You wake up, shower, eat a protein-packed breakfast, and head to the gym. You spend an hour fast-walking on the treadmill, bulk up on the chest press machine, do a few sets of curls, lunge to exhaustion, and head home. Another day, same thing. Rinse, and repeat.
Sound familiar? We’ll bet it’s not working.
“People who just go through the motions, doing the same workout over and over again each week, don’t make progress,” says Craig Ballantyne, C.T.T., owner of CB Athletic Consulting, Inc. “In order to see results, your body needs a new training stimulus.”
It’s hard to make any blanket recommendations, but one simple fix for the most common errors that we see in gyms everywhere we go can be summed up into a simple line: Work out at a more intense pace for less time.
“A new program puts new demands on the body,” says Ballantyne. “The body reacts by changing—think muscle growth, increased strength, and improved aerobic capacity.”
It’s easy to transition from fitness beginner to a relatively fit workout enthusiast in 8-12 weeks, but for more tone and definition, you’ll need that extra boost. Use the tips below to break past your plateau and amp up your routine.
Max out bodyweight interval training
Follow the 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off method—often called a Tabata protocol—to boost your aerobic fitness and muscle endurance. Go all out, doing as many reps as you can in 20 seconds, then take a quick breather for recovery. Repeat for 8 rounds. Make it a total-body workout with bodyweight movements like burpees, jumping jacks, and bodyweight squats. Looking to up your resistance? Try adding equipment-based exercises like kettlebell swings.
Increase weight, lower reps
Feeling stuck on a big lift like the bench press or the squat? Try increasing your weight by 5%, and decreasing your reps per set by 2. “Say you bench press 200lbs for 8 reps per set, but you’re stuck,” says Ballantyne. “The simplest thing to do is to increase your weight to 210lbs, and decrease the reps per set to 6. It’s a new stimulus for strength and muscle growth, and it’s a safe place to start.”
Use a kettlebell
Think of the kettlebell swing as a major fundamental move to improve athletic performance on all levels. Since the kettlebell swing trains your cardiovascular system and your posterior chain, it has the potential to make you more explosive (e.g., jump higher) while increasing your endurance and stamina. Aim for 3 sets of 20 swings to start. Build up to 200 swings—or 20 sets with 30 seconds of rest between sets.
Steadily decreasing weight is a simple, proven way to add volume for muscle growth, says Ballantyne. Added plus: Drop sets can be done with almost any bodybuilding exercise. Finish off your workout with this descending ladder of weight that’s guaranteed to drive your muscles into full fatigue: Start with your regular weight, stopping one rep short of failure. Then, decrease the weight by 20% and complete another set that’s one rep short of failure. Finally, decrease the weight by an additional 20% and complete the final set going into muscle failure—all with proper form. Rest for one minute, and repeat twice more.
Superset your workouts
When you use supersets, you cut down your workout time and increase calorie burn, says Ballantyne. Pair two exercises for different muscle groups back-to-back, such as a squat and pullup, or a dumbbell chest press and a reverse lunge. Do the first exercise for 8 reps going one rep short of failure. Then, without rest, do the same with the second exercise.
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