Are you getting the most bang for your buck in your workout? 5 strategies to increase your intensity
It’s easy to go through the motions day in and day out, but what happens when we step outside of our comfort zone? What happens when we push ourselves to do those things that make us uncomfortable? According to some inspirational quotes, we only ever truly grow when we challenge ourselves. However, stepping out of our comfort zone isn’t always easy or appealing. In fact, the majority of us tend to avoid it at all costs.
I am definitely guilty of going to the gym and just going through the motions. Some days, that’s perfectly fine and enough for my body. Heck, getting to the gym can be hard enough on its own! But, will I ever grow or reach my goals if I don’t push myself a little harder? Probably not. I likely won’t be able to do that nagging pull-up that I’ve always dreamed of doing, if I don’t actually give it my all when we practice them. I likely won’t be able to get lower in my squats, if I don’t push myself to do mobility work. I likely won’t improve my cardiovascular fitness if I never try to increase my intensity on the assault bike. Our coaches can motivate and push us to work harder, but that only goes so far. How do we learn to push ourselves on our own?
I recently got a Fitbit and came to the realization that I tend to stay in my comfort zone during class. Sure, I push myself and feel out of breath, but only to a point of slight discomfort. The Fitbit tells you if you’re in the “fat burning”, “cardio” or “peak” zone based on your heart rate, which they calculate using your age. Is it entirely accurate? Probably not, but it’s a decent estimate to guide you in your workout. I found that I was in the fat or cardio burning zones for the majority of the workouts. I thought I was pushing my limits, but the number flashing in my face was basically telling me that I wasn’t trying hard enough.
To be clear, being in the fat burning or cardio zone is not a bad thing. You are exercising and doing something good for your body and that is amazing and rewarding in and of itself. However, the reason that GF Strength and Conditioning is unique is because it uses exercise methods that are scientifically proven to have profound effects, if done correctly. Research shows that high intensity exercise performed for short periods of time with rest can be more effective than long, steady state cardio. Basically, you get more bang for your buck—score! Additionally, strength training with heavy weights is one of the most effective ways to burn fat and build muscle. Plus, you just start to feel stronger and that’s useful in all areas of life!
Of course, there’s always a caveat. In order to reap all the benefits from high-intensity interval training and weight lifting, you have to do them correctly. You have to push yourself to get in the peak zone during a conditioning workout. You have to start with a challenging weight during strength training exercises and continue to add weight as you get stronger. It should be uncomfortable, but it’s shouldn’t be painful. Exercise should never be painful.
Like I said before, just moving your body is awesome. You can’t expect to jump right into a workout at GF Strength and Conditioning and go all out if you haven’t done that type of movement before. But, you will get there and you will notice the difference in how you feel both physically and mentally when you push yourself. Here are some tips to help increase your intensity and get out of your comfort zone, when you’re ready for it:
Tip 1: Remember, it's only temporary
One of the reasons I love GF Strength and Conditioning is because the workouts go by quickly, and I am never doing the same thing throughout the whole workout. Also, we rarely do the awful exercises (I’m lookin’ at you, assault bike) for more than a minute. Knowing I only have to work for a given amount of time or reps lets me know that the struggle is only temporary. That burning sensation throughout my whole body will end as soon as that timer beeps and I can get off this damn bike. Keeping this in mind makes it easier to push yourself for that given amount of time. You only have to go all out for 3 reps or 30 seconds then that part is over. How many times have we heard Coach Liz say, “You can do anything for 30 seconds”? Probably a lot, but it’s true. Instead of thinking, “Ugh, I have to do this for 30 seconds” think “I only have to do this for 30 seconds” then go for it! Your mindset is incredibly powerful.
Tip 2: Set small goals
Life challenges can be made easier by breaking them down into smaller parts. Workouts are no different. Setting small goals throughout a workout can make a world of difference on your experience during class and how hard you push yourself. Are you giving yourself a rep goal during an interval workout? Before every Tabata or timed round, give yourself a goal number. If you hit that number and feel like you can do one more rep, then go for it! If you don’t hit that number the first round, try again. Hitting your goal reps during the interval will feel rewarding and you will likely try harder than if you didn’t set a goal. You can do the same thing with weights. If we are increasing the weight throughout the workout, ask yourself what you want the weight on the bar to be at the end of the workout. You may or may not get there based on how your body is feeling that day, but that’s not the point. The point is that you are giving yourself a goal to work towards and learning from your experience.
