When you’re an exercise newbie, the fitness gains come fast. But once you’ve broken in your running shoes or become a regular at the gym, you have to work harder to challenge your stronger, more efficient body. You can accomplish this by changing how hard, long and often you work out. The trick is to avoid doing so much that you end up hurt or burned out. Make a smart and safe transition with these tips.
- Assess your current fitness level
Start by assessing where you’re at now as well as your strengths and weaknesses.
- What you already do (exercise mode), including cardio exercise and strength training
- How hard you work (intensity)
- How often you do it (frequency)
- How long you do it (duration)
- Set new goals
Next, take a look at where you want to be. What are some specific, realistic goals you can set to improve your fitness level? Maybe you can jog or swim for 45 minutes rather than 30. Or you could add flexibility exercises into your routine. Perhaps you want to train for an event such as a 10K or minitriathlon.
- Do more
The best way to pump up your fitness level is to increase your exercise intensity. Intensity refers to how hard you work. The fitter you get, the harder you need to exercise to feel challenged and see results. Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone will help you to get the most effective workout possible, which is important, especially if you don’t have a lot of time that day to exercise. If you exercise at a lower intensity, you’ll need to work out for longer sessions or more often to achieve the same fitness effects. In building up, first increase the frequency of your activity (number of days a week). As you become more fit, increase the length of each workout and finally the intensity.
To increase the intensity of your workout:
- Move faster. Walk more briskly or start running if you’ve been walking or jogging. The faster you move your body, the more work you’ll do within a given time.
- Add vertical challenge. Run or walk on hills, or increase the grade on a treadmill. Add a step riser for step aerobics.
- Increase resistance. Increase the pedaling resistance on a cycling machine. For strength training, gradually lift more weight.
- Cross-train. Participate in a variety of activities, including some that are more demanding or vigorous.
- Try interval training. This means interspersing short bursts of high-intensity activity (such as a 10-second sprint) with intervals of low- to moderate-intensity activity, such as walking.
- But don’t overdo it
If you exercise several hours a day every day, you run the risk of an overuse injury or fatigue and burnout — and you won’t produce many extra gains in fitness. To avoid overtraining, increase your total exercise time, distance or intensity gradually. Alternate hard and easy workouts from one day to the next, and build in time for rest and recovery.
Once you’ve reached a new fitness level, take a moment to congratulate yourself on how far you’ve come!