Have you recently found yourself pounding the pavement, sweating (nearly to death!) in your aerobics hip hop class or burning out rep after rep in the free weights section at your gym with little to no physical transformation? We've all been there, and we know the feeling that comes next. Is this worth it? Why aren't the pounds dropping? The muscles toning? Should I just give up?
Before you answer that last question, our friends at Women's Health are ready to put you through a pop quiz. Answer honestly and adjust accordingly.
For starters, what is your diet like? As you might have guessed, what you eat can make an even bigger impact on your bod than what you do at the gym, says Chris Ryan, C.S.C.S, C.P.T. "Nutrition fuels your body to stabilize your metabolism and keeps your hormones in check—two key factors that no amount of running or squats will take care of."
That being said, don't underestimate the power of a kick-butt exercise routine, he says. That's because torching calories at the gym builds lean muscle (which boosts your metabolism), reduces stress, and allows you to be a bit more lenient with your diet (i.e. indulging in your fave ice cream spot or whipping up a bowl of pasta every once in a while) while staying on track to drop pounds.
To help determine whether your go-to routine is actually helping you inch closer to your weight-loss goals, ask yourself these questions:
1. Are you working out at least three times per week?
To achieve the weight loss results you want, you really need to be working out at least three times a week for 30 minutes or more at a time, says Ben Boudro, C.S.C.S., owner of Xceleration Fitness in Auburn Hills, Michigan. For those 30 minutes, you should be working at a pace that feels challenging for your entire body, he says. (More on that later.)
In order to establish a workout schedule that allows for a minimum of three workouts a week, you need to think about the openings in your agenda, says Boudro. For example, if you’re someone who works late, go to the gym in the morning. If you're out of town a lot, get a gym membership that allows you to work out in multiple locations‚ or find ways to exercise outside or in your hotel room.
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2. Can you speak during your workouts?
If you're able to have a conversation or sing a song while working out, you're not pushing hard enough, says Ryan. While it isn't bad to exercise at this pace during active recovery, you've got to step it up at least three times a week if you want to lose weight.
Here's how to adjust: If you're new to working out, spend 30 seconds working at a vigorous pace where you struggle to say even a few words. Then, follow that with one to two minutes of a recovery exercise like walking, says Ryan. Repeat that for the rest of your workout.
If that feels too easy, spend 10 to 15 minutes working at a vigorous pace. Ryan recommends doing a circuit of high-intensity interval moves (burpees, squat jumps, plank jacks, etc.), followed by 30 to 60 seconds recovery. Complete the circuit one or two more times.
3. Are you sticking to the same routine?
Doing the same exercises for the same number of reps while using the same resistance makes your muscles bored. "Try switching up just one factor of your workout each week, like increasing the number of reps or using a heavier weight," says Ryan.
The same goes for classes. If you keep going to the same spin class week after week without throwing in some other kind of training, your body is going to adapt and you won't burn as many calories. To keep things fresh, use this formula for a challenging workout plan: Do two sessions of strength training and two sessions of high-intensity interval training classes for every one yoga or Pilates class you take, says Ryan. "Strength training is the best way to build lean muscle and burn fat, while high-intensity interval classes incorporate cardio, and yoga or Pilates are great ways to work on mobility at a less intense pace."
4. Does your workout routine stress you out?
"The more stress you have in your life, the easier it is for your body to store unnecessary fat," says Ryan. If you’re struggling to keep up with the demands of your plan and have trouble completing each session, you’re working out too hard, he says. And that puts stress on your body, which can keep you from your goals. To scale things back, rest for a day or two between sweat sessions and try switching up the time of day you work out (if you can). You'll know you're back on track when you look forward to the gym instead of dreading it.
For the rest of the questions and results from Women's Health, click here.