Tip 3: Be nice to yourself
How you talk to yourself matters. We can be our biggest supporter or completely destroy our mindset through the words we say to ourselves during a workout. Let’s try being our biggest supporter during a workout instead of our biggest critic. First, congratulate yourself when you get to the gym, because that is truly the hardest part and you did it! You made the commitment to yourself to improve your physical and mental health by walking through those doors. Then, choose the words of affirmation that you plan to constantly repeat to yourself during class when all you want to do is quit. One of my favorites to have on repeat in my head when the workout gets tough is, “You will be stronger because of this, keep going”. Does it sound corny? Sure. But it’s going to sound a lot better during a grueling AMRAP workout when you’re telling yourself that you’re strong and kicking ass instead of telling yourself to just give up because you can’t do it, speak it into existence. We talk to ourselves in our heads more than to anyone else, so make those words kind, supportive and positive.
Tip 4: Visualize the future
Yoga classes often begin by setting an intention for your practice. Why can’t you have the same experience at GF Strength and Conditioning classes? You can. Envision how you want to feel at the end of the workout. Do you want to leave there knowing you gave it your all? Do you want to leave knowing that you added 5 more pounds to the bar than you usually do? Are you just hoping to make it through class because well, it’s just one of those days? Either is completely fine, but know what you are hoping to get out of your workout when you go to class.
Have you been struggling to master the snatch and feel exasperated when you see that movement on the board? Try visualizing yourself doing that movement with ease and absolutely destroying the workout. I played volleyball in high school and as a 5’3” athlete with a pretty pathetic vertical jump, I shouldn’t have been determined to be an outside hitter. However, all I wanted to do was spike the ball over the net. My coach told me to imagine getting up and over the net before every game and slamming the ball down. During the actual game, I would channel that feeling and it gave me the confidence I needed to give it everything I had to get that ball over the net. Allow yourself to explore what it would look and feel like to succeed at a movement that is currently challenging and then go for it! You can’t improve if you never try.
Tip 5: Workout next to someone that pushes you
Sometimes I use all of my brain power just to get to the gym. After a long day at work, I know a workout will make me feel a hundred times better, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to physically get to class. Usually, 98% of my mind is saying just go home, so I use all of my energy to quiet it and get myself to the gym. By the time I get there, it’s unlikely that I have the mental energy left to push myself.
Since we tend to mirror other peoples’ actions, I’ve found that I try harder if I’m working out near people that are pushing themselves or are stronger than me. If you are competitive, this tip is especially helpful. If I know that I just don’t have the oomph to go hard on my own, I will strategically place myself near someone during the workout that is going all out and will try to keep up with them. The important thing to remember is that you are not comparing yourself to this person. Rather, you are using them as inspiration to push yourself harder.
While pushing yourself and increasing your intensity is crucial to your workout, listening to your body and resting are just as important. If you are feeling dizzy, faint or just sick during a workout, it’s probably a good idea to take a break. It’s likely that you are dehydrated or haven’t fueled your body properly for the workout. Being uncomfortable is expected during a tough workout, but making yourself ill from exercise is not normal. Additionally, you cannot go hard and all out every day. Your body needs to recover. You should only do high intensity workouts 3-4 days per week max. Integrating some low impact exercise into your week like swimming, yoga, walking and/or biking is an ideal way to use new muscles and reduce overuse injuries. Even though coaches can push and motivate you to work harder, you know your body the best. It’s crucial that you listen to your body and know when you’ve reached your limit. Remember, exercise can be uncomfortable and hard, but it should not be painful.
Let’s recap. We can keep going through the motions every day and not see many changes, but is that really why you are coming to class? Probably not. I’d argue that all of us are going to GF Strength and Conditioning to get stronger and healthier, both physically and mentally. We all want to improve and get stronger. Let’s step outside of our comfort zones together and let’s support each other to push harder at every class. Remember, strength isn’t given, it’s earned.