You feel like you aren’t getting as much out of your workouts as you could. Maybe you’ve plateaued or maybe you’re just looking to make your workouts more efficient. Whatever your reasons, there are plenty of different ways to make your gym workouts harder. Here are seven tricks to try the next time you grab your cool mouthguard and tennis shoes to hit the gym:
1. Change your range of motion.
Many people do the same range of motion for each exercise over and over again — but you can challenge your body by changing that range. For instance, instead of doing a full bicep curl with 180 degrees of movement, bring your arm all the way up to the top, lower it half way down and only complete the upper half of the curl. You can also hold a rep at the top (or bottom), either as a static hold or by pulsing in place. This will make each individual rep exponentially harder and make your workouts both more difficult and more efficient.
2. Do unilateral movements.
Many weightlifting exercises work both sides of your body at once, such as squats and bench presses, in a bilateral movement. Using both hands or legs at once allows your more dominant side to pick up the slack from your weaker side, allowing the weakness to persist. Doing unilateral exercises, such as only bench pressing with one hand, forces each side to work equally hard. Unilateral movements will take more time since it takes double the amount of time to do the same amount of reps, but they’re a great tool to use if you feel like one side of your body is lagging a bit behind.
3. Focus on the eccentric phase.
The “eccentric phase” is just a fancy term that refers to lowering a weight — “concentric” refers to raising the weight. Many people focus all their effort on the concentric phase when they are raising the weight, then lower the weight as fast as possible in a haphazard manner. By putting as much focus on the lowering of the weight, you’ll double the work you are doing while keeping the number of reps the same.
Be sure to lower the weight in a slow, controlled manner when doing eccentric work; don’t let it come crashing down. If you struggle with this, consider incorporating some resistance band work alongside weights. Resistance bands will snap back if you try to move through the eccentric phase too quickly, forcing you to take the time. Also play around with the tempo during different sets: For instance, you can raise the weight very quickly, then lower it slowly at only half the speed.
4. Try TRX training.
Speaking of resistance bands, there is a similar piece of equipment that can make your workout a million times harder: TRX bands, aka suspension training. Unlike resistance bands, TRX bands do not stretch; instead, the bands are shortened or lengthened as needed for each exercise. The bands are mounted to the ceiling or the doorway and require you to lean your body into the straps to perform the body weight exercises. This setup is inherently unstable, which works core muscles and forces you to improve your balance. As an added bonus, TRX bands are easy to pack in a suitcase whenever you go traveling, unlike bulky weights.
5. Shorten or eliminate rest breaks.
We’ve all seen that guy in the gym who does one set and then takes five minutes of rest to pop out his sports mouthguard and scroll on his phone. While rest breaks are important, taking too many of them or letting them go on too long will seriously decrease the intensity of your exercise. Try to keep your rest breaks no longer than 60 seconds, and cap them at 30 seconds if you really want to make things difficult. If you find it too hard to do back-to-back sets of the same muscle groups that close together, try switching between your upper and lower body so that one part gets a break while you work another.
6. Intersperse cardio with weights.
Most people tend to focus on cardio or weights in a single workout instead of mixing the two together. However, if you’re looking to take your workout to the next level, then adding bursts of cardio into your weightlifting routines will work your body even harder. This is because the cardio gets your heart beating and your lungs working, and then you immediately have to calm your body down and stabilize things in order to lift the weights safely.
To get started, try adding a 30 to 60-second burst of cardio in between each set of reps. Try a simple cardio activity such as running in place or jumping jacks to start off. Once you get the hang of it, try switching to a more intense exercise such as burpees or mountain climbers. Your entire workout will feel tougher in the best way possible.
7. Add weight to your exercises.
This one might sound obvious, but if you think about it for a moment, there are probably some bodyweight exercises — such as pushups and pullups — that you aren’t currently adding weight to. Getting a weight belt or having someone else put a plate on your back will make each exercise more difficult instantly. And weight isn’t just for your strength training days: You can also try doing cardio movements with light weights or strapping on a weighted vest for your cardio workouts.
Follow these tips and tricks to make your workouts harder and to push yourself further than ever. Snap yourself out of a workout rut using these suggestions, and don’t get to reward yourself with a new weight vest or a gold teeth mouthguard when you totally crush your new PRs.