Make Every Day Your Best Burn Yet
Supercharge your gym routine by ditching the moves that have stopped delivering results and replacing them with ones that will challenge and build more muscle. Start with these total-body toning tips from some of our favorite trainers.
Arms: Change the Weight
Dumbbell curls are great for your arms, but unless you're changing up the sets and reps, your biceps will get accustomed to the level of stress you're placing on them, meaning you'll stop seeing the sculpting results. "Few people use the proper weight and even fewer graduate the amount of weight being used during arm exercises," says Richard Miller, owner and CEO of GymSource in New York City.
When you curl the same weight for a long period of time, your body send nutrients to the muscle you're working to help recover. If you pick up an 8-pound dumbbell every time, your muscles aren't experiencing varied stress and won't add new nutrient masses to that area, making your arms fall flat. Use this cheat sheet to know when it's time to step it up a notch:
- You should feel fatigue at 15 reps or fewer. If you don't, add more weight.
- Aim to increase weight by less than 10 percent. If you normally lift 8-pound weights, up it to 10 pounds and so on.
Arms: Decrease (or Eliminate) Rest Time
Not only do you need to switch up your routine every few months, Miller also suggests powering through an entire arm series without resting. "The idea is to work with a variety of moves that touches multiple areas of the same muscles and deplete these muscles to near exhaustion." There's also a bonus: By eliminating rest time your chances of injury decrease because in order to complete so many sets, you'll need to use a lighter weight.
Try doing one or two biceps movements, like a reverse curl (where the palms are face down holding dumbbells) or a hammer curl (palms face inward holding dumbbells). Without resting immediately go into two to three triceps exercises (such as bent-over triceps kickbacks or one-arm triceps dips). You'll not only tone more, you'll keep your heart rate up, torching more calories as you go.
Back: Kick It Up with a Kettlebell
Kettlebells are so effective because they rely on acceleration as well as deceleration to help tone muscle. "The off-centered weight of a kettlebell will force you to use more stabilizer muscles and work the targeted muscles through a longer range of motion," says celebrity trainer Michelle Lovitt, whose clients include Courteney Cox and Julianne Moore. Since you need your arms to hoist the kettlebell in the air, you're targeting two zones with one area.
Back: Build More Muscle with Drop Sets
This method feels like you're cheating because you get to drop the weight as you go, but really you're doing it to ensure proper form so that your body can reap the full benefits of the move you're doing. To do your own drop set you'll need three sets of weight. Once you max muscles out with a specific weight, drop it and pick up the next weight down. After another set, use the lightest weight and finish the reps. Try doing a drop set with this move to get started:
- One-Arm Dumbbell Row: Stand behind a bench; lean forward with your left hand on the bench while raising right leg straight out behind you. Keep right arm along side, holding a dumbbell in right hand with palm facing in. Draw right elbow up toward ribs, keeping arm closer to side. Hold for 1 count and lower. Repeat 10-12 reps on each side, going directly into a set of 10 push-ups after.
Butt: Change Up Your Cardio
Sorry, elliptical fanatics — it's time to shake things up. "Oftentimes people on the elliptical aren't working as hard as they think," says Jade Alexis, trainer at Reebok Sports Club in New York City and FITNESS advisory board member. "Your body adapts and gets very efficient at doing the same type of movement over and over again."
Challenge your glutes with machines like the StepMill (a stepper where there are actual steps to climb rather than two pedals that you push up and down), which incorporates muscle building and cardio at the same time. While the StepMill looks similar to the StairMaster, the low-impact infinity steps require you to constantly climb and lift your foot at every rotation so you engage your core and work your legs and butt the entire time. Make sure you use the bars for balance only. Holding on too tightly will compromise how many calories you're burning and prevent you from getting a great burn.
Make it harder: Place feet at a 45-degree angle to the side for a minute climb, then switch and do the other side. Don't belong to a gym? Use a step deck (pictured) instead.
Butt: Correct Your Form with Resistance Bands
Squats are the tried-and-true exercise when it comes to working your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, but if you've long stopped feeling slightly sore then you need to focus on your form. "A common issue with people with flat feet, overly tight adductor, or weak glutes is a collapse inward of the knees when you squat," says Ashley Borden, FITNESS advisory board member and coauthor of Your Perfect Fit.
To keep your knees in line, tie a resistance band around your ankles and position it just above the knees. As you squat, start with knees a bit wider than hip width apart, weight in your heels first, toes second. As you squat down, press weight back through your heels and make sure your knees are pushing against the band. If the band slides down your legs, your form is off.
Make it harder: Once you've mastered the squat, stand on the resistance band holding one end of band and a dumbbell in each hand (wrap ends of band around dumbbells and place palms over), arms by sides. Squat, keeping knees behind toes, and hinge forward slightly from hips.
Thighs: Sculpt Quads with Skater Squats
If you rely on single-leg squats to work on strength and balance, challenge yourself with the skater squat. It's an explosive plyometrics exercise that improves the stability of your hips and torso, leaving you with trim thighs and more power.
1. Stand upright with your feet together, arms straight out to the sides.
2. With your right leg, take a wide step to the right. Bend your right knee as you cross your left foot behind you. Squat down on your right leg, keeping your body weight over your right heel and your chest up.
3. Lean forward slightly, swinging your left arm in front of your hips and your right hand behind you for balance. Immediately come out of the squat and step out to the left with your left leg.
4. Repeat the same movement to the left, crossing your right leg behind you. Always remember to keep your body weight over your front leg's heel to protect your knees during the downward phase of the squat. Repeat alternating sides as many times as you can for 20 to 30 seconds.
Thighs: Improve Range of Motion with a Foam Roller
When quads and hip flexors are tight prior to a strength-training session, it can lead to pesky muscles strains and injuries. Borden recommends using a foam roller for tight hamstrings to perfect your stride and stop lower back pain. Here's how to use one:
1. Place the roller underneath the area of the thigh or hamstring you want to focus on and gently lower your body down, keeping your hands on the ground for balance.
2. Using your own body weight, slowly roll one of your thighs or hamstrings along the roller. It should feel like a deep tissue massage, a little painful but in a good way. If it's too painful, place both feet on the ground to relieve some pressure.
3. Roll out your body for 10 swipes on each leg before you start training.
Abs: Plank, Pike, Power
If conventional crunches aren't leaving you with the tight tummy you want, it's time for a completely different sit-up. "A traditional crunch uses predominantly the rectus abdominus, which is the largest and more external of the abdominal muscles," Lovitt says. She recommends moves that factor in more of your body weight for an effective burn.
Get an envy-worthy stomach by getting off the floor and grabbing a stability ball with this move:
1. Lie on top of a stability ball with your shins on the ball, walking your palms out until your hands are underneath your shoulders in a push-up position.
2. Keeping your legs straight out, tighten your core and slowly use your abs to raise hips and pike up in a jackknife or upside down V position.
3. Slowly lower your tailbone back down into a push-up position and repeat move for 10-12 reps.
Abs: Fight Flab with The Hundred
Take a cue from Pilates and master this classic warm-up pose. It uses your body to generate natural resistance and offers killer results (it's said to be more effective than crunches!). Try our modified version of the move below:
1. Sit on floor with knees bent, feet flat, holding a heavy weight in each hand, palms facing floor.
2. Lean torso back 45 degrees and lift arms forward, keeping them straight, about a foot off floor so weights are on either side of thighs.
3. Keeping abs tight and back straight throughout, pulse weights up and down 1 inch — that's 1 rep.
4. Do 20 reps. (Build up to 40, depending on your fitness level.)
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, January 2012.