The kids in the neighborhood call me Macho Mom. Part of me is embarrassed about that. Another part of me is proud to be recognized for my hard work.
I don't have a 6-pack. I'm not sure I could. But I do have a relatively flat stomach. My arm muscles had some definition (before my broken wrist made me have to give up weight lifting for a while); my leg muscles have huge definition. (OK, they're just huge, but there are some strong muscles in there!)
<-- (PS- That is a picture of my husband and me riding in a 160-mile bike ride.)
The bottom line, when it comes to exercise, is that you need to break down your muscles and let them be rebuilt. That's the basis of your metabolism. Your metabolism is basically a measurement of how much energy your body uses at rest. Energy comes from heat, and heat is what is given off by work. So what is the work your body doing when you are at rest? Rebuilding muscles that you have torn during a work out. (Boy, I love physics!)
That sounds bad - tearing muscles. But it isn't. That's actually what you are doing when you exercise and push yourself. You are causing your muscles to go beyond what they are used to and creating tiny tears in them. This is not a problem, because your body works to rebuild them into stronger muscles so the next time, the muscles are able to withstand the stress you put on them. (Only, next time, you should test your muscles even farther so you can get even stronger. You are basically tricking your body each time to be prepared for more and more stress.) All this work your body is doing releases heat as a by-product. That's why we say we are "burning calories."
So the trick is to keep tricking, and keep challenging your body, as described below.
Muscles are active. They are already ready to move, always working. Fat is sedentary and does not work. So get burning!
1. Time of Day
Some people swear by their crack-of-dawn workouts. I am not one of them. When I was teaching, I tried a few times to do my gym workouts at 6.a.m., before school started. But I found it made my day drag and nearly impossible to get through. (Not good, when you are standing in front of a captive audience and trying to sound like you know what you are talking about.)
Studies do show that morning workouts could be slightly better than later ones, but really, it depends on your body. If your body works better at night, you should make a point to work out at night. For me, I could ideally have my best runs at 11:00 at night. That's just how my body works. Experts recommend shutting down your workout at least 3 hours before bed, but my body recovers so quickly, I could go to sleep a half hour after coming back in. But, it isn't realistic for me to go out running late at night. So, I go to the gym in the middle of the day, when my schedule allows for it.
Bottom Line: Work out when it is best for your body and your schedule because that's when you will be able to commit to it. As long as you make sure to actually do it!
The easiest way to burn a lot of calories. Also called H.I.I.T (High Intensity Interval Training), this is really a quick workout. I usually get mine done in 20-30 minutes. Basically, you warm up in your chosen cardio exercise, then do an all-out burst for about a minute, cool down with another minute or two of slower exercise, and then repeat the cycle 4-8 times. You get a lot of work done, but in half the time of a more regularly-paced workout.
Bottom Line: Make sure you throw in some HIIT once or twice a week to mix things up and challenge your body.
Weight-bearing exercise needs to be a core element of your workout regimen. Exercises that cause impact of your body against an outside force (such as your foot against the ground when you are running, or your muscles against a weight while lifting) cause the muscles around your bones to strengthen, thus protecting your bones.
This is the brunt of the muscle-tearing I described above. The more you challenge your muscles with weights, the more they tear, the more they are repaired to be stronger. (And of course, the recovery time in repairing those muscles is where you will see all the calorie burn.)
You should ideally lift weights at least 2-3 times a week to help with your metabolism.
Bottom Line: You absolutely need to include weight training in your workouts.
People can easily get hung up on the amount of time spent exercising. But we need to look at the quality of your workouts, not the length of them. A 2-hour jog is just as good as a 20-minute sprint session, as long as you're including both in your regimen. Most apps will tell you that you burn more calories on the long run, but that really depends how hard you are working. A 2-hour run for some (about a half-marathon) will be a lot of work because they will push to make it a challenge. Someone who does not push himself through the discomfort, who takes breaks to walk when it's too hard, actually might not be getting as a good a workout as the sprinter. But also, if you do the same 2-hour run everyday (I don't recommend this), until it becomes so easy that you don't even have to think about it, you are not improving your body any. Your muscles will adapt and not work as hard. (Your body is always looking for the easy way out.) You need to mix it up and throw in a few workouts of varied speeds.
Bottom Line: You need both long, slow cardio workouts and short, fast workouts each week.
