Consistently working out can get you in the shape of your life.
But keeping a consistent routine will lead to boredom, burnout, and plateauing fitness as your mind and body adapt and halt improvement.
“The best way to supercharge your workout is to make small tweaks or add new moves that engage different body parts and take you out of your comfort zone,” says Jimmy Minardi, ISSA-certified personal trainer and founder of Minardi Training in New York City. “By focusing on a combination of exercises that work each muscle group, and keep things interesting, you’re more likely to see big fitness gains.”
Get started with these 11 upgrade ideas, all easy to incorporate into any routine.
1. Upgrade Your Warm-Up
A few minutes of light cardio might make the grade as P.E. class warm-up, but it won’t prep your body for the physical demands of a hard-charging routine. That can stall your performance and also sideline you with injuries, says Andrew Aranzamendez, NASM performance enhancement specialist at Life Time Athletic in Montvale, New Jersey. The right warm-up goes like this: five minutes of dynamic stretches to get blood flowing and heat up muscles and joints, then 5-10 minutes on a treadmill, rowing machine, or StairMaster; hard enough to break a sweat, he says. Then you’re ready to start.
2. Add Inclines to Your Run
Give your regular run a jolt by heading for the hills, literally. Running on an incline torches more calories, increases your endurance, and improves speed by building stronger leg muscles. If you’re an outdoor runner, go with a route that has uneven ground, working up to steeper surfaces and not sweating the slower pace. On the treadmill, Minardi suggests starting at the speed of a slow jog, then gradually upping the incline to 15 while keeping the speed the same. “At your maximum heart rate, begin lowering the incline on the treadmill, continuing to run until it’s completely flat,” he says.
3. Lunge in All Directions
“Nothing benefits runners and other endurance athletes like a simple lunge,” says Aranzamendez. But relying too much on one bodyweight move can get you acclimated to it and your results will plateau. The solution: multidirectional lunges, which have you lunging forward, sideways to the left and right, and backward, says Aranzamendez, building leg muscles, core strength, and stability.
4. Expand Your Performance With Plyometrics
Whether you lift, play a sport, or prefer long runs, nothing offers an immediate performance boost like plyometrics — explosive sets of high-intensity body-weight moves that fire up your muscles and crank your heart rate. “Plyometrics shock your system, stimulating muscles and nerves so you build strength, speed, and stamina,” says Aranzamendez. A series of studies completed in 2014 by Spanish researchers back this up, suggesting that 20-30 minutes of hops and jumps with anywhere from a 30-second to 2-minute break between sets ‘significantly’ improved the physical performance of soccer players. There are hundreds of different plyo moves, but Aranzamendez suggests combining box jumps with one-legged deadlifts that finish with a hop to improve strength and power. And, no surprise, they burn serious calories.
5. Build Your Six-Pack With a Medicine Ball
In the quest for abs that pop, most guys overlook this gym gear staple, which challenges core stability for added muscle growth. Minardi suggests the medicine ball abdominal throw: In a seated position, lift both legs in the air, lean back, and throw the ball up in the air and catch it 10 times without lowering your legs. “Having to support your legs will force you to engage you abdominal muscles,” he says. Or use a medicine ball on a slant board: Hook your feet under the top of the board, hold the ball overhead, and recline all the way down. The downhill slant and extra weight add an extra challenge for your abs.
6. Take a Break From Weights
Not to knock lifting, but the more time you spend doing it, the more likely you are to end up with injuries stemming from overuse or incorrect form. So take a two-week hiatus and focus only on bodyweight exercises, which are easier on your system yet also increase muscle, suggests Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S., fitness trainer and author of Turbulence Training. There are hundreds of moves you can do, and many do not require any equipment at all, just your own body resistance, he says. Mountain climbers, burpees, planks, push-ups — if you haven’t done them in a while, you’ll be surprised how tough they can be.
7. Hit the Circuit
Circuit training has a lightweight reputation, but hear us out: By using moderate-weight or bodyweight moves and lots of repetition with little rest between each move, your heart rate is always elevated and your muscles constantly challenged. The result is you incinerate calories while increasing muscle endurance. Plus, without rest periods, you move through it fast, so you’re in and out of the gym quickly and efficiently. Aranzamendez suggests designing a circuit that includes four basic moves of your choosing: “one should be a push, like a shoulder or bench press, then a pull, like a lateral pull-down, followed by a squat exercise, and a core move.” Do five circuits with 15-20 reps of each exercise. “Go right into each exercise without a break, and then do it all over again, or mix in different moves that hit each of the four categories,” he says.
8. Do More Jumping Jacks
This do-anywhere move — that’s one of the best weight-bearing exercises on the planet — is ridiculously underrated, says Minardi. “Jumping jacks provide a full-body cardio and agility workout that targets every muscle group,” he says. Mix up your routine by finishing with 30 regular jacks to it, then doing 30 split jacks: Stagger your stance with one foot forward, the other back. Or try doing these on soft surface like a thick mat or sand to add more resistance, suggests Minardi.
9. Increase Your One-Rep Max With Intervals
To boost your 1RM, you could spend hours pinned under a bar. Or you could work on your form via an interval routine. “Most guys don’t have good form when they lift, and without the right form, you won’t improve, and you set yourself up for injuries,” says Minardi. He suggests these moves, which target quads and glutes and enhance stability and coordination for lower-body moves, especially versions of the squat. “Taking a 15-second break between moves, start with 45 seconds of box jumps while holding hand weights or a medicine ball, then 45 seconds of lateral side lunges on a low box,” says Minardi. “End with 10 reps of Smith Machine squats.” The Smith Machine helps you build resistance and practice form, he says, “it’s like training wheels are to a bicycle.” Repeat the interval three times, and in a few weeks, check your progress.
10. Don’t Blow Off the Cool Down
It’s all too easy to head straight to the showers after your last rep or mile, but a cool down gives your system a chance to gradually dial back to its normal heart rate and blood pressure level. While all your hard work won’t come undone if you skip it, a cool down will help you mentally and physically transition out of workout mode. After finishing up a hard-charging workout, walk for two minutes, then do 5-10 minutes of static stretches that target your arms, legs, and core, says Aranzamendez.
11. Add Weekly Yoga
If your day job keeps you sitting in a chair all day, hear us out. “One or two days a week, go to a yoga class instead of your usual cardio or strength training workout,” says Aranzamendez. “It’s an excellent way to improve flexibility and mobility and works out the stiffness in your back and neck that happens when you’re sitting all day,” All that stretching and breathing will crank up your performance in the weight room or on the treadmill, thanks to loosening tight muscles and improving your range of motion.