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Adding a little variety will cross out exercise boredom

Varying the intensity and type of exercise you do not only trains different muscles but also keeps you from losing interest in exercising.

By SHEILA G. DEAN, Times Correspondent

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 10, 2000

At the start of the new year you made a promise to exercise. This time, you told yourself, it would be different, no more on-again, off-again exercise merry-go-rounds.

You put together your plan and bought new shoes and perhaps even a health club membership. Now here you are, already almost halfway into the year, and you have stuck to your resolutions.

Your body responded. You are breathing better. Your skin feels tingly. Someone asked you just the other day if you've lost weight. There is an extra bounce in your step.

Then you hit a plateau. Your weight won't budge. Your fitness level does not seem to improve, so you exercise another day, but now the repetition bores you and, even worse, your weight and fitness level are stagnant. "Okay," you think, "I'll eat a little less." You continue for another week.

In anticipation of the progress you are sure you've made, you step on the scale. You've gained a couple of pounds!

Disinterested in adding yet another day of that same routine, you become disillusioned with your lack of will power. Sound familiar?

This is the scenario for millions of exercisers who eventually jump back on that exercise merry-go-round because of frustration.

Can it be that all these people have really failed at their exercise, or could it be that their exercise has failed them?

The solution is cross-training, a method of training that employs a variety of exercises that tone and test different parts of the body.

There are many reasons to cross-train, not the least important is that it's the best way to overcome the plateaus that many regular exercisers experience.

Why? Because exercise is specific. Your body adapts quickly to the mode of exercise you are doing and, marvelous machine that it is, becomes efficient at it. The reason athletes do the same training over and over is to become so efficient that, on the day of competition, the body knows the drill automatically, and the mind can push it harder.

However, if you are doing that same walk, that same step-aerobics class, that same bike ride and not making progress, it might be time for you to incorporate new exercises.

Another reason for cross-training is to prevent injury. All too often people get hurt from repeatedly pounding the same muscle groups. By doing different things on different days, painful mistakes can be avoided.

Cross-training is also important to stave off boredom. One of the reasons health clubs are practically empty in February and March is because people simply get bored and lose interest with their routines. The monotony becomes more burdensome than fun, and suddenly the exercise routine falls victim to the pressures of life's other responsibilities.

Well, then, what is the best exercise? The answer is the one that you enjoy, and these days there is no reason for not being able to find a physical activity that you can have fun doing.

For example, if you don't think you would care for the fancy-footwork of the aerobics classes, how about trying a kick-boxing class? Kick-boxing is a good choice if you are stressed and need to release pressure in a healthy and positive manner.

Just like any other type of exercise, if all you do is take kick-boxing classes, that too can get stale and might even lead to hip or knee damage if your form is not good. Throw in a "spinning" class once a week.

Spinning classes are group-instructed indoor biking classes. Although challenging for the heart and lung system, spinning takes little coordination and can be a great way to rev up your metabolism as the instructor leads the class through hills and valleys, twists and turns, standing and sitting all to music.

Don't forget that flexibility is an important and often neglected component of fitness. Taking a yoga class can be the answer here, and it's a great way to clear the mind.

You might be surprised to find yoga more difficult than you thought. It takes discipline to keep your mind from wandering ("gotta do the laundry, pick up the kids, get to the grocery store, make that deposit") in order to focus on the present, a major component of yoga.

The list of exercise modalities goes on, but, of all of them, the one that shouldn't be underestimated is muscle strengthening.

Strength is important for all people, especially for those older than 55. As we age, our strength declines slowly, but after 55 it begins to decline more rapidly.

Throughout life we need some strength to avoid injury, to meet emergencies and to engage fully and independently in life. It takes strength to change a flat tire, to lift and carry infants, to do the laundry or unload the groceries.

Muscle strengthening is crucial to develop a high-burning metabolism and a toned, healthy appearance. If you are a beginner, consult your physician first.

After you have the okay and if your budget allows, consider hiring a certified personal trainer to show you different exercises. He or she can help you put together a safe, customized exercise plan.

Remember that variety, the spice of life, is a secret successful exercisers have learned through experience.

Sheila Dean, a registered dietitian and freelance writer, is the chief sports nutritionist at the Ironman Institute in Palm Harbor. She is an instructor at the University of Tampa and St. Petersburg Junior College and the author of Nutrition in a Nutshell.

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