Let’s be honest, the reason most of us join the gym – and the reason most of us keep going – is to burn fat. We try to eat healthy, but stress, bad eating habits or – worst of all – the convenience of less-than healthy alternatives keep us reliant on exercise to keep the pounds away.
We’re motivated to go to the gym. We’re even motivated to work out once we get there. But we don’t want to spend our entire day (or night) on the treadmill or in the spinning class. How do we get the biggest bang for our buck as the saying goes?
The answer is easier than you may have thought: mix up your routine.
Your body is designed to react to the stresses and strains it is put through and to become stronger as a result – basically to keep the next stressful even from hurting so much. You can see that in your muscles when you lift weights – what hurt a few weeks ago is now bearable. And you can see it in your cardio workouts as well – where you would have had to stop last month is just a mile marker today.
Your body learns. It’s not lazy, but it’s not stupid either. If it can expend less energy for the same result than it will. Our job is to keep one step ahead of our bodies – so that we keep exerting the maximum effort and burning the maximum amount of fat possible. But how can we do this?
By mixing weight training with our cardio. We know that a 30 minute cardio workout (stepping, climbing, running, aerobics) burns roughly twice the amount of calories that the same amount of time spent lifting weights, so why not just double up on the cardio time?
The answer is that strength training – either with free weights or with machines requires more effort than cardio, although for much shorter time periods. You exert a much higher percentage of energy to lift a weight over your head than you do in running a few steps. And by exerting large amounts of energy regularly over the course of your workout, you can elevate the overall fat-burning effectiveness of your exercises.
For instance, when your body exerts more than a 75% effort in doing anything, it has to call on more than simply carbohydrates to fuel the repeated effort. This means your body hits your fat cells for energy too. Whereas running at a good pace may not equal a 75% effort, lifting a heavy enough weight over your head will. And once your body has tapped into your fat stores for energy, you can keep it coming back for more by keeping your heart rate up (with cardio) and your effort percentage up (with strength training).
Most trainers recommend a circuit-style training program to maximize this fat-burning potential. In a typical circuit, you will warm up with 20 minutes or more of cardio and then alternate different cardio exercises with different strength exercises. The result is you keep your body reliant on burning fat for fuel and you keep it guessing so it can’t streamline the process.
So the next time you’re in the gym, don’t fall into you normal routine. Mix it up and keep your body guessing – all the way to your skinny jeans!