Oops-Proof Your Workout

When you stick to a routine, it's easy to become, well, stuck. "We fall into a comfort zone, and we keep doing the same thing even when we're not seeing any improvement," says Barbara Bushman, PhD, a professor of exercise physiology at Missouri State University in Springfield. If you're not trimming down, toning up, or feeling any fitter, it's likely due to one of the following exercise errors. Read on for how to reboot -- and get the body you want, pronto!

Mistake #1: You Rely on Cardio to Peel Off Pounds
For most women, sweaty aerobic exercise alone isn't enough. "Research shows that weight loss is minimal if it isn't accompanied by dieting," says Amy Luke, PhD, a nutritional epidemiologist at the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University Chicago. "We may compensate for the extra energy we're burning during physical activity by doing less the rest of the day, or more commonly, we feel famished after working out, so we eat more." The Solution: Keep your diet in check. To drop a pound, which is 3,500 calories, in one week, aim to eat 300 fewer calories every day (300 x 7 = 2,100) while burning 300 calories from exercise five times a week (300 x 5 = 1,500). Follow our "Slimmer in 7 Days!" plan, not only to burn 1,500 calories a week but also to firm up from head to toe. Plus, to beat the post-workout hunger attack, pack a low-cal snack like a piece of fruit. "You plan for exercise. You need to plan what you're going to eat afterward," says John Porcari, PhD, a professor of exercise physiology at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse and a FITNESS advisory board member. Drinking lots of water helps too.

Mistake #2: You Race Through Your Reps
Two things could be going on here: Either your weights are too light, which is often the case for women, or they're too heavy, and you're letting momentum or gravity take over. Either way, your muscles aren't being sufficiently challenged, which is why they're not getting more toned. "To see an improvement in definition, you need to have an increase in the protein content of muscle fibers, and that happens when the muscles are stressed and being called on to exert more force," Bushman explains. The Solution: If you don't believe you've done just about all you can do by the end of a set, pick a heavier weight. "You want there to be a bit of strain on the second-to-last and last reps," Bushman says. Reach for a lighter dumbbell when you aren't moving the weight with steady control as you lift and lower.

Mistake #3: You Stick to the Bike for All Your Sweat Sessions
If you feel as though your thighs are getting bigger than you'd like, you may be overdoing the cycling. "On an exercise bike, you're working a very specific group of


muscles, and if you're hitting it hard four or five times a week, you will see development there," says Gary Sforzo, PhD, a professor of exercise and sport sciences at Ithaca College in New York. The Solution: Unless cycling is your competitive event, cut it to once or twice a week and fill the gap with a variety of on-your-feet activities, from using the elliptical trainer to taking a dance class. "Every exercise affects your legs in different ways," Sforzo says. When you do cycle, lower the resistance level and increase the speed, Bushman suggests. "It's the overload on the muscles that causes the increase in muscle mass," she adds.

Mistake #4: You Aim to Stay in the Fat-Burning Zone
It's no wonder you think you need to do this to lose weight: Many cardio machines tell you when you're above and below the zone. But this reason for sticking to lowintensity exercise has been completely debunked. "Because fat takes longer than carbs to be converted to energy, you burn a higher percentage of it when you're sitting or walking than when you're running. So the old thinking was that with low-intensity exercise you could torch body fat and lose weight," Porcari explains. But the theory didn't work in practice. "In one study, we had people walk or run for half an hour. On average, the walkers burned 240 calories, 44 percent of which were fat, so they burned 108 fat calories. The runners burned 450 calories, 24 percent of which were fat, so they burned 120 fat calories. Whether you look at total calories or fat calories, the runners clearly came out ahead," Porcari says. The Solution: There's nothing wrong with low-intensity exercise, particularly if you have joint problems. "But to lose weight, you'll probably need to do it for longer than half an hour. Just for general health, the recommendation is 30 minutes five days a week," Porcari says.

