Speedy Sculpting Secrets
Every health club has one: The dedicated gym rat who shows up day after day, week after week, but never seems to get in better shape. Don't let that person be you. If you're going to put in the time, you deserve the payoff, right? To help you eke more out of every workout, we asked top trainers, exercise physiologists, and sports nutritionists for their best tips and moves-31 in all. Their cutting-edge ideas and oldie-but-goodie reminders will help you get toned faster and burn more calories with every session. Even if you use only a few of them, you'll soon be that woman at the gym who shows up looking better every time!
1. VISUALIZE YOUR WORKOUT
Before your next session, take 10 seconds to picture yourself powering through it, says sports psychologist Jason Selk, the author of 10-Minute Toughness. It will serve as a warm-up of sorts for your muscles, preparing them for the work ahead, and can improve your form.
2. MAXIMIZE YOUR REST TIME
Give your strength workout a surprising boost by spending the time between sets stretching the muscle you're working. A study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found that subjects who stretched their hamstrings five times a week for six weeks not only improve their flexibility, they also significantly strengthened both their hamstrings and quadriceps.
3, 4, and 5. HIT THE HILLS
Even if you're doing intervals once or twice a week, following the same plan every session eventually takes less effort as your body gets fitter, says trainer Brett Hoebel, the creator of the RevAbs exercise program and founder of Hoebel Fitness. He suggests varying your interval program with one of these 3 treadmill plans.
FLAT SPRINTS Set the treadmill at a constant 1 percent grade and run of walk fast (you should be completely out of breath) for 30 seconds. Recover at an easy intensity for 60 seconds. Repeat 9 times.
HILL DRILLS Run or walk for 30 seconds at an 8 percent grade followed by 60 seconds at a 1 percent grade. Repeat 9 times.
CONSTANT CLIMB Set the treadmill at an 8 percent grade and walk or run for 30 seconds at a moderate pace (you should be out of breath) followed by 60 seconds at a slower pace, still on the 8 percent incline. Repeat 9 times.
6. DON'T PROCRASTINATE
Hate doing push-ups or lunges? Knock them off at the start of your workout. If you wait until you're tired, you'll probably skip them. Of course, people often dislike exercise because it's hard, which means you're not as strong as you could be (and that's exactly why you should be doing the move!), says Tom Holland, a sports performance coach in Darien, Connecticut. All the more reason to do them first, then move on.
7. DON'T PLAY FAVORITES
Alternate between machines, free weights, and body weight-only exercises to target muscles in different ways, advises Holland. Try varying the type of resistance you use each time you strength-train: Focus on weight machines one day, dumbbells and other free weights the next, and body weight on the last day.
8. GET A GRIP
Making changes in your hand position during strength moves will allow you to hit the same muscles from a slightly different angle, which can increase your strength and definition, notes Holland. Try using an underhand grip on the lat pull-down, using a rope instead of a V-bar on the cable triceps press-down, or moving your hands closer during push-ups.
9. SURF-AND-TURF IT
Exercising on land and in water in one session is a fitness-boosting, cardio-sculpting workout, says Lauren Goldberg, a personal trainer in New York City. Try it: Grab a kickboard and do flutter kicks as fast as you can for the length of the pool, then jump out and do 20 walking lunges or 15 jump squats along the side; repeat the entire sequence 3 to 4 times.
10. BEAT YOUR CALORIC "BEST"
At the end of your cardio workout, take note of the calories you burned. Next time, do the same activity but try to beat that number-by 10, 50 or even 100 calories. Do it by increasing your speed or incline/resistance.
11. MOVE UP YOUR MIDDLE EXERCISE
If you typically run out of steam by the end of your strength workout, make sure your belly doesn't get shortchanged. Instead of waiting until the end to do your crunches, the way many people do, perform an ab move 1 set of 15 to 20 reps-between each different resistance exercise (not between sets), advises Holland.
12. TARGET ALL YOUR MUSCLES
Varying the amount of weight you lift will help you work more muscles fibers and improve your definition, strength, and endurance, says exercise physiologist Chris Jordan of the Human Performance Institute in Orlando Florida. A sample plan: On Monday, do 3 to 5 reps per set with heavier weights; on Wednesday, use lighter weights and do 12 to 15 reps per set; and on Friday, do 8 to 10 reps per set with moderate resistance.
13. STAY FOCUSED
If you're distracted during your workout, your form will suffer and you'll tire faster, says Selk. The moment your mind starts wandering, do this to find your center again: Inhale slowly for 6 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, then exhale for 7 seconds. Repeat as many times as necessary until you regain your concentration.
14. "SKIP" THIS WORKOUT
Increase your power, strength, endurance and coordination by doing a minute each of lunging, high-knee skipping, walking backward, and side squatting on the treadmill once a week, says Tracey Staehle, the star of the Results Fitness: Boost Your Metabolism DVD. Repeat 4 times.
15.HOLD YOUR TONGUE
When doing crunches, rest your tongue behind the top row of your teeth, suggests trainer Steve Zim, the founder of zimfit.com. This will help prevent neck strain so you can maintain good form and work your abs harder.
16. STRETCH YOUR HIPS EVERY DAY
Too much sitting can result in tight hips, which can sabotage your form and guarantee an injury, says Mark Verstegen, the founder of the Core Performance Center in Santa Monica, California. To reduce tightness, do a hip flexor stretch like this one before each workout and at the end of a long day: Kneel on the floor with your right knee on a soft surface and place your left foot in front of you, knee bent 90 degrees. Shift your body forward slightly as you squeeze the right side of your glutes. Hold for 2 seconds, then release and repeat. Do 8 reps, then switch sides and repeat.
