When it comes to working out, it doesn’t matter how fun, effective, or convenient your current workout routine is – your body will eventually get used to it. Sooner or later, what is now a challenging workout that leaves you sweating by the end of the session will feel like nothing.
When this happens, you have two options if you want to keep working toward your fitness goals and avoid a training plateau. You can either find a completely new workout that’s more challenging and appropriate for your fitness level, or you can increase the intensity of your current one!
Just because you need to switch things up to keep making progress doesn’t mean you must discard your current workout program completely – especially if you enjoy it. In this article, we’ll show you a few ways to make your workouts more challenging by increasing the intensity to make sure they’re still effective for your goals!
Increase the volume
This is a very straightforward one and probably the easiest way to increase the difficulty of your workouts. Playing with the number of reps and sets you do, as well as how much weight you use, is a technique known as progressive overload that will make a significant difference in your workouts.
For example, if your current workout involves doing 3 sets of 10 reps each, you can adjust it to be 12 reps instead of 10 – or lower the reps slightly and add another set! This way, finishing your sets will become challenging once again.
You can also keep your current sets and reps and choose a slightly heavier weight to make lifting it more difficult. Instead of doing biceps curls with a 25 lb dumbbell, you’ll do it with a 27.5 lb one, making it harder for your muscles to reach the end of each set.
That said, try not to change everything all at once! If you want to make your workouts more challenging, you need to make sure that you do it gradually so that your muscles can get used to the new exercise intensity without risking a bad form or even an injury.
Slow things down
Instead of adjusting the volume of your workouts, you can increase the intensity simply by holding the weights for longer. This is known as time under tension and, as the name suggests, it refers to the time that your muscles spend under tension during an exercise.
There are a few ways to increase time under tension in your workouts. Here are three of the most common ones:
- Move slower through the exercise. Take longer to complete both eccentric and concentric movements. When bench pressing, for example, instead of lifting the barbell in 2 or 3 seconds, lift it in 5, and do the same when bringing the weight down.
- Make your pauses longer. Halfway through a set when you pause for a moment before reverting the movement, hold the position a little longer. Instead of going back after one second, make it 3 or 4 seconds to really feel your muscles burn.
- Add pulses to your exercises. Pulses involve moving through a very short range of motion, usually near the point of maximum tension of the exercise, such as performing a short squat (pulse) while you’re at the bottom position.
Play with your rest times
A great way to make sure that you reach muscle failure by the end of your session without completely modifying your routine is changing how much your rest between sets instead!
The easiest way to change this is by shortening your rest times. Instead of finishing one set and resting for two minutes, rest for just one minute. Not only will this keep your heart pumping, but your muscles will spend more time under tension and engaged, promoting hypertrophy.
Another thing you can do during your rest period is some active rest! Instead of sitting still while you catch your breath in between sets, stay active by doing some light physical activity, such as walking around or stretching the muscles that you’re working that day to keep the blood flowing.
Use a different training approach
Rearranging your workouts completely is a great way to keep your training sessions dynamic and constantly challenging for your muscles.
If you’re new to strength training, chances are that your workouts consist of regular straight sets, doing the same number of reps and using the same amount of weight during each set. But there are many other ways to arrange your workouts so you can keep making progress!
Here are three ways you can approach a strength training session:
Superset training involves performing two different exercises back to back with little to no rest in between, such as doing 10 reps of overhead presses and then immediately doing 10 reps of leg presses before taking a break. This keeps your muscles under tension for longer while also cutting down your total time at the gym.
While there are many approaches to supersets, the most common one is training opposing muscle groups, such as upper and lower body, chest and back, quads and hamstrings, etc.
- Drop sets
Drop set training is a lift, drop, and repeat technique that makes you reach failure several times throughout your session, taking your muscles to the limit and maximizing your gains.
You start by choosing a number of reps, such as 6-8, and the heaviest weight you can lift for that many reps. When you reach the last rep and you can’t successfully perform another rep, drop the weight (lighten the load) by 10-20% and perform the next set until failure.
- Pyramid sets
Pyramid training is highly dynamic in the sense that the number of reps and the amount of weight on each set is different, continually giving your muscles a challenge.
The standard pyramid training set starts with higher reps and a lighter weight, decreasing the reps and increasing the weight on each set to make your muscles work gradually harder without burning them out completely. Reverse pyramid training is simply the opposite, starting with lower reps and a heavier weight instead.
Try exercise variations
Last but not least, some people try exercise variations to keep things fun and avoid getting bored with their workouts, but they’re also a great way to increase the intensity of your workouts!
Let’s take squats as an example. A good way to make standard squats more challenging is by trying a weighted variation, such as holding a pair of dumbbells or a kettlebell in front of your chest like in the goblet squat. You can go one step further and try front or back squats, which use a loaded barbell.
Or, instead of playing with the weights, you can simply change the way you’re performing the squat. Pistol squats use only one leg, challenging your balance and stability, and squat jacks add a jumping jack in between squats, adding an explosive aspect to the exercise and increasing your heart rate.
Make your workouts more intense to get closer to your fitness goals
Keeping your workouts continually challenging for your body, regardless of the style of training that you prefer, will help you achieve your fitness goals and set completely new goals in the future. Just remember to do it gradually – you definitely don’t want to risk an unwanted injury!
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