Is your routine getting too routine?

There you are again, grudgingly pedaling away on the stationary bike – today’s winner in the cardio-machine crapshoot – and counting down the remaining minutes on your hill program. You’re not energized or even breathing hard. In fact, you’re downright bored. “But what else can I do?” you ask yourself. “I have to work out.”

Sound familiar? At one time or another, boredom hits most exercisers. Nevertheless, it’s a problem you need to recognize and tackle immediately – before boredom turns into burnout and you ditch your fitness program entirely. “Once you’re burned out, it’s hard to even think about sports,” says Tom Raedeke, Ph.D., an instructor in the kinesiology department at the University of Colorado-Boulder. But once you realize you’re in a rut, all it takes is a little creativity and some self-evaluation to get out of it. Here are nine ways to rekindle that workout flame.

Set goals. Perhaps you’ve never really thought about your fitness goals – maybe you like to run a few times a week and you’ve been doing it for years. “People get to the point where they keep doing what they have been and don’t notice arty improvement,” says Arthur Weltman, Ph.D., director of the exercise physiology program at the University of Virginia. Setting a goal, even a small one like running up that one killer hill a minute faster than you do now, gives you something to look forward to as wee as a way to gauge your progress. Just make sure the goals you pick are realistic for your fitness level and your lifestyle. Otherwise you may end up burned out because you’re always trying to achieve something beyond your capability. If you’ve always wanted to be a champion cyclist, for example, but you live in the city and have limited time to train, you might want to rethink your plans.

Get competitive. Training for competition is a great way to fire up your workout engine. With your eye on a bike race or swim meet, you’ll have the direction and motivation you need to get out there and push yourself.

Test yourself. To set goals – competitive or otherwise – that you can realistically achieve, you need to find out what kind of shape you’re in. A fitness evaluation will tell you what areas, such as flexibility or strength, you need to work on so you can incorporate them into your routine. This renewed focus can do wonders to invigorate a routine that’s become rote.

Keep track. Chart your progress in a fitness journal or some other kind of record so you can see whether your new regimen is working. It provides some tangible proof that you really are running faster, lifting more weight or swimming farther, which in turn will inspire you to keep at it.

Have fund. “An athlete who enjoys what she’s doing will be able to handle harder work loads before getting burnt out,” says Raedeke. It sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised. Raedeke recalls one survey he read in which respondents ranked stationary cycling as both their most popular and least enjoyable workout activity – go figure. In other words, people often pick workouts that they think will do them good, when in fact they don’t enjoy them. So if you hate the treadmill, try the Nordic Track or maybe an in-line-skating simulator instead.

Join the club. Sign up for a circuit-training class, in which you move rapidly from one station to another, doing weights and aerobic exercise. Or join a running club or masters swimming group. Having an instructor and other participants to motivate you can liven up an otherwise stale routine in no time. If you’re not into classes, you can reap many of the same benefits with a training partner.

Mix it up. “If we ate the same food every day, we probably wouldn’t get so excited about the next meal,” analogizes Alan Mikesky, Ph.D., director of the Human Performance and Biomechanics Lab at Indiana University-Purdue. The same goes for exercise. You can spice up your workouts by cross-training or by making small changes to your regular routine. In the weight room, for example, switch from doing a bench press to doing dumbbell flyes in order to tone your chest muscles. “There are many different ways to work muscle groups,” Mikesky says. Ask a trainer at your gym to suggest some alternatives. If you run or bike, change when and/or where you go.

Go faster. Add some fartlek workouts once or twice a week. These are random intervals in which you sprint for a short distance, slow down for a while and then sprint some more, an at your own discretion. The point is to have fun.

Take time off. Do a different activity, like hiking, for a week and then return to your regular workout. The change of scenery will do you good.

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