Sweat smarter with these timeless workout tips that *actually* offer results.
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Want to know the secrets to getting a fit-as-hell body in record time? We did too, so we went straight to research, personal trainers, exercise physiologists, and fitness instructors to round up the best workout tips to kick a fitness routine into high gear.
Put a few of these moves, motivation, and mantras into action each week and you're guaranteed to see faster results!
The Best Workout Tips: Why You Should Exercise
1. It can save your life—really! Regularly doing cardio and strength training reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and endometrial, colon, and breast cancers. The American Heart Association recommends exercising for 30-60 minutes on most days to reduce your risk of heart disease. (Whoa. This push-up test might be able to predict whether you’ll have heart disease later in life.)
2. You'll feel less stressed and happier. Exercise has been proven to improve your mood and decrease anxiety. Studies show that the fitter you are, the better you'll be at handling the long-term effects of stress. One moderately intense 50-minute aerobic workout has been shown to significantly lower anxiety levels. And a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that exercise may be more effective than drugs in treating mild to moderate depression. (Just in: Weight-lifting can do remarkable things for your mood, too!)
3. It strengthens your bones. Exercise increases bone density, helping prevent osteoporosis. High-intensity activity, like jumping and running, is most beneficial for preserving bone mass.
The Best Cardio Workout Tips
4. Always warm up and cool down. This exercise tip will help you maintain your mobility and flexibility and prevent injury. Take 5-10 minutes to gradually raise your heart rate at the beginning of a workout and lower it afterward. Before strength training, do low-intensity cardio that recruits larger muscle groups like your legs, back, and core. Try this quick warm-up before every exercise sesh.
5. Take this jump-rope challenge. "The best cardio workout is the jump-rope double-turn maneuver," says Michael Olajide Jr., former number one world middleweight contender and cofounder/trainer at AEROSPACE High Performance Center in New York City. "It's intense: You'll burn about 26 calories per minute! Do a basic jump for 5 minutes, then jump twice as high and turn the rope twice as fast so it passes under your feet twice before you land. This takes timing, patience and power. But you'll get in great shape just by working at it." (Once you’ve mastered that, up the ante with our 30-minute jump rope workout.)
6. Don't cruise through cardio. Increase intensity by doing intervals: After a warm-up, alternate 1-2 minutes of activity at a rate of perceived exertion, or RPE, of 7 or 8 with 2-4 minutes of lower-intensity periods (RPE of 3-4). Repeat 4-6 times. Use our handy guide to help determine your RPE during any workout.
7. Tone up on the treadmill. "Save time at the gym with this 10-minute cardio/sculpt session: Hop on a treadmill holding a three- to five-pound dumbbell in each hand, and set the speed to a brisk walk. Do a 60-second set each of shoulder presses, biceps curls, triceps extensions, side laterals, front laterals and standing triceps kickbacks one after another as you walk. It's an amazing upper-body challenge that also gets your heart pumping. Do this series two or three times each week. As you improve, work up to doing 4-minute sets," says Michael George, trainer and author of Body Express Makeover.
8. Make over your running routine. "Unless you're training for a marathon, skip long, slow, distance running—sprinting builds more muscle. Add a few 10- to 60-second sprints to your run, slowing down just long enough to catch your breath between them," says Stephen Holt, ACE personal trainer. (See: How to Use Running for Weight Loss)
9. Use the talk test. If you can't speak a sentence or two with each breath, you're pushing too hard (unless you're purposely doing high-intensity interval).
10. Get a jump on weight loss. "Add plyometric box jumps to your workout to improve your cardiovascular stamina and leg strength — you'll really sculpt your hamstrings, quads and glutes. Find a sturdy box that's at least one foot high [like a j/fit Plyometric Jump Box, $71; amazon.com]. Starting from a standing position, explosively jump to the middle of the box, then jump back down. Repeat 20 times," says George. (Related: Plyo Box Workout for Your Upper and Lower Body)
11. Watch the clock to lose weight. In a Journal of the American Medical Association study, women who racked up at least 200 cardio minutes a week for 18 months lost nearly 14 percent of their total body weight. Those who accumulated fewer than 150 minutes reduced their weight by less than 5 percent.
