We all want to have great workouts to melt fat, add more muscle and improve our health and fitness. But to move to the next level, the all-too common ways to “upgrade” your workout include adding more weight to your exercises, doing more sets, doing more reps or all the above.
Unfortunately, at a certain point, you’re not going to be able to add much more in each category consistently. Instead, you need to find new ways to upgrade your training routine to continue to see results and get your body to transform.
Here are some of the best and simplest ways to take your workouts to the next level — and none of them have to do with just increasing your weight.
DIVERSIFY YOUR RESISTANCE
When most people think of “resistance,” they think about traditional weights like dumbbells and barbells. But that’s just one of many tools to add variety to your resistance training.
Here are some great ways to upgrade common exercises:
Instead of doing a bench press, try band-resisted pushups which make the exercise increasingly harder as you push up and help you develop more explosiveness
Instead of doing front squats with a barbell, try front squats with two kettlebells for more core activation, upper-body development and total-body stability
Use cable machines for arm exercises — because of its pulley system, this gives you the same exact resistance throughout an entire movement. (If you use a dumbbell for a bicep curl, however, the resistance is highest at the mid-point and easiest near the beginning and end.)
RECONSIDER YOUR WARMUP
Take your workout to the next level by mastering what you do before you start.
First, don’t just do a few stretches, a quick jog and then start lifting weights — warm up correctly with the right blend of foam rolling, dynamic stretches and activation drills. This helps prepare your body and mind to give its very best each and every time you go to the gym, which prevents injuries and potentially even improves your performance.
Next, your warmup sets should be short. Generally, people do too many reps and sets before they get to their “working weight,” which wastes energy and strength. Instead, start with lighter weights and increase each warmup set by roughly 30–45 pounds. Also, do 5 reps at the very most and gradually decrease the number of reps as you get closer to your working weight.
TRY UNILATERAL EXERCISES
Most exercises target both arms or both legs simultaneously like a squat, deadlift or pushup (called “bilateral training”). Yet by using exercises that target each arm and leg separately — called “unilateral training” — you can unlock tremendous improvements for your fitness and body.
First, by using one side at a time, you instantly make each exercise harder because you’re using a smaller base of support. This also increases the activation of your core and your stabilizing muscles to enhance your body’s overall strength, power and balance.
Second, it helps eliminate any asymmetries where one side or one limb is stronger than the opposite one. This helps prevent injuries and improves your movement patterns.
Third, it burns more calories because you have to do every exercise twice — once on the left side and once on the right.
When people lift heavy weights or do intense intervals, they’ll often grunt, struggle and twist their face like they’re in extreme pain.
Stop doing this — instead, do everything as relaxed and as calm as possible. When you’re exercising, you’re training your body, but you’re also training your brain. So, if you’re training your brain to use your highest stress-response to lift weights, that becomes your only way of exercising.
Lifting weights without the drama trains your body to handle heavy weights with ease and, thus, increases your ceiling.
HONOR YOUR COOLDOWN
Instead of beelining it to the shower, take a few minutes to do some relaxing breathing exercises and drills. This is an important step to turn down your body’s stress-response (and calm your autonomic nervous system) so you can start your recovery process sooner.
Second, spend a few moments on a foam roller to help release and relax your tired muscles, clear waste and promote blood flow. This helps accelerate recovery and reduces potential soreness afterward.
Finally, get some post-workout nutrition — whether that’s with a snack, a smoothie or a protein shake — to replenish what your body loses during training and it what it needs to repair, rebuild, and grow.