Mistake #5: You Skip the Warm-Up
You may think you're saving time, but you're actually just compromising the first 5 to 10 minutes of your workout. "Your body literally needs to warm up so that blood flow increases, the nervous system wakes up, and the body starts to use energy and oxygen more efficiently," says Michael Bracko, a sports physiologist and director at the Institute for Hockey Research in Calgary. The upshot: Every step feels like less of a slog, and calorie burn kicks into high gear. The Solution: Bracko says that the best warm-up is to do your chosen exercise at a low intensity. Runners, for example, should walk, then jog. "Keep at it until you break a sweat," Bracko says. Alternately, you can try "dynamic" stretches, which are moves that take your body through the range of motions you're about to do. For a runner, that can mean high knees, butt kicks, and forward, reverse, and side lunges. "Avoid static stretching, where you're holding poses for several counts. That actually calms the system down and can impair performance," Bracko adds.

Mistake #6: You Overcrunch Your Abs

If you're doing more than three sets of 15, you're wasting your time. "Extra crunches aren't going to cinch your waistline," says Michele Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama, and a FITNESS advisory board member. "You're working the rectus abdominus, which is only one of four muscles in the abdominal wall. But it's the other three deeper muscles [internal obliques, external obliques, transverse abdominis] that give you a leaner look by helping you with your posture." The Solution: Take a temporary break from your usual crunches and target your obliques and transverse abdominis with our waist-cinching express ab workout, "Firm, Flat Abs Fast!" Olson suggests trying these Pilates-based moves as well: (1) the plank (balance on floor on forearms and toes and hold for 30 seconds), (2) doubleleg stretch (lie on your back, knees bent 90 degrees with feet in air and shins parallel to the floor, shoulders off the floor with arms loosely hugging knees; extend your legs and arms out in a wide V, then return to start), (3) the side plank (lie on the floor on your right side, propped up on right elbow, feet stacked; lift your hips up, using your left hand on floor in front of you for support. Hold for 5 counts, then lower. Do 10 reps; switch sides and repeat). Do 10 reps of each move, three or four times a week.

Mistake #7: You've Been Doing the Same Weight Circuit Since Forever
The reason it seems easy isn't because you're getting stronger and stronger. It's because your muscles, having adapted to the program, are utterly bored. "You need to continually challenge them," Bushman says. "Muscles improve only when they're doing something they're unaccustomed to." The Solution: There are myriad ways to change things up. "Use the machines, free weights, resistance bands. You can manipulate the number of reps, amount of weight, length of rest periods between sets, number of sets, and the overall number of exercises," Bushman says. Try doing 12 to 15 reps of light weights one session, 8 to 10 reps of moderate weights the next, then 4 to 6 reps of heavy weights. "Ideally, you want to do something different every time you go to the weight room, or at least once every two weeks," Sforzo adds.

Mistake #8: You Only Do Yoga
While it's great for flexibility and helps improve strength, the typical yoga session is not going to incinerate calories. A recent study found that it takes 90 minutes of hatha yoga to burn 200 calories -- about the same as window-shopping or a casual stroll. The Solution: If you're doing an hour of yoga five days a week, you need to shift three of those days to aerobic activity, says Kara Mohr, PhD, an exercise physiologist and founder of MohrResults.com, a fitness and nutrition consulting company. "I always encourage my clients to do yoga because it's excellent for raising the mindbody connection, which helps stop overeating," she adds. But you need to think of it as a supplemental activity if your goal is weight loss.


Mistake #9: You Always Run at a Steady Pace
If you want to increase your speed, you won't improve your time without interval training. "It teaches your muscles to burn energy more efficiently, so you can go faster," Porcari says. "You're also training your legs to move quicker and getting mentally used to the idea." The Solution: Porcari recommends starting out with a one-mile warm-up, then doing four to six rounds of running at slightly faster than your regular pace for a quarter mile and slightly slower than your regular pace for a quarter mile. (If you're outside, try going from telephone pole to telephone pole.) "The goal is gradually to lengthen the faster-paced intervals and increase the tempo," Porcari explains. He adds that to prevent injuries, it's best to keep such speed work to once or twice a week.

