Dear Fun and Fit: I keep hearing that I should change up my routine to avoid muscle memory. How often should I change my workout, and to what extremes? Reps/weights? Or completely different exercises?
— Tina in Texas
Kymberly: As you are doin’ the Tighten Up in Texas, keep in mind this pithy and wise quote I made up myself: “Keep the mind clear and the body confused.” Always know what, why and how you are performing your resistance exercises. That’s keeping the mind clear.
And change up those resistance training exercises every so often. That’s where the body confusion comes in. Be careful not to mix up the two and wonder what the heck you are doing and why, but gosh, you sure have done it for a long time. That’s akin to saying, “Gee, the food was bad, but at least they had big portions!”
Anyway, we are really talking adaptation and progression here, not muscle memory. You want muscle memory, which allows you to achieve good form and coordination. And you want to constantly push yourself to progress. Once you adapt to a move, it’s time to vary the exercise in one of many ways.
Alexandra: I want some muscle memory. I want to remember what, why and where my muscles are! I had them just a minute ago. I think they got lost behind my Buns of Cinna!
Geez, at this point I have a Samwise and pithy quote that I made up, and it’s better than Kymberly’s. It is this: “Frodo, Frodo, it’s me — Sam. You have Muscle Alzheimer’s.”
I, too, want to adapt and progress, but I call it something different. I call it “letting my children make it through their teen years by reminding myself it will soon be over, and I can find harmony and joy in their company.” Adapt? Yup. Progress? They’re alive, aren’t they? So some days I lift my car keys and purse 15 times as I contemplate running away for three years. Other days I lift my car just once and contemplate hurling it — and myself — over a cliff. Light weights one day, heavy the next.
K: Ummm, so where were we?
Basically, adaptation occurs between one and 12 weeks — for each new move. Unless you are Alexandra, then it’s a lifelong process. For you, Tinaroo, I would change up about 20 percent to 30 percent of my workout every few weeks. Don’t completely throw out one routine for another all at once. Morph your routine with one, two or three new approaches each week without getting caught up in exact formulas.
If you feel stale with a move, throw out the old Cinnabuns. Couldn’t resist. As for what element to change, that is the fabulosity (made up that word, too, and proud of it!) of resistance training. You can select to change reps, resistance, modality (a fancy term I didn’t make up that generally means “type”) such as free weights or tubing instead of a machine for any given exercise. Change the exercise perhaps: Do chest press instead of push-ups. Add a balance or instability factor: Stand on discs or a BOSU instead of the ground. Change the stabilizing muscles: Sit on a ball for tricep extensions instead of standing. Change the pace of each exercise: Instead of four counts up and four counts down on a lunge for instance, do two counts down and six counts up.
There are so many ways to vary — the exercise itself, the equipment, the speed, the balance factor, the resistance factor, the range of motion, the order of your routine. Get happy and choose what appeals to you.
A: Forget your troubles, come on get happy, gonna chase all your weight away. Said Hallelujah, come on get happy, get ready for the push-ups day! What appeals to me has nothing to do with working out. It involves curly dark hair and manly T-shirt smell. Really, I just go to the gym and work out so I can sniff the hotties. Oh, and I’m paid.
K: And whoever said to change your routine to avoid muscle memory needs to read our blog in a big way. You change your routine to avoid lack of progress. Force the body to adapt upward. Just as I have had to adapt to having a lookalike who lifts car keys for a workout. As you can tell by the fine quality of my advice, I do all the heavy lifting for her.
— Identical twins and fitness pros Kymberly Williams-Evans and Alexandra Williams have been in the fitness industry since the first aerobics studio opened on the European continent. They teach, write, edit, emcee and present their programs worldwide on land, sea and airwaves. They co-write Fun and Fit: Q and A with K and A. You can currently find them in action leading classes in Santa Barbara and Goleta. Kymberly is the former faculty minor adviser at UCSB for its fitness instruction degree offered through the Department of Exercise & Sport Studies; Alexandra serves as an instructor and master teacher for the program. Fun and Fit answers real questions from real people, so please send your comments and questions to email@example.com.