Vary your exercise routine for fitness

Jane Murphy / 04 January 2016

Staying active is key to health and longevity – but if your exercise routine's getting just a bit samey it's time to mix things up. Here’s how.



Been for your regular walk, ridden your bike along the usual route or worked up a sweat in your favourite Zumba class today?

Good for you! But even if you really enjoy your fitness regime – and hopefully, you do – you may not be reaping as many benefits as you once were. By doing the same thing over and over again, you're facing diminishing returns.

The main reason? 'Your body will have adapted to this regular routine and will no longer be physiologically challenged,' explains Lauren Bradshaw, specialist sports physiotherapist at Progress, Spire Cambridge Lea Hospital. 'In order to promote, maintain or build your fitness levels, you need to start pushing the boundaries.'

By sticking to the same workout, you'll be working the same muscles in the same way every time, putting them at risk of injury due to overuse – while other areas get overlooked. Besides, as much as you may enjoy sticking to the familiar, you'll never know what you're capable of until you try out some new activities and set yourself some fresh goals.

Related: 10 ways to do more exercise without even noticing

Small changes add up to big benefits

We're not suggesting you need to embark on an overwhelming overhaul of your routine. A few little tweaks to your tried-and-tested formula can actually make a big difference.

Take walking, for example. NHS guidelines state that we should all aim to walk for at least 150 minutes every week – and the more you walk, the more heart-boosting, mood-lifting benefits you'll see. So taking just a few more steps can make a difference.

'Even if you want to stick to walking the same route each day, try reversing it,' suggests Lauren Bradshaw. 'So what was previously downhill will become uphill. By changing the camber, you'll build fitness. You could also try varying the pace. Take a friend with you, so you walk at their usual pace for a while then they walk at yours.' You can apply the same fuss-free changes to a familiar run or bike ride, of course.

'And if you swim regularly but simply go up and down the lanes, try changing stroke,' says Lauren. 'Your speed may vary and you'll be using different muscle groups. You could also consider joining a swimming club – even if it's just for one session. If you swim with others who go faster, that will in turn make you faster. Or sign up for a lesson: you'll improve your technique or learn a new stroke, which again will make you faster and fitter.'

Related: How to get fit by swimming

Get fitness inspiration from your friends

Another way to lift yourself out of an exercise rut is to take inspiration from your friends. Perhaps someone you know is a keen tennis player or ballroom dancer, for instance. Ask them if you can go along and see what all the fuss is about. Or if you already exercise with friends, agree to try something new together. That way you'll have the support of a familiar face to help you get over any beginners' nerves.

Don't forget to ask the experts for their advice, too. If there's a class you particularly enjoy, ask the instructor what the next step up might be. Let's face it: if you've been going to the beginners' yoga class for years, it's time to bite the bullet and try an improvers' class. 

Or look for variations on the same theme: instead of going to your usual Zumba fitness class, you could try Zumba Toning, which adds muscle-strengthening exercises to the mix. 

Related: Read our guide to Zumba

Setting yourself an achievable fitness goal will also help you to stay motivated. You could turn your daily walk or jog into a training session for a charity event, such as Cancer Research UK's Race for Life series (http://raceforlife.cancerresearchuk.org/index.html). 

Or invest in a pedometer and count how many steps you take daily – then vow to walk a little further each day. That way, you'll build extra activity into your entire day, rather than focusing on one specific workout session. Variety is the spice of life, after all – so why not freshen things up?

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.