4 Must-Do Strength Training Exercises for Runners

Build Strength and Power, Decrease Injury Risk
  — By Nicole Nichols, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor
Runners are a breed all their own. I can say that because I am a runner. We can be quirky about our race rituals and to outsiders looking in, our lives seem to revolve around a “boring” sport of putting one foot in front of the other. But as any runner knows, it’s not really that simple (or boring!), to try to fit in fartleks, quarters, repeats and speed work along with your hills, distance runs, and race days. Mile after mile, we pound the pavement—rain, cold or sun—to reach our goals.

No matter what type of runner you are, or how many races you have under your belt, we all share one common goal: to be better runners. We want to get faster, run farther, be more efficient, and stay injury-free. But if we hope to reach this goal, we must do more than just run. It is important to incorporate other exercises into our workout plans, as well as some rest, if we hope to reach our full running potential.

Strength training is an important form of exercise for serious athletes and recreational exercisers alike, because not only does it help you build lean muscles that power your body through tough runs, but it also fires up your metabolism to help with weight-control and strengthens your bones against age-related deterioration. A solid strength training program can help runners achieve a more balanced musculature for greater power and a lower injury risk.

Here are some of the moves every runner should include as part of their strength-training program, along with an explanation of why each exercise is so important for runners.

Squats
Squats are the single most effective exercise that you can perform to strengthen the entire lower body. Squats target the quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, hip flexors, and glutes, and even activate your core. When done properly, they can also help strengthen your knees and prevent knee pain and injury. Here are a few ways to do them, based on your fitness level and equipment available:

Beginner Exercises Advanced Exercises

Lateral Movements
Runners seem to only move in one direction: forward! That’s why it’s important to train your body through other planes of movement, like backwards or sideways (laterally). Lateral moves help you train often-neglected muscles like the abductors (outer thigh) and adductors (inner thigh), helping increase stability at your joints, improve your balance, and prevent injury. Here are some examples you can try.

Beginner Advanced

Pushups
Runners often neglect their upper bodies when training, but a strong upper body is essential for overall fitness and powerful runs. Pushups help strengthen the arms, chest, and shoulders, as well as the core, in one move, and you can do them anywhere, too. Various types of bench presses or chest presses also work many of the same muscles, but there are plenty of ways to continue challenging yourself with pushups (see options below).

Beginner Advanced

Plank
As a runner, you are only as strong as your core is—your abs, obliques, lower back and hips. These muscles, which wrap around your torso like a corset, help you balance and support every step you take. Strong abdominals and lower back muscles also help you run with better posture, which aids in breathing. The plank is one of the best ways you can train every muscle in your core. Here are a few variations to try.

Beginner Advanced

Now you know the key muscles and movements that runners should include in their strength training programs. When you’re short on time, try just one exercise from each of the categories above, or include a few from each section into your current strength-training workouts. To take the guesswork out of your workouts, try one of the full-body strength training plans listed below.

Strength Training Workouts for Runners
Here are three workouts I created exclusively with runners in mind. These should offer plenty of variety while also helping you strengthen the muscles that are most important for runners. Try two sets of 12-15 repetitions for each exercise, and follow your workout of choice twice a week for best results. If you’re new to strength training, start with the beginner’s program and master the moves without added weights first, and gradually go up from there. And don’t forget the warm up, cool down, and stretches!

Beginner Strength Training Workout for Runners
Intermediate Workout for Runners
Gym Workout for Runners

Strong muscles and joints are less prone to strains, pulls, and other damage, so consider strength training a part of your injury-prevention plan as much as a performance-enhancing one!

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople Coach Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer.

Original Post On Spark People.com

The Best Exercises for Muscles Most People Neglect

  — By Melissa Rudy, Staff Writer
Did you know there are more than 650 muscles in the human body? Yet, when it comes to strength training, most people focus on only a small fraction of the whole. Biceps, triceps, glutes, quads, abdominals, maybe some shoulders or hamstrings—these “A-list” muscles tend to get most of the love in the weight room, while other, less prominent parts of the body fly under the radar.

While it might seem smart to spend more time on the most visible areas—who doesn’t want perfect triceps when tank top season rolls around?—fitness trainer and physician Alex Robles with The White Coat Trainer says it’s important to train all of the major muscle groups evenly.

“Unfortunately, many trainees tend to focus a lot of time and energy on a handful of exercises, and thus, they wind up training the same muscles over and over,” Robles says. “This can lead to neglect of other critical muscles, resulting in muscular imbalances, pain and injury.”

To bring these neglected zones out of early retirement and into the workout rotation, start with these nine zones that experts say are most commonly ignored by their clients when strength training.

Neglected Muscle: Lower Posterior Chain

The posterior chain is comprised of the lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves.

Fitness expert and personal trainer Julie Lohre works with many clients who suffer from back and neck pain, commonly caused by spending hours in front of a computer or by poor overall posture. “Most often, the problem lies not just in the upper back or shoulder muscles, but in the lower posterior chain,” says Lohre. “While it’s great to strengthen the smaller upper back muscles, if you neglect the bottom half of your anatomy, you have only addressed half the problem.”

Lohre recommends incorporating these exercises to help build and strengthen the lower posterior chain:

Hand Release Pushups

“This is one of my very favorite exercises, not just for the erector spinae, but for the whole body,” says Lohre.

  • Begin in a strong plank position, forming a straight line from the ankles to the shoulders with your shoulders directly over your hands.
  • While keeping your elbows tucked in at your sides, slowly lower down until your chest and thighs touch the ground.
  • Lift up slightly through your lower back, bringing your hands off the ground and your chest up. Focus on using those erector muscles as the source of the lift and keep your scapula retracted.
  • Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.


<pagebreak>
Plie Wall Squats

Lohre loves that this combination exercise activates the entire lower posterior chain, benefiting the glutes, hamstrings and calves while still supporting the lower back.

  • Using a large stability ball, head to a sturdy wall and place the ball low at your glutes/lower back. Stand with feet wider than shoulder width and turn your toes outward.
  • While keeping the lower back pressed into the ball, slowly lower down until your thighs are parallel with the ground.
  • Press through your heels and maintain good posture with the ball supporting your back as you rise back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.

Lower Half Supermans

This exercise activates the erector spinae muscles, along with the glutes and hamstrings, to support a strong lower posterior chain. “While a full Superman exercise can be a good option, I prefer the lower half Superman here, as it allows you to focus on bringing the legs up as high as possible and as one unit without balancing through the upper body,” says Lohre.

  • Begin lying flat on the floor, face down with your hands at your sides.
  • Through engagement of the lower back muscles and glutes, lift from your feet through your thighs up off the ground.
  • Squeeze your legs together and lift as if there is a string attached to your ankles and they are being pulled up toward the ceiling. Hold this position for five to 10 seconds before returning back to the ground.
  • Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.

