April 11, 2013 at 2:09 pm EDT | by Gerard Burley
First quarter tune up

What kind of weights to lift and how many reps to do are questions that should be determined by your fitness goals. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Did you realize we are already four months into the new year?

By now most of our new health habits we set to stick to should be a part of us.  I like to use this time as reflection time. Have you stuck to the goals you made for yourself? If not, why?

Remember you are in control of it all so take personal responsibility for your health. Think about what has worked for you. What hasn’t?

This sounds simple, but do more of what’s working and less of what’s not. This is also a good time to replace the things that aren’t working with new options. Have you hired a personal trainer, started a new class, tracked your food in a journal/calorie counter, organized your time to make time for workouts, joined a run club, signed up for a 5k or tough mudder competition?

Even making a bet with a group of friends can help to inspire weight loss? There are a host of strategies to getting and staying healthy so make sure you choose what works for you. Today we will go into my virtual mailbag to answer a few questions I received about knowing how to change up your workout routines.

It seems like common knowledge among gym goers that you have to change up your workouts so that you can get max gains, but when it comes to the what, when, why and how, the light bulb upstairs usually goes out. The first general rule is you never want to do the exact same thing for more than 4 weeks, max. Our bodies are great at adaptation (I guess that’s why we beat out the dodo bird) so we have to keep our muscles guessing at all times.

When it comes to changing up your routine most people only think about increasing the weight. I’ll come back to this, but there are various ways we can switch up our workouts. The easiest thing to do is switch up your order of exercises. People tend to do the hardest stuff first because you are fresh and feel strong.

This is great in the beginning, but as you progress try moving your hard movements to the end of your workouts and feel the difference. Another way I like to switch up my client’s workout is to go for time instead of repetitions. Maybe you usually do 15 squats, instead see how many squats you can finish in 40s. This will make you go faster and push yourself harder.

Make sure to keep track of how many reps you do each set and try to maintain or beat that number as you continue through each set. This will ensure you are still working as hard as you can even through fatigue.

My favorite way to switch up workouts is to begin including supersets, a type of circuit training where you do different exercises in a row without rest to tire your muscles out in a new way. They can be used with the same muscle group to get a huge burn or with different muscle groups to keep your heart rate up while the first muscle group gets to recover. I even like to include sprints on a cardio machine or jumps in between strength exercises to max out my clients calories burn during sessions. As you get better, you can add in exercises supersetting three to five exercises through a single circuit.

You’ve been lifting for some time now, but how do you know when it’s time to increase the weights? As with everything it depends on your goals, which should dictate your lifting plan.

If you’re focused on strength, then you should be lifting a weight you can only do one to six reps. Hypertrophy or building muscle, then 8-12 reps, and metabolic or toning 13-plus reps. A general rule is if you can do three sets of a weight within your goal range, with perfect form and not reach muscle fatigue, then it’s time to bump it up.

Muscle fatigue is what I like to call the “my-muscles-are-about-to-fall-off” factor.  In other words, the point where you can not complete another rep. Though everyone says they want to “tone up,” don’t neglect muscle building because that’s what will give you a great shape and sexy figure if and when you lose the fat. I recommend rotating through these training zones every four weeks accompanied by high intensity interval training.

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