Tired of the same old exercise routine? Looking for some new ideas and progressions?
If you are like most people that exercise regularly you get into a rut. The same old exercises can get tired and boring. One can simply just add more reps or resistance, but that doesn’t change the overall routine. More resistance or reps may also cause added stresses and may lead to pain down the line in other joints and body parts. Added resistance may also impact the quality of the exercise and lead to compromised form. So how can you think outside of the box while still adding progression to your routine?
Improve your core with balance
Adding a balance component to any exercise can help to improve core strength and stability while also helping to prevent falls. Adding balance can also engage more muscle groups and lead to faster improvements and better results. You can also engage more muscle groups and burn more calories in a shorter period of time than standard and often mind-numbing open kinetic chain activities. In the next few paragraphs, I will discuss how to add progression to some very common exercises without increasing the weight or reps.
If you have mastered the squat try completing a single leg squat. First, engage your core and lift one leg off the ground roughly 12 inches or so and maintain positioning of the lower extremity. It might be wise to use upper extremity support on the sturdy surface if this is the first time you are trying a single leg squat. Try a few reps to gauge your fitness level with the activity. I typically start patients with 3-5 single leg squats and provide cueing to ensure good form before adding increased reps. At home, you can use a mirror for feedback.
Bridges are a great exercise and I prescribe it to most patients, especially those with muscle imbalances, low back pain, and core weakness. If you have mastered a standard bridge try raising your arms in the air while performing the activity. This will ensure you are targeting your core, lower extremities and most notably your glute muscles while performing. If that is still not challenging enough lift both your upper extremities from the ground/table and also complete a straight leg raise. Main a core contractions and SLR throughout the activity. The SLR should be roughly 2 feet above the height of the ground/table. I typically tell patients to keep their straight leg in line with their opposite LE or bent leg. This exercise is called a single leg bridge. Try performing 5 single leg bridges with your right leg in the air, and then repeat on your left side.
Planking seems to be all the fitness rage. The focus of this exercise is to maintain good core motor control and stability throughout the activity. I typically start patients at 5 planks for 10 seconds. I have found that most patients that try to hold planks in upwards of a minute or longer tend to break form and use large LE muscle groups and less core activation. If you have already mastered this activity and don’t want to simply increase your hold time try planking on an unstable surface. You can use a half ball, rocker board, wobble board, “BAPs Board” or “BOSU ball.” Definitely start slow with this activity because it can be very challenging. I would recommend 3 reps for 5-10 seconds of hold time. Maintain good motor control and form throughout the activity.
Just like planking, you can also try push-ups on an unstable surface as described previously. Again, it is always important to maintain good form throughout the activity.
I am not a fan of the bent over or traditional rows. This activity can put added stresses on the lower back and can also cause future back problems and disc issues. I always recommend people perform rows for high reps against low resistance to limit the strain on the lower back. My preference is standing rows because it is a more anatomically sound position and causes less strain on the back. If you have already perfected a standing row and would like progression to try performing a single leg standing row. All you have to do is lift one leg in the air and maintain positioning and core activation. I think is important to perform a single leg stance row bilaterally so both sides of the body are worked equally. You can also try rows while standing on an unstable surface like a “BOSU Ball.”
One way to perform a more traditional row in the seated position can be done on an unstable surface like a “Swiss Ball.” Just sit upright on the ball, engage the core and maintain good postural awareness while performing the row activity. Again, my preference for rows is standing because there is less strain on the lower back and discs of the spine while standing when compared to sitting or performing them “bent over.”
Ryan J. Orner, PT, DPT