Neglected Muscle: Obliques

Everyone would like to have a nice six-pack, but they often forget that their abdomen is composed of multiple muscle groups. “The oblique is an important muscle that helps stabilize the spine and aids in the prevention of lower back pain,” says Robles. He recommends training the obliques using isometric exercises rather than moves that require excessive rotation of the spine, as those can lead to injury.

Waiter Carry (video)

  • Pick up a dumbbell, lift it up to your shoulder and then carefully hoist it overhead until your arm is straight with a soft bend in your elbow.
  • Keeping your arm up, focus on engaging your oblique as you walk in a straight line across the room.
  • At the end of the room, turn around and switch the weight to the other hand. Walk back to the starting point.
  • Repeat eight to 12 times.
  •  If you have shoulder issues, you can modify with the Suitcase Carry, where the weight is held down at your side while walking.<pagebreak>

Neglected Muscle: Hamstrings

As Robles points out, most of the neglected muscles are on the posterior side of the body, which can’t easily be seen when looking in a mirror. The quads tend to get more attention than the rear-facing hamstrings, which can result in muscular imbalances that cause knee pain and discomfort. Robles recommends doing hamstring-focused exercises at least once a week.

Romanian Deadlift (video)

  • Start in a standing position holding a barbell or two dumbbells.
  • Bend down toward the floor from the waist, keeping the legs as straight as possible. This removes the quadriceps from the exercise, forcing the hamstrings to do most of the work.
  • Return to standing and repeat eight to 12 times.

Neglected Muscle: Gluteus Medius

One of the three muscles that makes up the glutes, the gluteus medius is responsible for hip abduction, which keeps the hips externally rotated. “For those of us who spend the day with our legs crossed, our hip adductors can often become very strong, weakening our gluteus medius,” explains personal trainer Sarah Harradine. “If your knees cave in when doing a squat, then it’s this muscle that needs to work harder.”

The movements that work this muscle are highly targeted and usually involve lateral movement.

Banded Crab Walk (video)

  •  Place a small mini band over or under your knees.
  • Go into a quarter squat.
  • Take eight steps to the left, then eight steps to the right, staying low in your squat throughout the movement.
  • Repeat five times.

Side-Lying Clams (video)

  • Lay on your side with knees bent at 90 degrees and the hips stacked over each other.
  • Open the top knee until you feel the gluteus medius work. This won’t be very far if you’re doing it right, so if you have to open your knee wide, ask a friend to check that your hips are properly stacked.
  • Perform eight reps on each side for five sets.

Cable Side Raise (video)

This is a little more difficult, as it also challenges your balance. If you’re not holding onto anything, it will work the standing leg, too.

  • Using the foot attachment of the functional trainer/cable machine in the gym, add a small amount of resistance.
  • Stand to the side and place your outside foot in an ankle strap.
  • With soft knees, lift your outside leg laterally, to the point where you feel the gluteus medius working.
  • Perform up to five reps, or for as long as you can maintain excellent balance and form.<pagebreak>

Neglected Muscle: Serratus Anterior

Wrapping around the side of the rib cage, the serratus anterior is often called the “boxer’s muscle” because it allows you to extend your reach beyond just the length of your arm. When you reach for a faraway object and feel your entire shoulder move forward, that’s the serratus anterior working. A strong serratus anterior also helps you maintain good posture.

“These guys are often neglected because we don’t perform pushing exercises to the full range of our shoulder,” says Rui Li, owner and trainer at New York Personal Training. She recommends trying this exercise to show the serratus anterior some love.

Planks with Shoulder Protraction

  • Get into a plank position (either high on your hands or low on your forearms), with your body in a straight line and your weight on your toes.
  • Focus on pulling your shoulder blades (scapulas) apart and your spine up toward the sky, then pull them back together. This will activate the serratus anterior.
  • Continue to pull them apart and back together for eight to 12 reps.

Neglected Muscle: Rhomboids

Another muscle group that is often neglected are the muscles of the upper back, primarily the rhomboids. “Trainees generally focus on vertical pulling exercises, such as pull-ups and lat pull-downs, and forget to train horizontal pulling exercises,” says Robles. “This can lead to an imbalance between the lats and the rhomboids, which can also contribute to shoulder pain.” Robles recommends targeting the rhomboids at least twice a week.

Bent-Over Rows (video)

  • Start from a standing position holding a barbell or dumbbells in front of you, with your palms facing up.
  • Hinge forward at the hips and bend your knees slightly, with your arms extended in front of you. This is your position.
  • Pull the bar or weights up toward your waist, keeping your elbows close to your sides and pointed behind you.
  • Release the weight back and repeat for eight to 12 reps.<pagebreak>

Neglected Muscle: Traps and Upper Back

When it comes to upper body workouts, Exercise.com trainer Tyler Spraul says most people tend to focus primarily on “pushing” exercises—push-ups, bench presses, overhead presses and dips—because they develop the muscles that are easiest to see.

“Since your back is not something you usually check in the mirror, you might only focus on back exercises once a week, leaving you significantly weaker on your back side compared to your front side,” says Spraul.

To work the often-neglected trapezius muscles—the large triangular muscles that span the upper back, shoulders and neck—he recommends trying these two exercises.

Resistance Band Pull-Apart (video)

  • Grab a resistance band with both hands and raise your arms straight out in front of you, with palms down toward the floor and fists touching.
  • In a slow and controlled motion, pull the band apart until your arms are stretched out to your sides in a “T” shape.
  • Reverse the motion back to the start, which completes one rep.
  • Try to keep your ribs tucked down and tight from start to finish.
  • Repeat for eight to 12 reps.

Face Pull (video)

  • Set up with a resistance band or rope attached to a cable machine set to be level with your head or slightly higher.
  • Grab the rope or band with both hands and pull it back toward your face until it looks like you’re flexing both biceps.
  • Try to pinch your shoulder blades together on your back at the end range, then return to the start to complete one rep.
  • Repeat for eight to 12 reps.

Neglected Muscle: Calves

Personal trainer James Shapiro with Primal Power Fitness sees a lot of clients neglect their calf muscles, assuming they’re not essential. “Imagine if you were a car. Would you want to drive your Ferrari engine knowing your wheels and tires are bad? That’s the way you should think of your calves,” he says.

Standing Calf Raise

  • Stand facing a wall or the back of a chair and lightly hold onto it with your fingertips to aid balance. Legs should be shoulder-width apart and straight. Do not lock knees.
  • Raise up on the balls of the feet and hold for two seconds.
  • Return to starting position and repeat for eight to 12 reps.
  • Try not to let your heels touch or rest on the ground between repetitions.
  • As you progress, use one foot at a time.


Single-Leg Weight Transfer

  • Hold a light kettlebell in one hand.
  • Choose a leg to work on and keep the other foot slightly off the ground.
  • Try to transfer the weight gently from one hand to the other without losing balance. Pass it back and forth from eight to 12 times.
  • Switch your weight to the other foot and repeat the exercise sequence.


