In my experience, there's one obstacle I see in most workouts. After countless hours of teaching exercise to people all over the world, I noticed it popping up everywhere. This wasn't a verified scientific study, just my personal observations through experience.
So what is this obstacle?
Sounds obvious, right? But it's the culprit that's keeping so many of us from getting fitter, losing weight and seeing results. The good news is that it's easy to overcome.
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Lack of intensity comes in many forms, but the bottom line is that people are OK with getting moderately uncomfortable during a workout, but we rarely push ourselves to the limits. We think, "This is uncomfortable, I'm sweating, I'm moving and that's good enough."
But it's not enough, not if your goal includes big changes. Our bodies are stronger than our minds let us believe, but it's our instinct to pace ourselves to preserve energy in order to make it through a workout.
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That's the problem with most 45- to 60-minute workouts: The levels of intense segments are too long for us to really push the limits, so we lower our effort level to a state that allows us to preserve our energy.
Here are six ways to crank up the intensity and get the most out of your workout:
1. Make the Commitment.
Nike got it right: "Just do it." There is no "try." The first step is deciding to take on the challenge. Don't just promise yourself to work a little harder, commit to a certain time slot each day.
2. Have a Plan.
Without a plan, a trip to the gym can quickly become a complete waste of time. To avoid wandering aimlessly from one piece of equipment to the next, sketch out your workouts ahead of time and set clear training goals.
When you go in with a purpose, you'll maximize your time. You'll be able to push so much harder if you know you only have 30 seconds before a break.
3. Be In the Moment.
Rather than trying to work out for a long period of time, focus on what you're doing. Don't think about what's ahead -- concentrate on the interval at hand.
It's better to go hard on your first couple of intervals and need more recovery between each one than it is to sail through all of them without needing the recovery.
You can do anything for a limited period of time, and it allows your body (and mind) to push harder than it could for unknown time intervals.
4. Don't Multitask.
It might be tempting to fire off emails on the stationary bike or browse Instagram on your phone, but don't do it.
Your workout should be the time you disconnect from the world and focus on working your body. Up the intensity by using the timer on the machine to do intervals, keep active recovery under 60 seconds and cap workouts at 45 minutes.
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5. Get Uncomfortable.
Don't be afraid to get breathless. Keep that goal at the front of your mind. Think "faster."
Cardio-loving distance runners may prioritize pacing and mileage, but try adding sprint bursts to your runs. Sprinting all-out for 10 sets of 30 to 60 seconds can blast more fat and energy in less time than a long run.
Add some intensity and variety to workouts by performing shuttle runs, hill sprints or 100-meter repeats with short recovery periods in between. Not running? You can do this with anything: On a bike? Bike faster. On the elliptical? Go harder.
6. Change Up Your Workouts.
Don't stagnate. You'll get more out of accumulating a series of short, high-intensity intervals than a long steady-state workout.
Of course, you need to do both, but if it's results you're after and you're not finding them fast enough, you need to reevaluate how hard you're working. I promise: Exercise does work, but you have to keep up the intensity levels.
Here are five "go-to" interval workouts, no equipment required.
(Note: These routines give you the framework; you decide how hard you can do an exercise.)
Please note: There are many other factors that could be obstacles in keeping you from results, such as consistency and diet. But in my experience, intensity is the number-one problem I've noticed when it comes to the time people spend working out!
What Do YOU Think?
Have you hit a plateau when it comes to your weight-loss and/or fitness goals? Do you utilize any of the tips mentioned above? Do you prefer steady-state cardio or high-intensity workouts? How do you increase the intensity of your workouts? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Amanda Russell is a top-rated fitness and lifestyle writer, professional keynote speaker, Olympic-trained athlete, model, spokeswoman, founder of FitStrongandSexy.com and one of the industry's leading experts on fitness, wellness and change. Amanda hosts and executive produces the online fitness series: Fit Strong and Sexy. Connect with Amanda on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+.