Harder workouts, what?! Don’t panic and go running for the hills (well actually hill running is what you may end up doing), at some point the workouts you are doing are going to become easier, mainly because your body will adapt and you will also become stronger. This means in order to progress you need to change things up so here are 12 tips on how to make your workout harder but still keeping it enjoyable.
Make it heavier
It might be the most obvious way of making your workout harder but it works. As you get stronger you need to start increasing the weight you are lifting so that you are constantly challenging your muscles, no challenge no change! But don’t go so heavy you sacrifice your form, go as heavy as you can for your rep range so that you are only just able to get that last rep out while still keeping good form throughout the movement.
Choose more challenging exercises this e.g. if you have been doing lunges go for squats or add in full body movements that will get you working all your muscles together. Think about what your current exercises are and think about what could make them more challenging.
Full range of motion
Use your full range of motion when completing your exercise, you should be doing this anyway but not everyone does. A good example of this is the squat, one of the best exercises for your lower body but it is not uncommon to see people not using their full range of motion and only competing half squats. Squat to at least parallel but try to take it further if you are able to, ass to grass! Taking your squat lower may require you to go a bit lighter in weight (if you do weighted squats) to begin with. If you find yourself unable to deep squat even with light to no weight it i possible you don’t have that range of motion yet and need to work on increasing your range of motion and flexibility.
21s – Bicep curls
This could link in to the tip above 21s will ensure you use your full range of motion as the movement is split up. This is a great way of making something harder, in this case the Bicep Curl. Here’s how to do 21s.
Use Free-weights / Kettlebells
An easy way to make your workouts harder if you use machines i.e. leg press, leg curl, leg extension, shoulder press, chest press etc. is to move to free weights. By moving away from machines and using the free weights you will be using more muscles to do the same exercise as you won’t be isolating your muscles and therefore use more muscles that are activated when you need to stabilize and balance. Moving from bodyweight to free weights is more about making the exercise harder by adding weight (same as tip 1). If you are able to get an instructor to show you how to use kettlebells this would be a great way of making exercises such as the squat press more challenging as they require different movements and techniques.
Run Hills / Increase the Incline
Cardio, you may think the best way to work harder is to either jog / run further or faster but there are other options. If running on a treadmill then increase your incline so you are effectively running up a hill, this will, without fail, be more challenging if you keep the same pace as you would normally, but even if you slow your speed you will be getting a more challenging workout. If you run outside then find a nice hill to incorporate into your workout, or several hills.
Lunges Up a Hill
Do you do lunges? A great lower body exercise but, other than adding weight, how can you make the move harder? How about adding some walking lunges up a hill, hit the treadmill, increase the incline and off you go. Or find a steep hill. If you don’t do lunges why not give them a go and feel how effective they are.
I am sure you know about intervals but do you do them? For intervals you will be aiming to do a set amount of time at one speed and then a set amount of time at a faster speed. So you could work on a ratio of 2:1 for example. 2 minutes at your normal speed e.g. 9 kph and then 1 minute at a faster speed of 12 kph and then back down to 9kph. You choose what speeds and ratio you work out at as these will differ for everyone, the idea is to do your average speed and then push yourself to a faster speed for a short amount of time. High Intensity Interval training is also an effective way of burning more calories in a shorter amount of time.
Instead of moving from one exercise to another after completing a set amount of reps and sets and taking a rest between each set do timed circuits. Have about 5/6 exercises planned out and do each exercise for 1 minute with no break in-between exercises, then take a rest after you have completed one circuit. Repeat until you have completed your desired number of circuits.
Don’t work out the same muscle group two days in a row
This doesn’t sound like a way to make the workout harder but it is a way to make your workouts more effective and a smarter way of working out. If you have rest days between your workouts then it will not really affect you but if you prefer to work out 5 days in a row then take two days off, then think about the way you workout. If you work out your same muscle groups two days in a row you won’t give them time to recover which means your second day of working out will not be as effective although it will feel like you are working harder as the muscles will be fatigued so you will need more effort to get the same results as the day before. Split your routines up so one day you work your lower body and the next day your upper body or vice versa. If you do full body work outs then it is better to have a rest day in between or a cardio only day.
By using a Bosu ball or stability ball you can make certain exercises harder. For instance push ups, do one normally on the ground, easy you say. Grab and stability ball and place your hands on it and do another push up – is it as easy? Swap the gym bench for a stability ball and do shoulder presses, hammer curls, sit ups etc. and you will find they are harder. Use a Bosu ball for standing exercises.
If you are going to use an unstable surface make sure you are careful and take it slowly, also if you use weights you will need to reduce the weight you use. I suggest you try the movements with no weight to begin with.
Take time off
Be careful of over training, it can feel like you are working harder but you may be doing more harm than good, your body needs time to recover (during this time the small tears in your muscle fibres repair themselves and this is what helps increase their strength) so it is important that you take 1-2 days off per week – if you don’t you are increasing your risk of injury.
Remember that a lot of the time when you think you cannot do any more it is usually your mind that gives up before your body. So you can push yourself that bit harder to get out that last burst of speed or finish off that last rep. Don’t overdo it though as you don’t want to injure yourself.