You put in the hours, pumping iron, logging miles, sweating buckets, overhauling your diet, and (most important) staying consistent. And the results speak for themselves — every time you look in the mirror, a leaner, more athletic person stares back at you. You’ve even bought yourself a new wardrobe. So now what?
Some people will keep going, perhaps taking up triathlons, joining a hoops league, or training for the CrossFit Games. But others will want to take their foot off the gas and appreciate what they’ve accomplished. The key is not to leave it off for too long — 2 weeks of inactivity is all it takes to notice significant declines in strength and cardiovascular fitness, according to a recent study in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine. Indeed, the body is incredibly efficient at adapting to whatever demands (or lack thereof) are placed on it.
So now that you’ve crossed the finish line, how can you keep from backpedaling and losing what you’ve built? Just follow these simple steps.
Cut Back Gradually
Smart training plans (like those available on Beachbody On Demand) can allow you to work out 5 or 6 days a week with no ill effects (read: overtraining). But once you reach your strength and endurance goals, you can reduce your workout frequency without losing your hard earned gains, according to a study at the University of Alabama. The researchers found that adults aged 20 to 35 who worked out just one day a week not only saw no loss of muscle but continued to gain it (albeit at a greatly reduced rate). Our recommendation: Start by reducing your workout frequency by a third, then a half, and so on until you find the minimal effective dose that’s right for you.
Keep It Intense
Even a single set of a strength-training exercise can produce hypertrophy (i.e., muscle growth), according to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. So if your goal is to hold on to what you have, one or two sets per move per workout should do the trick. The key is to keep them challenging; you should always feel like you stopped two reps short of failure. Take a similar approach with cardio. In a recent study in the journal Physiological Reports, a team of British researchers found that a single, intense, 20-minute interval workout every five days allowed participants to maintain levels of cardiovascular fitness built through much higher frequency training programs.
Dial In Your Diet
Here’s the one category where you might have to be more diligent than you were before you reached your goal. As you cut back on your workouts, you’re going to start burning fewer calories. To avoid the fate of the ex-athlete who balloons 50 pounds when he hangs up his cleats, tighten up your diet as you reduce your training time. “On the days you don’t work out, cut 300 to 500 calories from your diet,” says Dr. Jade Teta, founder of The Metabolic Effect, a fitness and nutrition coaching service focused on maximizing results with minimal effort. “Ideally, those calories should come from starchy carbs and sources of empty calories [i.e., junk food] rather than from protein or veggies,” says Teta.
These general guidelines are just that: General guidelines. Though lower frequency, more intense workouts seem to work for most people looking to maintain their fitness gains, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution. “It’s going to be different for everyone,” says Teta. So be a detective: Monitor your strength, weight, definition, and overall sense of well-being as you tweak your exercise and eating habits, and be ready to adjust everything up or down accordingly.
Soldiers do them. Yogis do them. Even lizards do them (seriously, Google “lizards doing push-ups”). And if you want a strong, athletic body — and a powerful upper half — you should do them, too. We’re talking about push-ups — the classic, do-anywhere muscle builder you probably first encountered in grade school PE class. But unlike training wheels and T-ball, you don’t ever really outgrow the push-up. “No matter how strong or fit you are, there’s always a way to get more out of this perennially effective move,” says Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance U in Fort Lauderdale, and author of Strength Training for Fat Loss. Perfect your form with his seven tips, then try Tumminello’s favorite variations to multiply the move’s total-body benefits.
Keep off Your Knees
If you find the classic push-up too hard, don’t drop to your knees. Why? Because knee push-ups won’t help you learn the correct movement pattern or strengthen all of the muscles you’ll need to perform a full push-up. In short, doing knee push-ups will help you get better at doing knee push-ups, and little else. Instead, perform “incline push-ups” with your hands on an elevated surface, such as a bench, step, or sturdy box, says Tumminello. The more elevated it is, easier the push-ups will be. Once you can do 15 reps at a given height, drop six inches, working your way down until your hands are on the floor.
Tuck Your Elbows
“Most people do push-ups with their elbows out wide, so their upper arms form a 90-degree angle with their shoulders,” says Tumminello. Instead, tuck your elbows, so they form a 45-degree angle with your torso as you lower your body toward the ground. Viewed from above, you’ll look less like a “T” than an arrow, with your head forming the projectile’s tip. “It’s safer because it takes some of the stress off your ligaments of your shoulders,” says Tumminello. “But it’s also harder because that stress is transferred to your muscles.” The result: happier joints and stronger muscles.
