This is one of my favorite sayings.  So often I am dismayed that so many wonderful things never stay the same in life. Everything changes, all the time.  That’s the way of life. One of the keys to being happy is finding a way to enjoy the fact that the only thing that’s constant in life is change.  Life is a winding river and I have to embrace it with the joy of a white water rafter.  Ahh, another opportunity for a metaphor about exercise.  I can’t help it—exercise is just so darn instructive to life!  We learn that we can accomplish more than we thought and that we are stronger than we ever dreamed through working out our bodies.  We learn to breathe through the hard parts and sacrifice a little bit today so that we can be so much better tomorrow.  And we also learn that the only way to grow is to embrace change. It may seem easier to just try and do things the same way, but it will not benefit you.  You must change, constantly. But change does not always have to be drastic.  Sometimes it is the tiniest changes that make all the difference!

One change you may have noticed about my posts is that I haven’t been posting my daily workouts lately for a couple reasons.  First of all, I’ve already posted over 100, so that should give you a pretty good idea of the types of workouts that you should do if you are trying to build muscle. Second, the workouts I’m doing lately are very similar to the ones that I’ve already posted (they are similar, but you may have noticed that I never, ever do the exact same workout—they are like snowflakes, or children, every one is different—at the very least, the order or type of exercises change every single time—not to mention the weight or reps should rise every single workout).  And third, I am not writing down my workouts like I used to.  Why?  I’m always looking to change something, anything, to keep things interesting.

I went for about 10 months, writing down every single workout that I did, and I also listened to music from my iPhone while working out.  Then one day, I just decided that it might feel different (freer, actually) to not carry a notebook or iPhone around with me as I worked out, and believe it or not, that little change made my workout feel fresh. I won’t do this forever, in fact, I expect that when I go back to writing it down (maybe next week), I will see that I’ve really jumped up in weight from where I left off, and that will be fun to see. It’s also been good for my brain to try to remember the heaviest weight that I lifted the last time on each exercise.  It’s just one of those little things that you can do to make things feel different for your brain and keep things feeling fresh.

That brings me to the absolute best thing you can do to keep your workouts fresh—setting goals.  For instance, I was curling 25 or 27.5 lbs several months ago, but I injured my tendons in my forearms from jumping up in weight too fast.  So, I had to back off and avoid free weights for my arm workouts completely for a couple months and just use machines (lesson learned, better to progress slow and steady).  Then, slowly I added the free weights back into my arm work out, but I had to reduce the weight back down to 15 lb dumbells.  But after doing lots of drop sets and being very careful with my form for the past few months, I am finally able to curl 25 lb dumbells again.  Each week my goal has been to either curl a few more pounds or to add a few reps.  That’s how it works.  You start out only able to curl 15 lbs for 8 reps, then the next week you can curl 15 lbs for 12 or 15 reps, then you raise the weight to 20 lbs and you can only do 5 reps.  But a week or so later you can do 8 or 10 reps and then you raise the weight to 22.5 or even 25 lbs.  Anyway, that’s where I am right now, I am curling 25 lbs for 8-10 reps.  I hope to raise the reps and then the weight soon.  My goal is to curl 30 lbs before the end of 2011, even if I can only do a few reps.  Keeping this goal in mind gets me excited about hitting the gym on arm night.  I have also just started using the assisted chin up and dip machine.  This is exciting because I know it will look pretty cool when I can do those moves unassisted.  This is a goal that may take months to achieve.  I haven’t put a date on it, but it is a goal, nonetheless, and that keeps me motivated.

Another nice little change to make things feel fresh is new work out clothes or shoes or even a new water bottle (something I always have with me no matter what–hydration’s no joke).   Also, since I’m a member of 24 Hour Fitness and there are so many locations near me, I will work out in a different gym as often as I can (I will even drive for 30 minutes or more to another location just to do something different sometimes).  Not only does it keep things interesting, but the machines are balanced differently (I notice this when I can do a lot more or not as much weight on what looks like an identical machine to the one at another gym).  This is how you avoid boredom—that evil thing that makes it so hard to get motivated to work out.

Other ideas for avoiding boredom include working out at home every other work out (you can always do pushups and crunches and squats, even if you don’t own a single weight) or working out outside, like swapping a ski or snow board session for your leg workout (if you live near the snow) or you can try sprinting or plyometrics or mountain climbing (there are a lot of activities that use muscles in an intense manner that can be swapped out for a weight session here and there).  Just make sure that the activity that you choose really makes you feel like you got a work out the next day, so you keep building and don’t lose muscle tone.  You can also take an abdominal or dance style workout class instead of using gym machines (as long as it challenges the muscles and you feel it the next day).  The point is to just do something different so you never get bored and you keep progressing.

