5 ways to challenge yourself at the gym

Whether you’re bored of your lacklustre routine or you want to push past a plateau, these five techniques will help you catapult your workouts to a higher level for better overall results’and a new, fitter you

5 ways to challenge yourself at the gym

1. Give yourself a deadline

Instead of punching in your usual routine on a cardio machine, push yourself further by programming in short bouts of vigorous exercise. When you know the higher-intensity exercise has an end in sight, you tend to work harder, boosting calorie burn and speeding up results. It works whether you want to lose weight or get in better shape.

Try this: Switch between 2-3 minutes at a moderate pace and 30-60 seconds at a slightly harder pace. Go for an intensity that you would have trouble maintaining for longer than 30-60 seconds.

2. Extend the finish line

If you’re prone to exercising for the same duration every day’and that time frame is no longer yielding results’making a small adjustment can help you feel more challenged.

For Cynnamon Schreinert, a media relations consultant in Vancouver, the trick is to tack on extra time at the end of her regular workout. Doing so has helped her walk faster, hike for longer and fit into a smaller clothing size. ‘When I’m on the treadmill, I push myself for five minutes more than what I intended,’ she says. ‘To keep my brain from freaking out that I’m doing five extra minutes, I count it down in 30-second increments.’

3. Read later

If you can comfortably read a book or magazine that’s propped on the console of a cardio machine or you tend to flip through pages between weight-lifting sets, you’re not challenging yourself enough.

Bottom line: Exercise that burns optimal calories and overloads your body so it gets stronger requires your full attention. When your focus is split, you can’t give it your all, which slows progress and increases injury risk.

Not ready to give up your open-book policy at the gym just yet? Read during the easy-paced warm-up and cool-down only, or switch to audio books.

4. Rest less

Not only does standing around between toning exercises eat up valuable gym time, it can make your workouts less effective. To rev up your weight-room routine, try training on a circuit. This combination of cardio and resistance training forces you to work harder by putting more demand on your muscles and raising your heart rate.

To try it, do 12-15 reps of each of these four exercises without stopping: low rows, alternating reverse lunges with biceps curls, pushups, crunches. After completing all four moves, rest for about a minute; repeat the circuit with the same or different exercises.

5. Make an old exercise new again

We’ve all done it out of habit: Always reaching for the same dumbbells or making a beeline for the elliptical or treadmill every time. But to see real fitness results, you need to put a new spin on a few old favourites. Love crunches? Do them on a fitness ball (the wobble factor will target your abs in a new way). Lifting dumbbells? When was the last time you grabbed the next set up? If you can easily do more than 15 reps, it’s time.

When a friend’s comment made Schreinert realize she was automatically doing pushups that no longer challenged her, she quickly kicked the habit that was holding her back. ‘One day I just started doing straight-leg push-ups,’ she says. ‘If I get tired, I go back to on-the-knees push-ups, but still I manage to do some straight-leg ones.’

Amanda Vogel is a certified fitness instructor.