Spread Your Hands
For optimal power transfer into the floor, keep your hands slightly wider than shoulder width. “Using narrow a grip forces your elbows to flare outward excessively and strain your joints,” says Tumminello, adding that he’s not a fan of the ever-popular “diamond push-up,” in which you place your hands close together with your thumbs and index fingers touching, for precisely that reason. Another common mistake: Positioning your hands on the floor with your fingers pointing forward, or even slightly inward. Instead, turn your hands so that your fingers point slightly outwards. “It’s a more natural position for your wrists and shoulders,” says Tumminello.
Shift Your Focus
For optimal body alignment in the push-up position, visualize pushing the floor away from you rather than the other way around. This mental image — think of pushing a stalled car — signals your lower back to find its slight, natural arch and your abs to “brace” more firmly, says Tumminello. That last part is key — keeping your abs braced (imagine you’re about to be punched in the gut) will help keep your body straight from head to heels. The result: Proper mechanics and better efficiency as you perform the move.
Progress The Right Way
Once you can bang out 15 classic push-ups with perfect form, you’ve earned the right to mix things up with more challenging variations of the move. Here are four of Tumminello’s favorites.
Break Dancer Push-Up
Benefit: This dynamic, total body exercise ups the ante on the classic push-up by increasing the challenge to your legs, core, and coordination. How to do it: Assume a push-up position — feet together, core braced, body straight from head to heels, hands in line with and slightly wider than your shoulders, and fingers turned slightly outward. Lower your body to with in a few inches of the floor. As you push back up, pick your left hand off the floor, rotate your body up to your left, and touch your right knee to your left elbow. Return to the starting position. Repeat, this time rotating up to your right and touching your right elbow to your left knee. “Rotate your entire body up,” says Tuminello. “Don’t twist your torso or roll your hips before your shoulders.”
Benefit: Boulder shoulders. How to do it: Assume a push-up position, and lower your chest to within a few inches of the floor. As you push up, push back, bending your knees and moving your butt toward your heels. Return to the starting position and repeat. “A few reps of these and your shoulders will be on fire,” says Tumminello. Once you can do 15 perfect reps, try the move with your feet elevated on a bench.
Benefits: In addition to targeting your chest and shoulders, it nails your core. “Every muscle in your torso has to work hard to prevent rotation during this move,” says Tumminello. “It’s also a good progression for who ultimately want to master the one-arm push-up.” How to do it: Assume a push-up position with your left hand on the floor and your right hand on an 8-inch high aerobic step or box. Lower your chest to within a few inches of the step or box, and then push back up, raising your left hand off the floor and locking your right arm at the top of the move. (Don’t rotate your torso — your body should remain straight with your shoulders parallel to the floor for the entire move.) Return to the starting position. Do 5 reps, switch hands, and repeat.
Benefits: Bragging rights and greater athleticism. “The single-arm push-up is not only exponentially harder than the classic version, but it also has greater carryover to sports,” says Tumminello. “The shoulder of your working arm has to work with your opposite hip — just as it does when you throw, punch, or sprint.” How to do it: Assume a push-up position with your feet spread wide, your right hand on the floor, and your left hand behind your back. Keeping your right elbow close to your torso and over your wrist, bend your right arm and rotate your right shoulder towards the floor. As you come back up, rotate your right shoulder back towards the ceiling. Keep the body straight and your torso stiff the entire time. “Forget bench presses,” says Tumminello. “To me, the single-arm push-up is the king of upper body pushing exercises.”
You’d better sit down because, believe it or not, you can—albeit not in the way you probably want.
If we’re talking spare tires, muffin tops, or that last bit of pooch covering your six-pack, then you’re S.O.L. That sort of chub (i.e., the kind you can see and pinch) is called “subcutaneous” fat, and you can’t “spot-reduce” problem areas. Instead, you need keep exercising hard and eating right to reduce overall body fat. Your genetics will determine how and at what speed the weight comes off, but rest assured that your belly will eventually shrink to more shapely (and firmer) dimensions.
However, if you’re “apple shaped” or if you’re sporting a big ol’ beer belly, that’s likely a different kind of flab called “visceral” fat. Research shows that it is, in fact, targetable, which is fortunate since it’s much more insidious than the subcutaneous variety. Residing deep within your torso, visceral fat wraps itself around your heart, liver, and other major organs, and secretes chemicals that fuel inflammation. Your best strategy for reducing it is to work out hard, stress less, sleep more, and make cleaner food choices.
