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One Small Change

6 Easy Ways to Make Any Workout Less Routine

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My baseball team is heading into the playoffs in a few weeks, and our manager suggested we get new caps—blue ones instead of the red ones we’ve been wearing all season. Look sharp, play sharp, was his reasoning.

Well, you would’ve thought he’d suggested banning Aleve (hey, this is a 45-and-over league). The response was swift and negative: You don’t mess with what’s working.

You probably see examples of this Hamster Wheel all the time: Guys on the same machine at the gym every morning, or women who defend the same spot in yoga or Zumba as if it's their personal Alamo. While habits are great if they get you exercising regularly, your muscles and mind are quick adaptors and all routines, over time, stop working and often become counterproductive.

“It takes a lot less effort to fire wired neurons,” explains Roy Sugarman, Ph.D., the director of applied neuroscience for Athletes’ Performance, “so the brain naturally tries to create automatic skills that require no further thought. We need to constantly challenge that process so we don’t get complacent. In fact, it’s during routine activity that mistakes creep in, like hooking or slicing a golf ball, or getting the ‘yips’ while putting. The lower, automatic brain systems can’t correct for that.”

“But a new behavior, even if it’s just training in a different location in the gym [or wearing a new ballcap], switches on more of the frontal and executive brain regions,” adds Sugarman. “It’s called effortful processing. Hence, change of any kind is good for the brain and for the body.”

Here are six easy ways to subtly shake up your routine in ways that will boost awareness and foster improvement:

  • Reverse your normal running, walking or cycling route. It’ll feel like you’re in an entirely new neighborhood.
  • Instead of counting up when doing repetitions, start at your target number and count down. As you near the end of the set, you’ll be thinking about how many you have left instead of how many you’ve done, which makes a big psychological difference.
  • Shower before working out. You’ll be more energized, and feel refreshed, especially if you're training after a long day at the office. 
  • Instead of using one cardio machine for your entire workout, switch between machines every 10 to 15 minutes, or between sets of intervals.
  • Turn onto one new road every time you ride your bike.
  • With shorter days and inclement weather approaching, don’t stress out about squeezing in your regular workout. If you’ve been running or cycling, switch to weight training, swimming, or a martial art. The change will renew your commitment to exercise and boost overall fitness.

Got a small change that you use to beat routine? Let us know about it in the comments section below.

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Attitude, Motivation, Planning, Energy

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