10 Shape-Up Shortcuts
These genius tricks will help you drop pounds and sculpt muscle in record timeIt flies. It’s tight. You rarely feel like it’s on your side. Of course, we’re talking about time. You can blame it–or more accurately, the lack of it–for standing in the way of many things, but scoring the body of your dreams is no longer one of them. The latest research shows that sculpting lean legs, a tight tush, and flat abs doesn’t require extra hours at the gym.
The trick is to sweat smarter, not harder, and, in many cases, for shorter durations. In fact, a study from McMaster University in Ontario found that people who did brief, fast-paced workouts for a total of 90 minutes a week got just as fit as those who did lower-intensity training for four and a half hours. (Hello! That’s an extra three hours a week!)
With that in mind, leverage these shape-up shortcuts–some maximize the precious (and few) workout minutes you’ve got; others actually shave them away. Now go and make that dream body a reality.
1. Jump to It
Rather than plod through a slow (and time-sucking) warm-up jog, kick off your routine with 20 jumping jacks, says trainer Larysa DiDio, founder of PFX Fitness in Pleasantville, New York. In less than a minute, these simple but explosive old-school moves activate your upper-and lower-body muscles and quickly raise your heart rate and body temperature to prime you for your workout. Another reason to keep it short: A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that lengthy warm-ups can fatigue you, compromising your true workout.
2. Start Strong
People who pushed themselves in the first half of a workout and eased up during the second half burned 23 percent more fat than those who did the opposite, according to a study from the College of New Jersey. The study also found that a period of moderate-intensity exercise prior to a milder one can elicit greater fat oxidation while making the overall workout feel less stressful. One more reason to get the hard part out of the way.
3. Hit the Right Notes
Music moves you to burn more calories in less time by spurring you to crank up–and keep up–the effort. But not just any playlist will do (sorry, Adele). To increase workout intensity, listen to songs with a tempo of 125 to 140 beats per minute and lively lyrics, says Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., author of Inside Sport Psychology, who has studied music’s impact on exercise for 20 years. His picks: “Moves Like Jagger,” by Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera (128 bpm), “The Time (Dirty Bit),” by The Black Eyed Peas (128 bpm), and “Jai Ho (You Are My Destiny),” by A. R. Rahman & The Pussycat Dolls featuring Nicole Scherzinger (137 bpm).
4. Defy Gravity
Sculpting a perkier posterior may be as simple as hoisting heavier weights. The challenge to your muscles builds lean muscle faster, which is the secret to a tighter, lifted backside, says trainer Rachel Cosgrove, WH fitness contributor and author of The Female Body Breakthrough. Plus, it’s a stellar metabolism booster: Research shows you can burn nearly twice as many calories in the two hours after lifting heavier weights. Add this move–the bent-knee deadlift–to your routine up to three times a week: Set a pair of heavy dumbbells (try 15 pounds) on the floor and squat down to grab them. Quickly stand, pushing your hips forward and squeezing your glutes. Do 10 reps.
5. Join the Workout of the Month Club
When you stop seeing results, your first instinct may be to stay on the treadmill or elliptical longer. But tacking on extra minutes won’t rescue you from a plateau. What will: switching up your routine every 28 days–before you have a chance to stagnate. “It takes four to six weeks for your body to adapt to a workout,” says Cosgrove. “Once it becomes efficient at it, you use less energy and burn fewer calories and fat.” The good news is, you don’t need to completely overhaul your fitness routine every month, says Cosgrove. Even simple tweaks–say, adding a few hills to your daily run–can make the difference.
6. Walk, Don’t Jog
Though it may seem counterintuitive, walking at a brisk pace is a better use of your workout time. “During a fast walk, your muscles are working harder to keep you on the ground and still push you forward. So, compared to a slow jog–say, 10-minute miles–you’re using more muscle and burning more calories,” says fitness instructor Therese Iknoian, author of Walking Fast and Fitness Walking. While jogging is a fluid, natural body movement, speed walking is more physically demanding because it requires you to move in an awkward way. You’ll also get shapely calves and glutes, because these muscles are more engaged during a power walk, says Iknoian.
And while you’re at it, pick up a pair of poles. Sure, they might look like goofy gadgets reserved for hikes up Kilimanjaro, but walking poles come with benefits any serious saunterer will appreciate. “You can burn 20 to 25 percent more calories walking with poles than you would walking without them, and you’ll also increase upper-body endurance by 40 percent,” says John Porcari, Ph.D., a professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, who has conducted five studies on the equipment’s benefits. He likes Exerstriders ($70 to $90, walkingpoles.com).
7. Obama-fy Your Arms
While many exercises target upper-arm jiggle, triangle pushups have been scientifically proven to be the most effective, says Porcari. How to do them: Assume a pushup position but with your hands close together under your chest so the thumbs and forefingers of each hand are touching (or almost touching) to form a triangle. Lower your body and then press back up. Repeat as many times as you can, even if that means dropping to your knees–you’ll still be giving your arms a killer workout.
8. Intensify Your Cardio
Slow and steady doesn’t win the race to hotness. Women who did 20 minutes of cycling sprint intervals lost three times as much fat in 15 weeks as those who cycled for twice as long at an even pace, according to research from the University of New South Wales in Sydney. High-intensity interval training (HIIT), in which you alternate between short bursts of intense exercise and recovery breaks, is one of the best–and most time-saving–ways to turn your body into a fat-burning machine, says Cosgrove. Try this HIIT treadmill workout: After you warm up, do a 30-second sprint at the fastest pace you can handle, followed by 90 seconds of easy, comfortable jogging. Repeat six times, then cool down for five minutes.
9. Speed Lift
Do reps to a count of one second up, one second down. Researchers at Anderson and Ball State universities found that exercisers who performed a weight-lifting workout at a quick, explosive pace expended 70 more calories, on average, than those who did the workout at a normal pace.
10. Make a Smart Swap
Trade one of your weekly cardio workouts for a strength-training session to see more waist-whittling results. In a study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, one group of dieters lifted three times a week and another did aerobic exercise for the same amount of time. Both groups consumed the same number of calories, and both shed the same amount of weight (26 pounds). But those who pumped iron dropped 100 percent fat, whereas the cardio group lost 92 percent fat and 8 percent muscle. Why this matters: Muscle incinerates calories even when you’re not working out. If you replace 10 pounds of fat with 10 pounds of lean muscle, you’ll burn an extra 25 to 50 calories a day even when you don’t break a sweat.