The Un-Program

Routine got you humming along? Shake it up.

Jul 1, 1997
Outside Magazine
Get up, run five miles, whip up a fresh fruit smoothie, and brush your teeth. Repeat the next morning. And the next morning. And the next. And so on, until exercise becomes one long healthy habit. Sounds wholesome enough. Nevertheless, while that regimen you're so devoted to provides solace, there's more to well-rounded fitness than simply logging the hours. The admirable discipline that has you doing the same thing over again — day to day or week to week — can be badly deceiving. For what may seem like a nice groove might really be a bad rut.

The symptoms are subtle, but without variety in your regimen, training benefits will slowly diminish as your body adapts to its current level of stress. Once your lungs and leg muscles have grown accustomed to those five miles at seven-minute-mile pace, say, you won't get any faster or stronger until a new stimulus enters the mix. Not that there's anything wrong with simply maintaining your fitness, but face it: There's a reason they call them routines.

Predictably, every coach and exercise physiologist worth her sweat will suggest busting up your schedule: Include a legitimately hard day, make easy days substantially easier, and allow for at least one rest day each week. But don't get overly ambitious; it's better to spice up your routine than to start completely overhauling it in the midst of summer. Following are cardiovascular workouts for swimming, running, and cycling that are designed to plug right into your existing routine, as well as a different approach to weight training that's probably more effective than what you're currently doing; it may even get you out of the gym more quickly. Of course, we don't want to seem too rigid about all this.

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