From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Many people get into fitness ruts and hit plateaus after a few months of doing the same routine. The solution is simple: mix it up. Try these solutions:

Are you coasting on your aerobic activities?
Repeatedly doing the same walk in the park or jog on the treadmill can sabotage your results. To truly boost your fitness (which enables you to burn more calories with less effort), you need to venture outside your comfort zone a couple of times a week, to the point where you can feel your heart rate increase. (Before starting any physical activity program, check with your healthcare provider first.)

  • Beginner
    Instead of taking your regular walk in the park, add a few hills or increase the speed at which you walk. Start off at your regular pace and kick it up a notch for a minute or two, then go back to your regular pace. Repeat five times.
  • Intermediate/advanced
    Similarly, zoning out on the treadmill by reading a magazine or watching TV will not challenge your aerobic fitness. Ditch the publication or turn off the tube, and then mix in some high-intensity intervals once or twice a week. For example, after warming up for 5 minutes on the treadmill, increase the speed or incline for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then recover with 1 to 3 minutes of easy-to-moderate exercise. Keep alternating for 15 to 20 minutes, then cool down.

Are you doing the same strength workout all the time?
If you do the same strength training routine over and over, your muscles will simply adapt. You're likely to hit a plateau because each exercise stimulates only a limited number of muscles. However, if you challenge your muscles from a variety of angles by adding or alternating moves periodically, you'll develop more strength.

For each muscle group, learn an additional 2 to 3 exercises, trying new angles or equipment. (It’s best to get instruction from a trainer, but there are also plenty of books and videos you can access to get new ideas.) Expand your strength-training repertoire enough so that you can change your entire routine every 6 to 8 weeks.

  • Beginner
    For instance if you normally do two sets of 12 repetitions with 10-lb free weights (dumbbells), try increasing it to three sets. Or try two sets with 12-lb weights.
  • Intermediate/advanced
    If you are currently using the chest-press machine, try the dumbbell chest press or the bench press with a barbell. In other words, try different machines.

Have you been doing the same-old, same-old?
It's only natural to be intimidated by equipment you've never used or classes you've never taken. But venturing into new territory may be just the ticket to better results. If you've never tried strength training, ask a trainer or a friend to teach you a few dumbbell exercises. if you've shied away from a spinning class, hop on a bike. Getting past your fears also will give you a sense of accomplishment and confidence - and what could feel better than conquering the unknown?

Before starting any physical activity program, please check with your healthcare provider first.

This physical activity column was written by a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor and reviewed by Foundation experts.

Posted July 2009

Heart and Stroke Foundation


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