Mistake #10: Your Workout Is the Sole Activity You Get
Sit all day and you're missing out on burning an easy 900 extra calories. That's the difference between what people who aren't sedentary melt in non-exercise activity during a day versus what couch potatoes burn, says James Levine, MD, PhD, an obesity expert at the Mayo Clinic and author of Move a Little, Lose a Lot. "Humans are basically built to be moving. The mechanisms that drive metabolism switch on when a person stands and they switch off as soon as she sits," Dr. Levine says. The Solution: The more active you are, the better. At the very least, you should get up every hour and walk or march in place. One easy change Dr. Levine recommends: Pace the floor when you're on the phone. Make it a habit and weight loss will be just several calls away!

Is Your Diet Stalled? 13 Ways to Kick-Start It
Get Active
Ever felt that everyone you know seems to be losing weight, but when you try their dieting tricks, you don't have the same success? You may not be doing anything wrong. It could be that those strategies just aren't a good match for you. Achieving your goals is all about finding the specific lifestyle fixes that work for you -- not for your neighbor. Try these 14 tactics. You have nothing but weight to lose!

1. Start with Sneakers
Everyone knows it takes a combination of diet and exercise to lose body fat, but researchers now believe that it's best to tackle exercise first. "Once you invest time in a daily workout, you'll be motivated to make the more difficult dietary changes," says John Foreyt, PhD, director of the Nutrition Research Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.


2. Make Ambitious Exercise Goals
Instead of saying "I will exercise three days a week," plan to exercise every day, even if you know you won't make it. Most of us accomplish only 60 percent of our weekly fitness goals, according to research from the College of Public Health and Health Professions at the University of Florida in Gainesville. So if you plan to work out for an hour every day, you'll probably make it to three or four workouts a week.

3. Find a Groove
Blocking out an hour or two for a sweaty workout takes dedication. Make the prospect a little more fun by buying an MP3 player. A recent study from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey found that women who listened to music while walking lost twice as much weight as those who didn't. The music-listeners walked more often each week and adhered to the full program, which also included weekly dieting and group meetings, says the study's lead researcher, Christopher A. Capuano, PhD.

Calorie-Counting Strategies 4. Keep Your Diet Simple
Most successful losers are unadventurous when it comes to eating. "Too much variety actually stimulates your appetite," explains Hollie A. Raynor, PhD, RD, assistant professor of research at Brown Medical School in Providence. "If you're faced with a ton of options, you'll likely eat more just out of curiosity." (Or perhaps because the various choices are right there, tempting you.) Curtail your dietary diversity by preparing dinners at home instead of eating out. Stick to cooking a few tried-and-true recipes with a wide range of nutrients, and rotate them often.

5. Overestimate Your Calories
Most dieters under-report the calories they consume by a third and over-report the amount of exercise they do by half, says Foreyt. Keeping an accurate journal allows you to objectively analyze what you're eating and why. "But even more than that, keeping a record helps you to stay committed to your goal," says Daniel S. Kirschenbaum, PhD, director of the Center for Behavioral Medicine & Sport Psychology in Chicago and author of The Healthy Obsession Program. When you do guesstimate, round up by a few hundred calories.

6. Target Weekend Calories
A recent study found that on the weekends, Americans tend to eat about 82 calories more per day than on the weekdays, most of them from fat and alcohol. That doesn't sound like much, but after a year it adds up to more than two pounds. Weekends are usually a time to let it all go; but losing weight is a precise numbers game, so you can't really afford to loosen the reins too much. Skip the extra margarita and find other ways to relax.


7. Order First
When you're dining out, be the first to place your order. "You can be influenced by other people's food decisions," says Gerard J. Musante, PhD, a clinical psychologist and founder of Structure House, a residential weight-loss center in Durham, North Carolina. If everyone is ordering the burger and fries, for example, you'll be more apt to go with the flow. Set a healthier tone by ordering a salad and the grilled fish.

8. Troubleshoot
When you overindulge (and you will, because you're human), don't beat yourself up, but don't slough it off either. Instead, "consider what led you to overeat, and think of ways to ensure it doesn't happen again," says Kirschenbaum. Taking a problemsolving approach reinforces your sense of accountability, a key factor in losing weight. For example, if you scarfed down a tray of appetizers at the office party, was it because you skipped lunch? Were you nervous about an upcoming meeting? Once you think you've nailed the cause, formulate a plan for what you'll do differently the next time you encounter the same situation.

