Fitness experts weigh in on the importance of variety in a movement routine.
Establishing an exercise routine isn’t always an easy task, but once you find a few activities you enjoy doing, it’s far easier to find your workout groove. Whether it's a daily walk, dancing, or taking a Pilates class three days a week, exercise has so many physical and mental benefits that any type of movement really is a win.
But what happens if you do the same thing, day-in and day-out? Is sticking to a narrow fitness routine “bad” for you? Could strictly being a runner or yogi do more harm than good? Here's what medical and fitness professionals have to say about the importance of exercise variety, along with some helpful tips to get you out of a fitness rut (or prevent one in the first place).
Getting exercise of any kind is great.
Good news: The bottom line is that any exercise at all is worthwhile, according to Leonard Pianko, M.D., a board-certified cardiologist and internal medicine physician based in Aventura, Fla. “You’re exercising, [and] getting into a routine and enjoying your exercise regimen is important.”
In fact, there are some great advantages to maintaining a more consistent routine. “Performing the same exercise every day can be beneficial in building skills, endurance, and strengthening the same muscle group,” Dr. Pianko says. After all, consistency is a key ingredient, no matter what your fitness goals are. Exercise can often feel like a chore, so once we find a type of exercise we like, whether it’s spin class, jumping rope, or weight-lifting, we're more likely to do it regularly.
“The fact that you’ve implemented exercise into your day-to-day [life] is positive because that is something that can be challenging for somebody with a busy schedule,” says Chiheb Soumer, certified personal trainer and founder of Fairfax Training Club in Los Angeles. “Consistency and discipline beat everything else. I always recommend to my clients to find exactly what they like and what types of movement feel best, and follow that.”
Getting a variety of exercise is even better.
That said, experiencing little to no exercise variation does have its limitations, and mixing up the types of physical activity you do can be extremely beneficial.
For one, while you’re benefiting certain muscle group(s) or motions, you may end up neglecting others. “[Having the same routine every day] means that other groups of muscles are not reaping the same benefit,” Dr. Pianko says. “It can also lead to muscle fatigue and plateauing.” This is what’s called adaptive resistance, which is when the body becomes so used to performing one type of movement or exercise that it sort of stops responding to it or making any real progress from it.
Another issue with repetitiveness is that it can potentially lead to injury. “When we focus on one type of movement or exercise routine, we tend to neglect other aspects of our bodies, which can lead to injury in the overused areas and/or deficiencies in the underutilized areas," says Christa Janine, certified yoga instructor and Alo Moves instructor. “A few examples of this would be shoulder injuries in individuals who practice power yoga frequently and repeatedly perform chaturanga dandasana; back strain in weightlifters caused by overuse of the muscles; or tendon injuries in daily practitioners of Pilates."
Doing the same movements day after day can end up limiting your range of motion too. “I’m often asked why my workout regimen consists of such a large variety of exercise formats, and the biggest reason is that I want the full functionality of my muscles and joints,” Janine says. “[N]ot using every direction plane in our bodies [can] in turn only limit our peak-performance capabilities.
Mentally speaking, while routines in general are a valuable part of life, variety (think: new experiences, the learning process, task-switching, and mental flexibility) is what helps keep the brain in great shape too, especially as we age. One study published in The Journals of Gerontology found that adults with greater daily activity diversity showed “higher overall cognitive functioning and higher executive functioning.” Why not do your brain a favor by switching things up when you move?
Research has also found that doing a combination of exercise types and intensities can bring even more wonderful health benefits. For example, a 2022 meta-analysis in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that doing 30 to 60 minutes of strength training per week helps lower your risk for all-cause mortality, heart disease, and certain cancers by 10 to 17 percent. That’s awesome news on its own. But then it also found evidence that doing both strength training and aerobic exercise resulted in even more impressive longevity perks: 40 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality, 46 percent lower risk of heart disease, and 28 percent lower risk of dying from cancer.
How to Start Mixing Up Your Exercise Routine
Mix and match for full-body balance.
Ready to try something new? Janine says it's best to aim for a holistic routine that includes flexibility training (like yoga and stretching), strength training (weight-lifting, isometric exercises like planks, and resistance training), mobility work, and aerobics, which can be any type of cardiovascular activity that gets your heart rate up.
“The benefits of flexibility are fewer injuries, better posture, and improved performance. Weight training can increase bone density, improve your cardiovascular health, and reduce stress. Mobility training will help relieve tension associated with exercising, increase your range of motion, and enhance your chances for longevity. Lastly, aerobics helps your heart pump more efficiently, enables your lungs to work better, and strengthens your tendons, ligaments, and bones,” she says.
Overwhelmed? Think of the above as a reference point or workout menu to return to for inspiration. “Make sure that whatever exercise or activity you choose daily has a well-balanced approach,” agrees Soumer. “Don't just do squats every day—mix things up and have a balanced approach to your training and well-being journey.”
Remember that trying even one new type of exercise can be a great addition to a healthy movement habit. “Also remind yourself that each form of exercise provides different benefits to your body that will improve overall fitness performance and life expectancy,” she says.
Think about what you already do, then add or adapt.
Even if you're a true creature of habit, find ways to diversify your go-to exercise. Dr. Pianko always recommends good old-fashioned walking. “If you’re hesitant about changing your exercise routine, [walking] is free, and no special equipment is needed,” he says. “It can prevent or manage high blood pressure and heart disease and help you lose body fat. And with the right partner, it can be downright entertaining.”
Already a walker? Try walking uphill or a flight of stairs instead of on flat land to work different muscles. Jog for just five minutes at the end of your walk. Tack on 10 minutes of weight training—or wear some light ankle or arm weights while you walk (such as wearable Bala Bangles) to increase strength and add an extra challenge. Here are seven more ways to get more out of your walks.
Try group fitness classes (or stream one online).
Those who exercise solo may want to try taking a group fitness class or two every week. They’re often more fun than working out alone, and there's an instructor to help keep you motivated throughout the class. Plus, you can rely on the instructor—not yourself—to add variety. Best of all, most instructors generally aim for a full-body experience. Even if you’re at a core-focused class, you’ll likely warm up and cool down your entire body, and end up engaging way more areas than just the abs. Not an in-person workout class fan? There are tons of online streaming options out there.
If you’re already into group fitness and love the one you attend, consider expanding your roster of instructors. This keeps you in a familiar zone, but hits the refresh button for some much-needed change.
Rest is part of any workout program.
Both trainers agree that no matter what types of exercise you do, recovery is essential for the body and should be included in a varied fitness routine. “Remember to listen to your body and that rest is just as important as the workouts,” Janine says.
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