You've got a few pounds to lose, but climbing the stairs leaves you winded -- and your military fitness test, a hot date or your high-school reunion is only 10 days away. Getting into tip-top shape simply isn't possible in such a short time. In 10 days, you can safely lose a pound or two, maybe three, but you can't build a lot of stamina or substantial muscle. What you can do is jump start a program that helps you feel better and look healthier, so that when the next test or hot date rolls around, you'll be ready.
Improve Your Cardiovascular Fitness
Building cardiovascular fitness means a healthier heart, a stronger respiratory system and greater stamina. You'll need eight to 12 weeks of at least three workouts a week for 30 minutes or more to noticeably increase your aerobic capacity. Having greater aerobic capacity means you can work harder for longer before showing signs of fatigue.
If you're new to exercise or returning after a hiatus, you might feel a difference with only 15 minutes of moderate-intensity activity performed every other day during the 10 days. During your last few workouts, increase the duration so that in a few months you can work up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines of at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity cardio. But don't increase your exercise time by more than 10 to 20 percent each week, as this will increase your chance of injury.
Getting Stronger in 10 Days
Building enough muscle to look bigger and feel stronger won't happen in 10 days. The most muscle you can gain in a week is about 1/2 pound, and that's with concerted effort, which includes heavy weights and extra calories. If you're starting out, you can build relative strength rather quickly and you can see differences in muscle tone within a few weeks. But 10 days might not be enough time for such results to be noticeable to anyone except you.
Kick-start weight training, using bodyweight exercises and machines, which help maintain your form, especially during the first week or two. Address all the major muscle groups with compound, or multi-joint, exercises such as squats, lunges, chest presses, bicep curls, shoulder raises, tricep extensions, rows and crunches.
Do one set of eight to 12 repetitions. After 10 days, progress to free weights, with guidance from a fitness professional, and use heavier weights when 12 repetitions is doable. For greater gains, increase the number of sets and increase the weight over time.
Don't strength train every day for the 10 days and hope to see results. You'll risk injury and you aren't giving your body time for rest and recovery. Strength training breaks down muscle fibers, and if you don't give muscles time to repair, they can't grow stronger. Work your muscles on non-consecutive days -- aim for three sessions a week, at most.
Building Greater Fitness Levels
Once you've established a cardiovascular base over several months, exercising more often and at a higher intensity will yield greater health benefits. If you already exercise moderately, kick up your fitness by adding interval training to two or three of your cardio workouts during the 10 days. This involves alternating short spurts of high-intensity work with lower intensity work such as alternating 30 seconds of sprinting with 30 seconds of walking.
To improve your fitness level, your cellular structure and muscle memory needs to adapt, which takes several weeks. Avoid making your workouts longer and more intense during the 10 days, as this increases your chance of injury. Choose only one variable to change each week. For example, you could increase the intensity for the duration of your workout or you could work out at the same intensity but add 5 to 10 minutes to your workout time. Trying to exercise every day at an all-out effort only increases your risk of injury or burnout, and it won't enable your fitness level to progress.
To engage in a modest strength-training program to get you stronger and into true "shape" will take more than 10 days. Your gains taper off as your body becomes accustomed to working out, so you may require new exercises or need to perform them in a different order to experience a true fitness breakthrough. For example, a circuit in which you perform eight to 10 exercises in rapid succession for one or more rounds is one way to mix your weight training.
Clean Up Your Diet in 10 Days
A 10-day cleanup to your diet can do wonders toward enabling you to feel better and enjoy a higher fitness level. Eliminate processed foods such as white bread, soda, chips, cereal bars and candy. At meals, skip the white rice, pasta and fatty cuts of meat.
Instead, make your meals consist of fibrous vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Include fruits, low-fat dairy and unsaturated fats in moderation. For example, for breakfast, have eggs with vegetables sauteed in olive oil. For lunch, eat a large green salad with chick peas, pumpkin seeds, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. For dinner, have brown rice with seared salmon and steamed broccoli. Use spices, herbs and citrus juice for seasoning. Stay hydrated with plenty of water or herbal tea, and snack on nuts, fresh fruit or low-fat yogurt.
This whole-foods diet can help you reduce any excess fluid retention that weighs you down and makes you feel sluggish or heavy. The nutrients support the high energy levels necessary for cardio, and the quality proteins augment your muscle-strengthening work at the gym.
- University of Colorado Hospital: Training for Cardiovascular Fitness
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
- CNN: How Should I Eat to Build Muscle Mass?
- American Council on Exercise: Strength Training 101
- The Journal of Physiology: Physiological Adaptations to Low-Volume, High-Intensity Interval Training in Health and Disease