SPECIAL OFFER: - Limited Time Only!
(The ad below will not display on your printed page)
Pumping up your routine -- adding intensity, trying new moves, and giving 100 percent -- does more than prevent workout boredom: It saves you a lot of time. "The thinking at the gym used to be, 'Well, at least I'm here,'" says trainer Tom Holland, author of The 12-Week Triathlete. But if you want to see big results fast, the new catchphrase should be "Go hard and go home," he adds.
Although the 2007 guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) call for at least 30 minutes of exercise five or more days a week, they're based on moderate activity (think brisk walking) and are geared toward general health benefits, explains Bill Haskell, PhD, a professor at the School of Medicine at Stanford University and lead author of the ACSM report. Kick things up a notch and the recommendation is for just 20 minutes of vigorous activity (see "How Hard Is Hard Enough?" for examples) three times a week. Here's how to work out smarter, not longer.Try High-Speed Cardio
One of the best-documented ways to shrink both your time commitment and your waistline is to incorporate intervals into your cardio routine. During this kind of workout (where you push the intensity as close to your max as you can -- an 8 or 9 on a scale of 1 to 10 -- for a short period of time), your muscles use more oxygen, increasing the amount of energy you spend, says Shawn Dolan, PhD, RD, a professor of kinesiology at California State University at Long Beach. "In a 30-minute interval routine, you have the potential to burn a third more calories than you would just going at a steady pace," she explains.
Interval training is also more effective at improving performance. Studies show that it increases both endurance and speed by improving the body's ability to use oxygen. Healthy college-age subjects who did short, high-intensity cycling workouts for just two weeks were able to bike longer (51 minutes compared to 26 minutes) and faster than before, according to a recent study from McMaster University in Ontario.Start to Circuit Train
"When lifting weights, make sure you're constantly moving from one exercise to the next," says Holland. This nonstop action, aka circuit training, burns about 25 percent more calories than traditional resistance workouts by keeping your heart rate elevated the entire time. One of the most efficient strategies is to perform moves that target multiple muscle groups simultaneously. "This is how our bodies work in everyday life -- muscles are never isolated from one another when we move," says Holland. "Plus, by keeping your body guessing about what exercise is coming next, your muscles don't just automatically adapt to the routine without having to work hard." For moves to try, see "The Perfect Circuit," -- it should take 20 to 30 minutes.
Whether you munch a cheeseburger, a bagel, an energy bar, or absolutely nothing before and after you exercise has a big impact on how your body will respond. And we're not only talking about indigestion.
Just because your routine is short doesn't mean you don't need to fuel up first. "Make the meal you eat before your workout substantial [300 to 500 calories], so you'll have enough energy to maintain the higher intensity," says Molly Kimball, RD, head of nutrition at Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans. She recommends at least a two-to-one ratio of complex carbs to protein (such as a whole-grain English muffin with a tablespoon of peanut butter and an apple, or a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with some baby carrots). If it's been a few hours since your last meal, have a snack before your workout for energy, but aim for something that's easy to digest (not too high in fiber or fat) with 100 to 200 calories, such as a cereal bar or a banana.
Eat a healthy mix of protein and carbs within 20 minutes after working out to help muscles recover, suggests Kimball. For example, drink a glass of low-fat chocolate milk or a fruit (strawberry, banana, or blueberry) smoothie with plain, low-fat yogurt. Even though your first thought might be "I just burned a ton of calories so now I can eat whatever I want," hold back, says Kimball. The last thing you should do is overindulge one day because you worked really hard and then fast the next (or vice versa) -- caloric consistency is key to maintaining your weight or dropping a few pounds.Rest Your Weary Bones
"Intervals and circuits are highly stressful on your body, so to prevent injury, each high-intensity day should be followed by at least one or two days of rest or light activity," says Holland. That's right -- rest. Hurrah! But, sorry, that doesn't mean just planting yourself on the sofa. To prevent soreness, take a leisurely 30-minute walk or an easy bike ride to get blood flowing, says Dolan. In addition, pay attention to your pains. "You have microtrauma in your tissue after a hard workout, which causes inflammation," says Dolan. Indulge in an occasional massage or roll out on a foam roller (find one for about $31 at optp.com) to speed recovery and help stretch the fascia -- thin tissue that covers your muscles and muscle fibers and tightens up during and after exercise.
Scientists define "vigorous" activity as anything with a metabolic equivalent (MET) intensity level greater than 6.0. Your MET can range from 0.9 (sleeping) to 18 (running at 10.9 mph -- a 5.5-minute mile). Try working these vigorous activities into your routine.
Think you don't have time to exercise? Think again. Take these three fast, no-fail routines with you wherever you go. No excuses!The Perfect Circuit
What You'll Need: A pair of 5- to 8-pound dumbbells. (The last few reps of each move should be really difficult, so increase weight as needed.)
Warm up (walk on treadmill, bike slowly, march in place) for five minutes. Then complete one set of the following:
Each burns 300 to 350 calories1. Short, Hard Interval
This tempo workout is like doing one long interval at a fairly high intensity -- you should be able to speak, but not engage in lengthy conversation. Try doing it with any of your favorite types of cardio, such as running, cycling or walking.
*RPE is your Rate of Perceived Exertion, on a scale of 1 to 10.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, May 2008.