"Instead of working individual muscles, choose exercises that target more than one muscle group at a time," says Kathy Smith, developer of The Matrix Method: Ultimate Sculpt DVD. Multi-muscle moves, such as lunging while pressing weights overhead or doing a squat with a biceps curl, are more time-efficient and burn more calories than single-muscle-group training. Plus, when you work arms and legs simultaneously, you’re using your core muscles as stabilizers, so your abs (a prime 40-plus problem area) get worked, without crunches.
To rev your metabolism, practice cardio-acceleration: short, intense bursts of cardio in between strength-training exercises, suggests Jackie Warner, author of 10 Pounds in 10 Days. “A great way to do this is to complete 100 to 200 jump-rope rotations between resistance-training moves.”
Before you begin pounding the pavement or hoisting heavy weights, warm up with three to five minutes of brisk self-massage, suggests says Jill Miller, creator of Yoga Tune Up, a fitness therapy program popular with stars like Kyra Sedgwick. “Use therapy balls or a foam roller to create friction, heat and circulation in parts of your body that are being targeted for your next workout. The self-massage will help to lengthen stagnant tissues and load the muscles with oxygen-rich blood. This preps them to be aware and responsive.” For a sample foam roller routine, click here.
Beginners need to start with light weights. But if you’re still using the same weight you’ve been lifting for years, now’s the time to increase it. Don’t worry about bulking up. "In fact, the more you lift, the leaner and smaller you will be, because muscle is more compact than fat," says Kathy Kaehler, author of Fit and Sexy for Life. Start with eight reps of an exercise, using a weight that’s slightly heavier than you’re used to. As soon as you can comfortably complete 12 reps, increase the weight the next time you work out.
If you really want to strengthen your midsection, get off your back: Training your core while standing may be more effective, according to a presentation at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 14th-Annual Health and Fitness Summit. Vertical training challenges your body in more realistic ways, says presenter Dixie Stanforth, PhD, professor of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas at Austin. “What do you have to do during the day that has you lie on your back and flex your spine?,” asks Stanforth. “Not much! But you use your core to be able to bend, twist and move in all planes of motion. Training vertical teaches you to turn on the deep stabilizing muscles of the core (both abs and back) so that you can move freely, with a reduced risk of injury.” For a routine that attacks your core from every angle, try this resistance workout.
Try a new activity, class, or machine to shake your muscles out of complacency. The more you repeat a certain activity, the more efficient your muscles become, so you burn fewer calories. Can’t sever your attachment to the treadmill? Change the incline to increase intensity and vary the movement: "You get the same results from a three-mile-per-hour walk on a treadmill at a six percent incline—and get the same calorie burn—as from running on a flat surface at a quicker pace," says Douglas Brooks, an exercise physiologist in Mammoth Lakes, California.
"When you move through weight-training exercises too quickly, you’re using momentum instead of muscle to lift the weight," says Wayne Westcott, PhD, fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA, in Quincy, Massachusetts. This not only decreases the effectiveness of the exercise but also increases the risk of joint injury. "Aim to do a set—eight to 12 reps—in a little over a minute, about six seconds per rep," he says. Slowing your pace can also be an intensity technique: By adding a one- to two-second pause in the fully contracted position, or the "top" of the move, "You’ll get stronger fast," says Westcott, whose research on superslow lifting showed 50 percent strength gains.
"Other than living in a lab, wearing a body monitor is the best way to know what’s going on with your personal metabolism, sleep patterns and caloric burn," says trainer Chalene Johnson, author of PUSH. "When I started wearing one just a few years ago I was shocked by how much I was overestimating my calorie burn in certain exercises and underestimating my daily activity rate. The information allowed me to restructure my workout schedule to get the most bang for my buck! Although there are less expensive and less technical options out there, the Bodybugg, which is worn by contestants on The Biggest Loser, is my current pick. I fell in love with its technology and the level of customer support.”
Click here to read our review of 5 health trackers that really work.
If you’re not doing any strength training, start now. If you are, ramp it up. "Between ages 30 and 50, women can lose 10 pounds of muscle mass. For every pound of muscle you drop, you lose the ability to burn 35 to 50 calories a day," says Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body for Life for Women. "This means you have to take in 300 to 500 fewer calories a day if you don’t want to gain weight. But if you strength train with intensity, you build muscle and preserve your ability to eat with a little more freedom."
Schedule in five minutes a day of full-body flexibility. Tight muscles can interfere with your ability to get a good workout because you may not move as quickly or freely, and thus may burn fewer calories.
"Pick an activity you enjoy, whether it’s soccer, golf, rock climbing, or cycling, and you have a built-in motivation to do more of it because you’ll want to improve your skills for your sport," Brooks says. "If you’re excited about something, you’re motivated to become proficient at it and to do it more frequently, which will translate into results."
If you want to maintain a strong skeleton, add jumping exercises to your repetoire. A study from Oregon State University found women who did both lower and upper body resistance training along with jumping exercises three times a week for a year had higher bone density levels in their hips and spine compared to those who didn’t exercise. Jumping generates the quick, intense strain that bones need to become stronger. If you don’t have a history of knee injuries, fractures or a family history of osteoporosis, doing 40 to 50 vertical jumps or skipping rope for a few minutes can be one of the quickest and most effective ways to increase bone density, especially in premenopausal women.
