A couple of weeks ago, I strolled into a Barry’s Bootcamp class and immediately felt that familiar surge of nervousness and excitement I hadn’t felt since the pandemic shuttered all fitness studios. Even though I knew exactly what physical torture I was in for — incline sprints at speeds that make you want to laugh and cry at the same time, the hardest weight training moves you could ever imagine, all without real breaks — I was beaming as I turned on my treadmill. I even started skipping (my fiance, who I dragged with me, looked at me like I was an alien).
I’m well aware that being eager for one of the hardest workouts that exists is odd and almost masochistic. Before the quarantine, even though Barry’s was my favorite class, I would still always dread that hour of grueling exercise (the thrill is really in surviving it). But my overwhelming joy was all because... this was something different for my body to do after a year of plain ol’ running. And variety in fitness is the secret to loving your workout routine.
As a fitness editor, I was used to attending at least one new fitness class a week pre-pandemic. That was on top of the countless digital platforms I regularly tried. My body was used to being pushed through all different exercise movements and learning new modalities. So when all that studio hopping came to a halt in March 2020, my workout routine was left to my own devices. For me, that meant: guided runs via the Peloton app.
After months of doing the same “routine,” my body could basically go through the motions in my sleep.
It’s an accomplishment in itself to find a workout you love and want to regularly do — sure. But nothing compares to the stimulation you get when you try something different. I like to compare it to the honeymoon phase in dating: that very first exercise session is like the fun, spicy, romantic period of a new relationship. You’re not fully aware of what you’re subjecting yourself to (that means you don’t realize several rounds of chaturanga are inevitably coming up or that you’ve got a plyometric finisher at the end of the HIIT session). You’re just figuring out what the exercise is all about (i.e. how to nail the dance cardio sequence or that boxing combo). And you’re so in the moment — focusing on form and new moves — that time seems to fly by and stand still all at once.
It’s not just me, either. There are studies that show people exercise more frequently when their workout routine includes variety. Besides the novelty factor, one of the main draws of trying new workouts is... less boredom. When I got my very first gym membership as a high schooler, I would always do the same thing: 30 minutes on the elliptical. After months of doing the same “routine,” my body could basically go through the motions in my sleep.
Keeping your muscles on their proverbial toes via a variety-packed workout regimen also helps prevent you from plateauing. When you’re doing the same thing every single day, your muscles check out and you stop seeing progress. But if you’re regularly trying new kinds of exercises, your body has to adapt — you might even end up working different muscles than you’ve ever used in workouts. The end result is newfound strength, all from doing something that’s (kinda, sorta?) fun. (New, at least.)
And if you wind up just sucking at the workout you try, well, that can be amusing too. Personally, I find an unexpected joy in watching my body just. not. get. any. dance moves that the instructor throws out at me. I remember taking a dance cardio class once — with my boss! — and I had a confused look on my face the entire time as my feet shuffled in all the wrong directions... all while my boss seamlessly cha-cha’d and sidestepped as skillfully as the instructor. You know how some movies are so bad that they’re actually good? It’s like that.
I know it might be easier said than done to jump into a boxing session or onto a yoga mat if you’re not familiar with the workout. Trust me — the first time I did a vinyasa flow, I definitely looked like a baby giraffe trying to stand up. That’s OK!! You’ve got the quarantine to thank for the endless workouts available to stream online — so you can dip your toes into a different kind of exercise from the comfort (and privacy) of your own home. You never know — you might discover you’re a natural yogi/boxer/runner/dancer/what-have-you.
Juvancic-Heltzel, J. (2013). The effect of variety on physical activity: a cross-sectional study. J Strength Cond Res. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22395266/