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Getting out of a rut – embracing unpopular exercises

Posted by Elizabeth Comeau  May 7, 2013 07:00 AM

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I was thinking about ruts recently, and how quickly our Revolution players get comfortable with new exercises, lifts and drills. Changing up routines can be an unpopular decision for a few weeks, but people quickly acclimate and conquer new approaches. Did they get stronger directly because of the changes? Partly. But really, it’s because they tried something new and built a weakness into a strength.

I’ve been thinking about addressing weaknesses with my personal training clients, too. I love to design a personalized program in six-week cycles. We start with an evaluation, assessing baseline fitness, injuries, medications. We also measure squats, dead lifts, pull-ups, push-ups, jumping and running. From there, I can design a custom program.

At the end of the cycle, I test the client’s progress. Just like in the pros, we hope his or her routine translates into better fitness and enhanced sports performance.

It’s cool for clients, because they compete against themselves. And I can track our effectiveness throughout the cycle.

As I was assessing results recently, I thought… why don’t I throw in something new? Something they’re not good at? What would that do?

Many of my female clients don’t like to jump rope.

Many hardcore runners do 6 to 12 miles every weekend, but they don’t want to lift weights.

The question becomes: do you want to be really good at one or two things, or do you want to be well-rounded? And if you focus exclusively on one thing, what happens when that thing is gone?

For the most part, I don’t have many clients shooting to become power lifters or superstar athletes. The majority are simply looking to improve their overall fitness, and they want to feel and look better.

Embracing that reality was an “Aha!” moment for me. I knew I needed to get clients – and even my pros – out of their comfort zones. Then, workouts become truly individual. And people eventually start enjoying things they once disliked as their competence doing it builds.

Still, people can become set in their ways when it comes to routines. They come to the gym at the same time every day, do the same workouts, and look the same for 15 years. I know the drill, because I was one of those folks.

When I left professional soccer, I weighed 140 pounds and had 3 percent body fat. I regularly ran 10 to 15 miles for fun. It was all I wanted to do, or knew to do.

Then I went into the fitness field, and someone told me I needed to lift because I was weak. I started doing pull-ups, worked with weights, and pretty soon my lifting cut into my running time. But I changed my routine, and my body along with it.

Now, nine years later, I am stronger, healthier and look better than when I played pro soccer. I dedicate about 90 percent of my workout time to lifting and the remaining 10 percent to running. I’m in much better shape because of it, and I’m definitely in a better mood.

The moral? Change it up. I don’t totally believe in “body confusion,” but your body uses different stabilizing muscles to perform new movements, so changing up your routine does work your body differently.

There are definite benefits to challenging yourself to do exercises you don’t normally do:

1) You avoid mental boredom and add spark to your workout.

2) Instead of simply piling on more weight or doing an exercise faster, you can capitalize on the energy required to do moves one-armed, or one-legged. You’ll work different muscles and get more benefit out of it.

3) Changing it up by trying new sports or team activities can motivate people to work harder and achieve a better workout.

So keep an open mind and try everything, especially as you age. You might discover – like I did – that some of past practices weren’t working.

Get off auto-pilot and do something you’re not comfortable with. I bet you’ll see different results!

Staying fit is an important part of staying healthy. This blog will offer exercise tips from experts as well as share the personal journeys of Globe staff members committed to fitness. No matter your age or energy level, we invite you to join in and share your own story. How do you find time to work out? What are your daily challenges? Let us know and read along -- and together, we can all get moving.


Elizabeth Comeau is a social media marketing manager at She will be blogging about her personal fitness journey and using a device called a FitBit to track her weekly goals and progress (see below). Follow her journey and share your own. Read more about Elizabeth and this blog.

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