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A Few Simple Techniques To Challenge Yourself With Workouts

I was having a conversation this morning with a friend of mine sharing some fitness tips and insight on how to see optimal results from your workouts. It occurred to me that a couple of these tips I hadn’t shared before with my readers.

I have to frequently remind myself that so much of what I do with working out is repetitive habits that I’ve picked up over 20 plus years of training. A lot of this I’ve learned through experience and the school of hard knocks.

In today’s post I want to share with you a couple valuable techniques you can use to challenge and push yourself with workouts.

As much as I endorse working out with a training partner or coach, I realize that this isn’t always possible or conducive. Personally, I typically look to workout with a training partner, but for the last month I’ve been flying solo since my partner took some time off.

My routine pretty much stays the same but I realized something pretty valuable after completing a workout last week.

One habit that I have is writing down the day’s workout on a piece of paper or on a whiteboard we have along the walls in the studio.

On this particular day I knew it was going to be lower-body dominant workout and had an idea of the exercises I wanted to do, just not a complete plan for the number of sets/rounds.

I proceeded to write down the exercises I wanted to do on a whiteboard and contemplated the number of rounds. Here are the exact exercises I picked for the workout.

- Shouldered 45 lb sandbag walking lunges (20 reps)
- Shouldered 45 lb sandbag step-up’s (10 reps – 5 per leg)
- Kettlebell swings (10 reps)
- Ab board Leg Raises (10 reps)

I had about 40 minutes to complete my workout so I got the bright idea that I’d complete 10 rounds of this circuit and proceeded to write it down on the whiteboard.


I wrote down exactly what I would be doing and set an objective for the number of rounds I’d complete in the next 40 minutes.

The process of writing the workout down on the board in essence committed me to the objective at hand.

More on that in a minute…

We’ll long story short, after about 10 minutes of dynamic stretching and warming up I started the workout with about 30 minutes left to complete the session.

About 4 rounds into this workout, I was ready to throw in the towel and head to the showers. It was absolutely crushing me! But the thing is deep down inside I knew I couldn’t quit. I had to keep going because darn it, I said I was going to complete 10 rounds and by-God I was going to finish it!

My body was ready to quit, but my mind wasn’t. Had I not wrote down that I was going to do 10 rounds I probably would have ended it at 4 rounds and proceeded to do something else for the remainder of my 30 minutes.

Do you see the hidden gem in all of this?

Pushing yourself past the point where your body wants to quit is all a battle within the mind. You’ve got to look for little tricks like this to help yourself to win those battles.

Consider the following piece of advice from a name you might recognize…

“Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing, you have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton

There’s immense power in writing down your workout and committing to it!

Sure I felt like quitting in rounds 5,6,7 and yeah nobody would probably known the difference. But the thing is I’d know…and that was enough to push me through.

Finishing the workout was a victory. Not only did I get a great workout, but I also accomplished a sense of achievement. Finishing something easy, a mundane task, or “going through the motions” workout does NOTHING to provide a positive reinforcement.

We all need to achieve these little victories and set our mindsets with a “can do” attitude. It carries over to other areas of your life.

I see people all the time in the big health clubs and gyms going from machine to machine completing their “3 sets of  x reps” or whatever and marking down the weight they used on some card.

The coach in me wants to go up and rip the card in half and start putting them through a burst training circuit. This paint by numbers method of working out is one of the primary reasons so many people don’t see results while working out on their own.

Granted, it’s not their fault. They’re only doing what they’ve watched someone else do or what somebody else told them to do (perhaps even a crappy personal trainer).

This method is completely different than writing down your workout and committing to it. At the end of the day it’s really not going to matter that you did 20 lbs on set one, 25 lbs on set two, and so forth.

Don’t waste your time doing this. Working out is not a checklist to complete with record keeping as you go!

There’s no challenge in this, no complete focus with aggressively pushing yourself against the clock. You end up doing pretty much the same workouts over and over and even if you switch up the weight and reps from time to time, you’re really not pushing yourself HARD with an overload stimulus.

When my friend asked me about whether or not to use heavier weights and lower reps or lighter weight and higher reps, I said BOTH!

Remember the following as it’s the gospel truth if you want to see results with your workouts.

“If it’s not heavy, it better still be hard as workouts that aren’t challenging regardless of the weight don’t produce results!”

Think about that for a second. If you’re going through and marking off sets and reps on a card and not fully concentrating on vigorously stimulating your central nervous system and working hard, what do you expect?

The human body only changes when an overload stimulus is introduced.

Ok, on to the second tip I wanted to share with you today.

Working against the clock…

Remember how I said earlier that I only had 30 minutes to complete my workout. That’s because I always set a start and end time for each workout. For me I always end up my workouts at 1:00 pm so I can get to the house and shower and eat lunch before getting back to to work.

This means regardless of whether I have 30 or 40 minutes or whatever to get the workout done, often times less, I’m finishing up at 1:00 pm. This forces me to focus during my workouts. You block everything out, no chit-chat at the water cooler, no watching the “tee-vee,” and the like.

Get down to business, work hard, and accomplish something!

Pushing yourself against the clock is highly effective. If I “under-shoot” my plan for the workout and finish the routine with time left to spare, I’ll go complete some additional exercises be it core work or whatever until time is up. Work continues until the bell goes off!

Bottom line is both of these techniques keep you from going through the motions and help create a focused mindset.

I should note however before closing that not EVERY workout is going to be ultra-challenging. We’re all only humans and are going to have good days and bad days. There will be days when you’ve not gotten much sleep, feel under the weather, etc.

In those cases you do what you can do and adjust accordingly. Training is no different than anything else in life, there will be ebbs and flows. The key thing is making a commitment and just showing up!

I hope these two little tips are helpful and you’re able to incorporate the techniques to see better results. Make it happen!

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston fitness trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides personal fitness programs with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation. Sign up for a FREE, no-obligations consultation today.

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