Reaching your target heart rate, which is typically between 60 to 70 percent of your max to burn fat and within 75 to 80 percent to increase endurance, is recognized as the best way to achieve an effective aerobic workout. However, the way to calculate your maximum heart rate (and thus your target heart rate) has changed. According to a recent report in Circulation, the previous formula (220 minus your age) was derived from research on men and results in a max heart rate that's too high for women. The new calculation (206 minus 88 percent of your age) would lower a 40-year-old woman's peak rate about nine beats a minute, making it easier for her to reach and maintain her target heart rate, say researchers.
To perform better in the heat, cool down before you warm up. Research shows that lowering your body temperature prior to exercise increases the amount of heat your body can tolerate, which delays fatigue. The best way: Slowly sip a flavored ice slushie starting 30 minutes before you exercise. Athletes who did this before running on a treadmill in hot room ran an average of 10 minutes longer than those who drank cold, flavored water, according to a 2010 study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Because the runners’ bodies had to convert the slushies from ice to water, they may have transferred more heat to the drink rather than store it internally where it would have raised their core temperatures, say researchers.
A crop of new research studies finds that not only does static stretching not prevent injuries when done before exercise, but it may actually hinder your performance. "There is a neuromuscular inhibitory response to static stretching," says Malachy McHugh PhD, director of Research Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma, which makes stretched muscles less reponsive for about 30 minutes afterward. What's better? A five to 10-minute dynamic warmup that consists of continuous movements—such as walking lunges, straight-leg marches and arm windmills—will increase body temperature, heart rate and blood flow and gradually prepare muscles for action. When golfers did this type of warmup, they had greater swing speeds and their balls flew faster, and soccer players sprinted 20 meters faster, according to studies published in The International Journal of Sports Medicine and the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, respectively.
If you’re already a java junkie, it’s not only ok to imbibe some cofee before you exercise, it may also boost your performance, says Susan M. Kleiner, PhD, RD, owner of High Performance Nutrition. The caffeine jolt will make your workout feel easier, so you can train harder for a longer period of time, increasing your endurance. And you don’t need much to get a performance-enhancing benefit: 1.3 mg per pound body weight should do it. If you weigh 150 pounds, that’s only 195 mg of caffeine. The average 8 oz. cup of brewed coffee contains 80-100. However, if you’re not a caffeine-user or you’re trying to get off the wagon, then I don’t recommend starting to drink coffee before your runs, says Kleiner.
Increase the intensity (not the duration) of your cardio workouts. Try high-intensity interval training (HIIT), in which you alternate between hard and easy efforts. Studies show that people who incorporate HIIT into their workouts lose twice as much weight as those who don’t.
There are many adult sports leagues that range from beginner to advanced. Form a team with your friends and you can play any sport from basketball to softball to dodgeball all year long. You’ll also open yourself up to meeting other people who are just as interested in being fit as you are.
If you don't think about your workouts as an appointment, you won't fit them in. Either carve out the same times every week and stick to that schedule or, if you don’t have a set routine, plan a week or even a month ahead.
When you’ve stuck to your workout goals for a month straight, it’s only natural to want to reward yourself. Just don’t do it with food, says Keller. Instead, treat yourself to something you want more, such as a massage or new party dress. "Deprivation is a real downer, but having a system of rewarding yourself for healthy behaviors will help reinforce it for you," says certified wellness coach Jackie Keller.
A cute dress can motivate you as much as a bikini. Keep an article of clothing that you’re dying to wear out—and look fabulous in—visible, says Keller. The daily reminder with help you stick to your dietary goals.
If you want to see fitness results, you have to dial in your nutrition, says Warner. “I suggest my clients keep a food journal and write down what they eat seven days of the week. Find a program you like online or can access through your smartphone, such as FitOrbit.com. In one study, researchers found that those that wrote down what they ate lost nearly double the amount of weight as those who didn’t track their daily diet. Journaling also clues you in on eating patterns that may be causing weight gain.”
If the body’s cells don’t get enough water, they become less efficient," says Brooks. Drink three to four ounces of water every 15 or 20 minutes during your workout and try to sip frequently throughout the day.
“When you reach 40, it becomes harder for your muscles to recover from exercise and you need more protein to assist in the repair process,” says Lisa Dorfman, RD and sports nutritionist. Try to eat about half your body weight in protein grams every day.
Women who sit for more than three quarters of the time they’re awake are 85 percent more likely to die in 12 years than those who move the most, regardless of how much either group exercises or smokes, according to a recent study. Even for workout nuts, a life spent largely in a chair may pose some surprising dangers, such as increased risks for heart disease and diabetes, say scientists working in the relatively new field of “inactivity physiology.” If your workday is largely sedentary, stay active by standing when you talk on the phone, using the stairs whenever possible, and walking to coworkers’ desks instead of emailing them.
Find a workout buddy to help keep you on track. Or, join a healthy-focused online community, such as , where you can swap ideas and updates with other motivated members. Research shows you'll be more likely to stick to your workouts.
When setting goals, don’t set yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations. “One important piece of advice I give my clients is to not feel overwhelmed when they are starting a training plan,” says Joy Di Palma, a Los Angeles-based personal trainer and founder of Core Conditioning CrossFit. “It took them some time to put on the weight or fall out of shape and it will take some time to lose the weight and get back in shape.” If you want to slim down for a specific event, allow enough time in advance of the event to get ready for it. “On average, you can safely lose one to two pounds per week with the right foods and exercise,” says Di Palma. “There are no quick fixes—it takes time and discipline.”