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Invest in a pedometer (about $20 at fwonline.com) and count the number of steps you take throughout the day -- then find some ways to slip in more. "Most of us take about 5,000 steps a day, but to keep the scale steady you should strive for a total of 10,000 steps, or about five miles [roughly 500 calories]," says Wayne Westcott, PhD, fitness research director of the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts. One easy goal: Do five-minute intervals of about 500 steps several times a day. This can be simple: Walk to do an errand that's about six blocks away; pace the sidelines at your kids' sporting events; wander around your living room while you're talking on the phone; park your car instead of using the drive-through.
Even a few minutes of exercise (a brisk walk around the mall, climbing a few flights of stairs) can be an instant wake-up call. "You'll get the blood flowing and feel more alert," says Westcott. Another option: Do a yoga inversion pose like standing forward bend (hanging your head below your waist). "It changes both your blood flow and your perception, which can be highly invigorating," says Sara Ivanhoe, creator and instructor of Sara Ivanhoe's 20-Minute Yoga Makeover video. Finally, watch what you eat: "Many women skip breakfast and then eat larger meals later, which can make you sluggish," says Karen Reznik Dolins, EdD, director of nutrition at Altheus, a sports performance center in Rye, New York. To keep blood sugar steady, eat a mix of protein and complex carbs, like fruit and low-fat yogurt, every three to four hours.
To get a tight, toned tush, focus on engaging both your glutes and your hamstrings. Both muscle groups work together to help stop the sag, says Melanie Buren, a trainer at Flatiron Athletic Club in Boulder, Colorado. Adding a balance component by doing moves on one leg makes the exercises even more effective. Try doing single-leg deadlifts and reverse lunges together: Balance on right leg and hinge forward from the hips, keeping back flat. Raise left leg behind you parallel to the floor. Hold for 2 counts, squeezing glutes. Lower leg to start, then step left leg back into a deep lunge, bending right knee 90 degrees. Hold for 2 counts. Return to starting position. Aim for 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps on each leg.
For a tauter tummy, you need to target all of your core muscles. "The most effective moves work every major abdominal group -- the deep transverse abs, the internal and external obliques, and the rectus abdominis, or 'six-pack' muscle," says Buren. One move that does the job: The Woodchop. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart holding a resistance tube in both hands. Raise tube toward right shoulder, arms extended in front of body. Bending knees slightly, bring tube diagonally across body toward left hip as you pivot left. Return to starting position and repeat. Do 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps; switch sides.
"You need to work the entire thigh -- not just the quads in front and the hamstrings in back, but also the inner and outer thighs," says Michele S. Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama. The three-part kickbox lunge hits all of these muscles while also challenging your balance: A. Stand in a deep lunge position with right leg forward, knee bent 90 degrees, left leg back; keep elbows bent, fists at chin level. B. As you rise from the lunge, bring your left knee toward your chest, then kick straight forward at waist height or higher, pointing toes. C. Keeping left leg lifted, shift to the right and kick out to left side with inner thigh parallel to floor, foot flexed. Lower leg back to floor and return to start. Repeat for 15 reps. Switch legs and repeat. Do 2 sets per leg.
Think cross-training, says Jim Wharton, a musculoskeletal therapist and co-owner of Wharton Performance in New York City. "Most injuries are the result of overused muscles," he notes. "By substituting a new activity for your favorite workout just once a week, you'll stay fit and work different muscle groups while giving others a rest." In addition, be sure to scale back your workout if you begin to see symptoms of overtraining (including persistent fatigue and/or muscle soreness, depression, irritability, and difficulty concentrating). Finally, Wharton recommends practicing a technique known as active-isolated stretching, which involves contracting one muscle group (such as the quads) while briefly holding the opposite muscle group (the hamstrings) at the end of its range of motion.
Take small steps to gradually build up your mileage, advises Jeff Rochford, a trainer in New York City and a certified coach for the US Track & Field Association. "A lot of people make the painful mistake of trying to do too much too soon. Your entire body needs time to adapt to the rigors of running more miles," says Rochford. His beginner-friendly plan includes running every other day to prevent injury and starting and ending each run with a five-minute brisk walk.
