How often do you change your training routine? Have you been doing the same workout for months and months without altering it? If so, guess what? Your workout no longer works.
Here's the science: The human body is an adaptation machine. It adapts to whatever activity you do frequently. If you mostly sit on your butt and only train once a week (if that), love handles will come. If you commute to work by bike, your visual alertness will increase, and so will the speed of your braking and turning reflexes. If you do conditioning work every other day, your metabolism will rise and your body will burn off more stored fat (though once fat is stored in the lower torso, such as on the sides or the belly, it takes a lot of hard work to eliminate it).
Most coaches and elite athletes are well aware of the adaptation syndrome. That is why good athletes change their workouts often, usually monthly, or every four weeks. This doesn't mean a radical difference is necessary. If you do squats (and you should), go to a lighter poundage and do your squats using dumbbells, with the arms held flexed in a curl position. Choose a day of the week to do each rep faster. Pick another day to go for a total max. You should definitely have a spotter when you try to see how much actual weight you can lift during an exercise.
Speaking of spotters, let me digress a bit. Any spotter you use should be experienced and capable enough to help you with a lift if you can't finish it. For example, lending a hand if you're having a hard time completing a bench press or rising up from a squat. Don't use a training buddy if that friend isn't experienced enough to know when you need a little help and are close to muscle failure.
Back to designing your new workout: figure out exactly what you hope to gain from your new conditioning program. This is where keeping a training journal becomes a valuable resource. It allows you to see how much you were lifting two months ago, as well as what exercises you were doing. If you have not increased the poundage of your lifts during the past few months, increase it now. But don't go crazy. Add only about 10 percent more weight to each lift, and give your body a few weeks to become accustomed to the additional poundage before you make any other change.
Another thing to remember: lifting heavier weights slowly will give you more muscle endurance. It will also give you more control over the weight so that you can pay attention to maintaining the proper form. Lifting faster will give you strength with speed, otherwise known as power. Whatever your sport, you should design both slow and fast lifting days into your new routine.
Keeping the proper form during a session is the best way to stay injury free. If, for example, you do a bench press and hit a weak spot in your arm during the range of motion you are using, you may be in for a bit of a struggle. If you're not familiar with the proper form for each exercise in your routine, search it online. Use keywords 'proper form for ... ,' then fill in the name of the exercise – bench press, squat, arm curl, leg curl, whatever the movement is.
When you switch up your workouts every four weeks, your body gains much more than you probably expected. You'll not only become stronger, but you will be a much better athlete, no matter what sport you do.
Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly , which offers the latest training, diet and athletic information.