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Challenge Yourself

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Every exercise program depends on the individual being able to push themselves towards newer levels of physical strength and/or cardiovascular endurance. In order to achieve gains in strength, muscle mass, or cardiovascular endurance you need to challenge yourself in new and interesting ways.

Your body will eventually adjust to any normal and extended forms of exercise. In this way, your muscles will recognize that they do not need to develop any further and will accept their current size and ability. By constantly changing your routine and challenging your muscles to keep up, you will go a long way towards preventing plateaus and consistently developing within your program. It is tempting to settle into a group of exercises that have been proven to you to work well or with which you have become very comfortable.

This is especially tempting with people that enjoy watching television, reading or listening to music while exercising. While the comfort of being very familiar with movements of your body is essential to a valid exercise program, letting yourself become too comfortable with a certain set of physical activities can be troublesome and detrimental to your program.

Feeding Your Body Like Your Brain

Think of exercising like you may think of studying for a test or learning a new language. If you were to study the same 10 facts or words for several weeks, there would be no doubt that you could recite and interpret that information correctly. However, the lack of new information going into your brain would hinder your ability to think critically and combine information into fluid thoughts. Should an essay question be used on the test, you would almost certainly find it difficult to combine all of the facts into a fluid answer with connective tissue.

In the same way, you may find it difficult to take in new information in a shorter period of time. You brain works in the same way as your body. A 2009 study found that, when given the same amount of time to memorize and analyze a given set of information, the same amount of facts were absorbed normally. However, when given a smaller set of information in a shorter amount of time, the subjects had a much more difficult time committing this information to their minds. When we spend too much time with one set of information, learning new information can become more difficult. The same principle applies with exercise.

Creating Challenging Routines

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If you want to challenge your body and force it to achieve new levels of physical fitness you can do so by performing longer sessions, more sessions or incorporating higher levels of intensity to your existing exercise routines.

Alternately, you can completely redesign your exercise routine to a much more aggressive workout that requires a higher level of intensity to perform. The following is a routine for a beginning cardiovascular trainer that is trying to transition into a higher level of activity. Included are ways to make the routine more challenging as you progress.

  • Warm up: Begin this routine with a light warm up to get your muscles and joints ready for much heavier activity. Do some light cardiovascular movements like jogging in place or jumping rope for 5-10 minutes.

  • Stretching: Follow your warmup with 10-15 minutes of stretching to ensure that your muscles can move in their full range of motion and to prevent injury. Just doing your normal stretching routine here is fine.

Sideways Lunges Using Windmill Arm Motion

  • Begin this exercise by standing with your legs spread out (they should form a triangle). Bend at the waist while lowering the right side of your body into a slight lunge. Your left leg should straighten. While swinging your right arm straight behind you, touch your right foot with your left hand. Repeat this movement to the other side. Alternate sides for 1-2 minutes.

  • To make this exercise more of a challenge, increase the speed at which you switch from side to side and how far you bend at the waist. You can also increase the amount of time that you perform this exercise.

Knee Lifting Using Medicine Ball

  • Begin this exercise by standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and holding a medicine ball above your head. As you lower the ball to your midsection (rotating both arms forward), lift your left knee up to touch the bottom of the ball. Return to the starting position and switch to the other knee. Alternate knees for 1-2 minutes.

  • To make this exercise more of a challenge, increase the speed at which you switch from side to side. You may also increase the weight of the medicine ball that you use or the amount of time that you perform this exercise.

Squat Kicks

  • Begin in a standing position with your feet together. Lower your body into a sitting position (squat). While you raise yourself back into a standing position, kick your right leg out. Switch to kicking with the other leg and do the exercise again. Alternate kicks for 1-2 minutes.

  • To make this exercise more of a challenge, you can increase the distance that you allow the squat to go. Try to keep your maximum distance about 45 degrees above sitting. You may also increase the speed and length of this exercise.

Diagonal Knee Smashes

  • Begin by standing with your left leg stretched about 2 feet behind you and your right knee slightly bent. (You should look like you are preparing for a lunge) Raise your hands above your head but your keep your arms at about a 45 degree angle from your chest. As you lower your arms and twist at the waist, bring your left knee up until it is bent at a 90 degree angle in front of you. Straighten your right leg as you do this. Switch to the other leg and repeat for 1-2 minutes.

  • To make this exercise more of a challenge, increase the speed at which you switch from leg to leg and perform the motion. You may also start from a lower position (starting lunge) before you begin the exercise. As with the other exercises, increasing the length of this exercise can make it more challenging as part of your entire routine.

Sideways Lift Kicks

  • Begin in a standing position with your feet slightly apart and your arms at your sides. Lift your right leg until your knee is bent and a few inches above your waist. As you do this, flex your right arm as if you were doing a bicep curl. From this position, bend to the right and straighten your arms back out as you kick outwards with your right leg. Return to your starting position and repeat with the other leg.

  • To make this exercise more of a challenge, increase the speed at which you switch from leg to leg and perform the motion. You may also increase the distance that you raise each leg and bend your body during each motion.

Performing A More Challenging Workout

The above routine is just an example of how easy it is to add a bit more challenge to your workout. As a general rule, you can find simple ways to challenge yourself during an aerobic workout by:

  1. Increasing Speed

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  3. Increasing Length

  4. Increasing Weight

  5. Increasing Amount

  6. Increasing Distance

Remember to add new things slowly at first. Your body may not adjust to the new changes as quickly as you hope. By consistently adding a little more effort to your workouts, you will be able to achieve normal routines farther down the road that you couldn't even imagine at the beginning of your journey.