*This post was written by a Start Healthy contributor.
Are you stuck in a rut with your workouts? I recently challenged myself to work out machine-free in an effort to break free from an exercise rut—and these are some of my biggest takeaways from the experience.
I’ve been a swimmer and a runner ever since I was a kid, and—for the most part—I’ve always enjoyed exercising. Recently, I started noticing that every time I went to the gym, I did the same exact workouts over and over. I decided to try a circuit training program, which is a type of exercise that has recently grown in popularity because it’s highly effective, and yet takes up less time than most other forms of exercise. I chose to test out fitness professional Kayla Itsines’ popular Bikini Body Guide (BBG) program.
The BBG program consists of three days per week of circuit training along with low intensity cardio or HIIT (high intensity interval training). The number of days for the low intensity cardio and HIIT vary per week, and I chose to do those workouts outdoors in keeping with the machine-free theme. This is just one of many circuit programs available, so if you choose to start circuit training, select a program that is best for you and your base level of fitness. After finishing the program, these are some of the most important things I learned about working out machine-free.
If you want to have a home gym with no machines, there are a few essentials.
If you’re going to opt for circuit training, there are a few things you need to complete most of the exercises. I would recommend stocking a home gym with a yoga mat for floor work and ab workouts, along with dumbbells, a Bosu ball, and a medicine ball for arm workouts. You will also need benches and boxes of various heights. Finally, you might consider buying a jump rope, although I opted for jump workouts without a physical jump rope.
Circuit training will boost your strength, regardless of your baseline.
I admittedly was unconcerned going into this program, assuming my baseline fitness might make it easy. After the first leg workout, I hobbled around for days. I even surrendered and accepted a piggy back ride from a friend when I felt like I couldn’t possibly make the walk down a flight of stairs. This was confusing for me, because I wasn’t new to exercising in any sense. I didn’t expect the leg workouts in particular to bother me because I’ve been a runner for years. However, strength workouts can impact different muscle groups than cardio workouts do. No matter your fitness level, switching up your routine is bound to target muscles you have rarely used in the past. You may be sore at first, but you’ll definitely get stronger.
Just because you’re not running doesn’t mean you don’t need shoes.
I learned this lesson the hard way. One day, I decided to do a shoeless circuit workout in my basement, and I paid for it. For a week or two, I had to stop doing cardio on the non-circuit days because it hurt to walk. Thankfully, resting healed me, but I could’ve avoided this by just wearing shoes during all of my circuit workouts.
Variety is one of the keys to fitness.
Although it was difficult, I really liked BBG. I enjoyed knowing that every day would be different. I even took pictures of myself to track my progress. I could see a difference after the first four weeks, so I was pretty enthusiastic about the benefits of circuit training. Towards the end of the twelve weeks, though, I was starting to get bored. The workouts were no longer new and exciting shifts from my old routine—they became the routine. Even though I continued taking photos to track my progress, I didn’t really change much after the first month or so. This brought me to the conclusion that maybe optimum fitness comes from switching things up.
I liked the BBG circuits, but I won’t be doing them three times a week forever. Instead, I’ll do my favorites as intermittent strength workouts. Maybe this is only true for the easily bored (a group I definitely identify with), but I need variety. I’ll never be one to commit to a single type of workout. Instead, I’ll run, swim, bike, hike, spin, and jump on trampolines. I’ll do circuits, yoga, and barre. There is no magic workout regime that will consistently work for your body while feeling completely new, so my new plan is to shake things up as much as I can. I encourage you to do the same and branch out with your workouts.