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Ways to Improve Your Workout

A proven way to improve your health is finding -- or making -- the time to exercise. But just going through the motions won't give you the health benefits you want.

Experts say doing the same workout over and over can get boring, and you're unlikely to improve because you're always using the same muscles. Changing elements in your routine over time can bring amazing results, which in turn are likely to inspire you to make regular exercise part of your life.

Make changes

Change the mode or intensity of your training. Altering your routine will help you avoid conditioning plateaus and force your body to adapt to new movements and intensity levels.

The American College of Sports Medicine suggests aerobic, or endurance, exercise three to five days each week and strength training on the other days. If you do aerobic exercise daily, alternate weight-bearing exercise (for instance, walking) with non-weight-bearing exercise (for instance, swimming). Cross-training between different weight-bearing exercises (walking, biking, elliptical) is also an effective way to vary aerobic exercise and can also reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries.

To avoid injury, it's important not to increase the length or intensity of an aerobic or weight-training routine by more than 10 percent a week. If you walk or run, you can spend 10 percent more time doing the activity or increase your effort or speed by 10 percent. To change a resistance or weight routine, increase the number of reps or times you lift a weight, the number of sets you do, or the weight you lift by 10 percent. You also can do a different set of exercises that work the same muscle groups.

Hire a personal trainer

When you work out with a certified personal trainer, you can focus on the exercise at hand and let the trainer worry about the routine. A trainer also will help you keep your workouts fresh and always progressing. If cost is an issue, hire a trainer for a one-on-one session every few months, or for group sessions with family members or friends. It's very important to notify the trainer of any pain while working out or of any pre-existing or current injuries.

Eat properly and stay hydrated

Without proper nutrition and fluid intake, you can't have a great workout. Your body needs these fuels to build muscle and repair damaged tissue.

Incorporate mind-body training

Mind-body fitness routines can improve muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination, as well as increase mental development and self-esteem. Try yoga, Pilates, tai chi, or other martial arts training regimens.

Exercise at the right time for your body

Work with your body's natural energy level, not against it. There's no 'best' time to work out If you're not a morning person, you probably won't stick with a 5 a.m. running schedule. Clearly, the best workout time for you is the one you can actually stick with.

Get a workout partner

Exercising with a partner makes you accountable to someone else for each workout and can improve your adherence to a program. A partner also can inspire you to push yourself when your energy level is low.

Emphasize breathing

When strength training, take full breaths during each exercise, exhaling on the exertion and inhaling as you release. During cardiovascular exercise, full breaths will deliver as much oxygen as possible to the working muscles, making them more efficient.

Use a heart rate monitor

A heart-rate monitor is a great tool to gauge how hard your body is working and can help you stay within your target heart-rate training zone.

Listen to music

Music can make a workout more fun and give you that extra burst of energy you need to work your hardest. Listening to up-tempo music can be a positive distraction from the boredom or difficulty of working out. It can help you stick with and gain the benefits of being fit, which include maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress, and reducing your health risks.

Reward yourself

Although the physical and mental improvements from regular physical activity are their own reward, you may find that giving yourself a periodic reward for consistently following a routine beneficial. It may be as simple as putting a small amount of money aside after each workout to buy yourself a new CD.