Variety may be the spice of life, but if you are constantly changing your exercise routine, you may not be allowing your body sufficient time to learn a movement and make any significant gains in strength or muscle size.  By repeating a movement over and over, you build better connections between your nerves and muscles that allow you to perform a specific movement with greater ease and proper form.  Once you have established good form, you can slightly vary that same exercise, and your body will respond by adapting to the necessary conditions to perform a new variation of a movement it already knows.

Below are two popular total body exercises, with examples of how to increase their intensity to keep your body challenged and your routines feeling fresh and exciting.  The most important rule to remember in the gym is to set aside your ego and not work beyond your ability.  Some of the most successful athletes are those who dedicate their practice to basic principles, and perform them uncommonly well.   

Upper Body Strength Booster

You may be surprised to find that bench pressing is a valuable tool in developing total body strength and stability.  A bench press is typically performed on a flat bench, using a barbell of varying weight.  Once you feel like you have perfected the movement at a manageable weight, the most obvious way to increase intensity is by increasing the number of reps you perform, or the amount of weight you push. 

If you are looking for a more challenging variation, try performing the bench press on an incline or decline bench to engage different parts of your chest and shoulders.  From here, you can switch from a barbell to working with dumbbells.  Dumbbells are a great option for anyone with shoulder issues, and allow for greater chest development due to the increased range of motion and demand on the chest to stabilize the weight without the assistance of your other arm when using a barbell.

Lower Body Strength Booster

Squats are one of those basic movements that activate many muscle groups at the same time, which is why it is so important to perform them correctly.  To perform a squat properly, it requires muscle flexibility and joint mobility in the hips, knees and ankles, which can prove difficult for a majority of the population.  To build basic strength, consider using a squat machine to ease the initial stress on your knees and lower back. 

When you feel you are ready, attempt body weight squats with the goal of sitting low enough so that your thighs are parallel to the floor.  Once you can achieve this, you are ready to start adding weight resistance.  Performing a goblet squat, where a dumbbell weight is held at your chest, will help you to improve your form if you feel you are leaning too far forward and your knees begin to ache.

Bench presses and squats are two total body exercises that can be essential components to any exercise program, no matter your age or gender.  With any exercise, your goal should be to achieve proper form before you increase the intensity of your routines by adding additional weight or varying the movement.  When you vary your exercise routine in the right way, you will experience greater improvements in both strength and muscle size while protecting your body from injury.


Sarah Dalton is the founder of Able Mind Able Body, a Las Vegas based company offering motivational lifestyle coaching and personal training services.  She takes a holistic approach to healthy living, and educates others on the benefits of nutrition, exercise, and emotional health.  Visit www.ablemindablebody.com for more info.