Reps and Sets
Rack up three sets of eight to 12 reps every time you strength-train.
Vary the sets, reps, and weight each session.
While the old approach will sculpt muscles, doing it day in, day out can get boring for you and your body. "Any time you add variety to your exercise program, you create a new way for muscles to adapt," says Len Kravitz, Ph.D., coordinator of the exercise science program at the University of New Mexico. And as they adapt, they get stronger. A number of studies have shown that periodized exercise programs—those in which you vary the sets, reps, weight, and/or rest times from workout to workout or week to week—yield better results than regular resistance-training routines, in which you usually change only the weight as you progress.
Focus on how exercise helps you physically.
Let your workouts help you mentally too.
We wholeheartedly recommend working up a sweat, but so much of what we do at the gym is focused on outside factors, whether it's the treadmill readout, the person beside you, or your reflection in the mirror. The next time you're putting in your time on the elliptical, try turning your attention—and intention—inward. " 'Working out' sounds hard, but 'working in' is energizing and therapeutic," says David Yukelson, Ph.D., director of sport psychology services at the Morgan Academic Support Center for Student-Athletes at Penn State University. Think about how your body feels—can you calm your breathing or lose that side stitch? —then once you find your groove, brainstorm ideas or meditate on personal issues.
Stretch after you finish working out.
Stretch several times during the day.
While those hamstring and quad stretches feel so good when you're done with your run, limiting your limbering up to the end of your workout is a mistake. It's the repetitive activities (or inactivity) of your daily life that can lead to muscle tension and tightness, especially in your neck, back, chest, hips, and hamstrings, which is why you should make it a point to stretch throughout the day. "It counteracts stiffness and corrects flexibility imbalances," says John R. Martinez, a physical therapist in New York City. "It also helps maintain or improve your range of motion, which will keep you healthier and more active in the long run." Try this easy at-your-desk stretch: Place your right ankle over your left knee and clasp your hands behind your hips; pull your shoulders back. Keeping your chest lifted, lean forward from your hips until you feel a stretch across your right glute. Hold for three to five breaths, then sit up and switch sides.
This article originally appeared on Shape.com.