We all want to be fit and healthy, but knowing how to get our bodies to that point is a totally different story.
Sure, we try to take the stairs instead of the elevator, snag the farthest parking spot in the lot (albeit begrudgingly), and tell ourselves to exercise more.
Yet more Americans are losing the battle of the bulge than ever.
The FOMO is real when you feel like everyone knows some giant secret about losing weight that you don’t.
Well, fear no more.
Whether you’re just starting a new fitness regime or trying to lose those last few stubborn pounds to reach your goal weight, we’ve rounded up the best-kept secrets about building your better body.
Maybe one of these tips will turn on the light bulb in your brain and lead to a breakthrough in your way of thinking or working out.
Planning Really Works
Do you schedule your workouts in marker and stick to them like business meetings or do you fit them in whenever you have free time?
“Studies show that people who have wiggle room in their mindset are more likely to maintain a regular exercise routine," Shavise Glascoe, exercise physiologist at the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, reveals to Health.com.
So set a minimum and maximum amount of days you want to work out during the week, Glascoe suggests. This way if you skip one day, you’ll still be able to make up for lost time and not feel as if you’ve ruined all progress.
And always stick to the two-day rule, which forbids you from skipping your workout more than two days in a row.
Your Diet Matters More than Your Workout
Your quest for a healthier, more attractive physique may start with your gym membership, but if you continue to swing by the drive-thru on the way home, your efforts will be all for nothing.
That’s because losing weight and getting in shape is 80% diet, 20% exercise.
If your diet is crap, you’ll just be working off what you’re eating instead of working off the excess fat you want to drop. You’ll notice weight loss results weeks earlier than those earned at the gym just by cleaning up your diet.
So get rid of all your junk food, processed white carbs, sugary veggies (hi, corn!) and replace them with high-quality protein, healthy fats, and lots of green leafy and cruciferous veggies.
Follow an eating plan you can honestly stick with (be it a Mediterranean, vegan, or ketogenic-based diet, just to name a few) and plan your meals out in advance.
Learn the difference between micro- and macronutrients—and how many of them you need for your body to perform at its peak.
Remember: food isn’t something to comfort you when you’re stressed or satisfy a craving; it’s fuel for your body to function correctly.
If your body’s begging for a nutritional overhaul, we know where you can find the best diet and health books.
You Literally Don’t Need All Those Supplements
Instead of spending your paycheck on supplements claiming to make you stronger, bigger, or a pretty unicorn, start purchasing whole foods and you’ll see all of those benefits naturally.
Supplements are designed to be additional—hence, supplemental—nutrients for your body. But if you’re feeding your body right (see above), your body won’t need anything extra.
You may be doing your best to buy organic foods and hormone-free animal products, but guess what? The supplement market is entirely unregulated by the FDA. Translation: You may be buying harmful ingredients or synthetic chemicals that may not be safe, let alone work.
But You May Need a New Workout Wardrobe
Truth: You don’t need new, expensive workout gear to start exercising.
But according to two Northwestern Researchers, Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky, who are responsible for coining the term “enclothed cognition”, our clothes have the ability to affect our thinking and behavior.
They split participants for their study into two groups: one wore lab coats while they performed tasks that required concentration while the other group didn’t wear anything special. They learned that the group wearing the lab coats did significantly better on the tests.
Adam and Galinsky believe it’s completely plausible to train better when you’re wearing the right gear to boost your confidence.
So find a few inexpensive-yet-awesome athletic pieces to add to your wardrobe and you’ll trick yourself into believing you’re unstoppable.
Don't Stay Up Late
Adam Bornstein says sleep is the number one most important thing for a better body in his article for Shape magazine.
That’s because not logging enough snooze time is directly correlated with muscle loss.
See, not only does muscle look better than fat on our body, muscle burns calories even when we’re at rest whereas fat just sits there looking gross. So naturally we all want more muscle on our bodies than fat.
Bornstein mentioned a Brazilian study that determined a lack of sleep:
Your body releases growth hormones that work like elves during your beauty sleep to repair your muscles and burn fat (among a zillion other tasks!). Cutting this time short never works out in your favor.
Poor sleep also messes with your cortisol levels. Too much of this stress hormone slows down the production of growth hormone so all those nighttime functions take longer to complete (if they happen at all).
When you figure out the best time of day to work out for your body, it’s easier to set a bedtime that works with your natural circadian rhythm, not against it.
You Don’t Need to Spend a Lot to Get Fit
Can’t afford that pricey gym membership? Don’t have enough cash to stock your basement with workout equipment? Personal trainer—ha!
