When you're putting in a lot of hard work to stay in shape, you want to be sure that you're maximizing every aspect of your workouts so that you can achieve the best results. If you feel like you're not quite getting the most out of your workouts, it doesn't always mean that you need to make wholesale changes to your routine; sometimes all it takes is a handful of tweaks here and there for you to really feel and see a difference in how your body responds. So, here's how to make your workouts more effective and really boost the benefits.
1. When weight training, squeeze or contract your muscles at the peak of your movements.
If you're flying through your sets just for the sake of checking them off your list, it's highly possible that you're not maximizing the effectiveness of each rep. It's much better for you to slow down a little bit and really take the time to "feel" each rep that you're performing. Squeeze and hold your muscles in a contracted position at the peak of each movement before letting the weights back down. You only have to pause for a second or two during each rep to really feel a difference in how your muscles respond.
You can also practice keeping your core nice and tight when performing various movements; this will strengthen your abdominal muscles and provide your body with more support and stability.
2. Reduce your rest time between sets.
For example, if you normally rest for 60 seconds between exercises, cut it down to thirty. This will place more of a demand on your muscles than what they may be accustomed to, which will cause them to respond differently and become stronger in order meet this new demand. In addition, decreasing your rest time between sets adds more of a "circuit" feel to your routine, which will give your heart a solid workout as well.
3. Add light weights to certain cardio or bodyweight exercises.
If you're going for a walk or a jog, add ankle weights to increase resistance and shape up those leg muscles even more. Perform squats or lunges with dumbbells. Hold a light plate weight against your chest as you're doing sit-ups. Adding just a slight bit of weight on these very common exercises will give your muscles the extra push they need to become stronger and more well-defined.
4. Add a little freshness to your workout by mixing up your regular routine.
This can be something as simple as doing your exercises in reverse order, or just scrambling them up in a random arrangement to challenge your body in new ways.
You can also try adding simple exercises between sets to step up the demands on your body and increase your endurance. For example, if you're grinding out some push-up sets, perform 20 jumping jacks between sets just to add a little boost to the workout. Making these types of small adjustments can really take your stamina and strength to a new level.
5. Try pyramiding your weights.
This classic bodybuilding technique will challenge your muscles in a new way, and can do wonders toward building lean muscle. Pyramiding can be done in several different ways, but here's one example: If you start off doing 10 reps of shoulder presses using 5-pound dumbbells, try performing 8 reps with 10-pound dumbbells. You can also start out with heavier weights with lower reps, and then transition to lighter weights with higher reps. If you really want to give your muscles a nice jolt, try keeping your reps the same, but increasing the weight with every set.
6. Add minor variations to basic movements.
For example, when performing squats, add a slight jump when you're pushing your legs back up to the straight position. If you're doing push-ups, change the width of your hand placement with each set; alternate between wide-grip and close-grip positioning. You can do the same thing with exercises such as calf raises; turn your heels out slightly to shape up your outer calf muscles, and then bring your heels together to form a slight "V" shape with your feet to recruit your inner calf muscles. Each new angle or position you try will target a slightly different muscle group; just make sure to test out each variation slowly at first, and avoid excessive strain or awkward positioning.
As you can see, it doesn't take much to revolutionize your workouts; just focus on making small adjustments, and perform them with intention and precision. Over time, you'll reap the benefits of these simple tweaks by sculpting a stronger, leaner and healthier body.