Sometimes you’re sore, tired, or uninspired, and the last thing you want to do is your 5×5 squat training. You need a little kickstart.
This is the time to program some ‘fun’ into your training. It’ll distract you from the pain. The best way (I feel) to achieve this distraction in a gym setting is through play — and maybe a little friendly competition.
Play is an activity done for its own sake, with no real goal in mind, and it’s characterized by flexibility and the positive effect it often has on the person playing. You know: smiling, laughing, having fun.
How Play Benefits You
How does programming play into your training benefit you, the adult trying to shed fat and crush PR’S?
Firstly, it gives you a welcome break from the barbell. When you’re wrapped up in the barbell, other things like moving in different directions and a little thing called cardiovascular exercise get neglected.
When you’re ‘playing’ you may discover some of your weaknesses that are holding you back. Despite years of barbell training, it was only when I started spending time running around with my nephews that I realized that my low back gets sore if I run around and hinge a lot for ten minutes. That helped me realize I needed to work on core strength and my pelvic tilt.
Secondly, it may help you improve your overall coordination. When you were a child, you engaged in locomotor (exercise) play, which involves physical activity to support the training of your muscles for strength, endurance, and skill.
Think of the local school or park playground and all the fun you had on the swings and monkey bars.
Back then, play was the neural and muscular basis of your physical coordination and physical growth. Playing as an adult may help you break through your sticking points and develop better coordination and functionality.(1)
Plus, when things are fun, you’re more likely to do them.
Here are three ways to program more fun into your training. Because the gym isn’t all about the barbell and breaking PRs.
1. Reaction Ball Drills
As you can see above, the basic idea is to play catch with a particularly bouncy ball. (The video’s an ad for a reaction ball, but you can always toss around regular balls.)
The beauty of the reaction ball is movement without thinking. See the ball, you go get the ball. Before you know it you’ve performed squats, hinges, and dozens of lunges without realizing it.
Furthermore, training hand-eye coordination never goes astray.
There are two ways you can program reaction ball drills into your training.
- After your warmup and before you lift, when you’re most alert, this helps fire you up before hitting the barbell.
- After your training session to get your heart rate up and to help improve your reaction time when you’re fatigued.
2. Friendly Competition
Exercising with a partner has been shown to increase exercise adherence.(2) Use these drills with your lifting buddy and you’ll be sweating and smiling in no time.
Reaction Ball Squash
This is a great drill to have you moving in all directions quickly while improving your hand to eye coordination. Play this on the squash or racquetball court. This game mimics the game of squash without the racquet.
Set up: The server serves from inside the service box while the receiver stands anywhere within his or her service half.
Rules: Once the ball is thrown against the far wall and bounces once, it’s game on. If the ball is dropped, missed, or has bounced twice this results in:
If the server wins, he wins the point and the right to serve again.
If the receiver catches the ball, he wins the right to serve.
Only the server wins a point. And the first person to 10 points wins.
Stability Ball Wrestle
You and your buddy will be too busy trying to knock each other off-balance that you’ll not realize you’re training your ankle stability, mobility and balance. Who thought a stability ball could be fun?
Set up: Standing in front of the stability ball, put your right foot on top of the ball making sure your right knee is bent 90 degrees. Your partner, who is directly across from you on the other side, puts their left foot on the same ball, right beside your foot. Your other foot is flat on the ground, This is your stabilizing leg.
Rules: You are both trying to knock your opponent’s foot off the stability ball by rolling the ball aggressively with the foot on the ball. There is no kicking, just pushing the ball any way possible to knock your opponents foot off the ball. Person whose foot stays on the ball wins the point.
This exercise is either done as warm-up or into a full-blown competition. Every time someone loses his/her balance it results in a point for the opponent. First to 5 or 10 points wins.
3. Agility Ladder Drills
Some people poo-poo the agility ladder while other coaches over emphasize it with athletes, trying to get them faster. But there is plenty of middle ground. Think of it as another tool in the toolbox.
Are ladders good at getting you faster? No, but they’re a fun way to get the heart rate up and to raise a sweat while improving your coordination, which will transfer to the sporting field and daily life.
The agility ladder will help you learn a wide array of different movement patterns without you realizing it because you’ll be having fun. Yes, fun.
Programming the moves in the video above into your warmup will get the blood moving and fire you up for the training ahead. Also, these drills make for a great low impact way to get your heart rate up after lifting weights. (Your heels aren’t thumping into the ground like they do with jogging — you’re largely staying on the balls of your feet.)
These ladder drills are either done for time (20-30 seconds) or reps (up and back is one rep). Either way, you’ll be having fun.
You enjoy lifting weights, but there are times when it’s a grind and you dread your workouts rather than looking forward to them. This is a great time to program play time into your training because play isn’t for the young, it’s for young at heart too.
Featured image via Flamingo Images/Shutterstock
- Andreas Berghänel,1, * Oliver Schülke,1, † and Julia Ostner1,2, † Locomotor play drives motor skill acquisition at the expense of growth: A life history trade-off. Sci Adv. 2015 Aug; 1(7): e1500451.2015
- Andrew J Carnes 1, Jennifer L Petersen, Jacob E Barkley. Effect of Peer Influence on Exercise Behavior and Enjoyment in Recreational Runners. J Strength Cond Res 2016 Feb;30(2): 49503.doi:10.1519