Time is a precious commodity, especially if you're trying to squeeze fitness into your days. Here are 10 simple fitness tips to help you maximize your workout.
- Prep the Night Before - One thing on my to-do list before going to sleep is to get ready for the next day's workout. It's such a relief to avoid the stress of running around trying to find my favorite sports bra in the morning, and once it's all planned out the night before, the workout is more likely to happen. I do laundry to wash stinky gym clothes and towels, and pack my gym bag. I make pre- and post-workout snacks, and fill my water bottle and stick it in the fridge. I also charge my iPod and iron out details with my workout buddies.
- Set Goals Before Every Workout - It's great to have big fitness goals in mind, like wanting to run your first five or 10K. Big goals are admirable, but it's the little goals along the way that help us stick to a regular exercise routine. Before heading out for your run, bike ride, or strength-training session, make a specific goal for that workout. You're more likely to cut your workout short if you don't outline a short-term goal for that day, so instead of saying, "Well, I'll see how I feel today," before you even start, decide what you'll be doing. Tell yourself, "I'll run 20 minutes," or "I'll complete five upper body exercises." You'll feel good once you accomplish your mini-goal, and once you get in the habit, you'll be more likely to follow through on other goals you set.
Include It All in Every Workout - Cardio burns calories, reduces stress, helps you lose weight, and is good for your lungs and heart, but cardio isn't the only thing your body needs. It's also important to strength train to tone your muscles, increase your metabolism, and increase your muscle mass. Of course you also need to stretch as well to increase flexibility, which will prevent injury.
So a good rule of thumb is to include all three - cardio, strength training, and stretching - in every workout. You can start with 30 minutes of jogging, followed by 20 minutes of dumbbell exercises, and finish with 20 minutes of yoga. Not only will your entire body feel worked, but doing all three every time you exercise will make sure you don't neglect one type of training.
- Change Your Running Surface - Since different surfaces are more forgiving than others, they offer different challenges to our muscles. If you can help it, I don't advise running often on rigid and stiff concrete because it offers no shock absorption to your joints, but I do recommend alternating between softer surfaces such as grass, dirt trails, a spongy track, treadmill, even asphalt (on the street, not on the sidewalk). Also alternate between flat and bumpy surfaces, and those that are uphill or downhill because they'll challenge your coordination, and help you become a more efficient runner.
- Play With Speed - When some people are training, they incorporate negative splits into their routines. It involves moving faster in the second half of your workout than you did for your first half. This warms up the muscles slowly, which helps reduce your risk of injury, and it also helps you finish strong when you're racing. You can also exercise in the opposite way, where you start off fast and intense and end your workout slower and with moderate intensity. Researchers at the College of New Jersey found that after a short warmup, "cyclists who punched up the intensity during the first half of their workouts and then cruised for the second half burned about 10 percent more calories than those who started slow and finished fast." Not only will you burn more calories, but when you give it all you've got in the beginning, it feels so good to reward yourself with a more relaxed second half of your workout.
- Give Yourself a Star - Every time you exercise, whether you go for a run, a hike with a friend, or hit the gym, mark that day with a little star in your calendar. It'll give you a quick overview of how often you've been working out that month so far. It'll also serve as a visual reminder of how long it's been since you last worked out.
- Experiment With Equipment - The gym can get painfully boring when you constantly follow the same routine each day. Mix it up by trying one new piece of equipment each week. There's a huge variety of cardio machines and weight-lifting equipment, so choose a day each week to do something new. Once you've tried everything out at least once, you'll feel more comfortable alternating them into your routines. Not only is variety the spice of life, but doing the same thing over again can cause repetitive stress injuries. You'll also only work certain muscle groups doing the same workout, so by using different equipment, you'll end up targeting more parts of your body, becoming stronger and burning more calories.
- Mix Up Your Cardio - Running is a great form of exercise, but you don't want to get stuck in a rut of hopping on the treadmill every time you go to work out. Make a pact with yourself to include at least three different types of cardio throughout your week. Run on Mondays, swim on Tuesdays, run on Wednesday, play a friend in a tennis match on Thursday, jog around the park on Friday, and Saturday or Sunday go for a bike ride. There are so many ways you can move your body, and not only will mixing up your cardio help prevent injury, but you'll end up becoming stronger overall.
- Play With Your Sequencing - You may have learned a certain group of strength-training exercises and are in the habit of doing them in the same sequence every time so you don't leave one out. If you're always doing your exercises in the same order, your muscles will become efficient at doing them, and you'll be more likely to reach a plateau. You'll get more out of your strength-training sessions if you mix the sequence up, because it'll fatigue your muscles in a different order and help you to become stronger.
- Try Doubling Up - If you want to get serious about toning up, then kick your workouts up a notch and exercise twice a day. Go for a jog in the morning and take a yoga class after work. Or hit the pool before work and follow up with a 20-minute strength training circuit before dinner. Another possibility is a gym workout during your lunch break and a fitness video a couple hours before bedtime. Working out twice in one day will burn more calories, curb your hunger, and work your muscles double time. Not only will you feel better about how you look, but you'll also have more energy and sleep better.
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