Skip to main content
phys ed

Chris Lavoie works out with weights while his partner Elise Sanderson does squats during a fitness class at the 416 Fitness Club on Feb. 2.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

It’s been said familiarity breeds contempt. I’m not sure this is entirely true, but in the gym, where repetition is the rule of law, this adage takes on more weight.

Being able to tolerate some monotony is a requirement for all levels of fitness training. A program that focuses exclusively on variety will never deliver results. After all, you only get good at techniques through consistent practice. However some take this idea to the extreme, repeating the exact same workouts over and over for weeks (months? years?) on end. The movements, the weights used, the order of execution – their routine never changes. And no surprise, neither does their body.

Change can be a powerful tool. Switching up our routines, even in subtle ways, often leads to dramatic results. A new environment, a different method, a fresh set of tools – it doesn’t take much to transform the stale into the inspiring. If your progress is stalling and your enthusiasm for working out is waning, it may just be time to change things up. Here are some easy-to-apply options to help revive that faded passion.

Find a new home

Regular readers of this column will know by now that I’m no fan of giant corporate gyms. The Fitness Industrial Complex does nothing to inspire, despite their desperate marketing campaigns featuring young, chiselled models doing fitness-type things. Some of the big names get things right, but they’re the exception to the rule.

If your go-to gym is part of a posh franchise or global conglomerate, consider signing up for a trial membership at a smaller, independent facility.

The equipment at these places is almost always superior. Then there’s the energy, the vibe, the culture; I don’t know what it is but whenever I step foot onto the training floor of a real gym I’m instantly stoked to start lifting.

I can’t say the same for the dull buzz emanating from the endless aisles of treadmills at your standard Big Chain Gym. And don’t get me started on the canned music piped into these places. Raise your hand if Top 40 pop hits light a fire under your butt. That’s what I thought.

Find a new tribe

Tribalism is rife within the fitness world. Bodybuilders occupy one sphere, powerlifters another. CrossFit takes place inside a “box,” martial arts inside a dojo. How can you tell if someone runs marathons? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you (same goes for triathletes, yogis and adherents of calisthenics).

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Tribes offer a sense of belonging and an element of support, which can lead to genuine motivation. But if all your workouts take place under the banner of one specific protocol you’re likely missing out on a world of benefits.

Myopic specialization is best left for competitive athletes. The rest of us would do well to adopt a generalist mindset. Lifters should learn to run. Runners should learn to lift. And CrossFitters? Well, every now and then try thinking outside the box.

Find a new tool

Plateaus happen when our body stops adapting to the training stimulus we throw at it. Unless you keep upping the ante with new challenges, there’s no reason for the body to grow stronger. Thankfully the solution is simple: reach for a different set of tools.

Though they may all look the same, a bodyweight squat is different from a kettlebell goblet squat, is different from a barbell back squat or a dumbbell front squat. Each involves squatting, of course, but the loading patterns differ enough to deliver a novel effect. Even the most minor tweak can be enough to trigger growth.

It should be pointed out that there’s something like a symbiotic relationship between each of the above avenues. Find a new home and you’ll find a new tribe, a tribe that very likely relies on a different set of tools than you’re accustomed to. And once you start spending time with unique training tools, chances are you’ll become immersed in the subculture from which the tools were spawned. In short, learn to embrace the unknown with open arms and your training will never have to suffer.

Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator in Kitchener, Ont.

Sign up for the weekly Health & Wellness newsletter for the latest news and advice.