5 Ways to Make Any Exercise More Challenging
I am sure most of us have been here before, you know, just lifting the same old boring weights. You have the thought, “How can I make this exercise more badass i.e. harder?” Well, my friend, do I have a treat for you.
Coming up, I have not just 1, not just 2, but 5, yes, five ways to make your exercise more challenging, which increases overall badassness.
As the late Emeril Lagasse would say, “Let’s kick it up a notch!”. And that we will Emeril.
Sets/Reps, Rest Interval, and Weight
Ok, this first point does not really count. By manipulating any one of the above variables you will either increase or decrease the difficulty of a given exercise. Increasing the weight will always make an exercise more challenging, same with decreasing the rest interval.
You can mess around with these variables all you want, but only the right combination of all of them will lead to the outcome you desire.
Center of Mass
The center of mass on the average person is somewhere around the waist. When you start loading up with weights, your center of mass will change. The closer the weight is to the base the more stable you will be. As the weight moves further away from your center of mass the more difficult the exercise.
We can use this concept to increase the difficulty of your exercises. Lets look at some exercise variations and how they become harder with the change in weight positioning.
Dumbbell Squat with dumbbells at side: center of mass is low and close to base of support
Barbell Squat: center of mass is moved up further way from base of support
Barbell Front Squat: center of mass is moved up and out away from the base of support
Barbell Overhead Squat: center of mass is moved to its greatest distance from the base of support
A Trapbar Deadlift will be easier since the weight is going through you as compared to a conventional Barbell Deadlift where the weight is positioned in front of you. Both lifts have a low center of mass due to the weight being close to the base of support. The big difference is the conventional Deadlift is moving your center of mass more to the front, like the front squat.
Points of Contact
The more points of contact you have the more stable you will be, it just makes sense. A three legged stool is less stable then a four legged stool. It’s the same with your body. A squat is more stable then a single leg squat and the same goes with a RDL vs. a single leg RDL.
You can do the same with pushups and planks and various other exercises by taking one leg or arm off the ground. This makes you less stable and changes the distribution of bodyweight.
Range of Motion
By increasing the range of motion, or ROM for short, you can make an exercise more challenging. This puts you in a new position where you will have to gain stability. You will also increase the time under tension, which increases the stress put on your muscles. This creates more muscle breakdown.
Two of my favorite exercises to increase the ROM for are reverse lunges and Bulgarian split squats. The way that I do this is by doing them from deficit. All this means is I place my front foot on a 4in plyo box and then perform a reverse lunge or Bulgarian split squat the same way I usually would but now I have to go through a greater ROM.
Base of Support
The wider your base of support or the wider your legs are, the more stable you will be. The squat requires less stability then a lunge. This is because your base of support is wider with a squat.
I like to use this concept a lot when doing anti rotation exercises like Pallof presses or cable rotations.
I am not a big fan of unstable surface training by any means, but it can definitely make an exercise more challenging. Doing a BOSU ball squat may look cool and be challenging but if you are trying to gain strength it makes no sense.
The only time I will use an unstable surface would be without weights or with very light weights. The goal would be to gain stability or to make a stable movement pattern unstable; this does not require much weight or any at all.
But this article is not about how I feel about unstable surface training; it’s about how to make an exercise more challenging. And doing an exercise on an unstable surface does fit that requirement.
There are many ways to make any given exercise more challenging. After reading this there should be no excuse as to why your exercises are not challenging enough. So go out there and badassify those boring old exercises.