<pagebreak>

Neglected Muscle: Rotator Cuff

Out of the hundreds of clients that fitness trainer Ross Steiner works with, he says the most commonly neglected muscle group is the rotator cuff, which is the group of muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint.

“While training shoulders is a common practice among gym goers, some of the most common exercises can eventually lead to shoulder injury,” he says. In his practice, Steiner uses these shoulder stability exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff and help prevent injury.

External Shoulder Rotation with Resistance Tubing (video)

“This drill executes concentric, eccentric and isometric activation throughout a full range of motion,” says Steiner.

  • Secure the band to a column or any sturdy bar at chest height. Stand parallel to the band, holding the band with your outside arm.
  • With good posture (shoulders back, core engaged), make sure to keep your elbow at your side.
  • Think about a pin holding your elbow at your rib cage while you rotate your arm out—the starting position is hand at your belly button and ending position is hand outside of your waist.
  • Make sure not to use your traps to accomplish this motion and try to keep the shoulders from creeping toward the ears.
  • Repeat for eight to 12 reps.

Bear Crawl (video)

“Bear crawls are an excellent drill that focuses not only on hip mobility and core stability, but also shoulder stability,” Steiner notes. “We focus on a multi-directional approach incorporating forward, backward and lateral crawls into our warm-ups.”

  • Start on your hands and knees, with your hands right under shoulders, knees under hips and toes tucked under.
  • While keeping your spine in a neutral position, lift your knees from the ground an inch and start “crawling” forward, backward or sideways with the opposite arm and leg.
  • Keep your core and shoulders engaged while you move forward eight to 12 “steps.”

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

Seated Stretching Routine

7 Stretches that Reduce Stiffness and Tension
  — By Nicole Nichols, Fitness Instructor
When you spend a lot of time sitting, especially at a desk or computer, it’s important to take stretch breaks. A couple of breaks each day will help you stay alert and keep stiffness at bay. This set of stretches is perfect for people who are already sitting or those who prefer to stay seated for balance reasons. Make sure the chair you are using is sturdy. Remember never to stretch to the point of pain. For more stretching tips and guidelines, refer to our Reference Guide to Stretching.

Hold each stretch listed for 15-30 seconds, repeating two or three times, depending on how you feel. For detailed instructions and larger photos, click on the name of each stretch. Please note that while some of these stretches depict various body positions, you can perform these upper body stretches while sitting in a chair.

Neck Stretch
Sit or stand with shoulders relaxed, back straight. Bring your left ear toward your left shoulder and hold. Roll your head toward the ground and bring your chin to your chest. Hold and finally, roll your head to the right and bring that ear to your right shoulder. Inhale and exhale in a slow and controlled manner.

Chest and Biceps Stretch
Stand tall or sit upright (not pictured). Interlace your fingers behind your back and straighten your arms. With arms straight, lift arms up behind you while keeping your back straight and your shoulders down. Keep the shoulders relaxed away from the ears.

Triceps Stretch
Stand tall or sit upright (not pictured). Place your left elbow in your right hand. Reach your left arm overhead, placing palm on the center of your back and supporting the elbow in your right hand. Reach your fingertips down your spine. Keep the shoulders relaxed away from the ears. Repeat with opposite arm.

Shoulder Stretch
Stand tall or sit upright (not pictured). Bring your left arm across your chest, holding it below the elbow with your opposite. Keep the shoulders relaxed away from the ears. Breathe deeply and hold. Repeat on opposite side.

Wrist and Biceps Stretch
Stand tall or sit upright (not pictured). Extend left arm in front of you, palm facing outward and fingertips pointing downward. Use your right hand to apply light pressure to the hand, as if pulling your fingertips toward your elbow. Keep the shoulders relaxed away from the ears. Breathe deeply and hold. Repeat on opposite side.

Wrist and Forearm Stretch
Stand tall or sit upright (not pictured). Extend left arm in front of you, palm facing outward and fingertips pointing upward. Use your right hand to apply light pressure to the hand, as if pulling your fingertips toward your shoulder. Keep the shoulders relaxed away from the ears. Breathe deeply and hold. Repeat on opposite side.

Torso Stretch
Clasp hands together and slowly raise them above your head toward the ceiling. Reach as high as you can while inhaling deeply and hold for 20-30 seconds. Bring your hands down slowly while exhaling.

 

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

5 Exercises You Should Never Do

Do You Avoid These Danger Zones?
  — By Dean Anderson, Certified Personal Trainer
Most people believe that all exercises are good, safe and effective. After all it’s exercise—and that has to count for something, doesn’t it?

The truth is that some common exercises aren’t safe at all (especially for people who have muscle, joint, and health problems). Certain exercises require a bit more know-how than the average person possesses. And other exercises are downright wastes of your time.

But before we examine some of the most controversial exercises, I want to make it clear that every exercise on this list isn’t always unsafe or ineffective for everyone. What you should do—or avoid—depends on your goals, fitness level, health history, workout schedule, and other personal issues. An article like this can’t replace your own efforts to identify your goals and needs. That requires you to do some research on your own, talk to your medical professional about any pain or physical limitations you have, and learn how to exercise with proper form and technique.

So what makes an exercise risky? Here are a few red flags to look out for:

  • Any unusual or “unnatural” movement pattern in the exercise
  • Any movement that causes pain or discomfort in any way
  • Any movement that enhances muscular imbalances that are already present
  • Any movement that requires joint flexibility that is above and beyond your range of motion
  • Any exercise with risks of injury that outweigh the potential benefit of the exercise itself

That said, the following exercises pose high risks and are generally considered controversial by reputable fitness organizations and experts.

Think Twice Before Trying These 5 Moves

1. Behind-the-Head Lat Pull-Downs
In the old days, people were actually taught to pull the bar behind their heads when doing a lat pull-down exercise–and many people still do that today. Bad idea.

The problem? Pulling the bar behind the neck puts far too much stress on the shoulder joint, explains Michele Olson, PhD, an ACSM fellow and NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist.

“The amount of outward rotation on the humerus combined with pulling it downward has a very un-stabilizing effect on the shoulder joint. The top of the humerus is actually pushing outward and away from the joint, overstretching the tendons and ligaments on the front of the shoulder,” she explains, which can lead to injury. In addition, almost anyone who spends their days deskbound is likely to have rounded shoulders or poor posture—a symptom of poor shoulder flexibility (among other things). Pulling the bar behind your neck only accentuates this misalignment, making this exercise a no-no.

The Alternative: You can still work your lats without the risk of behind-the-head pull-downs by pulling the bar down in front of you. Sit with your spine straight, abs pulled in, and then lean your torso back slightly, keeping your spine straight. Pull the bar down towards your chest, but not below your collar bone.

