Are your workouts giving you all the results they should be? Because chances are, you could make your workouts more effective – like, a LOT more effective!
Let’s take a step back.
My fitness journey has been a whirlwind. It’s crazy to think that up until a few years ago, even after 10+ years of running, I knew so little about exercise. And I’m still learning every single day!
Now that I’ve made the transition from solely running to cross-training and weight lifting, I’ve noticed such a change in my strength and endurance. I’ve gotten so committed to regular exercise and have become so much stronger – which means I now have to make my workouts more effective.
It’s a good problem to have! But it takes a little more planning and creativity.
This post is for veteran fitness nuts and exercise newbies alike. Not only are these tips extremely helpful when starting out, they also allow those with a strong exercise background to continue challenging themselves.
That being said, this post will be most useful for those who already exercise regularly and switch up their exercise routines. If you don’t currently change up your workouts in order to prevent plateauing, you should read this post first! It will help you get fun ideas for routine swaps to keep your body guessing.
But as for today’s post, we’re going over the little ways you can progress your workout to make it more challenging – and thus more effective!
Because who isn’t up for faster results?
Please note: Check with your physician before starting any exercise routine or starting any particular diet. See this Disclaimer for more details. This post may contain affiliate links. For details, please visit my Disclosure page. Thank you!
13 Simple Tweaks to Make Your Workouts More Effective
1. Fuel up!
With the trends of intermittent fasting and fasted workouts blowing up, this may seem like it’s not the best tip.
But research studies have yet to settle on a proven conclusion that fasting prior to workouts helps burn extra body fat. In fact, some researchers warn that fasted exercise may cause the body to pull needed calories from muscles – certainly not what you want!
Regardless of your stance on fasted workouts, if you’re hungry going into your exercise, you’re not going to perform your best. More likely than not, you’ll be tired, your stomach will be upset, and all you’ll be thinking about is your awaiting breakfast.
So don’t make that mistake. Don’t work out hungry!
2. Refuel quickly afterwards with protein and carbs
Another common mistake is putting in the time at the gym but not in the kitchen. After your workout, you need to refuel with a meal containing both protein and carbohydrates – within the hour.
While many people know protein is important for muscle repair and growth, not everyone is aware that carbohydrates are crucial as well. Carbs help with protein absorption. So if you only have protein – say, a piece of chicken – you’re going to get less of a benefit than if you’d had it with a side of brown rice.
RELATED POST: How to Use Protein Powder – All Your Questions Answered
3. Stay hydrated
Yes, another basic one. But sometimes it’s the simplest things that we neglect. This is just your daily reminder to stay hydrated so you’ll be in tip top shape for your workout.
4. Engage your muscles
If you’re an experienced lifter, you may be rolling your eyes at me.
But all of us are guilty of just going through the exercise motions at one point or another.
In an “11 abs” workout video I love, YouTuber Chloe Ting makes the comment, “Again, engage that core. We have to work it for those abs.”
While a simple comment, it’s a needed reminder in the middle of a tough exercise. When it comes to exercises we find particularly challenging, we’ll often forget the main reason we’re performing them. In the case of this YouTube video, Chloe’s giving yet another reminder that although engaging your core will make the movement feel harder, you have to push your muscles to make the changes you want.
The little things matter when it comes to getting the absolute best results from your workout.
Engage your muscles so you get the full benefit of every exercise!
5. Use (more unstable) free weights
A dumbbell chest press and a barbell chest press may seem like the same exact exercise, but they’re not.
When you use a barbell, your two hands on the equipment provide more stabilization than if you were holding two dumbbells individually, meaning you won’t get as much of a challenge from the exercise.
And if you were to use a machine to perform a chest press, the exercise is stabilized for you even more. While this may be helpful for increasing the amount of weight you can press, it’s really a tactic to reserve for very experienced lifters looking to pack on tons of muscle (aka for hypertrophy) and for high power moves. When starting out and even for intermediate lifters, your muscles will benefit more from the unstable dumbbell chest press.
So to boost up the challenge – and your results – opt for free weights over machines (the more unstable the better!).
6. One-sided movements
Another easy way to make an exercise more unstable is to perform it one-sided. Your body will have to balance under the unequal weight distribution, forcing your core to engage.
For example, a one-legged squat or deadlift is not only going to force your planted leg to support more weight, it’s also going to recruit your entire core so you don’t fall over. Even holding a heavy dumbbell in one hand during a lunge will do the trick. Rather than leaning to one side, your muscles will have to work harder to keep you upright, delivering more bang for your buck.
Secret: this is why weight training in general will help with ab toning. While ab-specific moves like crunches, Russian twists, and leg lifts are great, you’ll end up working out your abs while performing so many other strength moves. And unstable moves are especially great for defining your abs!
7. Lift fast, lower slow
For some, this method may be second nature. For others, it may be your ticket to some surprising new muscle gains.
When I started performing a powerful lift and then a slow lowering phase, I noticed a huge difference: meaning increased soreness the next day and an increase in muscle growth.
