We all know the mega runner who logs five miles every morning, or the barre star who’s done the same class for three years without missing a day. But we’ve also heard that mixing up our workouts is key to all-around fitness. And that, friends, couldn’t be any truer.
Any kind of physical activity is generally good, but changing it up frequently will help your body reap maximum benefits, says Dr. Donald Dengel, an expert in exercise physiology at the University of Minnesota.
“Any form of activity is good activity,” Dengel told HuffPost. “But speciality is not the best way to work our bodies. Variety is what we want.” Here’s why.
Mixing up your workouts keeps muscles in check.
Doing the same thing every day increases your chance of injury from using the same muscles over and over. Think of a runner who suffers hip or hamstring pain after consistently running six days in a row, says Dr. Michael Jonesco, a sports medicine expert at Ohio State University.
“By doing the same workout, you are flirting with overuse and chronic breakdown of muscle, tendon or bone,” Jonesco told HuffPost. “Too much of the same repetitive activity or stress on the body will not allow adequate recovery.” So alternate your running days with yoga, or try swimming instead of another jog.
It also helps your body burn all types of fuel.
We often burn both carbohydrates and fat during a workout, as our bodies need both for fuel. But changing your routine to focus on one more than the other helps your body work more efficiently overall, Dengel says. Short, intense workouts — like doing sprints on a stationary bike — burn carbohydrates, while longer, sustained workouts — like a moderate trail run — burn fat. Alternate between the two to boost your body’s recovery and performance abilities, as trainer Jillian Michaels details on her blog.
It keeps your body and mind guessing.
“Whenever you get bored of your workout, an alarm should go off in your head that it’s definitely time for something new,” says Tara Romeo, a sports director at New York’s Professional Athletic Performance Center.
Doing the same thing day after day not only stops your body from making improvements, but it also bores you out of showing up to the gym for a new challenge.
So how — and how often — should we mix it up?
Romeo and the other experts we spoke with recommend changing your workout routine completely every 4 to 6 weeks, while also switching up the exercises you do from day to day. Change from a weight machine to free weights when doing strength training, for example, or from cycling to swimming for cardio. Even running uphill on a treadmill one day versus running downhill outside on another works a different sets of muscles, Dengel says.
When you switch it up, your body is fighting harder to keep the pace. In other words, it “is finding ways to adapt, whether that’s building bigger and more muscle cells or recruiting more muscle motor units,” Jonesco says. “The end result will continue to be the same: gains in performance and a healthy, happy body.”
We’ll take that gladly, indeed.