<pagebreak> 2. Hovering Leg Lifts
Boot camps, yoga classes and sometimes even your old P.E. class or sports coach probably led you to do this common move: Lie on your back (with your head and shoulders either down on the ground or “crunched” up like the picture shows) and lift your straight legs right off the ground to hover just a few inches from the floor in order to work your abs.

The problem? Sure this engages your abs, but lifting your extended legs straight off the ground “puts an incredible amount of stress on the lower back and can lead to injury,” warns Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, and exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym (Williams Morrow, 2011). “The cost-benefit of this move is simply too high,” he says,” and there are numerous better ways to work the abdominals without the risk.”

The Alternatives: Work your abs without straining your lower back by starting with your legs up in the air (not lifting them from the ground) in line with the hips. Then lower your straight legs down to about a 45-degree angle—or only as far as you can lower the legs without feeling any strain in the back and without changing the position of your back (don’t arch or flatten). See a demo of these straight-leg lowers here. You can make this movement even safer if you have back issues by doing it with bent knees. Or work your abs doing standard bicycle crunches or plank exercises.

3. Seated Knee Extensions
This is a very popular exercise for targeting the muscles on the front of your thighs (quadriceps).

The Problem? This exercise poses major risks to the knees when the weight is heavy and when the knees are fully extended. Lifting heavy weights in this position (with all the resistance focused at your ankles) is not what the knee was designed to do. If you have any kind of knee problem, or use a too much resistance during this exercise, you can easily run into big trouble. Here’s why. Fully straightening the knees against this type of resistance “puts an extreme amount of shear stress on the knee joint, which can strain the tendons and overly compress the knee’s cartilage,” says Olson.

The Alternatives: Simple squats and lunges (known as closed chain exercises) with or without added weight, will work your thigh muscles naturally, safely and effectively. If you want to expand on these exercises (to develop explosive force for sports like soccer, basketball, or volleyball, for example), try sport-specific plyometrics. If you can’t do lunges and squats because you lack the leg strength, start with simple ball squats or modified “mini” lunges, and only lower yourself part way, gradually increasing your range of motion as you get stronger.

Olson also suggests that you can modify this exercise to make it safer. Simply lift the weight (extend the knees) just halfway versus all the way up to straight legs. This also gives the quads some direct isolation work while minimizing knee stress. She also suggests lifting a weight that isn’t too heavy—you should be able to do about 18 reps on this exercise. If you can’t do that many, the weight is too heavy to be safe.

4. Inner and Outer Thigh Machine Exercises
These machines are pretty popular in most gyms. Both involve sitting with your knees bent in front of you. The adduction machine is designed to target the muscles of the inner thighs, and the abduction machine helps target the outer thigh muscles.

The Problem? Using your inner and outer thighs to lift weight while in a seated position puts you at risk of straining these relatively small muscles and aggravating lower back and hip problems. In addition, your inner and outer thigh muscles are designed to support movement, not to be prime movers like they are in these types of exercises.

The Alternatives: The best way to target these muscles safely is with body weight exercises, such as standing adduction, standing abduction, lying adduction and abduction exercises, Pilates exercises, or similar movements that use resistance bands or the cable cross machines. Always start with a weight you know you can handle, and add resistance gradually.

5. Upright Rows
In this exercise, you stand holding a barbell or weight in the center, with hands close together, and bring your hands up under your chin.

The Problem? Upright rows are controversial because they cause the upper arm bone (humerus) to bang up against the AC (acromion process) joint, according to Olson, which can compress the nerves in the shoulder area and damage the cartilage in the AC joint, which can lead to arthritis.

The Alternatives: The purpose of this exercise is to work the shoulders (deltoids) and upper traps. So instead of standing to perform an upright row, try bent-over rows, bending forward 90 degrees at the hip, holding weight down beneath your shoulders with hands slightly more than shoulder width apart, then lift weight straight up towards your chest until elbows and shoulders form a straight line. You can also try front or lateral shoulder raises, using a modest weight, so that you don’t need to lean back or use momentum for assistance.
Olson also suggests a row variation that keeps the humerus moving behind the AC joint but still targets the desired muscles. This safe variation with a resistance band shows the movement, but you can also perform this exercise standing upright and/or holding dumbbells, palms facing the body.

Original Post on SParkPeople.com

5 Things You Must Do If You’ve Given up on Fitness Before

  — By Kirsten Nunez
Riding the fitness “bandwagon” isn’t always a smooth ride. Sometimes, the bumps are so strong that they throw you off. What now? Is it possible to try and catch up? One side of you knows that it’s worth a shot, but the other might not even know where to start.

Don’t let that bump in the road be the end of your journey—know that you’re not alone in the “fell off” club. We all know the fitness bandwagon is the place to be, but like most habits, maintaining a life-long routine takes hard work.

Why Do People Quit?

There are countless reasons why people quit exercise after pushing themselves for weeks, months or even years. According to Karen Katz, trainer and Pilates instructor in New York City, it’s common to feel discouraged if you’re not seeing (fast) results. “[However], a new job, schedule, baby, pet, or even a significant other can change someone’s habits and priorities,” she explains.

Katz mentions that moving, injury and travel can also get in the way. These real-life situations are major and normal, but they can also mess with your flow.

Trainer Brooke Taylor of Taylored Fitness adds that boredom is another roadblock. “Or [maybe you] pushed too much too fast, that you quickly burnt out or got injured.” Sound familiar? It’s a common newbie mistake, but you’re only human.

Before scolding yourself, look at this fall as a teaching moment. You’ve started once (or maybe even twice) before, so who says you can’t do it again? This time around, you’ll have the chance to fuel the routine in a new and different way.

“Missing a few days from the gym is no biggie,” reassures Justin Ochoa, personal trainer and owner of PACE Fitness Academy in Indianapolis, Indiana. “Even missing a week can be a good opportunity to recharge. But if you’re physically inactive for months or years, [it] can leave you with an uphill battle when trying to get back into it.”

That’s why it’s vital to start slow, just like the first time. A game plan will save the day—whether you’ve skipped out your workouts for a month or a year.

The Dangers of Starting Where You Left Off

Jumping right back into an exercise routine, expecting to pick up right where you left off, is a recipe for disaster. No matter how enthusiastic you are, restarting a routine will have its downfalls so going in with the same mindset as you had before increases the risk of repeating the same mistakes. Give yourself time to adjust to a new approach or mindset, whatever that might be. Habits need time to change.

Most importantly, going hard is a setup to getting hurt. Katz, Taylor and Ochoa all agreed that potential injury is the number one risk of pushing yourself too fast.

“I see it way too often,” says Taylor. “People push full force. However, coming from a de-conditioned state, your heart rate will elevate a lot quicker. Your body will respond—and reject—the load.”

