Spice Up Your Routine in the Gym

To continue my fledgling health / fitness series, today I’m going to cover the importance of diversity in your fitness efforts.

This is intuitive. If we do anything over and over again we get bored. Keeping your workouts fresh and interesting (just like your life!) is essential for being happy at the gym. When it comes to exercise, however, there’s another important reason to mix up your routine: you don’t want to overwork some muscles and let other muscles languish.

Since your workout should ideally contain some cardio and some weights, let’s look at how we can be creative in each category.

Cardio. If you always run on the treadmill for thirty minutes, do it for 20 minutes and ride the stationary bike for 10 minutes. The elliptical is another good cardio alternative that doesn’t pressure your knees much. Treadmill, bike, and elliptical are the three main cardio options. Try each. The advantage to the bike, by the way, is you can read while riding. I listen to music on treadmill or elliptical.

Weights. This is more complicated, but still easy. The goal here is to identify your major muscle groups and vary the exercises which target each group. The easy way to diversify is to sometimes use machine weights and sometimes use free weights. Machine weights are easier to handle and can offer resistance all the way through a rep. Free weights allow more customization and build “stability” muscle fibers. If you’re traveling and in a foreign gym, always use free weights because free weights are the same around the world. Machine weights require proper settings in order to be effective (and not injurious) and if you’re traveling it takes too long to find the appropriate setting.

The muscle groups I care about are: upper back, lower back, chest, abs, quads, calves, and hamstrings. Note that this is not all about looks. Even if you don’t care about being muscle-bound, lifting weights is still recommended by doctors even for older people. The free-weight exercises I do:

  • Flat bench press — This is the classic exercise which works your chest, biceps, and triceps all at once. It’s the best total workout. Note: Many women do chest exercises to increase their bust, but it’s best to use a machine for this and not free weights.
  • Incline bench press — This works your upper chest. Don’t forget to bring the bar right under your chin.
  • Lat pulldown — This works your upper back.
  • Lat row — This targets your lower back and general back thickness.
  • Leg press — The classic leg exercise which works your quads and hips.
  • Hamstring curl — Works the back of your leg — aka your hamstring.
  • Toe lifts — Calves.
  • Abs — Instead of using a crunch machine, I just do crunches and leg raises to work the abs.

All these exercises have machine equivalents.

Finally, in addition to alternating between machine and free-weight, you might also experiment with second tier muscle groups. For example, I’ve been doing a forearm exercise and liking it quite a bit.

Bottom Line: It’s more fun / interesting when you spice up your routine, and it also makes health sense to make sure you’re exercising your entire body.

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