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Mix it Up to Make it Work

Carissa D. Lamkahouan shares some sage advice on how to keep your muscles guessing for maximum workout benefits.

Ever heard of muscle confusion? If exercise is on your radar and you’re serious about sticking with it and making sure all of your hard work isn’t for naught, then muscle confusion is something you should be familiar with.



Muscle confusion is exactly what it sounds like – varying your routine so as to keep your muscles guessing as to what’s coming next. As a result, you ensure that they are working hard instead of simply going through the motions and compromising your progress. But before you get worried that every routine has to be a study in complexity to keep your muscles engaged, don’t. Simple tweaks to basic exercises, performing compound moves, or simply mixing up the order of your strength training is enough to keep your muscles guessing and for you to achieve muscle confusion and maximum effect.



To help you in your quest, I’ve listed several approaches for you to take below. And remember, not only will mixing up your routine keep your muscles properly engaged and your body working at its hardest to improve your fitness, but it will also combat exercise boredom. After all, when you have a different type of routine to look forward to most days, you’re more likely to not only get that workout done but also to attack it with vigour!



You can take all or any number of the following approaches:



Incorporate compound moves into your routine, or combine two moves into one. Try doing a squat and add a bicep curl and then an overhead shoulder press when you return to the standing position. Or do a lunge, and then complete a lateral shoulder raise as you hold the lunge pose. You can hold a plank pose, contracting and strengthening the abs, and then move into a child’s pose to stretch your back.  The point of a compound move is not only to save time and make your workout more efficient, but it also helps to burn more calories by moving your blood quickly to the top and bottom parts of your body as you work both areas. This is an advantage over simply working the lower body and only keeping the blood circulating below the torso.  Research compound exercises to find a variety of moves that target your entire body.



Combine cardio with weight training one day, then follow it up with a day of fat-blasting cardio and another day of just strength training later in the week. This type of routine offers several advantages. First, when you combine cardio and strength training you’re burning major calories and pushing your body to the limit with the quick changes between training types. In doing so, you’re keeping both your muscles and your mind engaged in order to switch between exercising different muscle groups and in different ways. Also, on the following days when you just focus on cardio or on strength training and don’t have to worry so much about switching from exercise to exercise, you can concentrate all your energy on those type of routines, thereby getting the most out of it. If you are a member of a gym, boot camp classes are excellent options for mixing your strength and cardio routines into one.



Mix Pilates or yoga with strength training and toning exercises. This is one of my favourite types of routines. Because I love strength training and cardio so much, I can easily neglect the slower and more concentrated types of moves that Pilates and yoga offer. To make sure that doesn’t happen, I depend on Pilates for my core (abs and back) routines and use yoga as a way to stretch and cool down. If you’re like me and have a hard time slowing down for a half-hour yoga practice, then incorporating these types of moves into days when you’re working harder might be a good option. Remember, stretching and strength moves go hand in hand and help to balance out the body’s efforts, so it’s important not to neglect one for the other.



That being said, it’s not a bad idea to devote a full workout session to stretching, Pilates or yoga. This type of routine offers a wealth of benefits from helping your body recover, toning your muscles gently, to just helping you to relax and even sleep better. If this sounds good to you, I recommend this type of workout first thing in the morning to wake up your body and mind, or before bed to calm you down and help you better ease into sleep.



Focus on one or two body parts in a single weight training session rather than concentrating on full-body routines or dividing your training between lower body and upper body.  For example, one day you can commit to lifting heavy weights (remember ladies, you will not bulk up!) and zeroing in on only your biceps and triceps, then save your back and chest routine for the next day. Follow that by focusing on your quadriceps and hamstrings later in the week. Doing this allows you to really concentrate on your form and correct any problems you might be having. It also allows you to lift as heavy a weight as possible. Just keep in mind, as with all weight training, don’t work the same muscle group two days in a row. Instead, give yourself at least one rest day in between to allow your muscles to repair and strengthen themselves.



Mix up your cardio. This is an obvious and easy way to make sure you’re not using the same muscles over and over again, lulling them into complacency. One day you might go for a walk or a run; the next day might find you hitting the trails on a bike. If you’re at the gym, try the stair climber and then take a chance on the rowing machine. Enjoy dancing? Try a dance aerobics class and then move on to step aerobics. Water-based classes are also fun. and I highly recommend them. Swimming is a fantastic total-body and low-impact workout. It’s also a lot more challenging than you might guess so if you have access to a pool, I urge you to take the plunge. Throw hand-held water weights into the mix and you have a whole other go-to routine to keep your muscles guessing.



Having said all of this, remember that the most effective workout is the one you will actually do. If any of the above suggestions don’t feel comfortable or you think you can’t do it, you have my permission to skip it. However, I do hope you’ll try. There’s no quicker way to burn out on an exercise regime than to keep doing the same thing over and over again. There’s also no quicker way to bore yourself to tears, something I want you to avoid like the plague! So hang in there, try something new and challenge your body. You might be surprised just how much you can achieve.