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.

10 comments on “Spice Up Your Routine in the Gym
  • I love it when you give your youth away in a statement like “lifting weights is still recommended by doctors even for older people.” Even for older people? Wow.

  • Yep — I think weight lifting is associated with young people trying to get jacked, when in fact doctors say older people may need it even more to build bone / muscle strength.

  • I was doing the gym for a while but found that I wasn’t getting much in the way of results, and I found it deadly boring. So I stopped going and started an aikido program. Aikido is a non-violent martial art and a great workout. This was a great move for me…every class is something different, I’m toning up and I feel great. Your Mileage May Vary, of course, but I thought I’d mention it.

  • You need to try yoga while you’re in Boulder – studios everywhere. If you want to try something really different, go to Bikram yoga – 105 degrees, you’ll use muscles you never knew you had, no matter what workouts you do in the gym.

  • Dave, the main reason why I would want to do yoga is so I can be seen walking around city streets with a yoga mat. I’m sure it would increase my trendiness tenfold.

  • Why is it better for women to use a machine for bust-enhancing chest exercises (and how do you know this?)

    Do you think the elliptical burns as much calories as the treadmill? For me, this is one of life’s greatest unresolved questions. I always go back to the elliptical because it feels good, yet I never seem to break a sweat on the thing.

  • When you use a machine you concentrate the effort solely on the muscle in question (such as pectorals). When you use free weights you are also exerting energy on stabilization muscles and secondary muscles. Those are important for athletes, but not for the lifter only concerned with looks.

    Various aerobic exercises require different amount of time to achieve the same result. For example, the rowing machine takes longer than treadmill. When I do the elliptical I move pretty fast and have a pretty high resistance (although virtually no incline because the more incline the more stress on back), so I feel a sweat. Elliptical works more exclusively your lower body whereas treadmill gets at your chest a bit. Some women do the elliptical — though usually Stairmaster — to tighten their buttocks.

  • Elliptical vs treadmill. .

    Yeah, like you said, the elliptical is a great low impact exercise, especially if you’re coming off a knee injury.

    As for calories burned, it depends on a few things.

    If you’re going for efficiency, (calories burned per minute)you may be better off on the treadmill (though you can manipulate the settings on the elliptical to make it quite intense).

    For those concerned with weight loss, however, the elliptical may be better because it allows you so stay on longer because of the low impact, allowing you to burn more TOTAL calories.

    For these people, DURATION, not intensity, is key.

    But, as you mentioned, mixing your workouts is crucial, because over time if you’re not enjoying your workouts, you’re not going to come back.

    Hope this helps!

  • I think,this routine can be done to gauge your level of fitness,including mental resolve when it comes to pushing hard. And, it can be used as part of the routine itself. But no matter what your plans are, this routine Spice Up Your Routine in the Gym is a great warm-up for any workout.



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