If you’re at least five years out of high school, chances are good you aren’t rocking the same hairdo you did then (if you are, a trip to the salon might be in order). And although workouts may not go out of style, none of us should be following the same exercise routine we did five years ago either. Here’s why: Exercise plateaus are a thing—a real, science-backed thing. And if you can relate to any of the following symptoms, chances are you’ve hit one. In that case, follow the accompanying tips for changing up your fitness approach.
1. You do only one type of exercise.
If your workouts consist entirely of laps in the pool or 30 minutes on the elliptical or the same five strength exercises, you’re shortchanging yourself. Cut your usual workout in half and mix in a different type of exercise for the other half. Or take two workouts a week and try something new. For ideas, book a personal training session, join an exercise class or check out an online site such as dailyburn.com.
2. You’re bored.
I use a lot of workout DVDs. But any time I find the instructors’ lame jokes or quasi-motivational comments playing in my head right before they actually say them, I know it’s time to switch things up. When you find yourself on autopilot, introduce some new challenges. For example, if steady-state cardio is your jam, spice it up with higher-intensity intervals. If you’re strength training, swap out conventional lifts with isometric exercises in which you hold a position, such as a squat, for anywhere from five to 90 seconds. Or try different versions of the same exercise. A 2014 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that people who performed both partial and full squats gained more strength than those who did only full squats.
3. Your workouts are easy.
Can you remember the last time you were sore? Or breathing hard enough that you couldn’t easily carry on a conversation? No? Then it’s time to step it up…gradually. We’re not going for shock value. If you’re lifting, increase weight by five pounds at a time. Or add one extra set. Step up your cardio pace a notch or two each week. Learn a sport that challenges you. If you’re putting in the time to work out, you might as well make it count.
4. You dread your workouts.
If you consider the gym and the dentist’s office a toss-up for least-pleasurable destination, something needs to change. Find an activity or sport you love. Also, make sure you’re incorporating a mix of hard and easy workouts into each week’s schedule. Recruit a workout buddy to make your time more enjoyable. If you can channel the energy you’re expending in dreading the workout into creative ways to make it more bearable, you’ll be back in the game in no time.