Whether you’re new to working-out, you’ve hit a plateau, or you’re bored with the same old routine; try these tips to get the most out of your exercise sessions.

1) Use your arms on the treadmill or elliptical machine. If you’re holding on to the handrails of cardio equipment you’re missing out on the total number of calories you could be burning. Pumping your arms at a 90-degree angle automatically increases your speed and heart rate therefore, accelerating the number of calories burned. If balance is an issue, slow your pace a little and practice using one arm (alternating sides) until eventually you can exercise hands free. Once you’ve got the balance mastered, you’ll want to stride at a good pace (at least a 15-minute mile). Move like you’re late for an important appointment.

2) Use a weighted vest or hold light weights during cardio activities. A weighted vest tricks your body into thinking you weigh more and allows you to burn more calories. It also increases strength, endurance, and helps improve bone density. Look for one that has adjustable weights that can be evenly distributed around your core. (My favorite is the Debbie Rocker Walkvest Kit at Gaiam.com.) Another option would be to hold 1-2 lb weights in your hands while doing your cardiovascular exercise.

3) Cross train and mix up your routines. If you continually do the same type of exercise, your body will get used to it and plateau. This can happen rather quickly so you should mix up what you do in order to “trick your body”.
a) Change programs or intensities on cardio equipment. Add in short bursts of higher energy moves into your cardio routine (intervals). Example: Try running for 1-2 minutes than return to your normal walking pace for 3-4 minutes. Repeat until your cardio session is over. Or, pedal faster on the bike or hike up your incline/intensity on the elliptical, etc.
b) Experiment with all types of cardio equipment/activities; then mix up the days and order of doing them. Example: One day do the bike and the elliptical. The next day take an aerobics, kickboxing, or circuit training class.
c) Add in an additional cardiovascular exercise day or add 5-10 more minutes to your usual routine.

4) Don’t lose focus or just “go through the motions” while exercising.
It’s easy to become mentally distracted from your workout. Yes, it is O.K. to read, watch TV, or talk with friends to help pass the time. However, you should be checking in with yourself frequently. Make sure you’re working hard enough and not just “going through the motions”.
a) Are you sweating?
b) Is your heart rate up? You should be able to talk, but not sing.
c) Do you feel like you’re working or could you push yourself more?
d) Are you tracking/achieving distance or calorie burn goals?
5) Burn enough calories. One pound of body fat equals 3500 calories. To lose 1 pound/week you must create a 3500-calorie deficit (burn 500 calories/day for 7 days). This can be done through a combination of exercise and diet. Example: Reduce your calorie intake by 200 calories/day and burn 300 calories during your daily workout. If you don’t want to reduce your calorie intake than strive for the higher number during your cardio routines. Since most people don’t workout 7 days a week you’ll need to adjust your calorie burn number to still achieve the 3500 deficit. To lose 2 pounds a week you would double the number of calories burned. Remember all physical activity burns calories (including standing, sitting, sleeping) so take that into consideration when doing your calculations. To help you calculate, there are several free calorie counters available online (search calorie burn calculator).

Strength Training:
1) Don’t skip the strength training. Besides building strength and endurance, strength training reduces body fat and boosts your metabolism allowing you to burn more calories throughout the day. It also increases bone mineral density, improves balance and coordination, prevents muscle loss and a number of ailments associated with aging. Strive for 2-4 sessions a week.

2) Don’t speed through your reps. If you watch other people in the gym you’ll see several who rush through their strength training exercises just to “get it done”. Not a good idea. Speeding through your routines makes the exercise less effective, increases your risk of injury, and raises blood pressure. To get the most out of your strength training routine you should:
a) Think about the muscle you are working and contract it as you lift.
b) Slow down and take 4-6 seconds to complete the rep.
c) Breathe properly = exhale on the lift or the “hard part” of the exercise, and then inhale.
d) Use a variety of equipment, free weights, machines, bands, tubing, medicine balls, kettlebells, and Swiss balls.
e) To give your muscles a rest, work upper body one day and lower body the next.

3) How do you know when to increase your weight or resistance? When you can complete a whole set without experiencing fatigue by the last few reps, it is time to increase your weight/resistance. A 5% increase is recommended.

Drink Water
Water plays a key role in our energy system; blood, muscles, and organs need water to function.
a) Drink 1-2 cups of water 30 minutes before exercise
b) Consume ½ cup to 1 cup of water for every 15 minutes of exercise
c) Replenish your body by drinking 2½ cups of water for every pound lost after physical activity.
In general you should drink ½ of your body weight (in pounds) in ounces per day of water. Example: A 150-pound person should consume 75 ounces of water a day.

What to eat before you workout
Glucose (carbohydrate) is the preferred energy/fuel source. Choose carbs that are easy to digest (pasta, fruit, oatmeal, bread, low fat yogurt, energy bars/gels). If you’re an early morning exerciser, have a ½ of your breakfast before your workout and then have the rest after.

What to eat after you workout
Eat carbohydrates and protein within 2 hours after your workout. A 4:1 ratio is preferred (4 grams of carbs and 1 gram of protein). This formula will help with muscle recovery/repair and replenish glycogen stores.

This is an important component that many people leave out of their exercise routines. Stretching after your workout improves flexibility and reduces soreness. Stretches should be held for 15-30 seconds. Longer for those trying to increase flexibility. Never bounce while you stretch. Take deep breaths, relax and enjoy a few minutes of “down time”.

By combining a well-rounded workout with proper nutrition you’ll accelerate your results and grow closer to achieving your fitness goals. Mix it up. Try new things and have fun on your journey to wellness!

Author's Bio: 

Wendy Stoll is a certified personal trainer with over 18 years of experience. She specializes in exercise program design for women. Wendy can be reached at 517-327-1992, wstoll@comcast.net or www.wendystoll.com.