Ten reps. Three sets. Rest one minute. Wake up when you're done.
Your high school football workout really isn't the best way to trim those love handles. It may have helped pack on the muscle back then, but now that you're fighting fat, too, you need to switch things up.
But more than just your routine in the gym, fat loss includes healthful eating. So while it's definitely important to get your body moving, you also need to bring your focus to the kitchen.
Most traditional exercise regimens are geared toward bodybuilding or cardiovascular conditioning only. They're not based on the best science available.
Mark Mogavero, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and owner of Mogavero's Fitness Innovations
Start in the Kitchen
There's no way around it: If you fuel yourself improperly, you won't make the progress you want. Vigilance over every meal is necessary to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.
If you want an easy way to watch what you're eating, keep a food journal. After all, gyms have mirrors on the walls to help you check that your exercise form is proper. Likewise, your food journal will ensure that your eating habits are proper.
In fact, a food journal is mandatory for the first two weeks of training with Matt Blades, a certified personal trainer and owner of Fitness-N-Fun in Apopka, Fla.
"[My clients] have all said how much they learned about their habits, caloric values, portion sizes and making better choices," Blades says. "I have heard it described as a real eye-opener on numerous occasions."
For the sake of convenience, you might choose to record your meals on your mobile phone with an app like LIVESTRONG.COM's MyPlate Calorie Tracker.
Of the foods that should not be showing up in your food journal, what are the first ones that should get the ax? French fries and soft drinks, says Ruth Frechman, registered dietitian and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Instead of fries, choose fruit. Like fries, you can eat a lot of blueberries per serving — but without the guilt. A 3.5-ounce serving of blueberries contains 1 milligram of sodium, compared with the 230 milligram in french fries. The high sodium content in fries can cause your body to retain more water, making it harder to see positive results in the mirror.
And abandon soft drinks. On average, an eight-ounce serving contains 100 calories and 28 grams of sugar. Those sugars can trick your body into thinking it has plenty of energy available, causing it to store the excess sugars as fat. Juices, sports drinks and alcohol can be just as unhealthy.
HIIT the Gym
Once you begin fueling your body the right way, get evaluated by a fitness professional to identify which muscle groups are underdeveloped and which are too stressed.
Focusing on strengthening weaker areas can lead to quicker gains — and more motivation, says Mark Mogavero, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of Mogavero's Fitness Innovations in Pine Brook, NJ.
Begin each workout with a five-minute, active warm-up. Start by loosening your muscles with a foam roller. Then string together a series of "big body movements," such as partial squats and lunges, to ease your body into workout mode, says Robert Gillanders, a Washington, DC-based physical therapist.
Next, dive into the meat of your workout. Elevate your heart rate and keep it up by quickly transitioning between resistance exercises. Keep in mind that doing three sets of this and three sets of that, with more than a minute's rest between each set, does not achieve this goal. And grinding out 45 minutes on a treadmill isn't very efficient either.
"Most traditional exercise regimens are geared toward bodybuilding or cardiovascular conditioning only," Mogavero says. "They're not based on the best science available."
And that science says fast-paced, high-intensity weight or resistance training causes the body to continue burning calories long after you've left the gym, unlike traditional cardio. So unless you're training for a marathon or competitive cycling, don't focus only on the treadmill and stationary bike.
5 Tips to Burn More Fat at the Gym
Plan before you go into the gym. Give yourself 30 minutes to perform as many exercises as you can and keep moving between sets. Keep your heart rate up without exhausting your muscle groups, says Mogavero.
- Stay focused. Don't bounce around according to what's available. Mix up lifts that work your lower body, upper body and core. Switch exercises to hit different areas, but keep the same order: lower, upper, core.
For example, start by doing a set of walking lunges with dumbbells. Then transition to push-ups or overhead shoulder presses. For your core, perform a mixed set of planks or side planks.
If you can, stay away from machines and stick to free weight. The generic designs of weight machines may force you into improper form, says Mogavero.
After 30 minutes, use your active warm-up as your cool-down. Then hit the foam roller again for a final loosening of your muscles.
- Drop your old habits. Log your meals, ditch the treadmill, get moving every day — and don't even think about trying to avoid training by claiming you have no time. There's always time.
How to Overcome Workout Excuses
A weak excuse will sap the energy from your fitness routine if you let it. Mark Mogavero, a certified strength and conditioning specialist who owns Mogavero's Fitness Innovations, can help you work through some of the more common excuses.
EXCUSE: I don't have any energy to work out. "You're always going to feel better after a workout than before. Just start moving; then you will feel good enough to keep going," Mogavero says. "Even if you're working half as hard as usual, you're still getting somewhere."
EXCUSE: I'm traveling. A midweek business trip is no excuse to ignore your hours of hard work. Pack resistance bands or a door-frame suspension system, suggests Mogavero. They're lightweight and won't fill your suitcase.
EXCUSE: I have no idea how to start. Ten minutes a day is better than absolutely nothing, says Mogavero. Ten minutes of work won't heal shed 25 pounds, but it's a start. A few quick body-weight exercises — push-ups, planks, squats and lunges — will help get your blood flowing each morning.