Oct265 Ways To Make Exercise Harder Besides Increasing Weight

Usually when you think of making exercise more difficult, increasing the weight is the first thought. While that is an easy way to increase difficulty, there’s more you can do besides increasing the load.

Why would you want to do this? Changing variables other than weight can keep your joints healthy, and allow you to progress in other ways. All it takes is a bit of creativity!

1) Pause Reps

Pause reps are an easy way to increase the difficulty of an exercise. You can do this for nearly any exercise, and most times it is done right between the eccentric and concentric portion of the movement – meaning it’s done right between the lifting and putting it down part.

Want an even more creative way? Try adding pauses throughout the movement; think of this as an ‘elevator’ rep. For example let’s use a squat: as you lower into the squat, pause once halfway down, and then pause at the bottom. As you ascend, pause again at the halfway point (quarter squat).

How long should you pause for? Try pausing for 3 seconds to start. The reason why it makes harder is because it increases the time under tension, which is an old-school way of saying that we increase the amount of time a muscle is under load.

2) Pulsing Reps

This method is similar to pause reps, in that we are changing the tempo of the exercise. Pulse reps are like mini reps within a rep; we promise it’s not as confusing as it sounds.

Take the example of the squat from earlier, except we are not pausing. Instead, after descending into the squat – as you begin to ascend – you only come up partially, dip back down into the squat, and then come back to standing. Think of this as a small ‘bounce’ at the hardest part of the movement.

You don’t have to stick with just one pulse, either; add 2, 3, or even 5 pulses depending on how difficult you want to make it.

3) Instability

Instability is next on our list. Imagine the first time you walked into the gym and pick up some weights. Your body was probably shaking uncontrollably and it was difficult to control the weight.

This is a small example of instability. Your body had to fight to control the weight, using your muscles to control the movement by contracting. Now, over time, lifting weights in a traditional way becomes easier. So to increase instability of certain movements, you might have to use certain tools. Equipment like rings, straps, bands, bosu balls can be great at increasing the instability of a movement.

One thing to note: you won’t be able to lift what you normally would when doing these movements. With the nature of instable movements, you do have to be even more careful than you normally would.

4) Challenge Grip

This one is a not-so-obvious, but deceptively challenging way to increase difficultly of a movement. Grip strength is super useful, a skill that can be used for nearly all day-to-day activities.

The easiest way to add more of a grip challenge to movements is by adding thicker or harder to hold grips; a simple way to do this is by taking a small towel and wrapping it around a dumbbell handle, thus making the grip thicker and that much harder to hold. You could do this with any type of pressing or pulling movement, with the latter being the best choice.

5) Change Joint Angle/Leverage

This one is a favorite of mine: changing the angle or leverage of an exercise. You can make an exercise infinitely harder by doing this technique.

For an example, picture this: changing hand positioning in an exercise, or going from a regular row to a bent over row (bending over more forces you to fight against gravity).

Many of the moves performed by gymnasts are hard because of this exact reason, which is why they look so muscular and lean.


Next time you’re on a trip or need to increase the difficulty of a workout but don’t have many tools available, try using these techniques!