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You’ve now been exercising regularly, developed a solid foundation for your fitness program, and even achieved some of your milestones. You’re probably now asking yourself, “Where do I go from here to keep my routine fun, successful, and effective?”

Always remind yourself that making small changes will help you to improve your fitness level and health.

Improvements in your fitness level typically happen by using the “Overload Principle.” It mostly applies to strength training, where you challenge your body with an increasingly heavier weight than it is used to. Your body then adapts to those changes by becoming stronger, faster, more powerful, or more agile. Your cardiovascular system will also respond in a similar way when we challenge it with aerobic exercise.

A basic example of this would be if you do two sets of 20 push-ups every other day and have been doing that for several years. While this is great exercise, if your goal is to improve your muscular strength, you will only improve your strength by adding another set of 10 push-ups or increasing your repetitions from 20-25. This will challenge your muscles beyond what they are used to and lead to small improvements in strength.

Beyond the Basics

Here are some primary ways you can adjust your exercise program to take it beyond the basics. In general, adjusting one method at a time is preferred for both safety and comfort.

Resistance Training Adjustments

The primary goals of resistance training are typically improvements in power, strength, endurance, and hypertrophy (muscular enlargement). Each of these goals will have its own training program specifics as highlighted by this great handout from The American College of Sports Medicine. Your job is to select where you will make adjustments in your program to meet your personal goals. This, of course, would mean increasing resistance and the number of repetitions or sets you perform. Remember, it only takes small changes to improve your muscles. Making changes that are too big may result in fatigue, pain, and even injury. With small changes, your body will improve and you will better tolerate the exercises.

Choosing the Right Exercise

The type of exercise that you choose will also significantly influence how your muscles improve. If you’ve been doing the same resistance-training exercises for a month or two, consider changing or adding another exercise. Variety is important to challenge your muscles. For example, you’ve been doing basic body weight squats for a few months. Your strength has definitely improved, but you’d like to take it up another level. You could incorporate a lunge, which will challenge your leg muscles, buttocks, and hips in a very different way. It will also help to improve your strength.

You could also change up the type of resistance; whether you use weight machines, free weights, bands, or your own body weight. Typically if you’re new to strength training, you may start with weight machines that almost “coach” you through the exercise. After that, you might consider moving over to free weights, going back and forth between exercise bands and free weights. This provides a variety or resistance types as well as exercises to challenge your muscles.

Make Small Aerobic Change 

If you’re looking to take your walking or jogging program to another level, there are two areas on which to focus your exercise time and intensity. If your aerobic goals are to burn calories and to lose weight, yet your weight loss has slowed to a halt, consider lengthening your exercise by five to ten minutes at a time. Remember to take small steps. Work towards exercising for up to 60 minutes at a time, even if it takes a few weeks at small intervals. Once you’ve increased your exercise time, consider increasing your intensity.

Several ways to increase your intensity include increasing your walking or jogging pace, challenging your cardio with other equipment, or picking a more a varied terrain such as a hiking trail.  You can also incorporate other exercises such as swimming, cycling, or rowing. These will not only improve your cardiovascular endurance, but the variety will also keep you engaged.

Should You Carry Weights?

Many people carry hand weights with the idea that it will increase your walking or jogging intensity, but it’s actually not good for you. The additional weight only compounds the pounding to your lower body. Several alternatives to this are to utilize hills intermittently to increase both the challenge and your heart rate. It also helps to swing your arms. Walking on trails or a grass area instead of a flat sidewalk will also increase the intensity and add some balance training.

Always remind yourself that making small changes in these areas will help you to improve your fitness level and health.

In what ways have you advanced your exercise program and what kinds of benefits have you experienced?

Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

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