The Long Answer
Subcutaneous fat is the kind you measure with calipers that flops over your jeans and adds to your chin count. It comes from the Latin for “under the skin,” and it covers most of your body. It builds up in different places in different people, although women often build it up in their thighs and rear ends, much to the appreciation of Sir Mix-A-Lot, Queen, Nicki Minaj, and Spinal Tap.
You can’t spot reduce subcutaneous fat, so if you have a problem area, you have no choice but to burn fat all over until your genes decide to focus on that area. Also keep in mind that subcutaneous fat is found between skin and muscle. Sometimes, especially if you’re new to exercise, your muscles will firm up, pushing this fat out and creating the illusion that you’re gaining more fat. If this happens, just be patient—the illusion will eventually vanish.
Generally speaking, this isn’t the most dangerous kind of fat. That’s not to say that subcutaneous fat isn’t hard on your joints or that it can’t lead to chronic health issues like arthritis. But when you read about fat being linked to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, chances are you’re reading about visceral fat.
Visceral fat is found deep inside your gut, and it builds up primarily around your stomach, intestines, and liver. Unlike subcutaneous fat, you can’t pinch it unless you get all medieval on yourself. Some people call it “deep belly fat” and it’s been linked to all kinds of issues including insulin resistance and cardiovascular issues.
A little visceral fat is normal. We tend to accumulate more of it later in life thanks to a dated bit of evolution that assumes we have less muscle as we age, causing fat to build up to protect our internal organs. The problems start piling up when you have too much of it. The most precise way to measure visceral fat is through an MRI or CT scan, but your waist circumference can also give you an indication of how bad (or good) the situation is. Red flag numbers are more than 35 inches for ladies and more than 40 inches for the guys.
What You Can Do
The obvious answer is to stop eating so much junk and to get some exercise, for Pete’s sake! Beyond that, visceral fat can be targeted through a handful of basic lifestyle tweaks.
One 6-year study on 293 adults ranging in age from 18 on 65 showed that when people increased their sleep from less than 6 hours a night to between 7 or 8 hours, they experienced a significant drop in visceral fat.
A study on middle-aged obese women with metabolic syndrome showed that high intensity exercise did a better job of banishing visceral fat than low intensity exercise or no exercise at all. (Duh.) The women also experienced a reduction in abdominal subcutaneous fat. (Double duh.)
Eat More Soluble Fiber
A five-year study on minorities ranging in age from 18 to 81 showed that if you add soluble fiber to your diet, and combine it with exercise, you can accelerate visceral fat loss. You’ll find soluble fiber in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables, including apples, pears, and Brussels sprouts.
Lean Towards Unsaturated Fats
Researchers in Sweden fed 39 young men 750 extra calories daily for seven weeks. (They were fed muffins—really big ones, apparently.) The group fed muffins with saturated fat in the form of palm oil gained more visceral fat (as well as subcutaneous fat and liver fat) than the group fed muffins with polyunsaturated fat in the form of sunflower oil. Given that there are many types of both saturated and unsaturated fat, it’s unfair to categorically condemn saturated fat, but it’s still worth considering. Regardless, no good has ever come from adding a giant muffin to your daily meal plan—so don’t do that.
Stop Stressing So Much
Stress triggers the production of cortisol, which increases visceral fat. The link is that simple. A little stress, like the kind your body experiences working out, is fine, but chronic stress can be problematic. Studies on both humansand monkeys confirm this. Admittedly, telling someone to stop stressing is a little like telling someone to “be funny” or “don’t look at the giant mole on my forehead” (i.e., it’s easier said than done), but de-stressing your life is possible. You just need to be patient. Look into things like meditation or yoga, or just take a couple minutes each day to stop and breathe deeply. You’ll be thinner—and saner—in no time.
There’s little doubt that high-intensity training is a challenging, efficient, fat-burning, metabolism-boosting, heart-healthy way to get in the best shape of your life. That’s all well said and done until it’s time to press play — and you’re just not feeling it. No matter how prepared you are, there inevitably comes a time in every workout when the intensity is so fierce that it’s tough to keep powering through. Suddenly, you lose your confidence and determination, and you’re tired, frustrated, and you want to quit.
