10 tips to safely increase the difficulty of your workouts

To make progress in an exercise program, you must intelligently push yourself out of your comfort zone. If your exercise routine is always comfortable, it probably won’t be a challenge for you. Walking the same route around the neighborhood or doing the same strength training program week after week will eventually lose its impact.

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On the plus side, getting easier exercise means you’ve made progress in your fitness level. For example, your heart rate won’t be as high as you climb those hills, and the weights will start to feel lighter and lighter.

fitness plateau

If you find yourself exercising regularly but don’t seem to be making progress toward your goals, you may be on what’s called a fitness plateau. In this case, it’s probably time to increase the difficulty of your workouts. The following tips will help you safely take your cardio and strength training to the next level.

How to boost your cardio

Incorporate interval training.

This is an advanced form of cardiovascular training that involves short periods of high or near-maximum intensity exercise alternated with periods of active recovery. For example, instead of constantly running around a track, I would run, then jog, then run again.

You can also modify this to match your fitness level by changing sprinting to jogging and jogging to walking. Interval training comes in many forms, but you can start by adding short bursts of higher-intensity work to your current workout.

Train other elements of cardiorespiratory fitness.

If you normally do steady-state exercise, such as 30 minutes on a treadmill or elliptical at a moderate pace, it can be fun and beneficial to focus on things like agility, coordination, reaction time, speed, and consistency. power. To do this, you can try plyometric exercises (jump training), ladder exercises, and cone exercises.

Adding a variety of movement types will improve your fitness and athleticism.

Involve your arms.

Many personal trainers recommend that you avoid holding onto handrails when exercising on the treadmill or other cardio equipment. This is because engaging the whole body in movement burns more calories and improves benefits related to posture and balance. To take this a step further, purposefully engage your arms during cardio workouts to get your heart rate up and provide a slight boost to the heart-health-related benefits of your workout.

Incorporate hills or slopes.

Adding incline to a cardio session increases the intensity of your workout without you having to move faster. Also, climbing hills, whether on a treadmill or outdoors, exercises muscles differently than moving on flat ground.

For example, walking on an incline activates the hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles. If you walk, jog, or bike outdoors, doing so in a mountainous area can provide a natural means of adding intervals to your training, as you’ll work harder uphill and gain active recovery on inclines and flat terrain.

Wear a weighted vest.

For some people, the above strategies may be too intense. If you’re new to exercise, dealing with injury or pain, or just aren’t comfortable with higher-intensity strategies, walking with a weighted vest is a great option. The added weight can lead to increases in cardiorespiratory fitness without the need for inclines or faster walking.

It is important to do some research or talk to a personal trainer before choosing the most suitable vest that will help you safely achieve your goals. To ensure proper body mechanics and safety, a weighted vest should not exceed 10% of your body weight when performing cardio.

How to increase your strength training

Lift heavier weights.

While gaining weight seems like a simple solution, increasing the intensity of your strength training program with purpose and a plan is vital. One way to do this is called a double progression training protocol.

Let’s say you’re doing 10 reps of the 100-pound bench press. Using this protocol, you continue with this weight until you can perform 15 reps. Then increase the weight load by 5% to 105 pounds, which will likely reduce the number of reps you can do to 10 or 12. Stay with that weight until you hit 15 reps again, then increase the weight again. This process ensures that you are being progressively challenged by safe increases in exercise intensity.

Add combo moves.

These exercises work multiple muscle groups simultaneously and not only add intensity, but also challenge your coordination, balance, and stability. Examples include combining squats with an overhead press, lunges with a bicep curl, and Romanian deadlifts with an upright row.


Decreasing the execution of an exercise increases the intensity and forces you to focus more on the movement. During a set, you can alternate performing two repetitions at your normal pace with two repetitions at a slower pace. Or, an adaptation strategy to try is lifting a weight at your normal pace and then lowering the weight very slowly.

Change from passive to active recovery.

Between sets, many people sit on the bench, take a sip of water, and just rest until they start the next set. Instead, try pedaling a nearby stationary bike, doing some jumping jacks, or jumping rope. This will keep your heart rate up and increase the overall intensity of your workouts. If this is too intense for you, try just taking shorter breaks between sets.

Add some instability.

Reducing your core stability by standing instead of sitting for a set of bicep curls or performing dumbbell chest presses on a stability ball instead of a bench adds a balance challenge and increases the difficulty of each exercise .

Cardio and strength training strategy

Focus on the mind-muscle connection.

Exercise can have meditative qualities, and that extends far beyond the yoga studio. When you do a strength training exercise, think about the muscles that work. Imagine them contracting and think about how they produce movement. When walking or riding a stationary bike, focusing on repetitive motion instead of watching TV or listening to a podcast can turn a simple exercise into a form of mindful meditation. The point here is to focus on the task at hand and contemplate how what you are doing is good for both body and mind.

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