12 Ways to Keep Your Workouts Challenging and Effective

STACK Expert Beau Bradbury wants you to stay motivated and keep making gains in the weight room. His 12 tips will help you do just that.

Unfortunately, it's a human tendency to want to quit when things get tough. Training programs are no exception. This article is not just about workout motivation. We will cover topics that will help you avoid pitfalls that can derail even the best intentions.

1. Pinpoint Your Goal

Pick one goal and get laser-focused on it. I mean focused like a bald eagle about to swoop down and grab a fish for dinner. Picture this: a guy whose goal is to deadlift 850 pounds also wants to run a marathon. How many marathoners on earth can deadlift 850 pounds? Training for both goals at the same time would cause major drawbacks and practically destroy the athlete's chance to achieve either one.

Your goal must be specific, measurable, attainable and put on a time frame. Put all of your energy into that goal. Give it all you've got and don't fall victim to costly distractions.

RELATED: 4 Obstacles to Better Goal Setting

2. Understand the Process

If you think utterly destroying yourself with hours of training on the first day will make you a world record-holder in the morning, you'll be gravely disappointed. A mild soreness is OK, but extreme, crippling soreness means you must make an adjustment before something bad happens.

It takes time to get stronger, faster and more powerful. Don't be foolish and rush things. If there is a 5-pound increase, take it! Progress always tastes better than failure. I love the analogy of achieving a suntan for training. Imagine going out on the first day of summer without a shirt on, because you want a tan. You are in the hot sun for four hours, and you get burned to a crisp. People mistake you for a genetically mutated walking lobster. However, what if you went out for 15 minutes, then, a few days later, for 17 minutes—and so on in sensible increases? You'd have a perfect tan just in time for your family's vacation on the lake. Way to go! You understand the process of adaptation.

3. Start Light

This might be one of the biggest pitfalls of all. The first day of a new training program, you are at the highest level of enthusiasm. You probably have a little help from our good friend, adrenaline. You get to cranking and think, "what's another 20 pounds? I feel great." You have fallen into the trap of starting out too heavy.

This quickly leads to a training plateau, which leads to frustration and, for most, quitting or jumping ship to another program they think will magically work. Here's a note: Every single training program can be done wrong. Don't be a hero on the first day. You will regret it during your next few workouts. Start light and trust the process of adaptation to begin its magic.

4. Believe in Small Increases

When in doubt, study nature. Have you ever cut down a large tree? Did you look at the trunk and see many rings? That tree didn't grow huge overnight. All those rings represent periods of fast or slow growth. It took many seasons to grow into a large tree. Training your body is the same. It takes time.

RELATED: How Many Sets and Reps Should You Really Do?

Picture a mere 2-pound increase on your Bench Press as a ring on a tree trunk. Can you see where this would take you if you do it repeatedly? If you start at zero, increase your Bench Press 5 pounds every week and maintain this rate for 5 years, how much weight could you bench? You'd be the undisputed world record-holder at 1,300 pounds! Obviously, individual differences will cause you to reach your genetic potential sooner or later. The point is, make friends with the tiny plates in the weight room. The smaller the better, as they are a symbol and a beacon of progress!

5. Trust Your Program

Once you find a program that aligns nicely with your goal, stick with it at all costs. Make sure to give it a fair shake, and don't allow yourself to get distracted. There are literally thousands of training programs to choose from. Some are better than others. Find one, preferably with an experienced coach, and commit to it. Give it time to work for you. Remember the tree rings and the suntan. People get strong over time.

A side note: If you are participating in your school's strength & conditioning program, be a leader, buy in 100 percent and work hard. Coaches like people who do this. Listen to your coaches. If their program is poor, chances are they won't be around long. Don't waste your time questioning the coach's program or hang out in the corner snickering with your teammates. Your coaches are doing their best. Their livelihood depends on it, so do your part and give your best effort no matter what.

6. Master the Moves

Horror stories abound of people getting severely injured in the weight room. Most of these incidents could have been avoided by proper instruction on spotting and lifting techniques. Work with your coach at school or get private lessons with an experienced strength and conditioning professional. Get coached up on the major movements and take time to practice them before adding load. Master the fundamentals and start over again. You must learn how to squat, bench and deadlift properly. Also, take time and master how to do Cleans, Pull-Ups and Shoulder Presses, to name a few. These moves build your foundation and are completely transferable to any lift.