Don’t worry! There are two important strategies to help assure you’re maximizing you’re training. First, have some patience with yourself. It may be a matter of needing more time to physically develop the strength and stamina required to withstand the toughest part of the workout. Hang in there, continue to focus on your small improvements, and with progress, you will achieve your personal best.
The second explanation is one that is more mental than physical. Often, in high-intensity training, the mind gives in before the body needs to, leaving you a few push-ups short of what you’re really capable of. In these situations, you need to harness the Power of Association, a mental toughness technique that involves sharpening your focus to cut through the physiological static and to get the most out of your training.
The Power of Association
Top athletic and fitness performers use this technique during high-intensity training to manage pain and fatigue and power through. Association makes it possible to sustain motivation, confidence, focus, and emotional control so that you can get through even the most intense exercise. In essence, your mind allows your body to perform the way you want it to.
Here’s what to do: At any point in your training, when you begin to feel pain and fatigue, tune in on the work by focusing on bodily sensations (such as muscle tension and breathing) or a specific exercise technique or tactic. If you focus on more than one thing, you’re already off point and will have difficulty. By choosing just one technique, tactic, or bodily sensation, you block out everything else and become completely immersed in the only thing that matters — completing the task.
Here are some examples of how to use the Power of Association in your workout:
Count your breaths or pay attention to your breathing technique (e.g. in through your nose, out through your mouth) as you perform the exercise.
Let’s say you’re performing high knee jumps. Focus directly on a specific mark on your body where you want your knees to reach.
When your Beachbody celebrity trainer gives you direction on technique, choose one keyword and use it to focus your energy on getting it done properly.
If you’re holding a pose, such as plank, find a specific spot on the floor to zone in on.
Count your reps (or the seconds) left of the exercise. I prefer to count aloud as it strengthens my focus on the work.
Sometimes the best way to deal with pain is to focus right on it and tell your body to stay strong!
In moments of high physical exertion, when you’ve just about reached your limit, use one of these strategies. By mentally tuning in on the work, you’ll give your body the energy it needs to power through, and you’ll experience an incredible boost in your overall performance.
When it comes to dropping pounds, most people go about it precisely the wrong way: They underestimate the importance of diet, and overestimate the power of cardio. Jogging, bike riding (not to be confused with cycling), and other low-intensity exercises can benefit your heart, lungs, and mood, but they’re the scenic routes to a smaller waist. Reams of studies agree: The cardio-emperor has no clothes (and frankly, he’s looking a little chubby.)
To burn fat, you need a smart, nutrient-dense diet and a workout program that’s packed with exercises that target as many muscle groups as possible. You’ll find five of those exercises—picked by a handful of the nation’s top trainers—on this page. So step away from the treadmill, weave these metabolic super-moves to your workout rotation, and watch the fat melt away.
Metabolic Super Move #1: Deadlift
“In the hierarchy of fat loss, resistance training comes right after nutrition, as it has the largest impact on metabolism,” says Craig Rasmussen, C.S.C.S., a trainer at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California. And no exercise works more “metabolically active tissue” (AKA muscle) than the deadlift, which targets your glutes, hamstrings, quads, core, back, and shoulders. “It’s a true total body exercise, which is exactly what you need when training for fat loss,” says Rasmussen.
Directions: Load a barbell with moderately-heavy to heavy weights and roll it against your shins. Keeping your back flat, push your hips backward, bend your knees slightly, and grab the bar using an overhand grip with your hands just beyond shoulder-width. Drive through your heels, pulling your torso back and up and thrusting your hips forward as you stand up with the bar. Pause, and then slowly lower the bar back to the floor, keeping it as close to your body as you can. Do three sets of 8 to 10 reps.
Metabolic Super Move #2: Sprint Intervals
“It’s easy to spot a sprinter,” says Angelo Poli, ISSA, owner of Whole Body Fitness in Chico, California. “Even compared to other athletes, they look muscular and lean.” Since you’re working your largest muscle groups (the quads, glutes, and hamstrings) at a near-maximal intensity through a large range of motion, sprinting challenges your fast-twitch muscle fibers like few other exercises. “That’s good news,” says Poli. “Fast twitchers are the fibers with the most potential for both growth and serious fat-burning.”
Directions: Head to the track at your local high school or university. If you’re already fit, run 400 meters (one lap) as fast as you can, and then walk 200 meters. If you’re just starting out, run 200 meters (half a lap) as fast as you can, and then walk 200 meters. Either way, that’s one interval. Do four to eight. Don’t have access to a track? No worries—perform the workout on a smooth even trail, sidewalk, or beach, and measure each interval by time instead of distance. Sprint for 20 to 60 seconds (depending on our fitness level), and then walk for an equal amount of time to complete one interval.
