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The (Necessary) Exercise Advice You Don't Want to Hear

Jul 08, 2014 | Updated Sep 07, 2014

When thinking of article ideas, the first things that come to mind are ways to offer advice on how people can make their workout experience more pleasant. Obviously the idea is to motivate others to get active by making it a happier (and less tortuous) event. And, it's true! Working out doesn't have to be all negative. It doesn't have to be scary or intimidating. It should be fun and uplifting and empowering and all those wonderful things. But like everything in life there must be a balance.

As much as we should work to enjoy exercise there are also things we should do to make it more challenging. It can't all be lollipops and smiles -- there should also be fatigue and sweat and focus! After all, we're there to make a difference, a change, a transformation, right?

To truly make these things happen sometimes we must push our bodies and minds to their limits, step out of our comfort zones and force ourselves to give it everything and more, even if we don't want to. Here are the things you don't want to do, but should do to make the most of your workout!

Don't Skip It, Do It!
I can picture myself doing it. Well, actually I can picture myself not doing it. I'm standing in the gym thinking "I'm going to skip burpees today because burpees make my foot hurt." The truth is, my foot hasn't hurt for three years, but yet I still try to use that same excuse when faced with the thought of doing them. Why? Because burpees suck. Why? Because they're effective! Look, there are always going to be moves that are your least favorite and others that are your specialty and it's important to include them all; force yourself out of the box and really hold yourself accountable to working hard. The next time you have the urge to skip a set, do it instead. Even if you only do five reps, show yourself you can and prove that there's no challenge you can't tackle!

Do Two More
It's human nature to want to stop doing something when it gets unpleasant. So, naturally this means just when that exercise starts to 'burn' we're inclined to stop. The unfortunate fact of the matter is, we want it to "burn." "Burning" means the muscle is working hard, which is exactly the point. That's why they call it a workout. When you feel like you want to quit, dig a little deeper and try forcing out at least two more reps.** You'll surprise and impress yourself with how much you can exceed your own expectations.

**It's important to distinguish the difference between burning and hurting. If an exercise is painful, stop immediately. If it burns and you're tired and you know you're going to be stiff tomorrow, keep going (and take a bath later)!

Be Honest
Another urge we have, is to find something that works and keep repeating it. This is a common phenomenon at the gym. And while it's hard to dis anything about going to the gym regularly, it's easy to fall into this rut of maintaining but not improving. The idea of regular activity is that we should be getting stronger and therefore continually challenging ourselves to reach the next level. It comes down to being honest. Ask yourself, am I really working as hard as I can? Am I ready to advance this exercise? Whether it's adding extra weight onto your squat or trying a new routine altogether, don't let yourself get comfortable or predictable.

Time Your Breaks
When I'm teaching bootcamp it's easy to keep my students accountable to short, timed breaks. (It's always easier when you're not the one who's breathless and desperate for a drink of water, right?!) From time to time though, I will also participate in the class while I'm teaching it. Guess what? When I do it too, the breaks get significantly longer (and more frequent). It's so easy to take an extra few seconds after each move and lie to ourselves about how much momentum we're losing. Keeping the intensity up and not letting our heart rates go down is exactly what is gong to burn the calories. Timing breaks and is integral to having an effective and challenging workout, even though sometimes it's just the worst.

Slow down
You know the guys at the gym doing bicep curls at lightening speed? Don't be impressed. In fact it's the opposite of impressive -- it's a cop out. When it comes to strength training faster is never better. Yes rushing through sets means you'll be done sooner but it also means sloppy form, using momentum instead of strength and probably not even using the right muscles altogether. (Chances are biceps guy over there is working his lower back more than his actual biceps.) Slowing down the exercises will challenge your muscles, deepen the burn (likely also deepening your disdain for the move -- sorry!), and make sure you're actually working the muscle you've targeted, therefore getting the most out of the exercise. The best way to ensure your speed isn't an issue -- start counting as you perform a set, stopping at the bottom, in the middle and at the top of the movement for at least one second. "Down, middle, up, middle, down." Repeat.