Shake up your exercise routine

Have you fallen into an exercise rut? If so, you may benefit from “surprising” your muscles with a change in your workout routine.

Have you fallen into an exercise rut? If so, you may benefit from “surprising” your muscles with a change in your workout routine. And the start of a new year could be the best time for such a shakeup.

“There’s a philosophy out there that you have to ‘shock the system’ periodically to get the greatest gains from exercise,” says Jeff Erickson, physical therapist and manager of physical therapy at Saint Peter’s University Hospital’s Sports Medicine Institute. This school of thought contends that the body adapts to a particular repeated exertion so that it becomes less beneficial after a while—hence the need for a varied workout.

“It’s true that over time, your body finds the most efficient way to adapt to an exercise,” says Erickson.

While he adds that he has seen some exercisers continue to reap good results with an unchanging routine, most of us have a psychological need for an occasional change. “It’s mentally stimulating to do things a bit differently every now and then,” he says.

Also, no exercise routine is perfectly balanced. Let’s face it: We all have certain exercise activities we favor. Women who spend hours on the treadmill but never train their upper bodies may be heading for lower-back pain; back pain may also afflict male weightlifters who’ve built up an impressive chest at the expense of a lack of attention to the trunk and shoulders. Such problems of “asymmetrical strengthening,” as experts call it, may result when exercisers emphasize a favorite major-muscle activity (bench presses, perhaps) but neglect others that work muscles that don’t get a starring role (the rowing machine, for instance).

The solution? Vary your routine, perhaps focusing on the upper body one day and the lower body the next, to maximize strength in every muscle. And if you’d really like to inject new vigor into your fitness plan, why not go for something completely different? Consider the possibilities below. (Always check with your physician or healthcare professional before embarking on a new exercise routine.)


Water exercise:

Exercising in a pool is a no-impact activity that can strengthen your muscles and heart— without straining bones or joints. Unlike air, water provides resistance in any direction you move. In fact, 10 minutes of water exercise can be as beneficial as 40 minutes of movement on land.

Dance exercise:

You could try a dance-based activity such as Zumba; this aerobic fitness program, developed by a choreographer, combines vigorous movements in alternating fast and slow rhythms set to Latin music. Zumba uses aerobic principles of interval training (alternating periods of high-intensity exertion with intervals of rest) to maximize calories burned—while you feel as if you’re partying away. “My wife loves it,” says Erickson.

Tai chi:

This ancient Chinese technique involves a series of forms, or postures, that flow from one to another in slow, smooth, dance-like movements. Studies show that tai chi helps reduce high blood pressure without raising heart rate, boosts circulation and improves balance and coordination.


This Hindu exercise system benefits the body by increasing flexibility; toning the stomach, back and chest; and stimulating circulation.

Core conditioning:

These exercises target your core—the body’s center of power, which starts just below your shoulders and ends just below your hips. Pilates is a popular exercise style that focuses on this center. It builds longer, leaner muscles through moves performed on a floor mat and on a special piece of equipment called a reformer. Stability ball exercises, another form of core conditioning, are moves that are done on a large rubber ball. You may find that adding a bit of variety to your exercise routine invigorates both your body and your spirit.

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