You have a routine. You walk into the gym, head for your favorite cardio machine, and prepare for your tried and true daily workout. But then there are those days when you find yourself snarling at a woman plugging away on your treadmill/elliptical/stepper/bike/etc. How dare she! Doesn’t she know that’s your machine? Now what are you supposed to do?

As the proverbial creatures of habit that we are, our comfort zone becomes our natural default—a setback that unfortunately plays out in gyms across America every single day. But if you are already making the effort to work out, we say: don’t waste that precious, hard-to-come-by, designated time by lingering on the fitness plateau commonly known as “the cardio slog.” The cardio slog occurs when a person deludes herself into thinking that an hour of the same exact exercise routine every single day will yield the best (or any) results.

According to fitness experts across the board, effective, healthy fitness is a lot like life—it should be dynamic, fluid and it should keep you on your toes. “The key is variety,” says Noel Davis of Miami-based E.A.T Fitness. “You always want to surprise the body. Think of how the brain trained when you were a child: you learn English, math, social studies and so many other subjects; so the muscles are the same way—they require a thorough and well-rounded education.”

Circuit training, which is a one-stop exercise session that combines cardiovascular training with toning and resistance, does just that. By tapping into the idea of “switching it up,” you not only call upon all the muscles of your body to rise up and perform, but you naturally avoid the pitfall of routine, which does nothing but keep you static and precludes any actual progress.

So dare to dismount your beloved elliptical machine for a week, and consider the prospect of surprising the various parts of your body, by exposing them to real challenge and endurance building. If you have no idea where to begin, ask a trainer at your gym. They will most likely be more than happy to help you come up with a sample routine or two.

What people love most about circuit training is the fact that a variety of gear and equipment can be used, none of which, by the way, requires a gym membership (think free weights, medicine ball, rubber bands and a bike). Even better, you won’t even have the chance to get bored because the active and volatile nature of the session leaves your mind no choice but to remain engaged. You won’t have time to think about that chicken you plan to roast that night because your body and headspace is fully attuned to the ever-changing drills. All you really need is a sense of drive, some ingenuity to devise your circuit schedule for the week, and just enough backbone to get you out of your comfort zone.

Circuit training stations are usually sequenced to allow for necessary muscle recovery between sets, and include 30 to 90-second rest periods between the drills. Noel Davis gave us a sample of two of his typical workouts to get you started:

Day One:
begin with 15 minutes of spinning or rowing
followed by 20 minutes of free weights
finish with 10 minutes of abdominal and balance work on a medicine ball

Day Two:
begin with 10 minutes of sprints
followed by 15 minutes of resistance training with rubber bands
finish with 15 minutes of squats, lunges and push-ups.

According to Davis, the key factors to keep in mind when you start a circuit-training regimen include:

• The number of circuits performed (how many workout stations)
• Length of time between circuits
• Length of time spent at each circuit
• Intensity and speed for each activity performed
• Make sure to wear proper sneakers that provide both ankle and lateral support

Your first inclination might be: “It’s hard enough for me to get myself focused on one exercise—never mind eight!” However, once you get past that initial sense of dread, by just trying each drill once, you’ll instantly start to see that the fear is completely mental. And, who knows, you may actually the variety, fluidity and best of all, change.

Give it a try. I dare you.