You know that lady who’s on the elliptical every time you hit the gym, slogging through an hour cardio workout every single day? Her eyes glaze over as she stares at the TV mounted on the wall ten feet ahead of her, looking bored as all get-out, and you wonder, how the heck does she do that every day?!
Fear not! Starting a workout routine does not mean endless miles logged on the treadmill or elliptical. You don’t have to be bored out of your mind for an hour every day to get fit. I will show you how to add variety to your workouts, so that you stay consistent and don’t burn out from boredom.
If variety is the spice of life, it’s also the glue that holds together our workout routines. Without a little variety, we’d get bored and give up on exercise before getting a chance to get consistent.
On the other hand, too much variety doesn’t allow our bodies to improve at the exercises we’re doing. Fitness is a skill, and like any other skill, it requires repetition to get better at it.
How do you balance the repetition necessary to get stronger and improve your performance without getting bored and giving up altogether?
There’s a simple formula I follow with all of my training sessions – whether I’m training myself, or my clients who just want to lose weight, get in shape, and look and feel “fit.” And I’d like to share that formula with you so that you can defeat gym boredom and stay consistent with your exercise routine.
First, focus your workout on a main lift. These should be full-body movements like squats, hip hinges (deadlift), upper body pushes (bench press, shoulder press), and upper body pulls (rows, pull ups, pull downs). Pick one exercise as your main lift and keep it consistent week to week in order to build skill and proficiency with the movement. Progress each week by adding sets, reps, or heavier weight. This is the repetitive part of your routine. Don’t worry, it shouldn’t take long. Allow yourself 10-15 minutes for your main lift. Warm up with a few light sets, then get to work. Using four to six sets in the 3-5 or 5-8 rep range is perfect here.
Then, practice a skill. Have fun with this! Let’s say you really want to get your first pull up. Set a timer for 5-10 minutes and just practice: hang from a pull up bar, do jumping pull ups, use a band for assistance, or an assisted pull up machine (if your gym has one). Don’t worry so much about sets and reps here, just practice the skill for your predetermined amount of time.
Next, perform accessory movements in higher rep ranges to build muscle tone. This is your opportunity to add variety compared to the major movement you used at the beginning of the workout. If your main movement was barbell back squats, you could hit lunges, split squats, or kettlebell goblet squats to continue working your glutes and thighs. Use a variety of rep ranges for your accessory movements (between 10-20 reps per set is perfect). You’ll want to “feel the burn” on these exercises, and feel the muscles that you’re targeting doing the work on each rep. Spend ten to fifteen minutes on accessory accessory exercises.
Finally, have some FUN by ending your workout with a challenging finisher! These mini-workouts are a great way to increase your heart rate, burn a ton of calories, incinerate body fat, and make you feel like you accomplished something with your workout. Plus, they’re limited only by your imagination. I like Tabata intervals, “every minute on the minute” with escalating reps, and AMRAP’s (as many reps possible). All of these finishers use a clock to push you.
Tabata: Set a timer or set yourself up facing a clock. A “true” Tabata requires 20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated for four minutes (8 rounds total). It can be extremely challenging because the work period is longer than the rest period. I recommend starting with an “inverted” Tabata (10 sec work :: 20 sec rest) until your conditioning is strong enough to tackle the higher work to rest ratio.
Pick an exercise that doesn’t require a lot of technique. Jumping rope or bodyweight exercises like push ups or pull ups are great for this. Kettlebell swings are also an awesome choice if you have practice with that exercise. Set your timer and perform repetitions until the “work” period is up, then rest 10 or 20 seconds, and repeat until the timer ends.
Every minute on the minute: Set a running clock. On the first minute, perform one rep of an exercise. Easy, right? So far. On the second minute, perform two reps of the exercise. Still not too bad. On the third minute, you’ll do three reps; on the fourth minute, four reps; and so on.
The workout ends when you can no longer complete the number of reps of the minute you’re on. The best exercises for this are full body movements with moderate weights (like squats, deadlifts, presses) or bodyweight movements like burpees, push ups, or pull ups.
AMRAP: Set a timer. Pick 2-3 exercises (alternating between upper and lower body is great). Try to get as many repetitions as possible before the timer ends. Good time frames for finishers are between five and fifteen minutes. If you’re in really good shape, you can push to a twenty minute range, but I don’t recommend doing that often because (a) it sucks, and (b) you risk overtraining since you’ve already worked out before this.
Try this sample workout: In 15-minutes, complete as many rounds of five push ups and fifteen kettlebell swings as you can. Work at a pace you can sustain for those fifteen minutes (don’t start sprinting out of the gate as soon as the timer starts because you’ll burn out too quickly); but, for the last minute or so, really push yourself to get as many reps possible.
Keep “score” as an added challenge. In this scenario, each round is worth 20 reps, so if you make 10 rounds plus 3 push ups before time runs out, you’re score is 203. You can try to beat your score in a couple weeks to see if you’ve improved.
After the finisher, you’re done! Pat yourself on the back and head home.
This fitness formula incorporates the consistency and repetition necessary to build strength and skill in the gym, while balancing it with enough exercise variety to avoid boredom. Finishers create fun challenges that keep you motivated, so you stay consistent.
How would this look in a typical training week? For general fitness and weight loss, I recommend that my clients strength train 3-4 times per week, for about 45-60 minutes per day.
Let’s say you can hit the gym Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. A sample workout schedule would look like this:
The next week, you would repeat the main lift (squat, shoulder press, deadlift, bench) with more sets or reps, or heavier weight on the bar. You could mix and match the skills you’re practicing, or work on the same one each session (practice makes perfect, after all). Use a variety of accessory movements to avoid boredom. Sprinkle in your favorites, like tons of bicep curls, just because you feel like it.
Then, if you have time and energy, finish off the workout with a Tabata, AMRAP, or Every-Minute-on-the-Minute challenge. Get creative. How much can you push yourself? What combinations can you think up? Is there something more difficult than a burpee you could add to the mix?
Spending 10-15 minutes on each segment of the workout will add up to about an hour, which is the perfect time limit to put on your workouts if you’re training three to four days each week. Keep things short and intense. And for the love of Pete, don’t spend that hour on the elliptical.
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