12. Power up your runs. "Adding wall sits to the end of every run will strengthen your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, improving your speed and endurance. Lean against a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart, then squat until your knees are bent at 45 degrees. Hold for 30-60 seconds; work up to doing 10 sets. Add a challenge by including heel raises: Lift your left heel, then the right, then lift both together twice," says Mindy Solkin, owner and head coach of The Running Center in New York City.
The Best Strength Training Workout Tips
13. Lift like you mean it. If you can do the maximum number of suggested reps (usually 10-12) without feeling fatigued, add pounds (10-15 percent at a time). If you can't complete the minimum number of suggested reps (usually 8), reduce the weight in 10 percent increments until you can. Your last 1 or 2 reps should always feel tough, but doable.
14. Try this all-in-one toner. "A side-step squat with wood chop works your arms, torso, abs, back, legs, inner thighs and butt," says David Kirsch, trainer and author of The Ultimate New York Body Plan. "Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart holding a three- to four-pound medicine ball in your hands. Bend your arms up so that the ball is at eye level over your right shoulder. As you bring the ball toward your left knee, step out with your left leg and bend it no further than 90 degrees, keeping your right leg straight. Return to the starting position. Do 10 to 15 reps and repeat on the other leg."
15. Balance your body. To head off injuries, build good posture, and ensure you have strength for your favorite activities, do exercises for opposing muscle groups. During your weekly routines, if you work the quads, for example, do exercises for your hamstrings as well. The same applies for the biceps and triceps, chest and back and lower back and abs. (Ex: Here’s what a perfectly balanced week of workouts looks like.)
16. Work out during your workday. "Sit on a stability ball to strengthen your core, and keep dumbbells or exercise tubing at your desk," says Gregory Florez, personal trainer in Salt Lake City, Utah. "Squeeze in 12 to 15 reps of exercises like dumbbell curls, overhead presses, and ab crunches; aim for two or three sets of each. This gives you more free time to fit in fun workouts like biking or tennis."
17. Take a day off between weight-lifting sessions. Always give muscle groups 48 hours of rest between resistance workouts to allow them time to adapt to the stress you put on them. If you must lift every day, don't target the same muscles in back-to-back sessions.
18. Super-sculpt your butt. "Get great glutes by targeting the muscles and connective tissues buried deep in your body. To hit them, do high-intensity squats, such as jump squats. Then, blast off butt flab with cross-country skiing, bleacher running, and stair climbing," says Steve Ilg, author of Total Body Transformation.
19. Don't let your routine become rote. To continue to make sculpting gains, this exercise tip is crucial: Change the moves, order, weight, sets, reps and/or rest periods you do at least every four weeks. Try mixing things up more often. According to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, subjects who varied the number of sets and reps from workout to workout saw greater strength gains—even at the same intensity—than those who stuck to the same routine.
20. Intensify your push-up. "Squat-thrust push-ups get you in great shape because they work your upper body, core, and lower body and improve agility, strength, and endurance all at once," says Keli Roberts, personal trainer in Los Angeles. "From a standing position, bend down, put your hands on the floor shoulder-width apart, and jump your feet back into plank position. If you're strong, cross your ankles; otherwise, jump your feet wide apart. Do a push-up, then jump your feet together or uncross your ankles. Jump your feet back to your hands and stand up. Do eight reps total, rest for one minute, and repeat."
21. Blast calories with circuits. Do one set of each move in your workout, without resting between exercises. Repeat the circuit once or twice and you'll burn up to 300 calories in half an hour as opposed to 150 from a typical weight routine. (Related: Try Anna Victoria’s 20-Minute Circuit for a Toned Body and Core)
22. Break out the shovel. "Why pay someone to clear snow from your driveway? Besides burning nearly 400 calories per hour, shoveling snow develops muscular endurance and power. But be safe: Minimize the amount of snow on each shovelful, and bend from your knees and hips, not your back," says Tom Seabourne, Ph.D., exercise physiologist and sports psychologist at Northeast Texas Community College in Mount Pleasant, Texas.
The Best Running and Walking Workout Tips
23. Loosen up. De-clenching your fists will prevent you from tensing up your arms, which can stress your upper back and shoulders. Pretend you're holding a butterfly in each hand: Close your fingers to keep it from flying away, but gently enough that you don't crush it.
24. Write it down. Pick up a pen or download a journaling app for this workout tip. Experts recommend tracking your runs—the distance, route, everything! Just like keeping a food journal improves your diet, tracking your workouts helps you stick with exercise. (Here are the best free workout apps and the best free run tracking apps.)
25. Move it like you mean it. Here's a non-exercise exercise tip: Walk like you're late for an appointment. Move quickly enough to cover a mile in 15-20 minutes—that's a moderate pace.
26. Run (or walk) for the hills! You burn 25-40 percent more calories—and increase your stamina—by walking or running on inclines than you do treading on flat surfaces. Add short hills (50-100 yards) to your usual route or increase the incline on the treadmill.
The Best Workout Tips for Flat Abs
27. Stay in control. Don't use momentum instead of your abs to do the work. Keep your middle muscles contracted throughout the entire range of motion.
28. Paddle your way to flatter abs. "Go kayaking to get a taut stomach—it's ideal because much of your rowing power comes from your core," says Barbara Bushman, Ph.D., associate professor of health, physical education and recreation at Southwest Missouri State University. "Mimic the motion and resistance of the water at home by looping an exercise band around the bottom of a table leg or other fixed object. Sit on the floor with legs extended, knees slightly bent; grasp one end of the band in each hand. Rotate your torso to one side as you bring the elbow back slightly, then switch sides. Do three sets of one to three minutes each."
29. Add the bike to your ab routine. According to an American Council on Exercise study, the bicycle (lying faceup, bring right knee and left elbow toward each other, then switch sides) is the best waist-firming exercise because it uses every muscle in your abs. Prefer normal crunches? Doing them on a stability ball is more effective than doing them on the floor because your core will have to work harder to stabilize your position and you're able to move through a larger range of motion.
30. Fire 'em up. To engage the deepest muscles of your abs during any exercise—or just sitting in a chair—try this: Inhale, then exhale and pull your belly button toward your spine, without hunching your shoulders forward (don't just suck in your belly).
The Best Yoga And Pilates Workout Tips
31. Pay attention to your body and your breath. When you do yoga and Pilates, concentrate on inhaling and exhaling. This workout tip will help push other thoughts—deadlines, dinner commitments, in-law issues—to the back burner. The result: a quieter mind and a stronger body.
32. Do yoga for your health. In a study at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, people who suffered from migraines, carpal tunnel syndrome and neck strain did 90 minutes of yoga three times a week for a month. They reported better moods, less pain and a decreased need for medication. Yoga may relieve some types of lower-back pain as good as physical therapy, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The Best Flexibility Workout Tips
33. Get bendy regularly. On most days post-exercise—never do it cold—stretch every muscle group you used, holding each for 30 seconds. Increasing your range of motion may make you less prone to injury during everyday activities.
34. Stretch to get stronger. Some research shows that stretching the muscle group you just worked between sets can increase strength gains by 19 percent. (Related: Why You Should Never Skip a Post-Workout Cooldown)
35. And be flexible with yourself. "You don't have to be a fitness saint to get results," says Maureen Wilson, owner, personal trainer, and instructor at Sweat Co. Studios in Vancouver. "Follow the 80/20 plan: Eighty percent of the year, you'll exercise regularly and eat well. Know that you'll slip 20 percent of the time due to holidays and work deadlines. When you accept that fitness isn't an all-or-nothing proposition, you're more likely to stick with it for life."