When you make the commitment to lose weight, it's natural to want to see results in a relatively short period of time. But if you want slimmer, more toned belly, arms and legs, then you need to stick to the right exercise plan, keep your diet in check and of course, have a little patience.
Here, you can find out how the right exercises and schedule — suggested by a certified personal trainer — can help you start to trim and tone your body in just a couple of months.
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Spot Reduction, Debunked
Newsflash: You can't specifically target your belly, arms and legs for fat loss — you lose weight proportionally and gradually all over your body, according to American Council on Exercise (ACE).
Although weight loss won't necessarily occur at the exact areas you find most troubling you can, however, perform exercises that will target those areas and build muscle, says Laura Giannone, RD, CDN.
Building more muscle is beneficial because muscle tissue — at rest — will burn approximately 6 calories daily per pound, while fat burns 2 to 3 calories daily per pound, per the National Council on Strength and Fitness. In other words, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.
For a Tighter Stomach
There are two types of belly fat: soft and hard.
Soft (subcutaneous) belly fat is underneath your skin — that's the kind you can pinch, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Then there's hard (visceral) belly fat, which sits deep in your abdominal cavity and surrounds internal organs.
Too much hard belly fat raises your risk of developing metabolic disturbances, cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes, per Harvard Health Publishing.
While abdominal exercises will strengthen those muscles, they won't burn the fat covering them. But you can burn belly fat (well, all fat!) by cutting calories combined with a good mix of cardio and total-body strength exercises. Belly fat reacts relatively quickly to these traditional measures, so you might notice a nice drop in your pant size in two months.
Exercise is even more effective when paired with a healthy diet. Download the MyPlate app to track your calories consumed and burned for a complete picture of your overall health.
5 Moves for Your Midsection
Laura Chapman, NASM-certified personal trainer and fitness-nutrition specialist shares the best belly-fat blasting and toning exercises with LIVESTRONG.com:
- Plank - Doing a plank helps improve core strength and stability, strengthens the abdominals, back and shoulders. Start with a 20-second plank; as you get more comfortable, hold it for as long as possible without compromising your form or breath.
- Leg raises – These work lower abs, as well as hip flexors. Do 3 sets of 15, or as many as you can.
- Russian Twist – This move will tone your core, shoulders, and hips. Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
- HIIT workouts – Incorporate high-intensity interval training into your regular exercise routine — these workouts are an excellent way to burn maximum amount of fat in a short period of time.
- Cardio – Aerobic exercise also torches calories, but should be supplemental to your strength-training workout routine. Power walking, jogging, swimming, elliptical and cycling are all good forms of cardio.
For Sculpted Arms and Legs
Arm and leg fat, which is the jiggly, subcutaneous type, will respond to the same weight-loss plan you use to lose belly fat. But, because soft fat is a little stubborn, it may take a little longer than two months see a significant difference.
Remember, you can bicep-curl and lunge at every workout, but no exercise directly burns off the fat from these areas. But by building muscle, you'll raise your metabolism and burns calories, which in turn helps get rid of fat.
The more muscles you have, the more calories you will burn during workouts, simply because you'll be able to lift heavier, work harder and work longer, Chapman notes.
To start building muscle, Chapman suggests these exercises:
Do at least 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps for each exercise.
- Chest Press – This compound exercise works your chest, shoulders and triceps — it can be done with a machine at the gym or with dumbbells.
- Shoulder Press – This is an important upper body movement if you want sculpted shoulders; the triceps work hard with this one too.
- Bicep Curl – An exercise for the elbow flexors, which comprise the biceps brachii, brachialis and brachioradialis.
- Triceps Kick Back – The triceps muscle has three heads that run from the shoulder blade and upper humerus to your forearm. Together, they work to extend your elbow and help extend your shoulder.
- Dumbbell Row – The main muscle group worked is the latissimus dorsi (lats); you also engage the entire back, shoulders and arms.
Do at least 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps for each exercise.
Dumbbell Squat – An excellent compound movement for strengthening the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thighs and the gluteus maximus in the buttocks; the hamstrings at the back of the thighs and the soleus in the calves act to stabilize as well. These are all large muscles and the squat exercise builds functional fitness.
Romanian Deadlift – This works your posterior chain, which includes your lower back, glutes and hamstrings. This move also involves core engagement, so you'll build strength and stability there, too. Can be done with dumbbells or weight bar.
Hip Thrust – This exercise works the gluteus medius, maximus and minimus, as well as the hamstrings, quads and adductors.
Lunges – Both forward and reverse lunges work your quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings, while your core and back stabilize.
A Sample Week
Now that you have some of the best exercises to follow, you may be wondering how to make an actual plan to stick to. Here is a schedule that you can use each week, courtesy of Chapman.
Monday: Legs (quads, glutes and hamstrings)
Tuesday: Chest, shoulders and abs
Wednesday: Back and biceps
Thursday: HIIT cardio and abs
Friday: Legs (quads, hamstrings, calves, hip abductors and adductors)
Saturday: Chest, shoulders, triceps
Sunday: Rest day or light cardio like a walk. Of course, if you're up to it, sneak in a HIIT workout or a jog. Listen to your body.
You can repeat this sample week eight times – or, vary it to suit your preferences. Chapman suggests that workouts be about an hour long.
If time is an issue, you can superset exercises (that is, perform moves back-to-back without rest in between) to shorten the workout.
Keep in mind, if you want to grow your muscles, you'll need to progressively overload them, Chapman says.
"You must continually make your muscles work harder than they're used to," she says. "Doing the same weight all the time won't change your body. Therefore, if you can lift 5 pounds for 12 to 15 reps with good form and no problem, then you should be able to go up in weight, to 8 or 10 pounds. Once that gets easy, you move up again."
Stick to the weekly plan above while upping your intensity and eating right (more on that below) to see real results in just a couple of months.
Don't Forget About Nutrition
Nutrition is key when it comes to shedding pounds and getting more toned.
To lose 1 pound of fat, you need to burn 3,500 more calories than you take in, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most people can create a deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week without eating too little and risking their nutritional intake, energy and quality of life. In two months, this will result in between 8 and 16 pounds lost.
Use an online calculator (like LIVESTRONG.com's MyPlate app) to figure out your daily calorie target and then start tracking your food.
You'll need to consider more than amount of calories you take in — the quality of the calories matters too. A balanced diet is the way to go. In other words, don't restrict any food group when you're trying to slim down, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Go with high-quality, nutritious foods like lean meats and fish, fruits and veggies, whole grains and good fats, while avoiding trans fats, added sugars and refined carbs (like white bread, white rice, white pasta).
It’s OK to treat yourself occasionally — a too-restrictive diet isn’t realistic for long-term goals.
Even if you don't seek to lose weight, keep in mind that healthy eating goes hand-in-hand with the right exercise plan in order to get beautifully sculpted muscles.
- American Council on Exercise: "Myths and Misconceptions: Spot Reduction and Feeling the Burn"
- National Council on Strength and Fitness: "A Pound of Muscle Burns 30-50 Kcal/Day, Really..."
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Taking Aim at Belly Fat"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Getting Back to Weigh-Loss Basics"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight"