It’s no secret the workout world boasts countless approaches to fit. Simply Google “fitness studio” and you get close to 27 million hits. From group fitness classes to personal training to streaming services to big box gyms, you’ll find more places to flex than ever before. And then there’s your choice of sweat: HIIT, barre, aqua cycling, cat yoga…really, the list goes on.
But with endless ways to get physical, is your best bet to constantly mix it up? The short answer: probably not. A grab bag of new workouts every week could hinder results and slow your progress.
So we went straight to the experts to pinpoint the pros and cons of doing the most. Listen in on what they have to say about planning your weekly workout schedule — and ultimately crushing your exercise goals.
The Pros of Multiple Choice
“The body works in different energy systems, so it’s important to vary strength and cardio, mobility and flexibility training.”
As companies like ClassPass and FitReserve have shown, there’s definitely an appeal to mixing up exercise methods. For starters, it makes fitness more fun thanks to the different styles of teaching and training. A group environment also lets you feed off others’ energy. And these days, working out with trainers is more accessible and affordable. Whether you’re signing up for boutique fitness at a discounted rate or following workouts online, you have your pick of more wallet-friendly options.
Another benefit is that it can eliminate the too-busy-to-work-out argument. “New studios give people multiple training options, so those ‘I can’t get to the gym,’ or ‘I can’t schedule a class at a time that works for me’ excuses [no longer work],” says Dan Trink, CSCS, strength coach and co-founder of Fortitude Strength Club in New York City. By having fitness at your fingertips 24/7, finding time to squeeze it in becomes much more doable.
You’ve probably also heard that to avoid a plateau in your results, you’ve got to mix things up. And while we’ll touch on the limitations on that later, the plethora of workout options does keep your muscles (and your mind) from getting bored. “The body works in different energy systems, so it’s important to vary strength and cardio, mobility and flexibility training,” says Liz Barnet, CPT, a New Jersey-based fitness instructor and food coach. “Many workouts focus on one thing more than another, so it’s good to change it up.”
The Cons of Mixing It Up
Getting fitter, faster, stronger all comes down to one key element: progressive overload. That means continuously challenging your body to do more than it could previously. (Read more details on this training principle right here.)
Going to a variety of different studios or classes, “does not allow you to gain any momentum or real training effect that comes with building on an actual, progressive training program,” says Trink. “If you’re in it strictly to have fun or as a form of socializing — that’s great, have a ball. If you’re looking to maximize your fitness, however, you can fall into the trap of ‘mixing it up’ at the expense of actually making progress, getting better and reaching your goals.”
“There is just no way to systematically progress when variety is too high.”
This holds true if you’re trying to improve one particular aspect of fitness, too. Say, you want to learn to do crow pose or finally pull off a pull-up. If your workout schedule consists of just one yoga class or one strength routine a week, that won’t necessarily get you there. “If you’re going to become better at any particular thing, you have to practice it regularly and consistently,” says Barnet.
One more downside: “If you don’t have a good foundation to build off of, you’re increasing your chance of injury,” says Noam Tamir, CSCS, founder of TS Fitness in New York City. Many class goers might not be in tune with their muscle imbalances, so continuing to exercise and reinforce those misaligned movement patterns can lead to problems. Meanwhile, a personal trainer, physical therapist or functional movement specialist can help you pinpoint problems before they need to be addressed. They can also keep an eye out so you move in the right direction (literally).
An Ideal Workout Program
“If you are in capable hands, a specific workout will, first, be able to meet you at your current fitness level and be able to adapt the program to your needs,” Trink explains. “From there, it will smartly progress — not be the same workout over and over for the length of your membership — so you can improve from the training.” Sounds simple and ideal, right? Trink adds, “It should also help you mitigate injuries and, ideally, improve movement and strength qualities. This becomes impossible if you are jumping from system to system — there is just no way to systematically progress when variety is too high.”
While even one session with a skilled fitness pro can help you figure out what you need to strengthen and stretch, Barnet also offers suggestions for those who can’t see a trainer one-on-one. Make the most of boutique fitness by signing up for studios with smaller class sizes, so you get more attention. Also, ask questions post-workout about how to properly execute exercises, especially if something was confusing during class. Practicing what you learn in the studio outside of its walls will also help you move better, as will listening to verbal cues and paying attention to body alignment. (Translation: Don’t just go through the motions without considering form.)
Creating a Results-Driven Workout Schedule
Bottom line: While taking different classes every day and every week can certainly increase the enjoyment factor of exercise, it’s not always the most efficient way to get results, says Tamir.
All experts suggest streamlining your workout schedule by sticking to three days of strength training and two days of cardio, with a class like yoga or Pilates mixed in here and there. Tamir recommends finding a studio that you like, with smart trainers who can help you progress. If you have a slew of studios you want to keep going back to, Barnet advocates for three classes a week with that strength focus (even if they’re different ones) and then using the two other days to mix in spin or a treadmill class.
“It’s amazing how many issues and perceived physical ailments and limitations go away when people just get stronger overall,” says Trink. “It’s certainly not the remedy for every problem — but it helps more times than not. A good, solid, full-body strength training program can go a long way if you give it a chance to work.”