Metabolic Super Move #3: Squat to Press
“Squatting and pressing are both moves that belong in everyone’s workout,” says Rachel Cosgrove, 2012 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and author of The Female Body Breakthrough. The squat to press combines them into a single move, hammering your legs, shoulders, and every muscle in between.
Directions: Hold a pair of dumbbells next to your shoulders and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back flat, push your hips back and squat down until the tops of your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Pause, then drive through your heels as you stand up and press the weights straight above your shoulders. Lower the weights to return to the starting position. Do three to four sets of eight to 12 reps.
Metabolic Super Move #4: Sit-Through
“Don’t underestimate the value of moving around on the floor for burning fat,” says powerlifter David Dellanave, owner of The Movement Minneapolis, in the Twin Cities. “The sit-through is surprisingly taxing—you’re supporting your entire bodyweight on all-fours and then moving through a wide range of motion while synchronizing the actions of multiple limbs and muscles.” In short, it taxes your body and challenges every aspect of athleticism: Mobility, strength, power, and coordination.
Directions: Assume a bear crawl position with your back flat and the balls of your feet and palms of your hands on the floor. In one movement, pivot your right foot, reach your right arm above your head, rotate your chest toward the ceiling, and slide your left foot underneath your body until it’s flat on the floor. You should now be sitting with your left leg extended and your right leg bent. Raise your hips, and reverse the movement to return to the starting position. That’s 1 rep. Repeat to your other side. Continue to alternate sides with each rep. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Metabolic Super Move #5: Goblet Shooter Squat
This innovative squat-lunge hybrid combines one of the best lower-body moves you can do, the squat, with a rotational element that nails your core. “It’s a killer exercise,” says Dellanave. “You get tremendous time under tension, a huge range of motion, and some good mobility work—especially in your hips.” says Dellanave. “It’s a killer exercise.” And its fat loss dividends are worth every drop of sweat equity.
Directions: Grab a dumbbell and hold it vertically in front of your chest, cupping the top end with both hands (imagine it’s a heavy goblet). Set your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back flat, push your hips back and lower your body until your hips drop below knee-level. Rotate to your right, dropping your left knee to the floor, and then stand up. Reverse the move, lowering your body, rotating back to center, and then standing up. That’s one rep. Repeat the entire sequence, this time rotating to your left and dropping your right knee to the floor. Continue alternating sides. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
You may have heard people talk about a runner’s high or being in the zone. Sport psychologists call it flow state, but it all means the same thing: it’s the moment in time when you both feel and perform your absolute best. On average, people can easily access about 65% of their absolute strength. When you get into a flow state, you have the opportunity to push your strength to its absolute threshold. In this state, you’ll jump higher, lift more, reach farther, and hold poses longer – all while loving every minute of it!
The state is the result of your brain releasing five brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters into the body. To easily explore the differences between them, let’s enlist the help of some old friends: The Muppets.
Dopamine most closely resembles Elmo. Enthusiastic, engaged, and always wanting to experience new things, Elmo continues to seek adventure and creativity. Even when he doesn’t have all the skills necessary to do what he wants, he focuses and gets physically energized to perform the best he can.
Norepinephrine can be compared to Animal. This wild drummer is full of intense energy and keeps himself locked on select targets (e.g. the drums) which keeps all other distractions at bay.
For endorphins, we can look to How to Get Into the Fitness Zone Bear, the group’s resident comedian who wants nothing more than to relieve everyone’s pain and produce pleasure with his jokes
Anandamide is Gonzo, that daredevil who takes pride in everything that he does. Gonzo doesn’t often let fear get in his way of experimenting with new acts. In fact, his positive state prepares his body for even the most painful and ill-advised performances.
Lastly, serotonin is the one and only Kermit the Frog, the Muppet everyone calls upon to help them cope with adversity. He’s also good at giving everyone warm and fuzzy feelings long after the show is over, despite being cold-blooded.
When you’re in a flow state, all five of these neurotransmitters act as powerful painkillers and allow you to physically and mentally reach new heights.
