This just in: Your workout might not be helping you as much as it could. The truth is, you cannot do the same exercise program over and over again and expect better results — it’s best to change your routine periodically to give your body the stimulus it needs to recover and grow.
Thankfully, there are common signs to tell you when it’s time for a workout reboot. If you ignore them, you could plateau, get poor results or even hurt yourself. But if you pay attention to the signs, you’ll overcome previous limits and make continual improvements toward your goal.
1. YOU’RE NOT GETTING THE RESULTS YOU WANT
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” as the saying goes.
If you’re not seeing the fat loss or muscle gain you want, you’ve probably reached a plateau and your program simply isn’t cutting it anymore.
That’s because there’s a standard process that happens to your body when you start a new training program (called the “General Adaptation Syndrome”). First, the new workout routine is a shock to your system, which forces your body to grow, get stronger and burn more calories as a result. Over time, however, your body gets accustomed to your training program, and you’ll need more stimulus for both muscle gain and fat loss.
To avoid spinning your wheels, change your workout program every 4–6 weeks. That’s the perfect amount of time to get the most results from your program without worrying about staying stagnant or getting bored.
2. YOU DON’T LOOK FORWARD TO TRAINING
If you’re dreading another workout, it’s usually a telltale sign your workout program needs a change. Even the best-laid programs get stale after a while. Worse, if you’re bored by your routine, chances are you won’t stay consistent or feel motivated to go to the gym in the first place.
Instead, break out of your rut with different training methods or exercises. For example, if you’re used to resistance machines, try 4–6 weeks of free-weight exercises. If you usually do barbell exercises, try bodyweight exercises. If you don’t like cardio, try going for a relaxing jog or hike a few times a week.
By doing a variety of physical activities, you’ll have more fun with your exercise and train your body on a wide range of movements and skills (instead of doing the same thing repeatedly).
3. YOU FEEL BEAT UP
Do you constantly feel tired or sore? Do you feel aches and pains creeping up around your body? If so, it’s time to change your workout program.
If you push your body to its limits every workout, you’ll struggle to recover from each training session. Over time, this could lead to overtraining, illness and injuries.
Worse, if you have aches and pains in your joints or muscles, fighting through it is always a bad idea. That’s because pain affects how you move, how you recover and how you feel.
If you’re feeling beat up from your training, take an extra day of complete rest each week and incorporate more “recovery” workouts — easy days where you focus on light, aerobic work and feeling better when you leave the gym than when you came in.
4. YOU’RE NOT CHALLENGING YOURSELF
On the other end of the spectrum, your workouts might be too easy. This means you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough.
As a rule of thumb, your weight-training workouts and high-intensity days should land at an 8 on a scale from 1–10 with 1 being easy and 10 being unbearably hard. (Or, as I say, if you’re checking your phone during a “hard” workout, it’s too easy.)
Then, when you lift weights, challenge yourself. As another rule of thumb, use a weight that you can only do about 2 extra reps beyond the number of sets you’re supposed to do. For example, if your workout calls for 5 reps, you should use a weight you can only lift for about 7 reps.
5. YOU’RE DOING WHAT YOU “WANT,” NOT WHAT YOU “NEED”
If you write your own workout routine, chances are you’ll do the things you like and avoid the things you don’t like. Yet it’s the things you don’t like that will probably give you the best overall results — leg exercises, back exercises, corrective drills and cardio are usually at the top of that list.
Make sure your workout program has at least one of the following:
- A squat variation
- A deadlift variation
- A lunge variation
- A pullup or row variation
- A pushup variation
- At least one entire day dedicated to aerobic conditioning (heart rate between 120–150 bpm)
If you have these essentials, you’ll be well on your way to hard-hitting, total-body results.