Ever felt that your motivation to exercise and workout is directly proportional to the progress you make? The motivation soars until the day you realize you’re not getting any better. Most of us exercise to live a healthy life, and workouts need to fit into the time available through the day. Doing more to break through the plateau is not an option most of us can afford. So how does one make effective progress efficiently?

1. Stick to the program

Sohee Lee, NSCA Certified Trainer, advises against changing your workout schedule too much. This is common practice among people who aren’t seeing immediate gains from their workouts. Consistency is the key for making progress. You must trust the chosen program and follow it diligently for at least 4-6 weeks before deciding if any changes need to be made. It doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest fitness magazine program.

2. Increase the frequency

If you can only spare a couple of days a week to workout, you’re unlikely to see progress. Working out a couple of days is a great starting point. But this isn’t nearly enough for the changes to last. Shawn Arent, Professor at Arizona State University, advises that depending on your physical fitness level, the number of workout days needs to be increased to 4-5 days a week. However, this also doesn’t mean not doing anything on other days. You must strive to be active on those days too. It doesn’t have to be a high intensity cardio or a run, just a walk should suffice.

3. Add productive exercises

The biggest bang for the buck exercises are compound or multi-joint movements. These movements recruit more muscle fibers and thus burn more calories. These exercises are also great for building overall strength and body balance. Some of the best compound exercises are bench-press, squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, and military press. According to Wayne Lambert, author of “maximize your fitness potential” the effort required to perform these exercises also helps you get a cardio workout at the same time.

4. Warm up

Not warming up before an exercise routine is inviting trouble in the form of injuries. A systematic review of over 32 studies revealed that warming up (excluding stretching) is known to improve exercise performance (1). A warm-up only needs to engage the muscles involved in the day’s exercise routine for about 5-10 minutes.

5. Progression training

Your muscles grow when stimulated through resistance training. However, your muscles also adapt to stimulation. Doing the same number of repetitions and sets at a comfortable resistance isn’t going to do much for you. You must strive to increase the workout intensity in the form of higher repetitions, higher resistance, or reduction in rest time between sets. This is called progression training. The number of maximum repetitions performed per set will depend on your goals. Researchers from American College of Sports Medicine suggest increasing the resistance by up to 10% when training for a specific number of maximum repetitions. However, performing the exercise with proper form trumps added load anyday.

6. Perform high intensity cardio

High intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a more efficient cardiovascular exercise solution than low-moderate intensity high volume cardio exercise. HIIT is characterized by short bursts of all-out effort or sprints followed by slightly longer periods of recovery, e.g., a 20 second running sprint followed by a 1 minute light jog. Interval training is proven to boost athletic performance by increasing the size and number of mitochondria (2), the energy production components of a cell. Higher density of mitochondria results in greater levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy molecule in cells. This means more energy is available to the working muscles. A 20 minute HIIT cardio session is likely to result in better results than a 45 minute steady state cardio session.

7. Track your workout

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” -Peter Drucker

For you to know what isn’t working for you, it is important to track your workouts. Whether it’s using an app or just a good old notebook. Tracking your exercise schedule will give you vital clues as to what changes need to be made to the program when progress halts. Track resistance/weight, workout duration, number of sets and repetitions, type of exercise, rest time, and mood. You can then gauge which variables to tweak to put you back on the path to progress.

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