Weeks 1-2: Warm up, then run for 5 minutes, adding 1 minute to each run. You'll progress from 5 to 12 minutes, or about 1.25 miles (based on a 10-minute-mile pace). Cool down.
Week 3: Add 2 minutes per run, going from 14 to 20 minutes (2 miles).
Week 4: Add 3 minutes per run, going from 23 to 32 minutes (3 miles).
Weeks 5-6: Add 4 minutes per run, going from 36 to 64 minutes (6 miles).
Feel like a zombie as you plod through your daily 30-minute jog on the treadmill? "Short, explosive workouts can double your fitness level," says Kara I. Gallagher, PhD, an assistant professor of exercise physiology at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Result: You'll be able to burn more calories in any aerobic workout that you do (and that's motivation aplenty!). Try the following 15-minute sprint session, developed by trainer Deb Feairheller of West Chester, Pennsylvania, three times a week in addition to your regular workout. Do each move for 30 seconds, taking 15 seconds to recover in between. Repeat three times through. After two weeks, you'll see a noticeable difference in your performance.
Since a walking routine is one of the most accessible workouts, try this six-week plan from Jeanette Soloma, a trainer at Crunch Fitness in Los Angeles. If any week feels too demanding, repeat it until you are able to progress. Follow your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) -- how hard the exercise feels on a scale of 1 to 10; use the "talk test" as a guide.Your 6-Week Walking Plan
4 Days: Walk 15 minutes at a steady pace (RPE: 4; you can talk fully with a slight effort).
4 Days: Walk 20 minutes at a steady pace (RPE: 4).
Week 3: Alternative Workouts
2 Days: Walk 25 minutes at a steady pace (RPE: 4).
2 Days: Walk 10 minutes at a steady pace (RPE: 4), 5 minutes at a brisk pace (RPE: 7; you can speak in phrases but are breathing heavily) and 10 minutes at a steady pace.
Week 4: Alternative Workouts
2 Days: Walk 30 minutes at a steady pace (RPE: 4).
2 Days: Alternate 10 minutes at a steady pace (RPE: 4) and 10 minutes at a brisk pace (RPE: 7), followed by 10 more minutes at a steady pace.
Week 5: Alternative Workouts
2 Days: Walk 30 minutes at a steady pace (RPE: 4).
1 Day: Walk 10 minutes at a steady pace (RPE: 4), 10 minutes at a brisk pace (RPE: 7) and 10 more minutes at a steady pace.
1 Day: Walk 10 minutes at a steady pace (RPE: 4), followed by a 30-second speed burst (RPE: 8 to 9; speak mostly in words, with some difficulty). Recover by walking at a steady pace (RPE: 5) for 2 minutes. Repeat interval three times; end with 10 minutes at a steady pace (RPE: 4). Total: 30 minutes.
1 Day: Walk 30 minutes at a steady pace (RPE: 4).
1 Day: Walk 10 minutes at a steady pace (RPE: 4); 10 minutes at a brisk pace (RPE: 7), then 10 more minutes at a steady pace.
1 Day: Walk 10 minutes at a steady pace (RPE: 4), then do a 30-second speed burst (RPE: 8-9). Recover by walking at a steady pace (RPE: 4) for 2 minutes. Repeat three times; end with 10 minutes at a steady pace (RPE: 4). Total: 30 minutes.
1 Day: Walk 5 miles at a steady pace (RPE: 4).
Log Your Exercise and Diet Efforts Daily: Take note of what you ate, how long you worked out and how you felt, then check back weekly to track your progress.
Surround Yourself with Fitness Buddies: Whether you're counting calories or reps, it's easier when you have a supportive friend. To find a partner near you, log on to buddyup.com.
Try Something Completely New: Simply trying out a new machine at the gym or taking a skiing lesson can be very motivating.
Join a Club: Whether it's running, biking, or swimming, group workouts can provide structure and support.
Originally published in Fitness magazine, January 2006.