Ochoa echoed similar concerns: “After stopping a training program for an extended period of time, an individual can become detrained. [It’s] a loss of physical and psychological adaptations from previous training experiences.”

The bottom line? Take it easy. “Go at your own speed and listen to your body,” advises Katz. “It’s great to be eager about jumping back into a fitness routine, but going too hard too fast can result in injury and burnout.”

The Action Plan

The decision and process of terminating a fitness routine look different for everyone. As such, every comeback will be just as different. But with these general steps, you can strategize a triumphant return in a way that works for you.

1. Review and Reflect

Be honest with yourself. Take a step back and look at what really went wrong. In order to jump a hurdle, you need to know where it materialized in the first place.

What did you like about your routine before? Dislike? Write down your thoughts and see if you notice any patterns or red flags that can be avoided in the future. Reflect on the benefits when you were active, and remember how you felt. For some, this can be enough to fire up a new layer of dedication.

Of course, in the situation of a new job or injury, there are other factors. In those cases, focus on the new aspects of your current lifestyle, because they’ll come in handy when it’s time to plan.

2. Find What Can Be Changed

After reflecting, look for pockets of change. Again, this will be extremely different for every situation and person. It may include expectations, distractions or lack of motivational factors.

In the case of an injury, the actual exercise might need to be gentler to accommodate your current physical strength. And you know what? That’s okay.

If you dreaded your Wednesday yoga class every single week, it might be a sign that you didn’t enjoy how it made your body feel or the energy in the studio just wasn’t quite right. If you found yourself feeling pumped up when you exercised with your neighbor but struggled to motivated yourself alone, you might have been pushing yourself into the wrong kinds of workout environments. Look at all aspects of your previous plan and work to determine where things started to unravel.

If time was an issue, tackle time management first. Yes, we’re all busy, but know that physical activity doesn’t have to be a whole day affair. Viewing time as a roadblock really means that you don’t consider fitness a priority, says Ochoa.

3. Plan the Change

Now that you know what needs to be changed, it’s time to figure out how to change it.

This time around, don’t be afraid to try things differently. “Find a form of exercise that you like that inspires you,” says Taylor, even if that means trying out something new. Katz also suggests grabbing a friend you can count on, whether it’s at home or at the gym. Having a workout buddy is a game changer for motivation.

The same goes for making breakfast the night before or setting out your clothes. These little habits will set you up for success.

Working a tight schedule? Remember, two or three 10-minute walks each day totally counts and those little bursts of activity pay off in a major way. So would a two-minute session of yoga, according to a preliminary 2017 study in “Frontiers of Psychology.” Recognize that “fitness routine” doesn’t have a single definition, so you’re in control of how and when exercise fits into your schedule and lifestyle.

4. Set Mini Goals

To execute the plan, it helps to set goals. Whatever you do, though, remember to start small.

According to Taylor, it starts with coming to terms with the fact that your body is in a different place for now. “Set attainable goals that you know you can accomplish,” she recommends. It’s a must for avoiding the feeling of defeat and feeling empowered, instead. Little victories will fuel motivation and momentum.

Taylor mentions that she has clients make a goal sheet. She asks them, “What do you want to accomplish in the next six weeks? Three months? Six months? One year? We then break it down from there.” As you work through the goals, check in with yourself to make sure the right changes are being made. This sort of mindfulness is key.

5. Don’t Overestimate

While you’re reaching for those goals, avoid overestimating. Sure, being an overachiever might work in other parts of life, but not when you’re trying to safely jump on the bandwagon.

Your strength and speed are not the same. While you might have been able to run three miles without stopping before your break, your endurance is likely not the same, so it’s important to start slowly. The same goes for weightlifting, yoga or any other activity. You don’t necessarily have to start from the very beginning, but do set yourself up for a routine that is gentle on your body as it adjusts to sweating again. Take it down a notch and be kind to yourself. “Try to avoid the shortcuts,” advises Ochoa. “Stay focused on progression at an appropriate rate.”

Jumping back on isn’t an easy feat. But as you move through the motions, you’re doing yourself (and your future self) a favor. As Ochoa put it, “Fitness is about longevity and living a happier, healthy lifestyle. Do the work and embrace the journey.”

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

Are Your Fitness Goals Realistic?

Forget Failure. Set Yourself Up for Success!
  — By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer & Fitness Instructor
In life, we’re told to dream big. Reach for the stars. Go for the gold. While I think everyone would agree that having big aspirations is admirable not to mention inspiring, you should take a more calculated approach when setting fitness goals. It may seem counterintuitive to start small, but remember that you want to set yourself up for success not burnout or injury.

Think about it. How many times have you or someone you know set a huge goal to lose 50 or more pounds, or exercise for an hour six days a week, only to fall off the wagon a few weeks (or days) later? The truth is that even when people have the best of intentions and the willpower to set out and do something grand, without a plan and a smart goal, they stumble—and are more likely to fail.

When you first set a goal, you’re full of energy and completely motivated, but over time those feelings can wane and your overzealousness can push you to do too much too soon. The fix is to define a progressive set of fitness goals that build on one another to help propel you toward that big dream or aspiration. Breaking a big goal into smaller, realistic goals can help you both mentally and physically. This method can also help you improve your fitness level gradually and safely, which helps to build confidence.

The first step to setting realistic goals is to really think about your goal and write it down.

Then, ask yourself these three questions:

    1. 1. How big is the goal? Is your goal only attainable in three months or more? If so, make a or goals to get you to that long-term goal. Ideally, you should be able to reach the smaller goal in two to six weeks.

 

    1. 2. What does it take to achieve the goal? This question addresses your goal’s frequency. If reaching your goal requires five workouts a week, but you can only get a babysitter two days a week, then you need to scale back your goal. Be realistic about what time you have to devote to the goal and be honest about your fitness level. Building your fitness base takes time, and being smart about increasing it will help you stay injury-free. As a general rule, never increase your weight lifted or your minutes exercised by more than 10 percent in any given week. Slow and steady really does win the race!

 

    3. Can you see yourself reaching the goal? You want a program that you can stick with for the long haul—not just this week. Be completely honest with yourself and ask if you can realistically see yourself doing what it takes to achieve the goal at hand. If you can and it meets the above criteria, then you probably have a goal !

Take a look at these common situations (and fixes) that I’ve encountered as a personal trainer:
<pagebreak>
Unrealistic Goal for a Non-Competitive Exerciser: I want to complete an endurance event in two weeks. Competitive events are an excellent way to stay motivated and a great goal, but many triathlons and running races put a lot of wear and tear on the body, and if you do too much too soon (or without proper form or footwear), you can get injured, which really puts a damper on your dreams and is just plain painful!

