So you’ve taken the first step and have started an exercise program. Congratulations! That’s often times the hardest part of getting fit. But once you’ve been doing the same thing for a few weeks, you might want to think about upping the intensity of your workouts. Results follow performance, so if you don’t advance your workouts, then your results will stagnate. In the spirit of National Self-Improvement Month, here are some tips and tricks to help you push yourself harder.
1. Have a goal
Whether you want to lose weight or get stronger, it’s a lot easier to push yourself if you know what you’re pushing yourself for. Similar to having a personal mission statement, having a fitness goal will help you stay on track and focused. Write it down. Tell your friends and family. Give yourself accountability. It’s important to have a goal that’s concrete, specific, and attainable. Don’t say, “I want to lose weight.” Instead, specify how much weight you want to lose and in what amount of time. This will let you measure your progress and keep you motivated through a period of time.
2. Have a plan
Once you’ve picked a goal, it’s time figure out how you’re going to reach it. Use a fitness program or connect with a trainer. Fitness shouldn’t be random; it should be planned. Start with something that’s on an appropriate level for your current fitness ability. Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon without training for it, you shouldn’t jump off the couch and into the most intense workout possible. “The toughest part of an exercise program is seeing it through to the end, so you don’t want to sabotage it by making things too tough out of the gate,” says Steve Edwards, Beachbody’s VP of Fitness and Nutrition. “Basically, just doing it is plenty…at first.”
3. Switch it up
Once you’ve become comfortable with the workouts, then it’s time to start pushing yourself a little bit harder. But remember, you have to work up to it first. Depending on how fit you are in the beginning, the amount of time you should wait before you ramp up the intensity varies. “It takes your body between three and 12 weeks to adjust to new exercise,” Edward says. “The fitter you are, the quicker you respond. With that in mind, you’ll want to schedule a program that mixes things up from time to time.”
Edwards explains that it’s easy to make your muscles sore in the beginning of a program, but you always want to keep a little bit in reserve. “You want a little soreness, but not too much,” he says. “As soon as you’re not getting sore anymore, pick up the intensity.”
There are a few ways to crank your workouts up a notch. You can go faster, jump higher, or simply lift more weights. “Change bands or add weight so you’re close to failing, and sometimes fail, near the end of every set,” Edwards says. “This added intensity will force your body to adapt and turn that improvement line skyward.”
Another way to push yourself to the max is by combining multiple workouts into one day. This is a great idea, especially if you’re training for something like a triathlon, Spartan race, or BODathon.
4. Focus on all the pieces
When you’re pushing your body to its limits, you need to give it everything it needs. This includes rest and correct nutrition. For a shorter program, like 21 Day Fix, you don’t really need to incorporate rest days into your workout schedule. However, longer programs, like P90X, Turbo Fire, and the BODathon training schedule, have recovery weeks built into them. Active recovery allows your body to keep moving, but it also helps your muscles become refreshed and reenergized.
In addition to taking care of your muscles, you also need to fuel them. Food fuels your body, but only clean food will give you the fuel your body needs to push yourself as hard as possible. “Junk food is referred to as ‘empty calories’ because it tends to be low in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients,” explains Denis Faye, Beachbody’s Director of Nutrition Content. “Missing some of those nutrients, such as iron or various B12 vitamins, has a direct effect on energy levels. Other nutrient deficiencies can be more insidious, like the way a lack of iodine might eventually impact your thyroid.”
Not only do you need to eat the right kinds of foods, you also need to eat the right amounts. In order to have the energy to push yourself hard, you need to eat enough so you don’t feel lethargic or unfocused. “Plateaus are a pretty good indicator that you’re under eating,” Faye says. A fitness plateau is when you’re not losing any weight, but you’re not gaining it, either. By upping your calorie intake, you can give your body more fuel to help you effectively power through tough workouts.
5. Get reinforcements
Supplements can be extremely helpful when your body is exerting lots of energy for a long time. This guide can help you effectively use supplements for longer workouts. But supplements aren’t just for endurance athletes – they can be just as helpful (and important) for any shorter workout regime. Pre-workout drinks, like Energize, can pump you up to go all out in a workout. An extra boost of energy can do wonders when you’re lifting heavier weights or doing cardio for longer than you’re used to.
And when you start feeling the soreness that was mentioned earlier, you don’t have to suffer through it all alone. Recover and Recharge help reduce post-workout muscle inflammation, and also help with the muscle rebuilding process. So not only will you feel less sore, but your muscles will also get an extra boost to become even stronger.
6. Stay motivated
Fitness can be just as much of a mental exercise as it is physical. Some days you’ll just want to give up, but that’s when it’s key to push yourself. These three tips can help you stay committed to your goals. Keep your eye on the prize so you can reach the goal you originally set for yourself. “There’s only one way to get there and that’s by exercising and watching what you eat,” Edwards says.
7. Stay safe
Although challenging your body helps your fitness improve and progress, you should never push yourself to the point of injury. “You need to learn the difference between good pain, which is being sore, and bad pain, which signals an injury,” Edwards says. “Good pain gets better over time. Bad pain gets worse.” He explains that this is why it’s important to start your program with some caution, and then build up steadily as your body gives you feedback. “Exercise is a constant dialogue with yourself,” he says.
If you have a hard time deciphering the good pain and the bad, it can be very useful to have a trainer or to follow a program without veering off course. “It gets tricky, however, once you finish a program,” Edwards adds. If you’re in great shape and want to keep going, that can be fine, but it can also be a good idea to give yourself some rest and recovery to see how your body really feels. “This doesn’t mean no exercise, but it means to slow down a bit and reflect,” he says. “It’s why many of our programs come with suggestions for maintenance schedules.”
Your body is capable of great things, so you shouldn’t sell yourself short. Use this month as an excuse to push yourself harder, and follow these tips to make your body the best it can be!