Living Columns & Blogs

It’s time to make your workout harder

By Shawn McClendon

Christina Breeding works hard during a high-intensity interval training class in Lexington, Kentucky.
Christina Breeding works hard during a high-intensity interval training class in Lexington, Kentucky. Lexington Herald-Leader

The human body is amazing in so many ways. For today’s column, let’s consider the ability our bodies have to adapt.

Your body is so extraordinary that if you do something that’s physically difficult for you, it immediately begins a series of physiological changes — to nerves, to muscles, to fat cells, etc. — to ensure that the next time it encounters this difficult task, it is no longer quite as difficult.

The more you perform the physically difficult task, the easier the task gets, until one day when the task is barely difficult at all. By then, your body will have transformed, and the results may even be visible.

This is the general principle behind getting in shape. You subject your body to difficult aerobic exercises (ones that make you breathe heavily) and anaerobic exercises (strength training, weights, etc.) in order to force your body to adapt.

This adaptation means that your body becomes healthier through increased efficiency. Your ability to perform even regular tasks becomes easier.

Have you noticed how many times I’ve used the word “difficult” so far? If so, you get an A+ for the day. Difficult is the key word right now.

As long as your workouts are somewhat difficult, your body has to adapt to make the workouts easier, which means that your health and fitness will continue to improve.

If your current workout is easy and has been for a long time, I hate to bust your bubble, but it’s not doing anything for you anymore.

Say that a year ago, you got off the couch and started walking for 30 minutes five days a week. You likely experienced improved pulse rate and blood pressure, fat loss and higher energy levels. But I’m also willing to bet that your results stagnated after a couple of months.

I think you see where I’m going now. Your walking routine became too easy a long time ago. Your body has no reason to change any more. If you want it to change, you must make your routine more difficult.

I would like to offer some suggestions to up the ante on whatever your current workout routine is so that you can get the next level of results:

Walking: If you normally walk on level ground, start walking in a hilly area. Another way to make your walk more difficult is to wear a weighted vest or carry a backpack with weights while you walk.

Weightlifting routine: Pick up some more iron! If you have a weight that you can easily lift for 10 or more repetitions, choose a slightly heavier weight that you can’t lift for as many repetitions, and use that weight until you can complete 10 repetitions. Increase the weight after that. You could also choose a different, more difficult exercise to train a particular body part. For example, you might choose to do Incline Bench Press rather than Flat Bench Press.

Aerobics-based classes (Zumba, hip-hop dance, spinning, etc.): A great way to make your classes more difficult is to reduce that rest break. If you take a 5-minute break at a certain point, change it to a 3- or 4-minute break to give your heart and lungs an extra challenge.

If you’re cool with your fitness level, you can be content with keeping your workout routine the same. However, if you want to bust a plateau, lose more fat and experience greater fitness, don’t shy away from difficulty in your routine. Embrace it!

Peach County resident Shawn McClendon is an ACE certified personal trainer and owner of the health/fitness blog YourHealthAtTheCrossroads.com. Contact him at shawn@yourhealthatthecrossroads.com or at @ShawnB2B on Facebook.

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