Realistic Goal: I will complete a shorter distance endurance event like a 5K or sprint triathlon in three to six months. If you want to begin participating in endurance events, it’s important to start building your fitness base slowly and really listen to your body. If you can walk comfortably for at least 20 minutes and can commit to working out four to five times a week for 20 to 40 minutes, then a 5K training program is a great place to start. A run/walk program is flexible and lets you see results over the course of just a few weeks, which is both exciting and motivational. Plus, if you get into it and find that you really despise running or it makes your knees hurt, you can walk and still reach your goal instead of giving up after the first week. Additionally, the time frame of two months is long enough—and the 5K itself is challenging enough—so reaching the goal is big enough to result in one of the best rewards of all: bragging rights!

Unrealistic Goal for a Sedentary Person: I want to go to the gym every day. There are two main issues with this goal. First, it’s not specific—what activities do you want to do and for how long? After all, just showing up at the gym doesn’t accomplish anything unless you get your body moving. Second, it’s not realistic. I love to work out and even I don’t want to go to the gym every day. Plus, taking a day off here and there helps give your muscles time to repair and rest, and it gives you a break mentally.

Realistic Goal: I will be active for at least 10 minutes each day. While this goal isn’t specific when it comes to the activity, it is specific and realistic with the time constraint. While going to an hourlong Spinning class every day would be impossible, not to mention not very healthy for you (cross-training is important so that no specific groups of muscles get overused), doing something active for 10 minutes a day, whether it’s a walk after work, some push-ups or sit-ups over lunch, or a full session at the gym or with a workout DVD, is very doable. Also, note the addition of “at least” in this goal, which helps to emphasize that 10 minutes is just a minimum. Over time, this goal could progress to have a minimum of 15, then 20, then 30 minutes.

Unrealistic Goal for a Novice Exerciser: I want to do the workout I did in high school. If you used to play a sport competitively when you were younger and are itching to get back into it, beware. Most sports require explosive and powerful movement that can give your body a rude awakening—such as extreme soreness or injury—especially when you try to do something that you haven’t done in years. Even if you were the high school team captain, if you haven’t practiced it in many years, start slowly and be cautious.

Realistic Goal: I will meet with a personal trainer once a week for a month and follow his or her strength routine two times a week. Even if you were MVP of your team back in the day, a lot has changed in sports performance and workouts over the last few years. Instead of going out and doing the same old workout that you remember from high school, take the time to meet with a personal trainer who specializes in your sport or regularly works with athletes. He or she can get you back in the sport saddle with a strength routine that prepares your body for competition and will help you prevent injury. A qualified personal trainer will also help you set other realistic goals once you’ve built your foundation to play. (If you’re not sure how to look for a personal trainer or what else you need to ask, read this.)

Don’t Forget to Reward Yourself
Perhaps the most important component of setting an effective and realistic fitness goal is rewarding yourself when you reach your goals, even the small ones! From buying yourself a new magazine to read, enjoying a long bath, or buying a new pair of workout shorts, the reward should be a time where you compliment yourself for your hard work and revel in your success.

Also, don’t be afraid to tweak a goal as time goes by. Life happens! Remember, the key to setting yourself up for success is to be realistic. Now, start setting those goals!

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

Get Fit Without Leaving the House

Home Gyms are Practical and Affordable
  — By Liz Noelcke, Staff Writer

Imagine a gym you can commute to in seconds. It’s open 24-hours, so you can come and go as you please—on your time. It’s comfortable, and you feel completely at ease when you work out there. Oh, and membership is free. You may be daydreaming, but the perfect gym is a dream that can come true…in your own home.

 

There is no reason that you can’t make a home gym part of your reality. A home gym adds convenience and privacy to your workouts. When you exercise at home, you save time, money, and the rush hour headaches (on the road and in line for the elliptical). Although you might be cautious due to budget and space limitations in your house, building a home gym isn’t as impractical as you might think. After all, gym memberships can occupy a large portion of your budget at several hundred dollars per year.

The Basics

Remember, you want to build a gym based on your own personal needs and fitness level. As you progress, you can add on equipment, so don’t feel that you need to buy everything at one time. Your gym can be as simple or complex as you want.

 

  1. Dumbbells (Free weights): A good set of dumbbells will help you start a strength training routine. There are two basic options when it comes to dumbbells. You can buy single sets based on the weight you want to lift. These are often metal, but can also be covered with a rubber material to keep them from slipping out of your hands. Expect to pay $15-$20 for a pair of 5-pound weights. Prices will increase as the weight goes up. A second option is to buy an adjustable dumbbell set. This includes two handles (or bars) for you to grip, as well as plates of varying weights that can be attached. Depending how many plates you get, expect to pay at least $60 for a set like this. Fancier versions can run up to $350 or more.
  2. Resistance Bands: Bands are great because they are compact, portable, and allow for a wide range of motion. Resistance bands come in three or four different levels of resistance and usually run around $15 for one band. These can be used pretty much any way that a dumbbell can be used, so if you are in a budget crunch, these might be the better option. To learn more, read No Need to Stretch the Truth About Resistance Bands.
  3. Stability (Swiss, Balance, Physio) Ball: An exercise ball, no matter which name it goes by, is simply an oversized inflatable ball. These are extremely versatile, and not just for core workouts anymore. You can sit, lie, and balance on them during almost any exercise, rather than investing in an exercise bench. Plus, this unstable surface targets your core muscles and improves your balance and coordination. The balls come in different sizes (based on your height and weight), and a rainbow of colors, and cost around $25 apiece. Read Exercising with a Stability Ball to learn more.
  4. Exercise Mat: Place a good exercise mat on the floor to stretch comfortably, cushion your body during floor exercises (from crunches to modified pushups), and prevent slipping while lifting weights. Consider this a must if you do a lot of Pilates or yoga. Plus, they can roll up out of the way for storage if your space is limited. For about $20 you can get a sticky mat (for Pilates and yoga), which is thin—but better than a hard floor. The price goes up for larger and thicker mats.

Once you’ve purchased some or all of the basics, you’re well on your way! <pagebreak>

 

The Extras

  1. Cardio Machines: Next, consider a piece of aerobic workout equipment. Whichever you choose, make sure your machine has different resistance levels to allow for workout variety and challenge as you progress. Also available, for a price of course, are computer systems with timers, calorie counters, RPMs (for bikes, ellipticals) and even heart rate monitors. Before you make a major purchase, try one for several minutes in a store. While it might be tempting to buy the cheapest available, you’ll want to make sure you are investing in a solid piece of equipment that you are comfortable on.
    • If you like running and walking, a treadmill is a good option. Keep in mind, however, that running outside is free, while these machines are costly—at least $600 for the most basic model.
    • Stationary bikes or elliptical machines are more affordable alternatives.   Elliptical machines, which cost at least $400, are low-impact (and fun!). Bikes come in two different varieties, recumbent (like sitting in a chair with a backrest) and upright (standard seat) and also cost at least $400 for a decent model.
    • Of course, a jump rope is a cheap piece of equipment that can also get your heart pumping!
  2. Workout Bench: Space and budget allowing, a good workout bench is a solid investment. Look for one that adjusts at varying angles (incline, flat, and decline). Many benches start at around $90. Make sure to purchase a sturdy bench (test it out for length, width, weight limit) to support you effectively while you work out.
  3. Universal Gym Machine: Finally, the king of home workout equipment is an all-in-one weight machine. You’ve probably seen them on infomercials, but are also available for purchases in many stores. They will run at least $800, but are often well over $1,000. These machines include a bench and various pulleys and weights, which combine all the machines in a commercial gym into one compact unit, allowing you to do squats, presses, curls, and pull downs.