9. Weigh In
Daily weighing is a winning weight-loss strategy, according to research from the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks more than 4,000 people who have lost 30 pounds and kept them off for at least one year. "It's essential to know where you are and where you're going, up or down, pound-wise," says Raynor. Minor weight gain (up to five pounds) is acceptable if you're trying to maintain, because it could be traced to monthly water retention. "If you're actively trying to lose weight, gaining more than that over a week is a red flag that your calorie intake or exercise plan needs some tweaking," says Raynor.

10. Outwit Your Appetite
Eating six small meals a day to help control your appetite doesn't work for everybody. "Eating that often increases your exposure to food and ups the chances that you'll be tempted to overeat," says Musante. To control calories, he advises that you have just three meals a day and skip snacks. Musante also notes that the sight of food can stimulate your appetite, so keep it all out of view. "You should even wrap leftovers in aluminum foil, not plastic, so you won't be tempted when you open the fridge," he says.

11. Make a Connection
A good support system may help you make better diet and exercise decisions by boosting accountability, says Raynor. A recent study found that people who got support through face-to-face meetings with a counselor or through an Internet-based program regained less weight than participants who didn't use either.

12. Take Eight (Hours)


Shortchanging yourself on sleep lowers the level of the hormone leptin -- this can increase your desire to eat and decrease your ability to burn calories. To lose or maintain weight, there's an ideal sleep zone of about eight hours a night, say researchers. According to the National Sleep Foundation, an estimated 71 percent of Americans get less than that on weekdays. If you have trouble getting to sleep, develop a ritual that helps you relax.

13. Limit Tempting High-Fat Foods
For a while, conventional wisdom urged the no-diet approach: Don't avoid tempting foods like chocolate ice cream, because avoidance only leads to cravings and results in bingeing. But in some studies, those who actually followed this method ran into trouble. "The reality is that most people trying to lose weight can't give themselves permission to eat problem foods," says Kirschenbaum. Temptation just creates difficulties. Effective weight controllers limit their exposure to these foods by not bringing them into the house. They also eat other things that are lower in calories and fat but comparable in taste, he says. Choose replacements such as chocolate sorbet instead of saturated-fat-packed chocolate ice cream.

The Real Reason You Can't Lose Weight
Fat Traps and Weight-Loss Fears Fat Trap: You Give Up Too Soon
If there's one skill that could further your fight to shed pounds, it's patience. When we polled FITNESS magazine readers online about their obstacles to slimming down, 39 percent confessed they would ditch a new diet or exercise program if they didn't see noticeable shrinkage in two weeks. "People want immediate gratification -- to lose 20 pounds in six weeks," says Stacey Rosenfeld, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Columbia University Medical Center and chief psychologist for the New York City Triathlon. "But even if you achieve your goal, that happiness leaves as quickly as it comes because you can't sustain the measures you took to get there, measures that probably made you miserable anyway." Naturally, when you get discouraged, you rebel, probably in the form of a triple-scoop sundae. This can set up a cycle of deprivation and overindulgence, which is not unique to humans. When animals on a calorie-restricted diet were finally allowed to eat freely, they gorged for days, a study at the University of Colorado in Denver found. Stay-Slim Solution Everyone wants instant results, but permanent weight loss calls for a long-term commitment and a change in mind-set. "Think of losing weight as an outcome, not a goal in itself," says Sofia Rydin-Gray, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina. Make it your challenge to incorporate healthy behaviors into your daily life: Exercise for 60 minutes; eat whole grains for breakfast; avoid fried foods. "By shifting your energy to the process as opposed to the


final result, you'll feel a sense of accomplishment every time you make a good decision," Rydin-Gray says.