If you’ve been working out with heavy weights for a long time (more than 6 weeks straight, for at least 4 days/week) you can also take a week and do something totally different and less intense, like swimming or taking dance classes, to allow your muscles to really recover (or use muscles you don’t usually hit at the gym).  But don’t take more than a week away from the weights or you will lose your hard-earned muscle!!!  Then when you go back to the weights a week later, you will be ready for some major growth.

You can also try some new (vegan) supplements like my favorite, glutamine.  Glutamine is the stuff your body needs to recover faster.  If you had a hard workout and now you are really sore or really exhausted, glutamine may be just the thing to get you going. It is also available in food, but it is often quicker and easier to just mix some in a glass of soy milk a couple times a day when I’m feeling really beat up from my work outs. Wheat grass shots also give me tons of energy when I’m feeling wiped out.  You can get fresh wheat grass shots at Jamba Juice and most health food stores that have a juice bar (or go for it and buy your own wheat grass juicer).  Just try to get it as fresh as possible because the nutrients start to die as soon as they are juiced and if it’s been a few hours, there might not be much left.  You can also try nitric oxide (you will see it in a canister in the supplement store called “N.O. X-plode”. Make sure you get the caffeine free version if you are like me and don’t do caffeine (it is written in small print, be careful). Go slow with these supplements at first because they can wreak havoc on your digestive system if you over do it or if you’re not used to it.

The safest and easiest supplement is a good vegan protein powder.  I use different ones depending on my needs.  Vega is great for recovery, but it’s expensive and I have to order it online because the protein powder is never available in the stores (usually they only have the “Whole Food Optimizer”).  Spirutein is great for when I need something delicious—it tastes wonderful!  I also get the Whole Foods brand chocolate soy protein because it is the most economical and it tastes good.  Unfortunately, they usually don’t have the chocolate in organic form, only the vanilla.  So, often I will get the vanilla organic version and add some cocoa powder (or not, it tastes good if you like vanilla).  There are some brands of cocoa powder that are actually high in protein (read your labels, you can find high protein versions of so many things that you’d never imagine, if you take the time to read the labels!)

Oh, bonus—I just recently discovered an Almond Cheese at Whole Foods that is quite high in protein and tastes wonderful.  I get the garlic and herb version.  It’s wonderful with a little glass of wine (remember to try to only have alcohol on days off from training, and limit yourself to one glass—not only does alcohol dehydrate you, but anything more than one glass will boost cortisol levels, which hurts recovery time).  I also just read (in Oxygen magazine, I think) that red wine and other dark-colored alcohols cause bloating, so you may want to stick to white wine and vodka drinks this holiday season.

Speaking of the holiday season.  This is a time that a lot of people drop out of working out because they are busy with family activities.  This is also the time that people sit down to eat a lot of what I call “big butt meals”.  You know what I mean–don’t you?  You can’t even button your pants!  This is the perfect time to create a family ritual of everyone going for a walk or hike after the big meal.  Everyone will feel so much better if you get out and move around after a meal instead of sitting on the couch until you are comatose!  You should also try to make sure that you hit the gym or do some other intense work out the day after a family feast.  Don’t think of it as a chore that you have to do.  Think of it as your secret weapon to keep the body looking and feeling good despite the assaults that will be hitting you this time of year.  Find ways to make it fun and invite family and friends to join you!  You may want to do more holiday shopping online so that you save time for staying active and healthy.  Who wants to battle the crowds at the mall anyway?  It’s a lot of work, and usually not worth it when you can get the same items online, often cheaper and WAY easier.  But if you do find yourself at the mall, try to walk fast and raise your knees when you walk. Do calf raises in line or a few squats in the dressing room or ladies room.  Anything to keep circulation going in the legs (and prevent varicose veins).  Remember, despite how much it hurts your feet, walking around the mall is not a workout! It hurts the feet because the floor is so hard that it doesn’t absorb impact at all. You will not build muscle in your legs from simply walking around a mall, even if you do it all day!  On the contrary—you will wind up exhausted and your muscles won’t even have been challenged!  That is unless you want to wear heels to the mall to give your legs a work out as you use your stabilizers and keep your weight on your toes. But your feet will really be killing you after about an hour because of how hard the mall floor is.  When you get home, just make sure to elevate the feet over the heart and treat your legs to a little self-massage (or better yet, get your partner involved).

Anyway, the point is to always be thinking about ways to change and improve your workout.  This can happen inside the gym and out, and there are always ways to do things a little differently to make them more beneficial.  I hope this will get you thinking about ways to make changes to benefit your work out, especially at this time of year!  As always, if you have ideas, comments, or questions, I welcome them!

 

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