Everyone has different reasons for working out and all are equally valid. If your goal happens to be losing weight, you know that it requires a combo of eating a healthy diet, consuming the right number of calories for you, and staying active in order to see results. When it comes to your efforts in the gym, here are nine tips from top fitness experts that will make sure your hard work is paying off.
1. Do an activity that you actually enjoy.
You may not love it yet, but consistency yields results, so if you’re going to be training often, you might as well be doing something you semi-like. Think outside of the box—try different workouts until you find something that you enjoy. Run, walk, take a Zumba class, jump rope, bust out a few burpees, or sign up for a kickboxing workout. Check out more workout ideas that are geared toward losing weight here.
2. Don’t focus so much on how many calories you’re burning.
Measuring only the amount of calories you’re burning isn’t a balanced approach. There are many more factors that go into working out to lose weight, including whether you’re training at the right intensity. So instead of measuring your caloric output, create different goals to work toward including logging a certain number of minutes of exercise, executing exercises with perfect form, or using a heavier set of dumbbells. “Start focusing on improving your health and well-being,” explains Jessica Smith, certified wellness coach and creator of Walk STRONG: Total Transformation 6 Week System. This will help establish a healthy and balanced approach to not only looking better, but to feeling better too.
3. Instead, focus on intensity.
If you’re doing cardio to lose weight, knowing how hard you should be working is important. When you’re doing shorter, high-intensity cardio you don’t want to be able to chat it up with your friends. For longer steady-state cardio, aim to be able to “talk while exercising,” explains Pete McCall, ACE personal trainer, adjunct professor of exercise science, and host of the All About Fitness podcast. Another easy way to keep tabs on intensity is by wearing a fitness tracker or monitor that measures your heart rate. If you’re doing strength work, the measure is your level of effort, and how many reps you’re able to do. The goal of strength training is to challenge your muscles—if you’re cruising through your workout on autopilot, it’s time to lift heavier weights, explains Smith.
4. But that doesn’t mean you should do high-intensity training every time you exercise.
If you’ve just started a workout routine for weight loss, you don’t need to do high-intensity exercise all of the time. “Limit your high-intensity workouts to three sessions a week, and that’s only if you are already fit and well rested,” says Smith. “High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can burn a few more calories but at the expense of placing additional stress on the body,” explains McCall. Instead, aim to log 15-20 minutes of steady-state cardio three to four times a week. Steady-state cardio allows you to log more sessions and (hopefully) enjoy the moderate-intensity activity more than the feeling of breathlessness you get during HIIT. Fast walking, biking, and swimming are all great steady-state cardio options.
5. And remember that it’s not all about cardio.
“Strength training can increase lean muscle mass. Muscle burns calories while at rest, so adding some lean muscle can elevate the metabolism,” McCall adds. Boosting metabolism also means you’re increasing the difference of calories burned versus consumed, creating a calorie deficit, which is important for weight loss. “Aim to include two to four days of strength training per week for best results with your workouts,” says Smith.
6. Do make sure to include exercises that target lots of different muscles.
Doing compound exercises mean that more muscles are working with each rep. The more muscles you’re taxing, the more calories you’re burning. “When you combine movements and multi-task in the gym, you raise your heart rate and increase your calorie-burning potential. A bicep curl with a lunge, or a squat and a shoulder press are both great strength combos,” says Sarah Pace, corporate fitness program manager and ACE in-home personal trainer and health coach. Read more about the benefits of compound exercises and a few top moves to try here.
7. Make sure you take time to stretch.
“Flexibility is important because it helps prepare your muscles and tendons for activity and prevents injury. With no injuries to hold you back, you can stay consistent with your workout routine,” explains Pace. Take a few minutes to foam roll before you start working out, and cool things down after you train with some stretches to help improve your flexibility.
8. Be consistent and don’t get discouraged.
Hitting your workout goals week after week is what leads to results. And that commitment to consistency will help make staying active a lifestyle, instead of a one-time ordeal. “The simple act of repetition keeps the weight off long term,” Pace says. And remember that plateaus are normal—if your results stall, mix up your routine by tweaking intensity, time, or the type of workout that you’re doing.
9. And remember, losing weight isn’t just about the time you spend at the gym.
You may work out for three to five hours a week, but you need to make healthy choices when you’re not at the gym, too. “Stand or walk for five to 10 minutes every hour,” explains Smith. Incorporating more activity throughout the day can help you burn more calories and boost your mood.