It’s so safe and warm in your comfort zone – isn’t it? But there’s a problem with the comfort zone – it doesn’t lead to change. This applies to life – and to changing your fitness level. Once you get comfortable with a routine, your body no longer has to work as hard, burn as many calories – or grow. Most people love the comfort zone and spend lots of time in it. This is especially true as people get older and become more resistant to change.
If you visit a gym and re-visit a year later, the people you see will still look the same and still be doing the same workout. That doesn’t cut it if you want to change your body composition or increase your level of fitness. Even long-distance runners that run for an hour or more a day experience a gradual rise in body fat if they don’t increase distance, intensity or add some cross-training.
Why the Comfort Zone is Too Comfy
Fitness is all about exposing your body to greater stress in a controlled manner. Many people do that in the beginning but then fall into a comfortable routine. Does this sound familiar? Here are some ways to break out of your fitness comfort zone.
Shake Up Your Cardiovascular Routine: Try a New DVD
Is stepping or spin class your go-to workout? Shake things up with a kickboxing DVD or a bootcamp workout. You’ll work your muscles in a different way and enjoy a new challenge. Adding a little variety to your workout reduces your risk of injury because you aren’t doing the same movements all the time and prevents boredom and staleness. Stop doing the “same old, same old.”
Get Out of a Resistance Training Rut
Are you still using the same weight or resistance you used six months ago? Progressive overload is what makes muscles grow and you do that by gradually increasing the weight or resistance you use. This forces your muscles to adapt and become larger and stronger. There are lots of ways to increase the intensity of a resistance workout. Here are some:
Increase the weight
Increase number of repetitions without changing the weight
Add more sets
Change the exercises you’re doing to work your muscles differently
Reduce the rest period between sets
Change exercise order
Change the velocity with which you lower the weight. Lowering the weight slowly keeps the muscle under tension longer.
Use variations like drop sets, giant sets, negatives, partial reps, forced reps, pyramids etc.
Periodize your training. It’ll challenge your body and still ensure that you have enough recovery time to avoid injury.
There are lots of ways to break out of your comfort zone when it comes to resistance training. How many of these are you doing?
Shake Things Up with High-Intensity Intervals
Break out of your comfort zone with a Tabata workout twice a week like my Tabatacise DVD. If you’ve never done Tabatas before, being by doing a single 4-minute Tabata workout (8 rounds of 20 seconds work and 10 seconds rest). Gradually increase the number of 4- minute Tabata round you do until you can complete several in a row – but be sure you’re maintaining the intensity. It’s impossible to stay in your comfort zone with a Tabata workout if you’re nearly maxing out during the work intervals. Tabata will challenge you in an entirely new way and force your body to burn more calories even after you’ve stopped exercising.
Keep Setting New Goals
All too often people don’t define what they want to achieve by working out. They talk about “losing weight” and “getting fit” but fail to break broad goals down into smaller, more specific ones. Set specific, measurable goals, track your progress and keep revising them on a monthly basis.
If you’re trying to build strength, are you able to lift more this month than you did last month? When you’re trying to lose body fat, track your body fat using calipers or a body fat scale and make sure you’re making progress. If not, decide what you need to change. Review your workout plan on a monthly basis and determine what changes you need to make to get results. Just like a business looks at their balance sheet at the end of the month and tweaks their strategy based on it, do the same with your workout.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Burn
Cultivate the burn and know it’s what will ultimately bring about change. Make feeling the burn your goal. Workouts that feel good don’t lead to change. Remind yourself that you’re capable of doing more than you think you can. Challenge yourself to go five seconds longer or do one more rep even when you think you have to stop. It’s your brain – your thoughts and self-imposed limitations – that hold you back in most cases. If you push through the discomfort, it’ll feel a little easier the next time. Change your attitude – EMBRACE the burn, knowing it’s a necessary step towards change.
The Bottom Line?
It’s easy to stay in a comfort zone and hard to push yourself out of one – but you won’t change your body unless you do. You don’t have to “max out” with every workout you do but you should feel challenged. You may not feel comfortable while you’re doing it but you’ll certainly appreciate the rewards that come with pushing yourself harder than you though you could.
ACE Fitness. “Steering Clear of Strength Plateaus”
IDEA Health and Fitness Association. “Beat Training Plateaus”