Spring is here, folks.
And while the notoriously unreliable British weather means we’re not quite ready to part with our coats just yet, it’s likely the change in season has got you thinking about kickstarting your fitness regime and dropping those stubborn pounds you gained over Christmas.
But, with one in two of us admitting we don’t actually know what to do at the gym, what are the best exercises to ensure you make a meaningful difference?
Start by sorting your objectives, says Daria Kantor, founder and CEO of personal fitness smartphone app TruBe. “Some forms of exercise are better suited to achieving certain results,” she explains.
Whether it’s resistance training or more cardiovascular activities like running, be conscious to ensure you are exercising in a way which keeps your heart rate up and burns calories.
For instance, prioritise a short burst of high intensity interval training, which has a high energy expenditure, over gentle walking, explains Eric Bowling, a personal trainer at Ultimate Performance Fitness.
Here are the best activities you can choose to maximise weight loss during your designated workout time – from useful exercises you can do at the gym to ones you can do al fresco once the weather warms up.
“Running three or four times a week is an excellent way of establishing a sustainable fitness regime that can adapt to your schedule and ability to help you to reach your personal fitness goals,” says Kantor.
For those struggling to begin with running, try consulting the NHS Couch to 5K running guide, which includes a number of podcasts you can follow to kickstart your running journey.
Try to incorporate a mixture of low intensity steady state (MISS) and high intensity interval training (HIIT) in your running workouts, adds Bowling. This could look like one minute of sprinting on the treadmill followed by one minute of walking, on repeat.
Just 20 minutes of exercising in this way, three times a week, is a time-safe but effective alternative to longer aerobic sessions in order to achieve weight loss, one study found.
Lifting weights is a commonly overlooked means of weight loss – with many associating it with bulking up instead. However, research has found strength training to be a game changer for reducing fat and increasing your metabolism.
To maximise the benefits, Bowling recommends “supersets” – a type of training where two different exercises are combined for maximum benefits, typically one which focuses on upper body and one on lower body.
For instance, try combining a bench row – which works the arms and chest through leaning over a bench and slowly pulling a dumbbell towards your chest – with a set of weighted squats, which work your lower body.
Another good combination is a triceps dip – which involves first sliding yourself off a bench with your legs extending out while supporting your weight with your arms behind you, then lifting yourself up and down – with a deadlift, which involves lifting a loaded barbell off the ground to hip level and lowering down again.
Far from a trendy new workout, NEAT is actually the incidental exercise you’ve always been doing throughout your everyday life.
“NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis and it is the total amount of calories you burn from non-exercise related activity, like walking for example,” Bowling explains.
This type of exercise is not to be sniffed at – it can actually run into hundreds of calories for those who are active all day compared to those with more sedentary lifestyles.
“This can be the difference between you being in an energy deficit, where you will lose fat, and an energy surplus where you will gain fat.”
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Glued to your office chair or just best friends with your sofa? Whatever your lifestyle, there are always means to increase your NEAT calorie burn throughout the day, Bowling explains. Aim to walk 10,000 steps a day, he recommends – you can track this either on your smartphone or with a purpose-built fitness tracker.
“Make this activity more efficient by either walking at a faster pace, or alternatively factoring it into your day – such as walking the dog more frequently, taking work calls and meeting on foot, or using it as an opportunity to listen to a podcast.
If you hate running .– or have an injury that prevents you from doing it – cycling is a brilliant alternative to get cardiovascular exercise into your day.
“Cycling targets multiple muscles, speeds up your metabolism and effectively burns calories – all of which will get you one step closer to your fitness goals, whether they are weight loss, toning or improve energy levels,” says Kantor, who recommends doing it, like running, three to four times as week.
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What’s more, you don’t even have to treat it as a formal “workout” – as cycling to work can be just as effective for fat loss compared to doing it in your leisure time, according to one study.
Straightforward, free and tinged with nostalgia, skipping is an often-ignored form of cardio which can reap serious benefits.
Kantor recommends integrating just 10 minutes of skipping in four times a week – which is roughly equivalent to running an eight minute mile, and can burn up to 216 calories.
“Skipping is known to be one of the best forms of cardio and HIIT workouts there is and, as it helps improve endurance, balance, coordination and agility, helps improve fitness training across other disciplines too,” she says.