5. Don't Stop
There will come a time when you don't want to work out. You just don't feel like it. A lot of times, this happens in the winter when it's just too cold to get changed into workout clothes. Or even think about a shower after! But do it anyway. You may be surprised. You never know when a great workout is waiting inside you.
Bottom Line: Just do it. Don't think about it, just get out there and do it.
Yes, I know what I just said above. You want to make sure you exercise as regularly as you can, including rest days. However, there comes a time when your body says no. Usually, when you're sick, your body will tell you something's not right. That's the time you want to add extra rest time and let your body fix itself. It's going to want to spend most of its energy fighting illness and won't give you a good workout anyway. So give yourself extra rest days when you're sick, and you can come back fresh. (Warning: it might be hard to get back into the swing of things again, but remember! It will get easier again after you get a few days in. Much better than giving up altogether.)
Bottom Line: Listen to your body. If you are sick or in pain, you need extra rest.
7. Change it up
Here we go back to the whole idea of challenging your body. If you do the same thing over and over, everyday, you will probably notice it getting easier. Although, you might think that you have just become that much stronger, sorry, it just means that your body has adjusted and become more efficient at doing the work. That means less muscle tear, which means less muscle building, which means your strength in that area has been maxed out and you will not burn more energy rebuilding it.
How to fight this? Change your routine. Even if the only routine you have is running laps around the neighborhood, every other day, run the route in the opposite direction. Ideally, though, we are talking about cross-training (with a different activity) and using completely different muscles on different days.
Bottom Line: Your body is tricky. You need to stay one step ahead of it to keep it challenged.
This is probably the MOST IMPORTANT thing in your exercise routine. Think about what I said about how your muscles get stronger - your body rebuilds the little tears from your workout. If you aren't stopping and giving your body a chance to repair those tears, it will continue working and continue tearing instead. Where do you think that will lead you? That's right - bigger tears. When a tear is too big, you have an injury - forced rest, and no working out. Then, when you are all healed, you have to start at the beginning again. No one likes starting over.
Bottom Line: Your metabolism increases during the time your body is allowed to focus on rebuilding itself (rest).
9. Spot reduction
There's no such thing, really. Say you don't like the size of your butt. So, you do all the butt-blasting exercises you can find. Will it give you a smaller backside? Yes, no, and maybe. Here's the "no": When you work a muscle (or muscle group), you are not shrinking it. You could be toning the muscle, which could make it look leaner (there's your "yes"), but you are not combatting any fat in that area. After exercising any part of your body, you are burning the calories you need to rebuild your muscles. But since every body is different, you never can tell which store of energy it will choose to burn! That's your "maybe," it can come from butt, or from your toes, or from you elbows, or from your neck!
Bottom Line: Don't stop exercising, but don't think you have any control over how your body changes.
Experts have gone back and forth about stretching, but this latest trend (backed by several studies) seems to be one that will last. During a workout, there are 2 times to stretch, as I'm sure you know- before and after. BUT the trick is to do the right stretches at the right time. Before your work out, you need dynamic, or active stretches to warm up your muscles. You can't just grab an appendage and pull - that does not warm you up. And if you happen to pull too hard, you're injured before you start. A light jog, jumping jacks, or a quick walk for a few minutes is a good way to "warm up" your muscles before exercise.
However, when you finish, and your muscles are already warm and loose, this is a good time for static stretches. (Pulling appendages.) Since muscle fibers are already broken down, breaking them just a little further will lengthen them and increase your flexibility. (Increased flexibility helps lessen your chances of injury during activity.)
Bottom Line: Stretching is important, but only helpful if you do it right.
Don't think you are doing yourself any kind of favor by skipping a post-workout snack. After burning a bunch of calories, your body wants to start right away on repairing those muscles, so it needs calories to burn almost immediately- within 30 minutes if you can. Protein and fat calories are what your body will use to do that, so feed it to boost your metabolism! If you are looking to burn calories, it may seem counter-intuitive to eat, but you can't build a fire (to burn calories) without the proper fuel! I like to think of post work-out calories as not counting. (Even if that is a little off the mark.) It reminds me not to skip them. However, do keep in mind this is only necessary after a hard or long workout. I'm sorry, but a 15 minute walk does not earn you a milkshake.
Thank you for indulging me in one of my favorite topics - exercise! Although I am not an expert, I will always be happy to give you my opinion on the subject. Now, get off the computer and go run a few miles. Happy trails to you!
Because I love even numbers and lists!