There are tons of ways to exercise without spending any money.
Running, walking, and exercises that use your own body weight cost zilch.
Vacuuming, sweeping, and cleaning your grody bathroom all bring out the grunting of intense cardio activity. And grueling outdoor chores like mowing the lawn, raking leaves, and shoveling snow all give your body a workout while you cross tasks off your to-do list #multitasking.
Plus, let’s not forget how many exercise videos you can find for free on YouTube. You could literally follow a new video routine every day for the rest of your life and never pay a cent.
Sneak In Mini Workouts Throughout Your Day
Why limit your calorie burning to just your workout window?
Make it a point to do something active every hour of your day and you’ll see how much you can really accomplish for your body.
Try this: set an alarm on your phone for each hour you’re at work (or at home, the beach, etc.). When it goes off, get your tush moving for three whole minutes.
Knock out a few squats, walk around your campus, or climb a few stairs.
Keep a set of small dumbbells at your desk and pop out a few bicep curls to relieve your workday stress. Start planking during TV commercials.
Just DO something.
These small spurts of activity really add up towards achieving lasting results. The more you move, the easier it will be to stay active. A body in motion stays in motion, after all.
You Can (almost) Always Work Around an Injury
It’s not hard to let an injury sideline you from your daily dose of activity.
But you can always try working out different parts of your body that aren’t connected to your injury. Or seek out low-impact forms of exercise that may help heal your muscles, such as yoga or working out in the pool.
Only you can know when your body needs a legit rest, but make sure you’re not using it as an excuse to couch surf—kind of like knowing if you should skip a workout due to a cold, flu, or migraine.
Save Your Pickle Juice
Pickle juice may be your muscles’ newest BFF, especially if you’re prone to muscle cramps.
According to one study, when participants drank 1.5 ounces of pickle juice for every 100 pounds of body weight, they stopped their muscle cramps in a minute and a half—which was 36% faster than drinking water and 45% faster than doing nothing but writhe in agony.
“Pickle juice has about 20 times more sodium and eight times more potassium than a regular sports drink,” Molly Kimball, a registered dietitian, points out.
So drink a bit of pickle juice pre-workout to ward off muscle cramping or pack some in your gym bag in case you get struck mid-kickboxing class.
Recharge Your Run
Running your same route can become useless for your muscles after a while so when you stop seeing results, it’s time to switch it up.
Try adding a few 10–60 second sprints, or a wall sit every other corner to beef up your hamstrings, glutes, and quads.
To do one of these, just lean back against a lighting post, wall, tree, etc. with your feet spread shoulder-width apart. Squat until your knees bend at a 45 degree angle but don’t go past your ankles. Sit in position for 30–60 seconds and then slowly ease back up.
Work in as many as you can during your run.
You can also grab a pair of lightweight dumbbells and exercise your upper arms with bicep curls, side and front laterals, and shoulder presses too.
Find an Activity You Don’t Totally Despise
You’ll never be excited to work out if you hate the exercise your bestie encouraged you to start or whatever trending class is currently dominating your gym.
You have to like your chosen exercise or you’ll constantly make excuses to skip it like your dentist appointment.
Take a cue from Victoria’s Secret model Devon Windsor and don’t stop trying different activities until you find what works best for you. She admits to Vogue:
“I do lots of pilates and some shadow boxing, jumping rope. I’ve tried every workout class in New York City. Going to the gym and running on the treadmill is not for me. So yoga, boxing, everything, but mainly a mix of toning and cardio."
That Workout Playlist is Working
The perfect soundtrack can do everything from motivate you to throw on your gym clothes to push your body another ten minutes after your time’s up.
Turns out, “music has a consistent and measurable effect on the psychological state and behavior of exercise participants,” as one study published in the International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology notes.
According to scientists, music helps you exercise longer and harder. It also has the power to distract you from feeling fatigued or tired.
And that’s not all; a good pair of comfortable, lightweight gym headphones will only help your workout excel to the next level ;)
Lift Weights To Slim Down
Marta Montenegro, an exercise physiologist and adjunct professor of exercise and sports sciences at Florida International University, tells LiveStrong:
“One of the best tips I can give to anyone who wants to change the shape of their body is to lift weights. Specifically, lift heavy weights and perform multi-joint exercises such as deadlifts, squats, and push presses."
If your goal is to look toned and lose belly fat, "combine 20 minutes of high-intensity cardio and 20 minutes of strength training for your workout—you’ll be finished in just 40 minutes and be in the best shape of your life.”
