building toward bursts of strength and power. A decathlete may be the most well-rounded athlete of all, Stella adds, because proficiency is needed in so many areas.

Athletes dedicated to a particular sport are typically not as well-rounded as a decathlete, however. A person focused on improving in a single sport may excel in one area of fitness but decline in others. A long-distance runner, for example, will have lower levels of strength than a sprinter. "When you are doing marathons, you break down muscle tissue and are not going to be as strong as a sprinter," Stella said.

A personal trainer can help an athlete develop a routine that will bring about peak performance. Stella notes that an athlete may see better results from a routine of eight to 12 exercises than constantly trying something radically different. The key is to appropriately change variables such as weight, repetitions, and tempo.

"You have to keep placing stress on your body or you will not give it a reason to continually change," he said.

The Element of Enjoyment
The skills that are important to athletes -- such as endurance, balance, flexibility, and strength -- are important to everyone, especially as they age. A person looking for general fitness development and good physical health will benefit from a routine that encourages the body to improve, just as an athlete does. That doesn't mean you have to push yourself to the point that exercise becomes a chore, however. Adjusting your routine can help you find styles of exercise you enjoy.

"The best way for you to exercise is to do what you like to do," Stella said. "If you like doing the same thing, you'll get more benefit from that than if you're not doing anything at all."

Posted by Terri Dougherty, editor of the LivingRight Health and Wellness Awareness Bulletin from J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

Posted by Terri L. Dougherty on Mar 19, 2012

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