Too often we get stuck doing the same routine over and over again. The only way we mix things up is by adding more weight to exercises or maybe even doing a few extra reps.
But those aren’t the only ways you can mix things up and make your workouts more challenging. You can also play around with the tempo at which you do the move, the type of resistance you use or even the variation of the exercise that you do.
Not only will mixing things up make your workouts more interesting and challenging, but it may also help you get better results if you’ve been doing the same old thing for awhile! Here’s how to change up the tempo, resistance and variations you use to make your workouts more challenging and fun so that you get the results you want!
Changing Up The Tempo
So what does it mean to change up the tempo and how can you do it?
When we do exercises, we do them at a certain pace. Generally we just sort of go through the moves at a controlled but quick pace with no thought as to exactly the tempo or pace we are moving at.
If we do change up the tempo, generally we make the moves quicker, like performing a squat jump instead of a bodyweight squat. But we can also slow down the tempo of exercises and make the moves more challenging by spending more time under tension.
Below are 3 examples of how you can slow down the tempo of a move:
1. Slow Eccentric Reps
A great way to slow down the tempo of an exercise is by focusing on and slowing down one part of the movement. In this case you’ll slow down the Eccentric Contraction.
The Eccentric Contraction is when a muscle lengthens due to a stronger force being exerted on it.
If you take a squat for instance, the eccentric portion of the squat is when you sink down to the bottom. If you do Slow Eccentric Reps, you will want to slow down the tempo of your lower into a squat and then come straight back up. Try slowing down your lower down into a squat by a count of 3 or even 5. The slower you go the harder the move will be.
You may find you even need to lower your weights when you slow down the tempo because simply moving slower with good form is challenging.
If you choose to slow down the tempo to make an exercise more challenging, actually slow down the move. Don’t start to speed up the tempo as you become fatigued!
2. Pause Reps
You can also slow down the tempo of an exercise by holding for a few seconds at a point during the movement.
For instance, you can hold at the bottom of your Squat. Or you can hold at the top of your Pull Up. You don’t have to hold for long, but just a pause during the exercise will change up the tempo and make it more challenging. By pausing, you force your body to move from that point in the lift without any momentum.
You also force your muscles to work hard to hold still at that point in the exercise. Try Pause Reps and just hold for a second at the bottom of your squat. Do not rush or bounce off the bottom. Make sure to really distinctly pause before pushing back up to standing.
3. Hold Reps or Isometrics
Want to completely stop all movement and hold under tension? Then try Hold Reps or Isometrics.
Isometrics can be a great way to build stability and even mobility and flexibility. With Isometrics you are holding an exercise and trying to get deeper in the move as your muscles are under tension. This can create mobility and stability because your muscles are working as you try to hold in a deeper range of motion than you may normally be able to use.
Isometrics, while stretching, also strengthens, which helps you keep the mobility and flexibility with them unlike with many static stretches. With static stretches, you stretch and then lift through the same range of motion you usually do and basically you’ll tighten everything back up.
A great Isometric Exercise to increase your hip mobility, hamstring and calf flexibility as well as the stability and strength of your feet, legs, and glutes is the Warrior III Pose.
To do Warrior III, balance on one foot and hinge over lifting your back leg toward the wall behind you. Pretend you are driving the foot you lifted straight back into the wall behind you. Lean your torso over, keeping your back flat and your core tight. Make sure to keep your hips square to the ground.
As you hinge over and create a nice straight line with your body from your head to your heels, reach your hands overhead in front of you. Hold in this position. You can also reach your hands out at your sides or back toward your feet to make the movement a little easier.
Do not let your back round or your other foot touch down. Make sure you do not lock the standing leg out as you hold, but do try to straighten your leg as much as possible. The straighter your leg the harder the move will be and the more you’ll improve your flexibility and mobility. You’ll also strengthen your leg through this increased range of motion.
For more Isometric Moves, check out these 20 Exercises.
Changing Up The Resistance
Adding weight or resistance to an exercise can be done in a variety of ways. If you usually use Machines or even Dumbbells or Barbells, think about including Kettlebells, Sandbags, Resistance Bands or even Ropes or Towels instead. For instance you can do a Bent‐Over Row with Dumbbells, Kettlebells, Barbells, Bands or even Sandbags.
By using different types of resistance, you can add variety and a new challenge to the same old move. For instance, a Sandbag will be a more awkward, uneven weight than a Barbell. Or you can use Dumbbells instead of a Barbell to force each arm and side of your back to work independently. Or you can even use Resistance Bands to place more resistance on the muscles throughout the entire movement.
By changing up the resistance, you can challenge your body in different ways.
Changing Up The Variations
Have you been using the same basic movements like Squats or Deadlifts in your workouts because they are great compound exercises?
While those two moves are important lifts to include, that doesn’t mean you have to stick with the same basic variations of the Squat or Deadlift all the time. You should actually include different variations of these moves as you progress and change up your workouts to work your body in different ways and target different muscles while still getting the same basic benefits from the moves.
A great variation of both moves is a Unilateral or Single Leg Variation. You can do both a Single Leg Deadlift and a Single Leg Squat. By doing a Single Leg Variation, you can force each leg to work independently to correct imbalances. You can also work on your balance and target your core more.
You can also change up the width of your stance with both moves to focus on different aspects of your legs.
For instance with the Deadlift, you can widen your feet out and do a Sumo Deadlift with your feet out wide and your toes turned out. This will work your inner thighs more than the traditional Conventional Deadlift.
Or you can change up how and where you hold the weights. So not only can you change up the type of resistance you use to add variety to the exercises, but you can also change up where you hold the weights.
You can change up the Basic Squat by either placing a Barbell on your back or by holding a Kettlebell up in front of your chest. You can also use Dumbbells on your shoulders or even place one Sandbag over one shoulder. Each of these variations will work your body in slightly different ways.
The Front Squat or Goblet Squat with the Kettlebell up at your chest will work your core more than the Basic Back Squat. While loading down one side with a Sandbag will force your core to work hard to stabilize because of the unilateral load.
And for more ways to change up basic moves like the Squat, check out these Squat Variations.
So the next time you think about simply increasing the weight you are using or you feel like your progress has plateaued, try changing up the tempo, resistance or variations of the moves you are including in your workouts instead!
Cori is the owner of Redefining Strength, a functional training facility in Orange County, California focused on helping each client find their strong. She started training and writing a fitness blog in 2011 because she wanted to empower people through diet and exercise so that they can lead healthier, happier lives.