All of these pieces of gym equipment are available in a variety of places—sporting goods stores, department stores, websites, and by catalog. For a great deal, consider purchasing gently used equipment. Look through the classified ads, auction websites, and even garage sales. If possible, test it out before you buy.

<pagebreak>

Set Up

Start small. A few basic pieces of equipment are all you need. You don’t need 5 different weight machines to have a great gym, although if your budget and house allows it, consider yourself blessed. Keeping just the basics on hand will help make healthy lifestyle goals much more attainable.

 

Make sure you have enough space for your gym. Choose a room with a high ceiling (so you won’t hit your hands while working out), and a sturdy, clean floor (to prevent slipping). Finally, add some good lighting, ventilation (possibly with a fan), and a stereo to crank your favorite tunes, and you’ve created a gym that you can really enjoy!

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

Running Workouts with Interval Training

Training Programs for Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced Runners
  — By Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer & Marathon Runner
Want to boost your fitness level and burn more calories? This program uses intervals (short bursts of higher-intensity activity followed by lower intensity recovery periods), which can be a more effective way to train than exercising at one intensity level. If you’re new to running or exercise, start with the Beginner program. As you progress, slowly increase your time and eventually move to the Intermediate and Advanced workouts. Because this is a general program, you may need to adjust the recommended speeds, intensities, and times to suit your fitness level.

If you have access to a treadmill, focus on the pace guidelines, working at your own intensity level. If you run outdoors and do not have access to any tools to measure your pace, then use the intensity guidelines (rate of perceived exertion) as a guide for how fast or slow to run. (Find a full RPE chart and explanation below the workouts.)

Beginner Interval Running Workout

<pagebreak>
Intermediate Interval Running Workout

<pagebreak>
Advanced Interval Running Workout

An Explanation of Using the RPE Method to Measure Intensity
Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) may be the most versatile method to measure exercise intensity for all age groups. Using this method is simple, because all you have to do is estimate how hard you feel like you’re exerting yourself during exercise. RPE is a good measure of intensity because it is individualized—it’s based on your current fitness level and overall perception of exercise. The scale ranges from 1 to 10, allowing you to rate how you feel physically and mentally at a given intensity level.

An RPE between 5 and 7 is recommended for most adults. This means that at the height of your workout, you should feel you are working “somewhat hard” to “hard.” For more information, check out this article about high intensity internal training (HIIT).

7 Times It’s Okay to Skip a Workout

Stop Feeling Guilty When You Need a Break
  — By Erin Whitehead, Health and Fitness Writer
Sometimes when we miss a workout, we know full well that we are just making “the dog ate my homework” types of excuses that wouldn’t fool anyone—not even you! But then there are the times when we have a valid reason for skipping a workout. Sometimes life really does get in the way. Sometimes you really do have to skip a workout, and don’t need the extra guilt for doing so. You shouldn’t beat yourself up for missing a day or even a week (or more) of workouts if you have a legitimate reason to opt out. But you should check in with yourself so you know whether it’s a valid excuse or whether you should be a little tougher on yourself. To help you tell the difference, we’ve come up with a list of times you can totally pass on a workout—without feeling an ounce of guilt.

7 Justifiable Reasons to Miss a Workout
1. You just had a baby.
Having a baby is maybe the most valid reason for not working out. It’s typically recommended that you wait six weeks after giving birth before you work out and even longer if you’ve had a C-section. Your body is recovering from a major physical even and not only should you cut yourself some slack, but it can be dangerous to exercise too soon. Postpartum bleeding, called lochia, can continue well past the four-week mark, and overdoing anything can cause bleeding to increase. So heed your doctor’s advice and enjoy the baby. Don’t rush getting back into fitness until your body feels ready to take it on (and you have your doc’s OK). There will be plenty of time to work out once you’ve recovered!

2. You’re injured.
It’s not only important to skip your workouts when you’re injured, but it’s a necessity if you want to feel better! Giving your injury a break is essential to letting it recuperate so you’re able to get back on the horse again soon. Putting more strain on an injury is just a recipe to get sidelined for good. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist to find out what activities you can do with your injury. It might be possible to modify exercises so you can still work out, but there might be exercises to avoid, too. Being injured can be a positive in some ways, though. Nothing makes you miss working out more than not being able to do it, and this type of setback can also push you to discover new workouts you enjoy. If you can’t run because of a knee injury, you might be able to try Pilates. If you have a stress fracture, you could fall in love with the bike or rowing machine or try a low-impact class.

3. You had surgery (or the doctor told you to lay off exercise).
In the case of a major surgery–or even a minor one–you can skip the sweat session sans guilt. The last thing your body needs after a major medical event is to work harder: It’s working hard enough on recovering and feeling better. Work with your doctor to find out when you can safely work out again, and heed his or her advice. The last thing you want is to pass out while you’re on the treadmill.

4. You chronically get too little sleep.
Sleep is more important for your health than working out. If you didn’t sleep well (or at all), are jet-lagged or are adjusting to a new schedule, rest up before hitting the gym again. Chronically skipping sleep to exercise doesn’t do a body (or mind) a lot of good. If you’re just feeling a little tired after a night or two of poor sleep, exercise might actually give you an energy boost. But it’s up to you to know the difference between a little fatigue and the exhaustion that comes from true sleep deprivation. Odds are, if you could fall asleep at 7 p.m. for the night, it’s probably a good idea to skip the gym that day.

5. You’re sick.
The general rule is that if your illness is above the neck (e.g., runny nose, sore throat) you can safely workout. If your illness is below the neck (e.g., stomach issues, lungs, full-body aches) it’s best to rest. But in the early stages of a really bad cold, we still say it’s totally fine to skip the gym. When your body isn’t feeling it, you know it–and it’s OK to hit the couch for a couple of days instead so you can let your body focus on expending extra energy toward fighting off illness. The last thing you want is to spread the germs to others or to pick up something else during cold and flu season!

6. You just completed a major athletic/endurance event.
Just ran a marathon? Slogged through a Tough Mudder? Competed in your box’s CrossFit competition? You’re entitled to a day off from your usual workout. After a big event, you might want to go on a walk and do some mild stretching to help alleviate any soreness, but it’s probably a good idea to give yourself a break so you can properly recover.

