We all know that it’s hard to fit a workout into our schedule, so if you’ve been carving out time for a workout on a regular basis, that is something to be celebrated. But while it may seem counterintuitive, getting into too much of a routine can actually cause you to hit a plateau and not get the benefits anymore—or, worse, lead to injury.
How do you know when is the right time to overhaul your routine? Well, read below to learn the 5 most common signs of workout ruts along with tips on how to fix them. Remember always – you should get maximum benefits for the time and effort you put into your workouts.
Sign #1: You head straight for the treadmill (and that’s all you do).
Of course hopping on the treadmill or the elliptical is a good thing. You get your heart rate up, burn calories, and crank out endorphins. But if you’re going to the gym and just getting on a cardio machine, you’re doing yourself a disservice. That’s because you don’t have a good balance between cardio, strength training, core exercises, and flexibility work. A well-rounded program is the key to maximizing your workout and seeing changes.
The fix: Incorporate a circuit into your routine. If you’re trying to lose weight you’ll benefit from adding in resistance training, because the more lean tissue you have, the more fat your body burns throughout the day. If you’re used to walking 45 minutes per day, for instance, start by walking on the treadmill for 10 to 15 minutes, and then do a round of push-ups, squats, and alternating lunges. After completing the circuit, go back to the treadmill and walk for another 3 to 5 minutes, and repeat the circuit until you reach 45 minutes.
Sign #2: You find an excuse to leave the gym early. Every single time.
It’s fine to plan for a couple abbreviated workouts here and there. But if you’re constantly cutting them short and quitting too early, something’s not right. If you go into a workout planning to do 4 sets of 12 reps of bench press, squats, pull-ups, and lunges, and then find yourself quitting after 3 sets or only getting 10 reps, because you just can’t make it any longer, you’re likely in a rut. Remember to refuel well – total exhaustion could be a sign that you’re not fueling your body with the proper nutrients or getting enough sleep.
The fix: Take an honest look at your diet. It takes the right fuel for your car to run at its best, and the same goes for your body. Basic guidelines: You need to eat the right combo of proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables. Meals that emphasize fresh, unprocessed food and a few lean meats will give you a steady supply of energy. Another key: You need to get the right amount of sleep for your body to operate at its best.
Sign #3: You look at the clock after every exercise.
By constantly time-checking yourself, you’re not getting into the flow of your workouts. When you’re in the flow, you’re in a state where outside distractions don’t interfere with what you’re trying to achieve. Chances are, if you’re not in a state of concentration, you’re simply bored with your current routine and need to shake it up a bit.
The fix: Completely change your routine. You don’t have to totally shy away from the kind of exercise you love; it’s simple to use what you like as a guide to find something new. And that’s key because changing your surroundings is a great way to help you break out of a rut. If you’re normally a runner you probably like solo sports, so try another individual activity like yoga. If you’re a regular at spin, mix it up by scheduling a Zumba class. Never miss a tennis date? Give kickboxing, which incorporates partner work, a go.
Sign #4: You’re not making any progress.
If your goal is to break an 8-minute mile and you just can’t seem to get past 8:30, or you can’t quite bench press your target weight but you’re almost there, you may be in a rut. Something is holding you back from the results you want, and you need to make a change in order to make any headway.
The fix: First, make sure your goals are realistic. It’s great to reach for the stars, but if it’s not physically possible to touch those stars, you may need to reframe your situation. For example, maybe an 8:15 mile is a better place to start than that 8:00 mile. Once you reach that goal, you’ll be spurred on to tackle the next challenge. If that doesn’t work, seek professional guidance. A trained professional can help you reassess your goals and give you honest feedback. He can also develop a structured game plan to systemically work toward your goals.
Sign #5: Your body hurts.
If some is good, more is better, right? Not necessarily. If that’s your mentality and you find yourself feeling tired throughout the day, having trouble sleeping at night, getting sick often, or having chronic pain, then you’re probably overtraining.
The fix: Ask yourself if this is a program you can do for the rest of your life, because fitness is a journey, not a destination. If you continue to overtrain, your body will continue to break down, and you’ll eventually have to stop.
A good rule of thumb: schedule regular rest days into your routine; taking one every 3 to 5 days is best. Also, get proper nutrition and sleep. And aim for a workout to last about 30 to 45 minutes, though that varies from person to person. It’s important to understand that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to working out and recovery, so it’s best to pay close attention to your body and listen to its needs.