Saturday, March 28, 2009
Fitness Rules You Should Break
Unlike wine, cheese, and Clive Owen, workout strategies don't get better with age. That's because each year, fitness researchers release thousands of studies that challenge conventional thinking—or at least shed light on ways to tweak it. We've identified nine stale fitness approaches and sifted through the latest research to come up with surprising updates that will land you a scorching body ASAP.
Position your hands shoulder-width apart
You often see this in instructions for upper-body moves like bench presses and lat pulldowns. Why? Because it gives you a stable starting point. But that doesn't mean you need to stay there set after set. "Spreading your hands a few inches farther out stresses more of the inner portion of your biceps; bringing your hands in a few inches builds more of the outer part," says New York City personal trainer Steve Lischin, M.S. Switch up your position after every set for balanced strength and overall tone.
Crunches for a flat belly
Turns out Pilates abdominal moves are superior to crunches for sculpting your midsection and uncovering those abs, according to a study at Auburn University at Montgomery, in Alabama. An exercise called "The Teaser" is especially effective. It activates 39 percent more of your rectus abdominus muscle (that's your six-pack) and 266 percent more of your external obliques (your love handles). To do it: Lie face-up on a mat. Lift your legs so your thighs are perpendicular to the floor, and your knees are bent 90 degrees. Raise your hands toward the ceiling. Lift your torso and straighten your legs, so your body forms a V. Hold for one second, then slowly roll back down, keeping your legs raised. Do eight to 10 reps.
Squats=a perfect bum
To flaunt that sexy bikini bottom by your "when-will-winter-end?" beach getaway, try doing hip extensions instead of squats. The move hits 55 percent more of your hamstring muscle and 79 percent more of your glute muscle, according to a study by the American Council on Exercise. To do it: Get on your hands and knees. Keeping your knees bent, lift your right heel toward the ceiling, then lower it back down to the starting position. Do 12 reps, then repeat on the other side.
Eat lots of extra protein for less jiggle and more tone
While it's true that protein is a vital muscle food, your body can use only so much of it. "Any extra protein calories you take in will be stored as fat," says Molly Morgan, R.D., owner of Creative Nutrition Solutions in Vestal, New York. "As a general rule, remember that 20 percent of your calories should come from protein." So if you're eating an 1,800-calorie diet, try to shoot for a maximum of 360 calories, or 90 grams, of protein each day. Low-fat milk and chicken are all good sources of lean protein.
CONTINUED: Up-down-up-down. Repeat.
Instead of raising and lowering a weight (or your body weight) in one continuous motion, pause for a second about halfway up, continue the movement, then pause again about halfway down. "In a set of eight to 12 repetitions, you'll add only an extra 16 to 24 seconds to each set, but you'll exhaust your muscles," Lischin says. Translation: You'll fry more fat without sucking much more time out of your schedule.
Watch yourself in the mirror while you work out
While the occasional glance at your reflection to check form is a good idea, for exercises that involve balance, such as the one-legged squat, you'll get a bigger boost if you face away from the mirror and close one eye. Doing so activates neural pathways between your brain and your muscles that you don't otherwise use. "That forces your body to establish better balance," says Carter Hays, C.S.C.S., a speed and strength coach at D1 Sports Training and Therapy in Franklin, Tenn.
Burn the most calories with cardio
According to a recent University of Southern Maine study, 30 minutes of weight training burns as many calories as running at a blazing six-minute-per-mile pace for the same amount of time. (And it has the bonus of building more muscle tone than running.) What's more, unlike aerobic exercise, lifting weights has been shown to boost metabolism for up to 39 hours after you finish your last rep. Interval training—short, all-out sprints interspersed with periods of rest—has yielded similar benefits. For optimal results, do a total-body weight-training workout three days a week, resting at least a day between sessions, and do intervals on at least two of the off days.
Rest between sets
"Less rest increases your calorie burn and adds a cardio component to strength training," says New York City personal trainer Lindsay Dunlap, N.A.S.M. Try supersets: two exercises performed back to back. For example, you might do a set of pushups immediately followed by a set of seated cable rows, then rest a minute before repeating.
Weigh yourself daily for motivation
The scale measures water and muscle, too. It's not a great indicator of fat loss. For a better—and more, um, hands-on—progress report, place your fingers on your belly and inhale deeply so that it expands. As you exhale, contract your abdominal muscles and push your fingertips against your hard abdominal wall. Now pinch. "You're holding pure fat," says Tom Seabourne, Ph.D., co-author of Athletic Abs (Human Kinetics, 2003). Do this every day, 30 minutes before your workout, and you'll likely find that you rarely decide to skip a session.