8 Secrets to Optimizing Your Exercise Plan | Reader's Digest

8 Secrets to Optimizing Your Exercise Plan

Simple ideas you can use to meet fitness goals in less time.

From The Everyday Arthritis Solution

We’d be lucky if having the motivation to move was all it took to make exercise a part of our daily activities. When it comes to making motion an aim we often find ourselves face-to-face with the most persistent of obstacles. Here are some tips for conquering time when it threatens to bump exercise plans from your date book:

1. Book yourself. Don’t have time for all this exercise? Sometimes it’s a matter of perception — other people’s. If coworkers, friends, or even family can’t understand why you take time for exercise but not for what they think is important, keep your priorities to yourself — but schedule your exercise in your date book. That way, when sticking to your guns on workouts, you can merely say you’re keeping a prior appointment.

2. Keep it interesting. Some people have a high tolerance for routine — and may even elevate it to ritual. But if your attention span is closer to monkey than monk, try to introduce variety into your workout on a regular basis. One way to do it: Change two things about your routine every week. It could be as simple as adding repetitions, resistance, or sets — or substituting one exercise for another. Change isn’t just an antidote to boredom, it allows you to continually challenge muscles in new ways, which makes you stronger faster.

3. Try slow motion. Want to try a difficult challenge that’s easy on joints? Lift a light weight only one time — but do it very slowly. Pick out a weight about half what you’d normally lift 10 times. Take 15 to 20 seconds to lift the weight, hold for another 15 to 20 seconds, then take another 15 to 20 seconds to bring it back down. The constant stress through the entire range of motion will work muscles in an entirely new way.

4. Judge gym transit time. Made the decision to join a health club? When choosing, follow the golden rule of gym location: Keep it within a 15-minute drive. Any farther and your chances of actually getting there for a workout drop considerably.

5. Spread the effort. If doing an entire full-body workout all at once is too fatiguing or demanding on your time, try doing only one part of the workout each day. If your workout has 12 exercises, for example, do the first three on Monday, the next three on Tuesday, and the rest on Wednesday. On Thursday, start the routine again. That way, you’re still doing each exercise three times during a one-week period without exhausting yourself with your routine.

6. Hold on to your gains. While giving your muscles a chance to rest is important to making them stronger, there’s inevitably a point of diminishing returns when it comes to slacking off. How much rest is too much? A good rule of thumb is to expect about a 10 percent loss of your strength gains after about 10 days. The more training you’ve done, the slower your strength will decline. The bottom line: To maintain your gains, you need to keep exercising regularly.

7. Count backward. Problem: Strength exercises are no fun when the last repetitions are tough to do. Interpretation: If you’re challenging your muscles enough to want to quit, you’re probably doing them at just the right intensity. Mental trick: Your final repetitions will seem easier if you count backward from your target instead of forward from zero because you’ll be thinking about how few you have left, rather than how many you’ve already done.

8. Get off the floor safely. For exercises and stretches that require you to get on all fours, it’s easier to get back up again if you walk your hands back until you’re in a kneeling position, place one foot on the floor in front of you with your knee bent at about 90 degrees, then use your leg as a support for your hands as you stand or ease yourself into a chair.