Old rule: Any kind of aerobic exercise helps you lose belly fat.
New rule: Going harder nets you better results.
The science: Working up a serious sweat seems to produce metabolic changes that help you burn fat faster. A study reported in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise compared two groups of women whose exercise routines burned the same number of calories per week. Those who combined three days of high-intensity jogging or walking with two days of low-intensity cardio lost almost two more inches in their waists over three months than women who did low-intensity walking workouts five days a week. Similarly, an Australian study reported that alternating high-intensity and low-intensity moves within the same routine—a program known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT)—produced more fat loss in the abdomen than did working out at a steady pace.
The take-home: You can boost the intensity of your workouts by walking or running faster than you normally do, although HIIT is a great way to burn calories, says Jason Karp, PhD, author of Running for Women.
Old rule: When you’re training the abdominals, crunches are king.
New rule: The optimal way to improve core strength is to perform exercises that engage many muscles at once.
The science: The front abdominals are a major set of core muscles that are targeted by isolated moves such as crunches. But if you do full-body core exercises, such as planks, that require you to stabilize your body, you will strengthen the front abs effectively and also activate several other core muscles. That was the finding of a new study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that tested muscle activity in 16 core movements. The most effective of all were complex exercises with a balance component. In these, you hold your trunk steady in a plank position while moving your arms or legs.
The take-home: For a complex exercise that requires balance, try the mountain-climber plank. Begin in a plank position (with hands under shoulders), then bend one leg and move that knee toward the elbow on your opposite side. Return to your starting position, then repeat on the other side. Continue to shift between your right and left legs, maintaining a flat upper body.
Old rule: When you’re doing a squat, stop bending when your thighs are parallel to the floor.
New rule: Go as deep as is comfortable.
The science: Squats are an extremely efficient way to tone your lower body. But exercise experts have long discouraged doing them deeply because one 1960s study suggested that it can injure your knees. However, recent research has failed to find a strong association between deep squats and knee injuries in healthy individuals with no knee issues. What’s more, a review in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that doing squats with a deeper range of movement is particularly effective at strengthening the big muscles in your butt called the gluteals. “Full squats are a better way to build muscle,” concludes Brad Schoenfeld, director of the Human Performance Lab at CUNY Lehman College in the Bronx, New York. But avoid them if you’ve had any knee problems.
The take-home: Maintaining good form is the key to safely performing any kind of squat, Schoenfeld says. To keep your spine in the optimal alignment as you move up and down, gaze straight ahead or a little higher.
Want MORE? Sign up for our weekly newsletter here!