For more on this, check out my post on 12 common exercise mistakes and how to fix them (there’s even a video example!).
8. Don’t be afraid to lift heavier and change up your reps
I recently realized I’ve been stuck lifting the same amount of weight every workout. I’d been waiting until I knew I could complete the same amount of reps with the heavier weight – but this was a mistake.
While perusing The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises by Adam Campbell, I was reminded about the importance of varying your weights and reps regularly.
As Campbell notes in the book, when you lift heavy, it’s okay (and encouraged) to only do 1-5 reps. That’s because you’re working so much harder and engaging more muscle fibers. So your muscles tire more quickly.
The best thing to do is lift at all ranges of reps: 1-5 reps, 6-10 reps, and 11 reps and higher. He even recommends performing all three different rep ranges (with corresponding weight amounts) across the week; think Monday low reps, Wednesday medium reps, and Friday high reps, for example. It’ll increase your strength, endurance, and muscle size much quicker – and who doesn’t want that??
9. Do at least 30 reps of an exercise
Regardless of the exercise, it’s best to aim for 30 reps total. Provided you are using challenging weights, 30 is the number of reps that’s been shown to effectively make changes to your muscle tissue.
Adjust the amount of sets accordingly. So if you perform 5 reps each set, perform 6 sets total. And if you perform 15 reps each set, perform 2 sets total.
If you’re feeling ambitious and want to do more sets, be sure to complete no more than 50 reps. If you can perform more than 50 reps, you’re not pushing yourself as hard as you could. Your workout would have been more effective had you increased the weight or the number of reps in a set.
10. Work in some HIIT
Another way to push yourself is by adding in some high intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT is a great way to challenge yourself, allowing you to push to higher intensities than you otherwise would during a steady-state 30 minute cardio session.
For details on how to effectively perform HIIT for the best results, check out this post.
11. Turn on the tunes
If you find yourself struggling through workouts, unable to give it your all, you may simply need a motivation boost. One quick fix is to make a playlist of upbeat songs you love. They’ll pump you up and push through that last difficult set with flawless form.
RELATED POST: How to Stay Motivated to Work Out
12. Have a plan so you know what you’re targeting each day
If you don’t plan ahead, you may not be working all the muscle groups you should at the most optimal times. This could simply be because you forgot which exercises you did on which days or just because you don’t have a clear goal in mind.
I highly recommend getting a fitness planner so you stay on top of your goals and your exercises.
For example, right now one of my goals is to correct my upper-crossed syndrome. This is just personal trainer lingo for having rounded, hunched shoulders and a neck that sticks forward. It’s very common, and I probably got it over the years from sitting at my desk. It’s certainly not the most flattering posture, but it can also contribute to injuries down the line, especially as I strength train other muscle groups. So I’m making it a priority of my training. I plan to do 2 strengthening exercises and 2 stretches geared towards correcting this posture, and will do them 3 days a week.
Boom. I have a plan, it’s written down (now in 2 places), and it’ll be much easier for me to stick to.
If you haven’t invested in a fitness planner, it’s one of the best tools for achieving your fitness goals.
You can find my favorites in this post.
13. Add some key pieces of equipment
When in doubt, add some equipment to take your workout to the next level. It can make a huge difference!
When your body has gotten used to certain bodyweight exercises, it’s often hard to progress the exercises on your own. If you’re really dedicated to achieving your goals and want to get your results faster, some simple pieces of equipment are the way to go. And no, I’m not talking about a fancy weight machine. It’s way less expensive than that.
Resistance bands are a simple way to ramp up a movement’s tension. Lateral walking squats too easy? Add a resistance band just above or below your knees and then try it out. Not so easy anymore!
Self.com has an article on how adding resistance bands around your wrists during sit-ups can greatly improve your form while also working your upper body and lats – which normally wouldn’t get any benefit from the move.
Make no mistake: resistance bands are a handy little piece of equipment.
Ankle weights are an extremely simple way to add more resistance to movements your body’s gotten used to. And they don’t have to be heavy. A little goes a long way with ankle weights.
For example, if leg lifts are no longer challenging your abs, throw on a pair of 1 lb ankle weights and your abs will instantly be forced to work again. Lunges just got a whole lot tougher too!
An exercise ball is great for adding instability to a movement you’ve mastered. Are planks a cinch? Try putting your legs up on the exercise ball. Still easy? Use your legs to roll the ball in towards your chest (also called a Swiss-Ball Jackknife). You’ll feel that one!
A Bosu ball is similar to an exercise ball, but with one key difference: it’s cut in half. And the other side is a flat plastic surface.
Because the Bosu ball has only one rounded side, a new realm of exercise progressions is open to you. Push-ups with the rounded side down will present a new stabilization challenge. Even regular squats with the rounded side up will be a lot more challenging.
Bosu balls, along with the other pieces of equipment, will instantly make your workouts more effective for the results you want!
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