Mix up your routine for a more productive workout

You work hard to fit in workouts. You set aside time each day for exercise, and you give it your best. Yet you don't seem to be making progress anymore. It's enough to make you call it quits on exercise. But before you give up your good habits, know this: Exercise plateaus are common, and they can be tackled with the right strategies.

Read on as Mark Fenton, WALKING's editor at large, Olympic racewalking coach, and all-around exercise guru helps one walking reader redo her routine.

Amy Newsom, 27: Needs help balancing work, fun and exercise

Amy's goals: Lose 15 pounds. Strengthen and tone her body. Find a routine that works for the rest of her life.

"My whole day goes better if I get in some exercise in the morning," says Newsom, a membership director for a nonprofit organization in Denver. Yet even though she's sold on the benefits of physical activity and is committed to her daily exercise routine, she's not seeing results.

"I read everything I can get my hands on about nutrition, exercise, and motivation," she says. "Unfortunately, everything I read is different. I want to be relieved from this state of confusion and second-guessing myself."

At 5 feet 7 inches and 145 pounds, Newsom describes herself as a "pear." "I'm small-boned, so in regular clothes I look fine," she says. "But since I carry most of my weight down low, in shorts I'm pretty self-conscious."

She knows she needs to strength-train, but she has no interest in joining her husband in the weight room. "I'm pretty intimidated by the whole male-dominated environment in there," she says.

Amy's workout: before

  • Three days a week, she rode the stationary bike at moderate intensity for 40 minutes, followed by 15 minutes on the treadmill at a moderate pace.
  • Every evening she walked the dogs for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Two mornings a week, she walked the dogs briskly for 40 to 60 minutes.
  • On the weekends, she skied or hiked with her husband, depending on the season.

    What's right

  • Scheduling exercise in the morning. People who exercise in the morning tend to be more successful because they get it in before the day gets too crazy.
  • Walking the dogs. Pets that require walking practically guarantee day-to-day exercise and a little extra calorie burn.
  • The weekend hikes with her husband. They're good strength builders, plus they add variety to her routine.

    What's wrong

  • Doing the same routine every day, a common mistake that many avid exercisers make. Newsom's been doing essentially the same thing for over a year, far too long.
  • Skipping the weights. Strength training is key to long-term bone health and fitness. What's more, someone as young as Newsom can still be building bone density. Of course, it's also key for revving up her metabolism for long-term calorie burn, as well as toning and firming muscles under problem spots like the stomach and thighs.
  • Lack of intensity. Newsom uses her bike time to catch up on her favorite magazines. The problem is, if she's reading, she's probably not working hard enough. What's more, the readout on the stationary bike may say hundreds of calories have been burned, but that's just an estimate. Since Newsom's been doing the same effort level for months, her body is no longer challenged, so that means the calorie burn (and aerobic benefit) could be half of what's displayed on the machine.

    Amy's workout makeover
    Newsom's problem is figuring out the right balance of different types of exercise. Plus, she lacks a solid goal.

    Fenton suggests:

  • Ride the stationary bike three days a week.
  • Twice a week, replace stationary bike rides with rigorous walking workouts.
  • Add a full-body strength-training routine two to three days a week. Since Newsom doesn't feel comfortable using the weights at her coed gym, she should consider joining an all-women's gym or investing in some good strength-training videos and some dumbbells so that she can do her routine at home.
  • Continue the weekend hikes. But every third week she should make them longer, sustained efforts that last over two hours. The result: She'll pump up her during- and after-walk calorie burn and build endurance.
  • Get a goal. To keep her motivated and give her workouts purpose, Fenton recommends that Newsom plan to walk an event in two to four months and train for it in the meantime.

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