Best fitness hacks to get in shape for summer
Whether you go to the gym four times a week, or just squeeze in the odd run, there are workout tweaks you can make right now that will fire up your muscles and metabolism, giving maximum results for minimum effort. ‘Huge impacts can be seen with small changes to your routine that force your body to work harder,’ says personal trainer James Duigan, who hones the physiques of Lara Stone and Pippa Middleton. ‘Be realistic – any new changes you introduce need to be straightforward and easily done between social and work commitments or you won’t stick with them. The key is learning to work out smarter, make every minute count and push your body to get the best possible results in the shortest amount of time.’ Here’s how…
Fitness blend every week
Whether you’re into running, lifting weights or yoga, aim for a ‘fitness blend’ of 2-3 exercises a week to see lasting results, rather than focusing on just your favourite one. Blends should ideally combine complementary exercises. ‘Running can lead to tight hips and ankles, so yoga will help counter this, enabling you to work harder in the long run,’ says fitness trainer Lee Mullins from London’s Workshop Gymnasium. ‘If yoga is your thing, include a weekly weights class. While the former helps increase mobility and flexibility, the latter promotes strength and stability. Ballet enthusiasts will have a lot of stress on the knees and ankles, so get in some low-impact cardio, such as swimming, to raise your heart rate with minimum stress on the body. Those who cycle or spin
regularly will be prone to dense muscle tissue in the legs and increased stiffness in the hips. A monthly massage will help lengthen out the hips and the muscle fibres in the legs so they don’t become too tight or big.’ Getting into the habit of blending your exercises every week will make you stronger, fitter and your workouts more effective
with minimum strain and injury.
Use your own body weight
Harnessing your own weight for resistance, rather than using weights
or machines, is one of the biggest fitness trends this season. ‘It’s great for toning and allows for a broader range of movement, plus it’s free
and you can do it anywhere as you
don’t need bulky weights or gym equipment,’ explains personal trainer Matt Roberts, the man responsible for devising short, sharp and easily transportable routines for Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife, Samantha. ‘It’s also a fantastic weight workout to introduce after cardio like running or cycling
Get into the habit of tacking these five exercises onto the end of your usual routine to see a real difference in your endurance and body shape.
Aim to do 10 reps of each and build up from there.
• For abs: Lie on your back. Place your hands on the floor on either side and raise your legs up in the air in front of you. Slowly lift them up and down as many times as you can.
• For core and shoulders: Do a push-up. Get into the position with your hands just over shoulder-width apart and in line with your chest
(not your shoulders), keeping the body in a straight line. Contract your stomach muscles and lower yourself down and back up again.
• For an all-muscle workout: Try a burpee. Start in a push-up position, then jump your feet towards your hands, stand straight up with
your hands in the air and jump. Land with your weight equally distributed between your feet. Then place your hands on the floor beside your feet, jump back into
the start position and repeat.
• For your bottom and stomach: Squat – stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold your arms out in front of you. Keep
your weight in your heels and lower yourself until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Stick your bottom out. Push up through your heels to the starting position and repeat.
• For legs: Lunge – standing up straight, step forward and lunge
with one leg so your front shin is perpendicular to the floor. Push
up with the front leg and return to the start. Repeat with the other leg.
Eat smart on training days
How many great workouts are let down by bad eating habits? And yet, the right diet is the key to burning calories and reaching your fitness goals. If your main motivation is weight loss, skip eating breakfast on a gym morning. A study published in The Journal of Physiology found that switching your breakfast time to after your workout session can help boost fat burning. If you need a little pre-workout snack, eat an apple and a spoonful of peanut butter. Apples are full of quercetin, which helps improve energy metabolism.
The result? Better endurance in the gym. A good mix of fat, protein and fibre, peanut butter encourages slow-release energy. It’s also an excellent source of niacin and folic acid. These aid the body in converting food to energy, intensifying your workout. Add a handful of raisins a few minutes before you start training as well – researchers from the University of California gave study participants either raisins, sports energy sweets or water, then got them to run a 5k.
The raisin-eaters ran a minute faster than the others. Post-workout, get stuck into cherries.
According to boffins at the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sport, these juicy, red treats contain anthocyanins, which reduce muscle inflammation and post-workout pain, meaning you’ll be more inclined to go back to the gym the following day.
Make a ‘lean & clean’ coffee an hour before exercising, advises Duigan. ‘Caffeine will give you the motivation to get to the gym and the energy to work out for longer, plus it accelerates fat burning. Add a teaspoon of coconut oil or organic butter instead of milk to increase the effects.’
The American College of Sports Medicine recently found that drinking coffee in this way an hour before exercise increases endurance, while another study from The Australian Institute of Sport revealed that caffeine before a workout triggers the muscles to start using fat as an energy source rather than carbohydrates, leading to accelerated fat loss. Research also shows drinking coffee after a workout boosts levels of glycogen, your muscle’s fuel source.
Visualise the burn
Don’t roll your eyes – it’s a fact: you are what you think. Scientists at Ohio University have discovered that thinking about your muscles before or during exercise can actually make them stronger. ‘Before every training session, I get clients to do a minute of breathing where they set their intentions for the next hour,’ says Duigan. ‘This involves breathing deeply and thinking about what they want to achieve – be it burning calories, feeling stronger or running a faster 10k. I’ve witnessed how this increases the effectiveness of their workout and creates a neural flow between the mind and the muscles.’ Dr Jeff Breckon, a psychologist in exercise and sport from Sheffield Hallam University, adds, ‘Our mindset is incredibly powerful in relation to exercise, from the distraction method, where you use music or stunning scenery to distract you from the pain of exercise, to the enjoyment factor – if you exercise with friends, natural competitiveness will spur you on.
Then there’s wearable technology that gives you a sense of accomplishment by setting small, attainable goals. ‘There’s a saying that goes, “Running is 80 per cent mental”, but I think your mind’s ability to help your body do better could be even higher than that.’