How do I keep my body responding to workouts?

July 26, 2014

Q: I’m a reasonably fit person, but I am looking for ways to kick my workouts to the next level. Do you have any suggestions on where to start?

A: As humans, we are creatures of habit, and we tend to feel best when working within our comfort zones. However, if you want to consistently get results, you’ll have to learn to confuse your muscles. Here are some ways to accomplish this goal.

Add weight as you get stronger

Do you go to the gym day after day and lift the same weight for the same amount of repetitions? If so, you’re missing out on a valuable chance to make progress, because your body will quickly adapt and will no longer be challenged. For example, if you are doing three sets of dumbbell squats with 30 pounds, you’re not challenging yourself, because if you were handling weights heavy enough to yield results, you would eventually have to drop the weight a little to finish all three sets. Try doing 40 pounds 10 reps, 35 pounds 10 reps and 30 pounds 12 reps, and you will get more results. A good rule of thumb is if you feel like you can do more reps, it’s time to add some weight until you feel a good burn in the muscles.

Upgrade your exercises

When you first started, you may have limited yourself to simple exercises that were easy to learn, but once you master them, replace them with more advanced movements that require balance and coordination. Below are three great examples of how to go from basic exercises to more difficult movements that will definitely take your workouts to the next level.

Leg press to squats

Leg presses are a great exercise for beginners, but once you’ve mastered them, graduate to squats. Squats are an excellent upgrade because unlike leg presses, they work a host of muscles while requiring balance, coordination and stamina. Squats are also considered one of the best exercises for quad, glute and hamstring development and will be a great improvement over leg presses.

Seated cable rows to dead lifts

I like to use seated cable rows to teach my clients how to isolate the back without risk of injury, but once they’ve become more experienced, I introduce dead lifts. Dead lifts are definitely a superior exercise, because they require the entire body to work as a unit and give the back a comprehensive workout you just can’t get from machines.

Crunches to medicine ball twists

Crunches are great for learning how to isolate the abs and developing basic strength, but if you want to take your abdominal training to the next level, try substituting them with weighted medicine ball twists. Medicine ball twists are one of my favorite abdominal exercises because they force the abs to contract during the entire movement and provide an intense burn and great results. You can make them more difficult by using a heavier medicine ball.

Super sets and tri sets

A great way to increase the intensity of your workouts is to combine exercises into super sets and tri sets. A super set is doing two different exercises back to back without resting. A good example would be doing push-ups and cable rows. Tri sets would be doing three different exercises back to back without resting. A good example would be doing push-ups, cable rows and bicycle crunches. Combining these exercises together will prove to be much more challenging and will build muscular endurance as well as strength.

Functional movements

Functional movements are exercises that are based on real-life situations, and they work groups of muscles all at the same time.

These exercises are great because they teach all the muscles to work together. They also give you more bang for your buck by forcing you to train like an athlete, burning more calories, improving coordination, reducing the chance of injury and giving you an overall better workout.

Good examples include one-arm dumbbell cleans, box jumps, mountain climbers and burpees.

It’s important to remember to not add all of these changes at once. Instead, try to add them one at a time over three to four weeks, and your body will be forced to consistently make progress in order to adapt to the routine.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out