With group fitness and specialty gyms booming, there have never been so many ways to work out. In just a matter of days, you could do everything from barre, to treadmill sprints, to a CrossFit WOD, to cycling (underwater!). But is there a sweet spot for variety?
“There’s no right way to do it—it depends on your goals,” says Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., and assistant professor at Lehman College. If you’re just trying to stay active, you can totally bounce around from class to class as long as you’re banking enough rest.
However, if you’re exercising with a specific goal in mind—like building strength, competing in a sport, or shaping a certain physique—your routine and strategy become more important.
Say you want to build muscle, for example. To develop the coordination and proper movement patterns necessary to get strong and grow those muscles, you’ll first need to spend a few months practicing foundational movements like deadlifts, squats, rows, lunges, and bench presses. The more efficient at these moves you are, the more you can lift—and the more you can lift, the stronger and more muscular you become.
Even as you progress, your routine can stay pretty consistent from there forward. “For the average person, there’s little to no physical benefit to changing their workout routine regularly,” says Schoenfeld.
If you just want to maintain your current level of fitness, you could hypothetically do the same exercises for the same number of reps using the same weights every workout. Plus, if changing up your workouts keeps you from regularly practicing those foundational moves, it could pull you backwards.
But frankly, doing the same exercises over and over again can feel a lot like eating your vegetables; you know it’s good for you, but it can become bland and uninspiring over time. “If you hate your workout or if you get bored of it, you’re not going to do it,” Schoenfeld says. This is when you want to switch things up a little bit; not for your brawn, but for your brain!
One simple way to keep your workouts feeling fresh without skimping on your foundation: Play around with your accessory exercises. If your workout is focused on your back and biceps, for example, you’ll always perform foundational moves like rows, but you can rotate different variations of single-joint accessory moves like bicep curls in and out from workout to workout. If you perform a dumbbell biceps curl one week, try a preacher curl or a barbell curl the next. This way, you avoid boredom without blowing up your whole routine.
Another simple tweak: Play with the rep schemes and weights you use for your go-to exercises. For example, in one workout you might be squat with heavy weight for fewer reps, but in another you might drop the weight down and up the reps.
The bottom line: Once you’ve found the routine that works for you, just stick with it. By implementing these tweaks and pushing yourself, you’ll be able to complete more reps, lift more weight, and see the motivating results you want. The same goes for endurance training. Instead of changing your entire weekly workout schedule, play with different types of cross-training (like swimming or spinning) and adjust your sprint and rest times on interval days to keep training interesting.