Memorial Day (the unofficial kick-off to beach trips and outdoor barbecues) is seven weeks away.
If you plan on kicking off the season in a bathing suit, you have a month and a half to get your abs on board. Which means you don’t have time to mess around in the gym anymore.
We’ve already covered the science-backed way to clean up your diet for spring. Once you have that under control, turn your attention to your gym routine.
Gliding on the elliptical while responding to your group chat may have helped you maintain a reasonable level of fitness (or at least avoid weight gain) during the winter months, but you’re going to need to up the intensity if you want to actually tone up before summer.
Make these simple changes to supercharge your workouts and expedite results:
- Start playing with toys. There is no shortage of research to prove that adding some equipment to your standard routine takes things things to the next level. TRX bands activate the abdominals 184 percent more than a standard pushup. Kettlebell workouts burn 20.2 calories per minute (which is equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace), while battle ropes burn an average of 10.3 calories per minute. And medicine balls build total body power, muscle endurance, and flexibility.
- Ditch the long, steady exercise in favor of shorter intervals. Research shows that eight seconds of high-intensity exercise with 12 seconds of lower intensity exercise for 20 minutes, three times a week shed more pounds than steady-paced exercisers who worked out twice as long. And it’s better at decreasing abdominal fat and body weight, while maintaining muscle mass, than longer, steady exercise.
- Consider morning workouts (and make it a HIIT). A 16-minute HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout is equivalent to an hour of low-intensity exercise at the gym, and you can burn over four times the amount of calories. It’s just a more time-efficient and realistic way of losing weight—and anyone rolling out of bed to get a workout in will appreciate the extra 30 minutes of sleep.
- Schedule a random workout each week. Science shows that novelty activates the region of the brain that regulates our levels of motivation and our ability to predict rewards by releasing dopamine. You can tap into this mental reward system by trying a completely new exercise—maybe it’s barre or pilates, TRX, or rowing. That novelty may just provide the release of dopamine you need to boost your motivation.
- Make level 1 your baseline treadmill incline. The treadmill may default to zero, but it’s time to set your own baseline, otherwise your resigning yourself to an easier workout (and no one’s got time for that). “When you’re on a treadmill your incline should always be at about 1.0,” said Taj Harris-Lee, trainer at Crunch. This better mimics the uneven terrain of running outdoors, which activates more muscles for a better workout.
- Fluctuate your speed. While you’re at it, play around with the speed as well. The leisurely 30-minute jogs are a thing of winter’s past. Try power intervals by alternating between 90 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest—a great way to incorporate HIIT into cardio workouts like running, walking, swimming, or cycling. During the work sets push yourself to maximum effort and reduce efforts to 50 percent during the rest sets.
- But take your runs outside as often as possible. In addition to natural inclines and declines that boost calorie burn, research shows that the lack of air resistance on a treadmill indoors results in a lower energy cost compared with running outdoors at the same velocity. And if your lucky enough to live near a beach (or find yourself on vacation within the next few months) take your run to the sand: You burn 30 percent more calories doing the exact same movement in the sand than on a hard surface.
- Grab some weights. We all know we should be strength training, but sometimes it’s all too easy to bypass them and head for the cardio machines. While cardio is important for reducing body fat, it’s the weight training that builds muscle (and the muscle tone you want to look your best on the beach).
- Move more all day (not just at the gym). Don’t use the fact that you squeezed in a morning workout as an excuse to sit the rest for the day: A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that sitting all day can outweigh the benefit we get from exercise, and increases our chances of disease. Plus, sitting slumped over in your desk chair leads to a tight back, lose abs, and soft glutes—counteracting all the work you’re putting in.
- Let an app do the work for you. Motivating yourself to get to the gym is hard enough, without having to piece together some semblance of a tough workout on your own (and complete it without a trainer leading you through it). Luckily, there’s an app for that. Apps like the 7-Minute Workout Challenge (which leads you through seven moves in seven minutes with cues and visuals) and StrongLifts 5×5 (which guides you through a weight lifting routine, dictating how many reps and sets and your rest time in between) take the guesswork out of your gym routine, so you can focus on powering through your workout.