RELATED: Want to Build Muscle? Stick to the Basics

7. Be an MVP Spotter

You must take spotting seriously. It can literally save lives and prolong athletic careers. Make it your duty to learn when and how to spot correctly. In real time, pay close attention and execute proper spotting techniques. Chances are if you provide proper spotting, you'll get the same in return. Teamwork in the weight room builds lifetime friends and forges bonds between teammates. Jacking around and not paying attention gets people severely injured or worse.

8. Wrap Your Thumb Around the Bar

Several people die every year on the Bench Press—not to mention numerous serious facial, throat and chest injuries. Many could be avoided by simply taking a secure grip with your thumbs wrapped around the bar. Don't let this little detail derail your training for months or longer! Always wrap your thumb around the bar. No one makes the game-winning shot from a hospital room or a graveyard.

9. Take Your Training Seriously

You have many hours during the day to text, look at social media and goof off. Training time is sacred and integral to achieving progress. Progress, as we all know, is the ultimate motivator. Don't lose interest in training due to lack of focus.

Get focused. Do the work. Get out. Work every set as if your life depended on making every rep. Trick yourself into mentally pushing yourself for an all-out effort. Fine-tune your body to understand the task at hand and conquer it. Focus with all you've got. Nothing saps energy and drive like conversation, looking at your phone or allowing yourself to be seduced by other distractions.

10. Variety is the Spice of Life

Getting bored with your training program and feeling unmotivated can lead to lack of effort and eventually quitting. It's OK to tweak it a little to keep your interest high—as long as the tweaks align with your goal. Tweaks give your muscles fresh tasks and keep your training fun for you. Lift some Atlas stones, carry a yoke or do anything that will be new and exciting. This will keep your interest and motivation sky-high. If you've been doing Bench Presses for weeks on end, switch to an incline for a little while. A bored state of mind will not promote the fierce effort needed to drive results, and more results means more motivation.

11. Identify & Fix Staleness

Staleness is similar to boredom. It's like when you start a new book and you're very enthusiastic through the first couple of chapters. Then out of nowhere, you start to lose it, get bored, and sometimes toss the book aside. The key is to power through this staleness and boost your workout motivation.

You might feel unmotivated to work out. There are many signs of staleness. Some people complain of achy joints and a lack of explosion. Others say they can't sleep well and lack an appetite. Find your signs. Once you identify staleness creeping in, use the following tips to blast through it and keep trucking. Like books, most of the good stuff is saved for the few who stick it out.

Defeating Staleness

  1. Learn your signs. This is through your own personal experiences.
  2. Take a workout or two off, and rest and recover your body.
  3. If staleness lingers too long and overtraining kicks in, take a whole week off from training. It's better to take 5-7 days off than to lose months due to severe overtraining and/or injury.
  4. Make sure your diet is on point with your goal.
  5. Drink lots of water.
  6. Enjoy other activities. Go outside and refresh your mind.
  7. Avoid negativity, and especially negative people, like the plague. They can ruin any and all of your workout motivation in a blink of an eye.
  8. Get a good night's sleep. Training is stress, and you need to recover.
  9. If your career is stressful, build that fact into your training program. More stress is never the answer.
  10. Insert little workout challenges to keep everything fun and fresh. One of my favorite things to do is to create a challenge by combining a strongman movement with a conditioning component. This boosts the "fun-factor" big time!

12. Have Fun!

Have you ever noticed how top performers in any endeavor act? They rarely look and act like they are bothered by their job or sport. Usually, they look like they are having a blast. They smile a lot and laugh a lot. Sure there are good days and bad days. Most of the time, the best are the best because they have fun doing what they do. Don't lose sight of this.

Remember why you got involved with training. What brought you back for more? If you've drifted away from your roots, it would probably be a good idea to bring back some things that you miss. For instance, maybe you absolutely love the Bench Press, but your current program only calls for Inclines, and you are getting bored. Will it kill you to cycle in 4-6 weeks of your old friend the Bench Press? No way! It might be just the spark you need to boost your workout motivation back to roaring levels. The point is to have fun again. If you are having fun and enjoying training, you'll perform better. I guarantee it.

It is my hope that you find this article and read one thing that will keep you on track. I want to you to be a juggernaut or a freight train that nothing gets in the way of. Just imagine: you're trucking along and you feel yourself slipping; but you know the game, make the proper adjustment and keep on steamrolling your competition—while the rest of the world gets stale, then frustrated, and quits. The likelihood of success by quitting is about as possible as parking a dump-truck on Saturn.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: MENTAL TOUGHNESS | PERFORMANCE TRAINING