I’m a fitness writer, so Monday through Friday I sit in an office surrounded by the latest gear: a kettlebell with adjustable weights, a padded ab mat, a gadget that keeps wrists from getting sore during push-ups. And then I go out and do the very same cardio workout I’ve been doing for the past 15-plus years.
I’m hardly the only exerciser in a rut—lots of people find their comfort zone and settle in long term. The problem: Never changing the program not only sets you up for being bored out of your mind but also yields fewer and fewer fitness returns. “Many of your physiological systems adapt to a workout program within six to eight weeks, so if you don’t modify your routine, you quickly reach a plateau and stop seeing improvements in strength and cardiovascular conditioning,” says exercise physiologist Jessica Matthews, a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise. When you mix things up, your muscles adjust to different kinds of stimulation, which makes them grow stronger.
Novelty is one of the best ways to combat boredom, since struggling toacquire a skill demands your attention. Here, I test-drive four great ways to liven up your exercise routine.
TRX Suspension Training
Best if . . . you’re tired of lifting weights but want to get buff.
What it’s like: In a gym class, you grab on to the handles of two yellow nylon straps that are suspended from hooks attached to either the ceiling or metal bars high up on the wall. With one or both feet planted on the ground, you hold on to the foam-covered handlebars for balance and lean back or move forward to squat, lunge or twist to either side. These fluid motions make working out feel less regimented and predictable than simply lifting weights. And, yes, the program—developed by a Navy SEAL—can be pretty hard. But don’t be intimidated. In the class I took at the Personal Fitness gym in Syracuse, New York, the lunchtime crowd was made up of people who, like me, seemed to be at a normal, not an advanced, level of fitness.
An expert weighs in: “Suspension training uses basic principles of physics to provide just the right challenge for every different muscle group,” says Neal Pire, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.The way you position yourself allows you to adjust the difficulty of each exercise: The more upright you are, the less gravity you fight; the farther you move your feet out from under you, the more unstable you are, and the more challenging the exercise becomes.
The verdict: It’s a definite “do.” My favorite part of the workout—and what sets it apart from traditional strength training—is the way every movement cues you to tighten your core. It’s like doing a ton of crunches without actually doing any crunches.
Find a class: Suspension training is popping up at more and more gyms, but if it hasn’t yet come to one near you (check at trxdirectory.trxtraining.com), you can buy a portable set of suspension-training straps with a door anchor and a DVD of basic moves for $200 at trxtraining.com (click on “Shop”).
Challenge rating: 2–3 (out of 4).
Best if . . . you crave the relaxing effects of yoga but are tired of bending yourself into strange positions.
What it’s like: This mix of yoga, Tai Chi, martial arts and meditation aims to stretch and strengthen your body while sharpening your brain. There is an emphasis on helping ki (internal energy, in Korean) circulate through your body via breathing exercises, meditations done while you’re in motion (called moving meditations) and self-massage of the pathways through which energy is believed to flow.
Some of Dahn yoga’s moves resemble actions we perform naturally when we’re trying to energize ourselves or de-stress. During the moving meditations, for instance, you reach your hands overhead for a big stretch, then rub your face with your hands.