She might be onto something!
Count Down Your Reps
If you need to do 15 reps in your set, don’t start the count at zero. Instead, start from 15 and work your way down.
This subconsciously motivates you to reach the finish line in sight instead of struggling to make it up the hill. It also helps with starting at higher weight classes for strength training.
But Wait, Won’t Strength Training Make Me Too Big?
There’s a widely-held belief that lifting weights and using weight machines at the gym will turn you into the Hulk overnight.
But ask any bodybuilder and they’ll say the same thing: I wish!
It takes years of lifting serious weights to become a bulky mass of muscle with less than 3% body fat.
The experts at Nerd Fitness put it simply:
“If you pick up heavy things, and eat a caloric deficit (and eat the right kinds of food—actual healthy foods), your muscles will get stronger and denser; you will burn the fat on top of your muscle, and you will get that “toned' look.”
Strength training is one of the best types of exercise for weight loss.
And unless you’re taking testosterone supplements and eating more calories than you’re burning, you’re going to get stronger and more toned, not bulkier.
Light weights won’t build huge muscles, but they will help you build endurance so they’re a good place to start. Picking up heavier weights as you get stronger will make flexing alongside your fave Instagram heroes come sooner than later. #fitspiration
Don’t Forget to Squeeze!
Whether you’re lifting weights or perfecting your leg extensions, it’s crucial that you squeeze your muscles when you reach the top of your movement.
"This isometric element makes a big difference," James Grage, co-founder and vice president of BPI Sports, informs readers at BodyBuilding.com.
Just squeeze as hard as you can for a second or two to reap the rewards of this strong contraction that cues your muscles to step it up.
If this push is too much for you to make it through your sets at first, hear what Mr. Olympia Phil Heath recommends:
“Constant tension should be applied to the last five reps of every working set, meaning, do the first 5-6 reps normal tempo, and the last few reps should be held for at least two seconds at the peak of the contraction.”
This gives your muscles more time under tension and lets you work different muscle fibers gradually.
Try to Avoid Favoritism
You may not realize it, but sometimes you show favoritism to your dominant side. Just saying.
When your dominant side is stronger, it’s easier to hold your yoga position on that side longer or lift heavier weights/do more reps on that side too. Your dominant side will always have a tendency to push or pull just a bit stronger than your other side.
While this is totally natural and almost involuntary on your end, your muscles will start to grow out of proportion if you don’t train your non-dominant side as equally as your other half.
Yes, You Can Overtrain (and the results will be bad)
Bodybuilder Daniel Przyojski credits fellow bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman with the wisdom that forever changed his workouts: "Stimulate the muscle, don't annihilate it."
He believes once your muscle is properly stimulated, the reps you do afterwards only negate all your hard work. If you’re guilty of overworking while you weight-train it may be the reason you’re not seeing significant muscle mass gains.
That’s why you should get in the habit of performing a specific number of sets and reps before you get in the zone and resist the urge to go overboard.
To counteract this problem:
Get a Foam Roller ASAP
Ashley Borden, celebrity personal trainer for clients like Ryan Gosling and Reese Witherspoon, explains that a foam roller is a non-negotiable part of your workout in her interview with Self magazine.
"I'm a psycho about foam rolling—rolling out your entire body every day makes a huge difference,” Borden says.
What’s the science behind this rolling foam wonder?
It’s called self-myofascial release. It basically means you’re working out the knots in your muscles yourself.
Knots form when your muscle fibers—which are constantly tearing and rebuilding during your workouts—heal the wrong way (way to go, guys!).
When you use a foam roller to literally roll the tangled muscle fiber knots out, you help your muscles create wide open pathways for better circulation.
Plus, you’ll release stiffness and tightness, increase your range of motion, and allow your muscles to perform more efficiently. Then you’ll be able to sink deeper into your lunges and lift more than the day before.
Activate your muscles pre-sweat sesh by giving them foam roller love before your workout. When your muscles work at their prime, you can push harder and torch more calories.
Foam roller post-workout to encourage proper muscle healing and reward your body with a well-deserved massage.
And The Best Kept Secret Of All Is...
The one thing that always guarantees results is consistency.
Just get out there and start doing something. Then do more activity the next day. And the day after that. And… you get the idea.
Since the hardest part is actually starting, we bet you could probably use some help finding the motivation to work out every day.
Incorporate all these (no longer secret) tips and you’ll have the momentum to fight your FOMO, take charge of your exercise and fitness goals, and achieve long lasting results.