I often approach clients and athletes with a slightly sinister smile and ask, “Can I show you how to make that more fun?” They soon realize that I have a different definition of the word “fun”. In fitness we often pursue the wrong fun. Fun is not silly exercise gimmicks or a new workout every time you train. Fun is getting great results and nothing in fitness is more un-fun than getting no results.
Building a great body starts with picking great exercises. However, success is not just about what you do, but how you do it. Here are 10 ways to make your exercises even more “fun” and effective.
Exercises such as bench presses and squats start at the top. The first part of your rep is the eccentric or lowering phase. Then, you reverse directions and lift the weight. In doing so, you take advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle and use the elasticity of your tissues and your stretch reflex to help you lift the weight. Now, this is not bad, but if you are not careful you can rely too much on this rebound effect to get the weight up.
For a “fun” change, try starting exercises like squat and bench presses from the bottom. Place the bar on pins in a power rack at your bottom position and power the weight up from a dead stop. If you notice a big difference in the weight you can lift, spend some time with this. You will be amazed at how this helps you develop powerful starting strength in the bottom of your squats and presses. Here is an example with incline pin press
2. Cut range of motion when there is no tension
We have all heard the “rule” that you must always use a full range of motion. However, when you are working with free weights, you may not have tension the whole time. Take side dumbbell raises for example. Many people start this exercise with the dumbbells touching. As they raise the weight, the first 1/3 of the movement goes sideways. The problem with this is that gravity only pulls straight down. Any time spent moving a free weight in a direction other than straight up is a waste of time. When doing side raises, only come down until you feel the tension coming off your deltoids. Then, at this point, reverse the range of motion. You will be amazed at how much harder it is to raise the weights when you don’t have all that momentum from the bottom to help. You can do the same thing with dumbbell chest flies – only come up until you feel the tension coming off your pecs, then go back down.
3. Use strategic pauses
Every exercise will have a hardest part which most people skip or try to bounce through it. Instead, pause at the hardest part. In pressing and squatting exercises this will usually be at the bottom. In upper body pulling exercises, this will be at the top. You can also pause mid-rep (this is also great for improving your technique). These strategic pauses will build strength where you need it most and greatly increase the metabolic demand of the exercise.
This also works great for exercises where you may alternate limbs (e.g. dumbbell curls). Instead of having one arm resting at the bottom, try pausing at the top. Curl both dumbbells up and then hold one dumbbell at the top (as you flexing your bicep) while you do a rep with the other side. This also works great for alternating dumbbell shoulder presses (pause at the top for this one).
4. Try 1 and ¼ reps
Another effective strategy popularized by Charles Poliquin is to spend more time at the hardest part with 1 and ¼ reps. Take split squats for example. When you come down to the bottom, come up only ¼ of the way. Then go back down and come all the way up. That is one rep. Enjoy!
4. Don’t let your elbows drift back on curls
In the case of a drag curl or incline curl, your arms will be behind your body. However for standard curls, many people let the elbow drift back. This shortens the lever arm and make this easier and less “fun” for the biceps. Keep the elbows slightly in front of you and let me know how that feels on the muscle.
5. Accelerate the weight up
Many people (and even a lot of trainers) believe that you should lift slowly. They think that fast reps are cheating, dangerous and bad form. Good technique doesn’t always mean slow. You can use bad form and go slow or use good form and go fast. The latter is better for most big movements. Even if the weight doesn’t look like it is going up fast (it won’t if it is heavy), attempt to (while maintaining perfect for and proper tightness) accelerate the weight up. This will make each rep harder and more effective.
6. Go slower on ab movements
While fast is great for some movements, most ab exercises are more “fun” when done slow. My favorite ab exercises are ones where you hold a plank position while your arms or legs move. 2 classic examples are hanging leg raises and mountain climbers. When training abs, always remember – slow if fun!
7. Regulate your range of motion
Without realizing it, many people gradually decrease their range of motion on an exercise. This makes it progressively easier and less effective. Instead, regulate your range of motion to ensure that each rep is just as “fun” as all the others. An example of this is doing touch and go box squats
9. Keep your legs still when doing pull-ups
Pull-ups are a fantastic upper body exercise. However many people gain movement from their legs which make them less “fun”. Instead, lock your legs. If you have access to rings or a high pull-up bar, hold your legs completely straight. If not, just focus on keeping them complete still.
10. Use active stability
When doing various exercises such as planks, push-ups and even overhead work, many people use passive stability. Instead of using their ab muscles to support their torsos they simply hang off their ligaments. By actively holding proper, straight position you will reduce the stress on your spine and increase the stress (and calorie burn) on your muscles.
How about you? What other techniques have you tried to make your training more “fun”. I invite you to share your comments or questions in the comment section below or on my Facebook Page.