By Katie Rosenbrock
Everyone gets bored of the gym. It's inevitable. After all, it's not like it's updated with new equipment all too often. Unlike your favorite TV show, it’s the same old story when you return each week. That doesn't mean you shouldn’t go back, though. It just means you need to stay on your toes and get creative.
In an ideal world the gym would transform and evolve, presenting us with new equipment each time we returned so that our workout routines would never get stale and always be challenging. Unfortunately, fitness technology hasn't reached that level yet. Maybe one day it will, but until then it's our own responsibility to make sure our training plans stay varied and exciting.
There are a few reasons your program might come to a plateau. Maybe you flock to the same three or four machines for every single workout, or maybe you can only get to the gym during peak hours when that same annoying guy is always hogging the bench press. Whatever the case, there's a way around every excuse.
For example, did you know that for certain exercises, instead of using the rope attachment on the resistance trainer you can use a towel instead? Or that you can add an element of difficulty to your push-ups with foam rollers? So next time you can’t find that piece of equipment you need or another member is monopolizing the squat rack, don’t just sit there and wait around. Get creative and find a new way to do the exercise.
Not only will you save yourself a whole lot of time, but you'll also step up your workout intensity. Ever notice how certain exercises start to feel easier after a few weeks? That’s because you're muscles are growing stronger in order to adapt to the stress of the load. In order to keep getting stronger, you need to continue to present a challenge. That means not only increasing weight, but introducing new ways to perform similar movements.
To learn the ins and outs of some of the most popular pieces of gym equipment, I headed to Body Space Fitness in New York City and met up with owner Kelvin Gary. Gary is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and a Functional Movement Specialist. Using everything from the Bosu ball to a single weight plate, he showed me the following 10 exercises to demonstrate how you can use everyday gym equipment to revamp your existing exercise routine.
Similar to the standing row exercise, this is a great way to make use of a simple piece of equipment while also challenging your balance and stability. Place one end of the strap in each hand and stand back from the fixture so that the strap is almost fully extended. Sitting back into your heel, squat down on one leg while extending the other forward. Using the strap only for balance, stand back up by pushing through the heel of the foot of your bent leg. Repeat for 10-15 reps on each leg.
Most gym members are accustomed to performing this exercise with a rope or bar. Not only are those pieces of equipment not always available, but using a towel can actually make the movement more efficient. Gary says that the towel can help you recruit more of the triceps muscle because unlike the rope or bar, there's nothing at the end of the grip that can be used to gain extra momentum. Before performing a set of traditional triceps pulldown for 8-15 reps, loop a small gym towel through the cable clip instead of a bar or rope.
You can do a deadlift with a dumbbell, a weight plate, or a kettle bell; basically anything you can lift up and set back down. But did you know that you could deadlift using the cable trainer too? Set the arm low to the ground and clip in the rope attachment. Facing away from the trainer with your feet shoulder width distance apart, keep your back straight, your chest out, and your head up as you bend down to grab each end of the rope between your legs. Keep your arms straight as you use your glute, hamstring, and core muscles to raise your torso until you're standing completely upright. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
Almost everyone knows how to do a lunge, and almost everyone knows it's an exercise that burns with a capital B; so why not find a way to make it even more difficult, right? "Adding resistance in a different plane is good for injury prevention because it’s another influence that the body has to adjust to,” says Gary “It teaches the body to better handle multiple influences and every body part works better together.” Simply place an abdominal strap around your waist and clip it to the cable trainer. Take a few steps away in order to float the weight. Once you feel steady perform a set of 8-15 lunges with one leg, then repeat another set leading with the opposite leg.
Gary likes core exercises that are more static in nature because they involve less twisting and exert less torque on your spine. The plank is a perfect example of an isometric ab exercise, and adding an element of instability like the foam roller will fire up your six pack even faster. Beginners can start by placing one roller underneath their feet. For even more of a challenge, use two: one under your feet and one under your elbows. Hold until failure. Rest, then repeat 2-3 more times.
Here the foam roller serves the same purpose by creating an unsteady surface that adds increased challenge to the traditional push-up. Place one foam roller on either side of your body, about shoulder width distance apart. On all fours place one hand on each roller and slowly assume high plank position. Keeping your entire body in a straight line, slowly lower yourself down towards the floor. Return to the starting position. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
News flash: you don't need an actual bench to bench press. If this is the next exercise on your list and there's not an empty bench to be found in the gym, grab your dumbbells and a Bosu ball and get to work. Rest your upper back on the Bosu. (If you're using light weights you can begin with them in your hands. If you're lifting more than 12 pounds it’s best to have someone hand you your weights after you're set up on the Bosu ball.) For even more of a challenge, raise your hips off the ground and engage your core to keep steady. With your palms facing forwards and your elbows at a 90 degree angle, press the weights straight away from your chest until your arms are completely outstretched. Return to the starting position. Repeat for 8-15 reps.