As a fitness professional, I’m frequently asked questions about how to create the “best” workout. It seems that we’re constantly bombarded with conflicting information on how to achieve the body of our dreams. Is cardio the best way to blast fat, or is greater lean body mass through strength training the key? How much time should we be devoting to exercise to see and feel a difference? Should we stick with a routine, or try new and different things?
The answer is quite simple. A great workout combines cardio, strength training, and core work, keeps you moving at all times, and can be done in less than an hour. The key is to keep moving. When you’re fatigued from one set of exercises, quickly move on to the next. This is an active recovery technique that helps burn more calories, and it can be implemented in a variety of ways. If you’re in the gym, aim for a circuit of 3-4 strength training exercises in 5-10 minutes, then move on to core work for 2-3 minutes, then switch to cardio for 5-10 minutes. If you’re exercising outdoors, try to push yourself more during shorter cardio segments. When you need a break, try to do squats, lunges, push-ups and tricep dips until you’re ready to resume your cardio.
If you’re feeling out of breath, slow down and focus more on core work. If your arms are really tired, try some cardio to give your upper body a break. The more variety you can bring to the workout, the better. Listen to your body and take breaks when you need them, and stop if you feel faint, sick, or dizzy.
A dynamic workout that incorporates lots of different movements is the best way to fight both mental and physical boredom and fatigue, and you’ll find that switching up your routine actually challenges you more. You’ll be more likely to push through plateaus and work harder if you commit to short bursts of more challenging exercises. Instead of running on the treadmill for long periods of time, try to break your cardio up into 3-5 minute bursts. You’ll be more likely to push yourself if you know you’ll be moving on to something new in a few short minutes.
Two useful tools to help you monitor the quality of your workout are a heart rate monitor and your own rate of perceived exertion. A heart rate monitor tracks how many calories you burn during your workout, so you can actually see the effects of the exercises you’re doing, and increase your efforts as needed. It’s a great way to see just how well a circuit training workout can be. By asking yourself how challenged you are, on a scale of 1-10, you can keep yourself honest about how you’re feeling. Begin by rating yourself during your current workout routine. Check in with yourself frequently on a scale of 1-10 and track the calories expended with your monitor. Aim to increase your own personal number by 1-2 levels, and try to increase the calories burned each time. Proceed slowly, and be mindful of how you feel 24-48 hours post-workout. If you feel reasonably sore, you’re on the right track. If you can barely move, you’ve probably pushed it a bit too far and should scale back, and if you don’t feel anything, try to push it a bit more during your next session.
As far as total time devoted to your workouts, try to set reasonable expectations. Each week, take a look at your calendar, reserve time in your schedule for exercise, and make it a priority. Fifty-five minutes is ideal and should include strength training moves to work your upper and lower body, lots of mat work for the core, and intense, challenging cardio bursts. If you only have 30 minutes, make it a challenging, fast-paced workout rather than skipping it because it’s not “enough.” Some exercise is always better than none at all, and you’re worth it!