Fat Trap: You're Afraid to Fail
Maybe you lost 30 pounds to fit into your wedding gown -- and gained it back in a snap. Or you vowed to slim down for bikini season, only to hide behind a sarong come July. Why risk another F? "If you've failed at losing weight before, in your mind the threat of screwing up again still exists," says Lois Barth, a lifestyle coach in New York City. In fact, 40 percent of the women we surveyed admitted they worried about regaining the weight -- and then some. The real danger, however, is that fear can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By dwelling on the negative feelings associated with a past failure, you subconsciously call up the very behavior that caused it in the first place. Soon enough, you find yourself in the same snare. Stay-Slim Solution On the flip side, thinking positively can go a long way toward producing the results you want. "Tell yourself there's no such thing as failure," Rydin-Gray says. "Some strategies work well, others don't. It's not a strike against your character, simply a sign you need to alter your behavior." In other words, quit berating yourself for succumbing to the bag of chips last night, and instead ask yourself what triggered the snack attack. Zeroing in on what led to the munchies is infinitely more constructive than focusing on your perceived inadequacies. Once you identify the factors surrounding your kerfuffle, you can find alternative ways to handle similar events in the future.

Fat Trap: You're Wary of Change
In our online survey, 44 percent of women said they felt nervous about being able to stick with a new diet and exercise program. We get it: You're a creature of habit, albeit bad habits. You'd rather stay true to your routine -- or lack thereof -- than test the waters with a new one. "It's possible to become used to a bad thing to the point of not wanting to let it go," Rosenfeld says. After all, accepting the label "overweight" or "out of shape" can become a kind of security blanket, lowering your expectations of yourself and what your body is capable of achieving. Stay-Slim Solution Changing your body for the better means stepping out of your comfort zone and taking a few risks. To help ease that nervous feeling, set a concrete timetable. Tell yourself you'll hold to the new program for three weeks; you can always go back to your old ways later. (We bet that once you start seeing the slimming results, you'll have a change of heart.) Another tip: Keep your eye on the big picture. "In your mind the risks have to be worth the payoff," Barth says. "If you want to trim down, you to have to try a new approach, because the way you've been living hasn't been working." Make yourself a priority; find exercise that inspires you. Love your body as it is right now and you'll respect and appreciate it more.

Weight-Loss Reality Checks Fat Trap: Success Makes You Anxious

Sure, we say we want the abs of a Marine and cellulite-free thighs, but deep down the idea of having a perfect body can be unnerving. Why? In part because we attach additional outcomes to weight loss -- a glamorous new career, a date with Mr. Hot and Tempting -- and then stress about whether we can really get everything we want. Truth is, you won't hatch a whole new world just because you're thinner. What's more, "if you've been trying to drop pounds for a while, it may be anticlimactic when you reach the desired number," Rosenfeld cautions. "People are goal-oriented. If you're no longer striving toward something, there's a sense of, Now what?" Stay-Slim Solution Reality check: "There are no magical outcomes from losing weight," Barth says. Being slimmer will not make you richer or smarter. It may, however, reinvigorate your heart and lighten your stride, so you can sprint past the finish line in half the time.

Fat Trap: You Can't Face Your Feelings
Losing weight is hard, but it can be even harder to deal with the reason you put on pounds in the first place. In fact, 52 percent of women say that focusing on their weight problem distracts them from other negative issues in their lives, whether it's a bad relationship, an unsatisfying job, or overdue bills. Compared with confronting an unhappy marriage, losing 10 pounds can seem downright...pleasant. The difficulty is, once you shed the weight, you're forced to see that your size wasn't the source of your misery after all, and the pounds quickly pile back on. Stay-Slim Solution "If you've been overeating as a way to cope with a job you hate or a partner who isn't compassionate, you'll still be sorting through those feelings when you're thinner," Barth says. What you need is another outlet for your emotions. Exercise may be nature's perfect antidote: It boosts endorphins, lowers stress, and helps you look better naked. And there's a workout ideally suited to remedy any bad day. Coworker stole your idea? Throw some left jabs in kickboxing class. Mother-in-law criticized your parenting? Strike a child's pose in yoga. Lonely? Sign up for a recreational adult sports team. Exercising, like eating, will not fix whatever is broken in your life. But at least it'll keep you on a healthier road while you figure things out. Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2010.


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