The human body has a tremendous ability to adapt to just about anything we ask it to do. What starts out difficult becomes easy with time and practice, especially when it comes to exercise.

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Yet there are drawbacks to the human body’s ability to adapt, both physiological and psychological. Ever feel like you’ve hit a plateau and aren’t seeing any progress in your fitness? Or perhaps you’re just feeling a bit bored with the whole exercise thing.

A lack of results and boredom are two very common causes of low motivation. Excuses arise and your commitment may waiver.

When we perform the same exercise routines and the same exercises indefinitely, our bodies become used to them and cease responding as effectively. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you are performing – our most primitive survival mechanisms require our bodies to adapt. This is the case for any physical stimulus, be it strength, fitness, fat loss, muscle tone and stamina.

Not only does our body become complacent by doing the same exercises over and over again, but our mind also becomes lazy. We know that we are going to do the same thing we did yesterday and the day before.

But to take a positive spin, reaching a plateau can be viewed as good news. It means you have mastered your workout, and it is now time to challenge yourself mentally and physically by turning the exercise program up a notch.

Benefits of mixing it up

Changing up your routine does much more than beat boredom.

“There are some physiological benefits as well as psychological benefits of having variety in your exercise program,” says Associate Professor Barbara Bushman from Southwest Missouri State University in the US. “Stress on the body is a good thing. We don’t want it to be an excessive overload, but we need to push it beyond what it normally does in order for it to improve.”

One of the most common mistakes people make when exercising is not including variety in their workout. Even by just changing the exercise order, you will keep your body continually guessing as to what’s coming next. Plus it’s more exciting than doing the same old routine and will help you remain focused and energised.

In addition, variety helps ensure improved overall fitness and prevent over-training of some muscles while others are neglected. In terms of weight loss, while it’s not possible to ‘spot reduce’, introducing variety will help to lift your energy expenditure. The most effective fat burning will happen in response to a well-balanced and varied program of regular physical activity – it’s not rocket science!

Inject a little variety

One of the best ways to add variety and round out your exercise routine is by using a technique known as muscle confusion, which is not just concerned with varying the different exercises, but also includes adding completely different training techniques into your program.

These training tips will allow you to challenge yourself with an assortment of different routines and exercises to jump-start your muscles into action.

Interval training

Interval training has been popular in fitness circles for years; however, until recently it was mainly used by competitive athletes. These days interval training has reached the masses and is a fun way to boost the effectiveness of your exercise routine – in less time! That’s right, you can spend less time at the gym, burn more fat, have more fun, avoid boredom and improve your fitness level with interval training.

It involves working out for a short period of time at a high intensity, followed by a short period at a lower intensity, and repeating. This is in contrast to the more traditional cardio approach of maintaining the same pace for the entire workout (also known as steady state cardio).

This technique can be applied to both resistance and cardio exercise. Performing interval training with music is a great option – chances are you may even forget about your muscles and just have fun!

Dumbbells, barbells and resistance bands

If resistance training is your cup of tea, try varying what you use as resistance. Most people exclusively use the machines at the gym, yet free weights (such as dumbbells and barbells) require more control and stability, providing your body with a completely different stimulus.

Resistance bands also provide a completely different feel to free weights – the resistance increases the further the band is stretched.

Free weights can be intimidating if you’re unsure of how to use them safely and effectively, so be sure to obtain the assistance of a professional.

Aerobic activities

Many people go to the gym to burn as many kilojoules as they possibly can via a cardio workout. However, there are many different cardio activities outside the gym that can also have a positive effect on energy expenditure.

Why not try something different once or twice a week such as swimming, dancing, basketball, tennis, hiking, cycling outdoors, rock climbing, soccer, jumping rope, climbing stairs or even rollerblading? All of these activities will help you to burn extra energy and many will get you outside for a breath of fresh air – which has also been shown to improve mental health.

Circuit training

If you really want to challenge yourself and get an excellent full-body workout, try setting up a circuit routine. This can be as easy as picking five or six different exercises that you will perform in sequence with no rest in between. Repeat the circuit and only rest at the conclusion of each cycle.

A tip here is to perform large compound movements that utilise multiple joints simultaneously. For example, the leg press, chest press and pull-down machines.

Also, alternate upper body and lower body exercises. This will avoid excessive fatigue in one area of the body and result in blood being drawn from one area of the body to another and therefore burning more energy.

Yoga and Pilates

Although these two mental and physical strengthening techniques have been around for many years, they are now recognised as being an effective complement to any exercise program. Many world-class athletes including skiers, footballers, basketballers and even wrestlers incorporate some type of yoga or Pilates into their programs to improve strength, balance, co-ordination, posture and flexibility.

Variety is an integral tool for achieving long-term results. As the old saying goes, ‘variety is the spice of life’, and it is important to add a little zest into your exercise routine. Variety will not only keep you interested, but also ask your body to continually respond to new challenges, avoiding the dreaded plateau. c

Jay Bonaretti is an award-winning PT who operates www.aminoz.com.au, one of Australia’s leading online personal training services and online supplement stores.