Let’s Talk About Effort (a.k.a. My Thoughts on Low Resistance)

I have a confession to make: I’m that creeper next to you on the treadmill/elliptical/stepmill/bike. The one who will slyly peek over at the display on your screen. Sometimes, I’m impressed. Sometimes, I want to make sure I’m “beating” you (no, I’m not proud of this insane competitive streak). Sometimes, I’m wondering why you don’t man up and actually push yourself a little. Tonight, I felt like I was doing a lot of the latter.

So, here’s the thing: when it comes to a machine with adjustable resistance (ellipticals and spin bikes), I’m definitely more of a resistance girl than a speed girl. I do think speed has its place, and depending on the song I’m listening to, I appreciate a quick pace. But I love some hard, heavy hills. As I tell my Spinning classes, heavy resistance is what gives you those pretty lines in your legs. I have a preference for the Precor elliptical, which has a resistance scale of 20. I usually hover somewhere between 11 and 18, depending on which machine I’m using (and what song is playing). Which is what motivated tonight’s post.

This evening, I did a little shoulder workout, and headed upstairs for an hour on the elliptical. I’m planning on a long run tomorrow, so I figured I better go about medium effort tonight, because if the weather is nice, there is no telling how far I’ll actually go before I get bored and stop (last week it was about 9.2 miles. I set out to do 7). I situated myself in the second on three rows, just off center, and got moving. Here’s the thing … though I’m one of those weird people who actually does like cardio – I swear, we exist! – I tend to get bored pretty quickly. Even with the music pumping, and the tv on, I’m still people watching. Which usually sinks me into people judging. And by that, I mean looking at the displays of the screen next to and in front of me. And wondering what these people think they are accomplishing by keeping the resistance on the elliptical at a 5. And still moving at a slow pace.

Now, before you go judging me for … well … judging, let me admit that I don’t know everyone’s goals, or injuries, or abilities. But I’m that person sweating buckets regardless of what I’m doing. I actually had a lady ask me walking into my Spinning class (before which I for some unknown reason had an itching desire to run 5k … I said I’m not right in the head) a few weeks back if it was raining outside. It was not. I was just determined to finish my 3.1 in the 26 minutes I had before I had to open up the studio. Anyway, back to my point – if you look gorgeous when you leave the gym, you probably didn’t get much of a workout. Yes, there are a lucky few out there who don’t sweat like it’s August in Louisiana. But I’m certainly not one of them. And neither are most people.

I guess my point is just this: if you are going to take the time to go to the gym, and do something good for yourself, give yourself something to be proud of. If you can’t feel your legs working, your heart rate raising, your blood pumping, then you are likely not living up to your full potential. Here’s a fact for you: below a certain resistance, you’re not really doing the work – momentum is (this is especially true the higher up the incline on an elliptical – momentum is dragging your feet along, making it challenging to keep the leg muscles engaged – and get the benefits of the exercise).

If you’re slogging along at a resistance of 1 – yes, I saw more than on person set at 1 – you’d be better off doing something else. Anything else. You’re probably bored anyway. Challenge yourself. It is, after all, the challenge that makes you stronger – and breeds the will to work harder, to be more, to ultimately help build the body you never thought you could have.

Avoid the Dreaded Plateau: Mix it Up!

One of the most crucial factors in a successful workout routine is that of variety. Like anything in life, the more you do something, the better you get at it, the more efficient you become – eventually what was once a challenge is suddenly easy. If you do the exact same exercises every day, week after week, eventually your body will grow bored … meaning you will start burning fewer calories, and stop making progress toward your goals.

I’ll admit to being a person who gets bored easily, so cross training and mixing things up is pretty normal for me. I don’t like to do the repeat any particular exercise or class more than twice a week if I can help it, and I try to adjust my weight routines ever 3-4 weeks (most people can go about 6 weeks before they need a change). As you get more fit, you may find that you’ll need to make modifications even sooner in order to avoid that dreaded plateau.

So, that said … how can you ensure variety in your workouts? The most important part is simply planning ahead, and making a conscious effort to try a number of different activities throughout the week.

For example, this is how my schedule currently looks:

Monday: Weight training, cardio*

Tuesday: Cardio, abs

Wednesday: Instruct two classes – Piloxing, Pilates

Thursday: Weight training, instruct one class – Piloxing

Friday: OFF

Saturday: Weight training, Cardio, abs

Sunday: Instruct two classes – Spinning, Pilates

*Depending on how I’m feeling, I go for 45-60 minutes running, on the elliptical, ArcTrainer or stairmill (a stairmill looks like an escalator with three steps. And it’s HARD.) Also note that sometimes I have to trade days for my off day – meaning I’ll just replace my off day with whatever day I have to miss in the schedule.

Bottom line, do what you like, but mix it up! Variety truly is the spice of life, as they say – and by keeping your body guessing what is coming next, and you’ll continue to see the results you want to see. It’ll have you on the right track to continue getting stronger and more fit!