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Spice Up Your Workouts

With exercise, a little variety goes a long way

Spice up your workout

Often, the biggest threat to a regular workout schedule is losing interest. It's like when you go to a restaurant and continue to order the same thing off the menu each visit. No matter how tasty the dish, sooner or later you're bound to get tired of it.

Chuck Cranny, PT, MBA, a physical therapist at Rush, offers a few ideas for spicing up your workouts — so you won’t lose your appetite for regular physical activity.

"Motivation is key," says Cranny. "And part of staying motivated is avoiding boredom. I think it really helps to have a game plan, something that will keep you going and make sure that your enjoyment continues down the road."

Mix up your cardio and strength routines

Don’t get into an aerobic exercise rut. If you ride the stationary bicycle one day, choose a stair climber, elliptical machine or treadmill the next day. You can also try interval training, where you vary the intensity throughout the workout.

Do the same with resistance exercise — lift free weights one day, choose the weight machines the next day.

And vary the amount of weight and/or number of repetitions. Use more weight with fewer repetition one day. The next visit, do your repetitions more quickly with less weight (always paying attention to maintaining good form and using a full range of motion). On another visit, use a more moderate pace for your repetitions.

Establish a solid core

Do exercises that strengthen and align your core (your hips and trunk). "Pilates is great for this," says Cranny. "Many exercise instructors also incorporate core strengthening in their routines. If you're taking a class, just ask your teacher."

Sign up for a class — or two

Dance. Aerobics. Spinning. Martial arts. Yoga. With so many types of exercise to choose from, it won’t be hard to find a class you’ll enjoy.

A good teacher will keep things fresh for you, and many fitness classes can teach you a variety of ways to get to your fitness goals — so you have more of a menu to choose from when you're on your own.

"Plus, the regularity of a class can set a pattern for getting you in the gym at a certain time," Cranny says. "This gets you in the door; which is often half the battle."

Become a team player

Join a team and get your exercise in while participating in a group sport. You’ll find a variety of recreational leagues through your local park district or online — from flag football to floor hockey to tennis — as well as running and cycling clubs.

Cranny warns about making this your only form of exercise, though. "If you're only getting out there once a week, you're opening yourself up to injury."

Take on a partner

Recruit a workout buddy. "This is a great way to be more dedicated to your workout," says Cranny. "Showing up for a friend is great motivation when you’re tempted to skip workouts. And you can keep each other motivated during the session."

Roll with the seasons

You may have to make an extra effort to keep things interesting during the winter months, when many of the options for physical activity outdoors are not as feasible. 

"Winter, however, is a great time for overall conditioning," says Cranny. "And there's a wonderful payoff to staying motivated and having a varied routine: You'll lay a strong foundation for a more active spring and be conditioned against injury."

Of course, if you don’t mind the cold, there are plenty of fun outdoor winter sports, like cross-country or alpine skiing, snowboarding or skating.

Just make sure to check with your physician before you start any exercise program or participate in any demanding physical activity.