7. You’re actually too busy.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, intentions or desires, life really does get in the way of working out. You had a dentist appointment, worked all day, hauled your kids to soccer practice, baked a cake for a birthday party at work, made dinner, paid the bills, and now it’s 9 p.m.–and you didn’t get your workout in. That’s fine! If you’re genuinely too busy, you’ll know it. But if this is always the case, try to find a plan to work more exercise into your hectic schedule, even in small bursts. Remember, too, that exercise is great stress relief and much-needed “me” time for many people; it can make all of those busy tasks seem more manageable!

You don’t have to feel guilty for skipping a workout when you genuinely have a good reason to do so. Just watch for those excuses when you know that you could have gotten to the gym or fit in a quick at-home sweat session–and then make a plan to do it the next day!

Original Post On SparkPeople.com

Are You in a Cardio Rut? Break Free!

6 Easy Ways to Bust Boredom
  — By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor
Are you bored with your cardio workout? Do you yawn when thinking of getting on the stationary bike again? Are you already dreading the stair stepper workout that you have scheduled for tomorrow morning? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you’re quite likely in a rut, and when you’re in a rut, it’s easy to fall off the fitness wagon because motivation and excitement are G-O-N-E.

So how do you get your aerobic mojo back? You shake things up! You try new activities and refocus your workouts so that they’re more exciting and motivating than ever. We all know how important cardiovascular exercise is for health and weight loss (plus it just makes you feel good), so read on for six surefire ways to break out of the cardio rut now and forever!

Change Your Sound of Music

New tunes: Investing in a couple of new CDs or MP3s is an easy way to bust out of your cardio rut and get you happily moving. When you have your headphones on, no one else knows what tunes you’re playing (unless you’re listening too loudly, in which case turn it down some so that you don’t harm your hearing!), so play whatever you want! Guilty pleasure songs (think Britney Spears, Journey or Kenny G) work great here, but, really, go with any songs that get you going and make you feel good. Studies have shown that music is motivating, but if you’re bored at the gym, it may be time to shake that playlist up! For ideas, read Coach Nicole’s music blogs at dailySpark.com for ideas.

-OR-

No tunes: If new music isn’t doing it for you, try doing your workout sans tunes. Especially when walking or running outside, listening to your own breathing and the sounds and sights around you can be an incredibly meditative experience that can turn your cardio from boring to darn near spiritual. And if quiet isn’t your thing, try downloading a podcast or an audio book. You can get through your to-read list and get in shape. Now that’s multitasking.

Change Your Equipment

Try a new piece of equipment: If you and the stair stepper are in a serious relationship, but you’re bored out of your gourd, it may be time to see other machines. Date around some. Check out the treadmill, recumbent bike or elliptical you’ve had your eyes on. All of the different pieces of cardio equipment help train the most important muscle of your body—your heart—but they each do it in a slightly different way. To check them all out yet not get too bored, do 10 minutes on each type of cardio equipment that your health club offers. If you’re working out at home, jump off your machine after a few minutes and do some jumping jacks or lunges to mix things up.

-OR-

Try a new brand of equipment: You may think that all ellipticals and stationary bikes are the same, but different brands do have different feels and features. If your health club offers varieties of equipment, trade your normal treadmill for another one and discover what new programs and features you’ve been missing. You just might find a new love (or, even better, a new challenge). <pagebreak>

Change Your Social Nature

Try a class: One sure-fire way to spice up your cardio routine is to check out a group exercise class. Most full-service health clubs have a group exercise room, so grab a schedule at the front desk, find a class that’s totally new and different for you and make an appointment with yourself to go. Recruit a friend to go with you and show up with an open mind. You might just make a few new fit friends in the process! (If you’ve never been to a group exercise class, decode the class schedule with these tips.)

-OR-

Try a class at a new gym: If you’re a group-exercise aficionado or know the moves of your step class before the instructor calls them out, it’s time to switch it up. Find a new class with a different instructor or branch out to classes at other gyms (many gyms will give you a free one-week pass to check out their facility). Or try a group-exercise studio that offers classes that you’ve never taken. From Pilates to yoga to Zumba to ballet-inspired workouts, the opportunities are endless! And for you guys who might think that group exercise is just for girls, it’s isn’t! Check out a power yoga or boot camp class and get your stereotypes rocked (in a good way)!

Change Your Location

Go to the gym: If you always hit the great outdoors for your cardio or always walk on the treadmill while catching up on TV, moving your cardio sessions to a facility with other exercisers and a fitness-centered environment may be just what you need to re-spark the love of your workouts. Sure, a health club membership costs money, but if it comes down to not working out or paying a monthly fee, wouldn’t you rather cut a few costs in your budget and stay motivated?

-OR-

Avoid the gym: If you’re a gym rat and pretty sick of the first half of that nickname, maybe it’s time for a change of scenery! Move your workout outdoors or create your own home gym. Even a new DVD or two can mix things up!

Change Your Mindset

Focus on a fitness goal or new skill: Mental boredom is a very common cause for being stuck in a cardio rut. If you’ve been focusing on the minutes, miles or calorie burn of each of your workouts, a good way to switch things up is to switch your thinking. Instead of focusing on these daily quotas, set a longer-term goal such as walking a 5K or completing a sprint triathlon. When you have an end goal to train for, you’ll be less bored during your workouts because you can always think about how much you’re preparing for your goal! (And, let me tell you, once you reach that goal, you’ll feel great!)

-OR-

Focus on how you feel: Instead of obsessing about the numbers on the piece of cardio equipment, turn your workouts in serious “me” time. Use the 30 minutes on the elliptical not to think about how bored you are, but to focus on how good exercise makes you feel. Focus on your breathing, feel your legs pushing the pedals down. Be grateful that you have the ability to move, pushing your body to new levels. Even develop your own mantra that you can repeat over and over to help get you going! Nike’s “Just do it,” always works, but find a phrase that has meaning to you.

Change Your Intensity

Try a longer, less intense workout: If you can usually only set aside 10 to 20 minutes for exercise, make those minutes intense, switch it up by setting aside extra time to make your workout longer and less intense. By doing a longer, less intense workout, you’ll give yourself time to really enjoy the activity without rushing or trying to burn as many calories you can in a short amount of time. Pick an activity that you love—dancing, walking, hiking—and enjoy it! Think of it as your active relaxation time.

-OR-

Try a shorter, more intense workout: If you’re the type of exerciser who would rather walk for an hour than run for 5 minutes, then maybe it’s time for you to swap your low-intensity sweat sessions for shorter, more intense workouts. Try an interval workout and watch your rut go bye-bye! This is an especially good trick if you spend most of your mental energy watching the clock wishing your long workout was over. Don’t worry: When you work hard enough, one short, intense session can be just as effective as a longer one that’s lower in intensity.

Pick one thing to change—or six—and bust out of that rut today!

Original Post on SparkPeople.com