17. DO STRENGTH BEFORE CARIO
Resistance training depletes your glycogen stores, which forces you to burn fat to fuel your cardio workout, says Shape advisory board member Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., the director of fitness research for the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts.
18. MOVE TO THE SIDE
Most of us tend to focus on the muscles along the front and back of our bodies (our abs, thighs, and butt), while neglecting the ones along the sides-the middle deltoids (shoulders), hip abductors, and obliques. Include exercises for these muscles at least once a week, says Gina Cortese Shipley, an exercise physiologist with the Cooper Institute in Dallas. (Try lateral shoulder raises, side leg raises, and oblique twists; go to shape.com/cheatsheet for directions.) You'll not only look more sculpted, you'll also develop stronger, more stable joints, which can help prevent injury and even improve your weight-lifting form.
19, 20, and 21. FLATTEN YOUR BELLY IN 3 MOVES
For a sculpted midsection, you have to train your abs in three ways: by bringing your chest toward your legs or vice versa, by bending to the side, and by rotating, says Hoebel. To accomplish that, perform these exercises 2 or 3 times a week. Do 1 set of each in order, resting briefly in between, and repeat the series twice.
SEATED KNEE TUCK
Sit with your knees pulled into your chest, feet raised, and hands on the ground out to the sides and slightly behind you; round your back slightly and engage your abs. Keeping your chest lifted, slowly extend your legs in front of you, off the ground, as you lean back. Slowly return to the starting position, bringing knees in, and repeat. Do 6 to 8 reps. SIDE PLANK
Lie on your right side and support yourself on your right elbow; place left hand on hip. Extend legs and place left foot in front of right on the ground. Contract your abs and raise your hips so your body forms a straight line from head to feet. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds; switch sides and repeat. Do 2 on each side. TWISTING JACKKNIFE
Lie face up with legs straight on the ground, arms out to the sides. Raise left leg and reach right hand toward outside of left ankle, lifting right shoulder blade. Lower to starting position and repeat with opposite arm and leg to complete 1 rep. Do 6 to 8 reps.
22 and 23. INTENSIFY YOUR SQUATS
This strength-plan staple is guaranteed to sculpt your legs and butt but can get boring after awhile-and it's easy to let your form slide. Try these 2 tips to keep the firming coming.
ADD A BAND
To target the stubborn outer hips, place a resistance band around your thighs just above your knees and press your legs out as you squat, says Kevin Brochu, a strength and conditioning coach at Perform Better in Cranston, Rhode Island. This keeps your glutes activated and improves your form. USE "MICRO MOVEMENTS"
When doing a squat, try to slide your feet in and then out without actually moving your legs, suggests James Bowman, an owner of Next Step Conditioning Systems in Bainbridge Island, Washington. Your limbs won't move, but you'll feel your muscles working, and this helps you recruit more fibers-and get sculpted faster.
24. BOOST YOUR BUST
When doing chest flies, rotate your hands so your pinky fingers are next to each other as you bring the handles together in front of you: Stand facing away from a cable machine and hold a cable in each hand out to the sides, palms facing forward. Keep your abs tight as you bring your arms forward and touch your pinkies, palms facing up. This engages the lower pecs, which adds lift, says Staehle.
25. HAVE MORE FUN
Instead of hitting the autopilot button during your cardio sessions, create secret competitions with the people around you (can you run faster that the guy two treadmills down?). Or try to match the workout class standout-the girl who's so good, she could be teaching-step for step and punch for punch. Nobody will know but you. And your body will be better for it.
26. WORK YOUR CORE WITH EVERY MOVE
Once a week during your resistance workout, do 2 strength exercises for each major muscle group, but make one stable and one unstable, says Jordan. For instance, do a seated shoulder press (sit holding weights next to your shoulders and extend arms overhead) followed by a side shoulder raise standing on a balance disk (hold dumbbells and raise arms out to each side to shoulder height).
27. SHOCK YOUR BODY
To turbocharge sculpting, perform a full-body strength workout every day for 7 consecutive days (choose different moves for each session), says Holland. While you wouldn't want to do this all the time, it's okay to work the same muscles in back-to-back workouts a few times a year, he explains.
28. PILE ON POUNDS
If you want the needle on the scale to drop, wear a weighted vest during cardio and strength workouts, suggests Goldberg. It will increase the intensity of any exercise and burn extra calories. We like the Walkvest ($70; walkvest.com).
29. NUDGE UP YOUR PACE
Get fitter, burn more fat and calories, and increase your speed by doing a tempo cardio workout - a session at your top "race" pace - once a week, advises Jordan. Try it: Warm up, then go as fast as you can for 20 minutes. (This should be a comfortably hard pace that you can maintain for much longer then 20 minutes.)
30. BEAT UPPER ARM JIGGLE
For seriously toned triceps, try this: Hold a dumbbell in each hand and bend forward from the hips. Tuck elbows to sides, forearms perpendicular to floor and palms facing in, then rotate your palms up as you extend arms behind you. Pause for a second, lower, and repeat. Do 2 or 3 sets of 10 reps. This targets the long and lateral heads of the triceps, the areas that tend to wiggle when you wave, says top Hollywood trainer Gunnar Peterson.
31. NIX PLATEAUS WITH LESS REST
The shorter the period between strength sets, the more calories you burn. Recover for 20 seconds after your first set, 30 seconds after your second set, and 45 seconds after your third, suggests Westcott. Gradually adding time with each set, as you get fatigued, helps you recover more completely despite the short breaks. (To make your rest time even harder, try tip number 2.)