When it comes to your workout routine, you probably fall into one of two categories: the devout, same-class-every-day, ride-or-die loyalist or the always-changing, new-workout-who-dis explorer. While both loyalty and exploration both have their benefits, the most effective workout plans are somewhere in the middle: consistent yet varied. Only doing the same workout or having no consistency in your routine could prevent you from lasting changes and feeling results. Whether you’ve got your favorite instructor on speed dial or are still making your way through every studio your town has to offer, read on for reasons why you need to adjust your workout routine to achieve a balance between variety and consistency.
If you’re a serial workout repeater, you need more variety because…
You can’t do the same thing and expect different results
Have you ever wondered how your favorite instructor can teach dozens of classes a week like it’s absolutely nothing? It’s not because they’re superhuman—it’s because their body has adapted to the workload, so it’s no longer a challenge. Take it from a long-time group fitness instructor: Group fitness classes typically do the same thing every time, whether you’re a cycling class fanatic or stan a pilates series. When you start a new form of exercise, you’ll likely notice changes and improvements, like being able to ride out at faster speeds or use heavier weights. However, if the format of how you’re exercising doesn’t change, you’ll reach a plateau. Once any workout stops feeling challenging, it’s time to switch it up. Try a different class method, start tracking weights to hit new goals, or add in sprints instead of just jogging.
You may be neglecting a major component of fitness
Even if you do five minutes of dumbbell work in your cycling class or your pilates series gets your heart rate up, doing the same type of workout means you might be missing a key piece that will keep you healthy, happy, and injury-free. For general fitness, you need a balanced combo of cardio and strength training. While cardio is excellent for heart health, mood boosts, and endurance, you might be at risk for injury when you overuse muscles through cardio without properly strengthening them. On the other hand, strength training is great for building muscle, increasing bone density, and, well, increasing your strength, but it won’t do much to help you conquer the stairs of your fifth floor walk-up apartment without getting winded. Fitness is functional, and a combination of cardio and strength training is crucial for health.
If you have too much exercise wanderlust, you need more consistency because…
You need to dedicate time and effort to achieve results
Imagine trying to learn a new language by studying French one day, German the next, and Greek after that. You might learn a little from each language, but you probably won’t become fluent in any of them. Yes, you should set new goals, feel challenged in your routine, and have both strength training and cardio, but you also need some consistency. Dedicating time and effort to one form of exercise is how you get better at it.
The best way to make lasting changes through consistency is to focus on one type of exercise modality and track movements, weight used, or effort. For example, incorporate consistent strength training into your workout routine twice a week with one upper body day and one lower body day, and keep track of the weight, reps, and difficulty of each exercise. You’ll be able to make real improvements because you’ll know where you’re starting from and exactly what you need to do to improve.
Exercise requires learning
Sure, the first day of school is way more exciting than attending class after a few months in, but your first day at school is usually not when you make the most progress. Picture this: You go to a new workout class that uses kettlebells and you reach for a 10-pound kettlebell since you’re new to them, but in another class, you can lift 20 pounds when training with dumbbells. The answer is not to use a 20-pound kettlebell because form is most important for injury prevention, and you’ve never done a kettlebell snatch before so you shouldn’t feel challenged when trying something new in order to perfect form. You may be learning a new way to exercise, but you’re not getting stronger or closer to your health goals at that one class. With every new form of exercise, you need to learn it before you can challenge yourself. If you’re always a beginner, you’ll always be in the learning phase instead of being able to improve, grow, and gain confidence.
If you’re not sure how to achieve that balance between variety and consistency…
Bottom line: Working all muscle groups or parts of the body (like muscles vs. the cardiovascular system) helps keep you healthy and prevents injuries, and consistency helps you get better and achieve health goals. Going to the same fitness class won’t allow for progress, but you can’t become better at something if you don’t practice. The way you achieve the perfect balance is by intentionally changing what feels stagnant while keeping some consistency to work toward specific goals.
Let me introduce you to the principle of “periodization,” which is a fancy term for following predictable patterns of variation. In other words, you get results when you increase the intensity of your workouts without changing the modality (like adding sprints to your jogging routine) or keep the same intensity but change the type of exercise (like doing front squats instead of back squats a couple of days a week). For example, add in a day of weight training and work toward a faster mile time if you’re a jogger or try a dance cardio class while slightly increasing in weights every week at that gym if you’re a gym rat. Get clear on your goals, add in at least one to two days of cardio or strength-training (depending on what you practice less), adjust your workout routine to have more periodization, and just see how quickly your strength, endurance, and confidence improve.