By increasing the challenge of your exercises and workouts you will keep your body guessing and make sure your body continues to adapt by getting stronger.
If you don’t continually increase the challenge, you can hit a plateau where your body will become used to your training and not progress any further.
That is why I encourage everyone to change their workout routine at least every 4-6 weeks to make sure you can keep improving your performance and progress.
There are several variables you can alter in order to increase the challenge of an exercise. Some of these variables you probably manipulate already, while others you might want to start to do so in your workouts.
1. Load / Weight
This is one of the most common ways to increase the intensity of an exercise. Simply increase the load by adding more weight or resistance to the exercise.
For example when doing some strict military presses, simply throw a couple more plates on the bar whether they are chips, 5′s or 10′s.
Increasing the amount of reps in a set is the other most common way to increase the challenge.
For example when doing squat, after I perform my heavy work sets of squats for the main lift, I take a few back-off sets of the barbell squat. What you can do is each week of the phase or wave increase the reps of those sets. Say on week 1 you do 225 for 4 sets of 10 after your main lift, the next week come back and do 225 for 4 sets of 12 instead of 10. The next week do 225 for 4 sets of 15 reps. When the phase is over either change the secondary lift or add weight and start back at 10 reps for 4 sets.
3. Tempo / Speed
Changing the tempo or speed of an exercise can also increase the challenge. By slowing down an exercise you can increase your muscle’s “time under tension” which will make them work harder. Conversely, if you speed up an exercise into more of an explosive movement this can also increase the challenge by forcing your muscles to work harder by producing the same force but over a smaller time frame.
For example when doing a chin up, you could do a slow 5 second lowering on each set. Alternatively you could explode up as fast as you can increasing the power output. Both of these would increase the challenge of the the chin. With this I tend to mix it up since I do chin ups with various grips pretty much with every workout. One day I may do a normal speed on the way up and down, sometimes I will pause at the top and lower myself very slowly and on other days I will explode as fast as possible on the way up. Doing this over the past year has increase the amount of reps I can do each workout, the amount of weight I can strap on and my back has gotten much stronger, thicker and bigger than before.
You can alter the density of an exercise in a number of ways to increase the challenge. First you can do more sets of the exercise. Secondly you can decrease the rest period between sets. Altering both of these variable means you will be doing more work in a lesser time frame, therefore increasing the density and challenge of the exercise.
For example when performing prowler sprints you could add a set every week or change the rest between sets from 60 seconds back to 45 seconds.
5. Exercise Complexity
By increasing the complexity of the exercise you can also increase the intensity. You can increase the complexity of an exercise by adding in more complex movements or even combining different exercises into one. This can challenge the body from both a biomechanical and neurological standpoint.
For example with the front squat you could increase the complexity by adding a military press above your shoulders at the top of each squat repetition.
Hopefully you can see that there are lots of ways to increase the challenge of an exercise. Next time you do design your workout try changing these variables and see you it affects the intensity of the workout.