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Steve Theunissen is a freelance writer living in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is a former gym owner and personal trainer and is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness and fat loss. Steve also writes history books with a focus on the history of warfare. He is married and has two daughters.

7 Tips to Break Out of a Fitness Rut

No matter how dedicated we are to getting in shape, we all have times when we lose our training mojo. We find ourselves dragging ourselves to the gym, going through the motions of our workouts and wishing we were anywhere but where we are. So, what can we do when we find ourselves falling into that dreaded fitness rut? Here are 7 proven strategies you can implement to get your mojo back.

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1: Change Up Your Workout

Often we slip into a rut because our workout routine gets stale. We simply get bored doing the same thing workout after workout. That’s when you need to change your workout around. If you’ve been used to training one body part per workout, mix it up by training two body parts. Throw in some functional training such as battle ropes and sled pushes.

You can move between weight training and cardio sets, throw high intensity interval training into the mix and add in some plyometric jump training. You can also try push workouts on one day and pull workouts the next. If you’ve been doing a split routine, try a month of total body workouts.

2: Take A Class

This is a great time to experience the benefits of taking a fitness class. You may be a person who’s never really considered taking an exercise class. Working to get out of a rut is a great time to start. It will be new and exciting and it will challenge your body in a whole different way.

3: Vary Your Set and Rep Scheme

If you are used to working within a set rep range on your weight training exercises, try mixing things up for a bit of variety. Rather than sticking to the conventional 3 or 4 sets of 8 to 10, throw in a more challenging (and fun rep scheme). Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • EMOM - Emom stands for every minute on the minute. Click your timer as you begin your set. If you’re doing 12 reps and it takes 43 seconds to complete, then you’ve got 17 seconds to rest before you start your next set. Keep up this every minute training to complete your full number of sets for that exercise.
  • Goal Set - Here you set a total rep target for an exercise. Let’s say that you’re doing the dumbbell bench press with a set that allows you to 8 reps on your first set. Set the goal to achieve 35 reps in total. On your first set, you get 8 reps, then 8 on your second set and 7 on set 3. You now have a cumulative total of 23 reps. You have now got 12 reps to go. Continue until you get there, even if you are doing single reps on your last sets.

Here's a workout plan you should try:

4: Pre-Exhaustion Training

Pre-exhaustion is a unique and innovative form of training that can invigorate your training when you feel yourself slipping into a rut. This extremely effective intensity enhancer allows you to overcome your weak links in order to fully stress the working muscle group. A major problem with some exercises is that, in order to work the target muscle group, you need to use assistant muscle groups that are smaller and weaker. The classic example is the bench press.

Person doing bench press

The bench press targets the pectorals as its prime mover. However, it also involves the much smaller deltoids and triceps. This means that, when you are doing the exercise, the shoulders and arms will give out before the chest does. You won’t be able to maximally work the target muscle group.

Pre-exhaustion overcomes this problem in a novel way. It involves performing an isolation exercise for the large target muscle group before immediately going to the main compound movement. In the case of the bench press, for example, you would do a set of 12 reps on flat bench flyes before immediately going to the bench press.

By performing the flyes first, which target the chest, you are, in effect, making the chest the weak link in the next exercise. This allows you to work it to failure before the shoulders and arms give out.

Pre-exhaustion relies on moving immediately from the first to the second exercise. You do not want your target muscle to recover before hitting it with the main exercise. This technique will force you to lower the weight on the second move, but it will hit that muscle far more effectively.

5: Buddy Up

If you’ve been training solo then teaming up with a training partner could provide the shot in the arm that your workout routine needs. Buddying up will invigorate both of you as you share your goals and encourage each other to work towards them. The natural competition that is inherent to humans will spur you to work a little harder. Knowing that there’s someone waiting for you will also give you that extra motivation to get through the gym doors when all you feel like doing is collapsing on the couch.

6: Pay a Trainer

Having a session or two with a personal trainer is a great way to get out of a fitness rut. A trainer will be able to provide an objective analysis of what you’re doing, help you to correct your form and provide new and invigorating ideas to inject new life into your training sessions.

Trainer showing client progress

7: Intensity Enhancers

It's easy to get into a rut when our workouts become comfortable. Shifting your thing up a gear may be what you need to get your head back in the game. One of my favorite intensity enhancers is descending sets.

Descending sets involves doing four to six sets of an exercise with no rest. The normal rep range is between 6 and 8. On each succeeding set you reduce the weight slightly. The easiest way to perform descending sets is by standing in front of a rack of dumbbells. Start with the heaviest weight that you can handle for 6 reps. Grasp the weights and perform your 6 strict reps. Now place the weights back in the rack and grasp hold of the next set going down the rack. Perform another six reps. Keep working down the rack until you have completed your required number of sets.

Descending (or strip) sets can also be performed with a barbell. Ideally, you’ll need two spotters. If you are doing the bench press, start with a weight that will allow you to eek out 6 reps. Then rack the bar as your partners strip 5 pounds off each end of the bar. Now pump out another six reps. Continue this process, going down in gradations of 5 pounds each time.

Strategy Summary

  • Vary your workouts every month
  • Experiment with fitness classes
  • Revamp your set and rep scheme
  • Introduce pre-exhaustion training
  • Find a training partner
  • Have a session or two with a personal trainer
  • Ramp up your training intensity
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