Here are three things you can do to help yourself achieve a flow state:
Clear Process Goals. Flow is not about having clear outcome goals such as finishing a workout or losing 10 pounds. It’s about using clear goals to help you stay in the present moment. Before you’re about to perform an exercise, set a clear goal. It could be one more rep, five more seconds, lifting two more pounds, etc. Clear process goals center your mind, narrow your focus, free you from distractions, and create self-confidence.
Get Feedback. The more you know how you’re doing and the faster you can course correct any issues, the greater your chances of finding flow. While performing each exercise, quickly assess your technique and effort. Ask yourself if there is anything you should correct or if you can give more effort. When you can quickly and immediately assess your performance, you can also quickly and immediately figure out if anything needs to be improved for the next set. With this tight feedback loop, you continue to stay in the present moment, feel in control and energized, and believe in your ability to push your limits.
Challenge Yourself. Understand that your attention will be most engaged when you choose an exercise that is just above your current ability level. Tasks that are too challenging elicit fear and self-doubt. Tasks that are too easy make room for distractions.
I often get complaints from clients about being sore. Statements like “I thought exercise was going to make me feel good, but now I feel worse than ever” are somewhat common with people who are new to exercising. And there’s not too much for me to tell them. The fact is that if you have any designs on changing your body for the better, you are going to spend some time being sore. It’s inevitable. Fact of life: there is some pain associated with the ultimate pleasure of being fit.
Also, if you anticipate, plan, and take the proper steps, you can minimize your soreness.
I’ll get to this in a sec but, first, let me tell you a little story—a very short one—that might help you out a bit. When I say we all get sore, I mean all. When I originally wrote this, I was very sore. And I got that way by doing one set of lunges. Yes, that’s right. One set!
I wasn’t out of shape. Quite the contrary, I was climbing harder than I had in years and a member of the U.S. National Duathlon Team. So by most people’s definition, ultra fit. However, I’d not been doing lunges. I hadn’t done a single one since finished 10,000 of them over a four-month span the year before. My body wasn’t used to lunges and, whenever you do something physical that you’re not used to, you usually get sore. What this means is that most of you reading this are going to get sore—maybe really, really sore—somewhere along your road to fitness.
But I can help, because I’ve been through every level of soreness possible, from the “ahhh, I’m starting a new program” feeling to “@#&!, I can’t walk” misery. Here are eight ways to achieve the former statement and avoid the latter.
Learn good pain from bad. There are generally two types of pain associated with working out: pain from muscle soreness (microtrauma) and pain from injury (trauma as you know it). It’s not always clear which is which, so tread lightly until you know the difference. I’ve had quite a few clients over the years who thought they were hurt but simply had muscle soreness. There is no absolute way to tell, but if your soreness lessens as you warm-up, there’s a very good chance you’re dealing with microtrauma. Increasing pain doesn’t necessarily mean you’re injured, but it means you shouldn’t exercise that day. If this doesn’t change in a day or two, injury is likely and you should see a professional. Microtrauma always improves over time.
Embrace the pain. This idea is going to be foreign to many of you but eventually you’ll learn that a little soreness means you’ve embarked on something that is good for you. The first time, however, you’re going to have to show a little faith. Whenever I switch up my training, I go through an initial period of soreness While it’s always bothersome, especially say, when it hurts to take off my shoes or wash my hair, I know that it’s only temporary and that it’s an important step along the road to my goal. So I embrace it. Sure, it hurts. But it hurts in a good way. A great way even. I love the beginning of a new training cycle because I know that once I work through the pain, I’m going to be fitter than before. In fact, when I haven’t had a period of soreness in a while, I start to feel like a slacker.
Anticipate. Remember that I said I knew I was going to get sore? You are too! So go easy on your first day. And I mean E-A-S-Y! It’s normal to get excited on day one. You’ve got a new package in the mail and visions of you walking down the beach turning heads are probably dancing in your head. This is great, but keep your wits about you. You’re not going to get that way tomorrow or the next day. Hammering through your first workout could end up delaying your program two weeks while you recover from your exuberance. Instead, start slow. Do much less than you feel like you could. You’ll get sore anyway. Next day, push a bit harder. Next day, a bit harder still. Easing into a program is the best way to make steady progress.
Eat well. The more you exercise, the better you need to eat. Junk won’t fuel your muscles properly. This is especially true if you are trying to lose weight because you are eating less than you need to sustain your body. So what you eat becomes vital. The better you eat, the less sore you’ll be. Try to exercise on an empty stomach and then eat a small snack that is approximately 4 parts carbs to 1 part protein within an hour of finishing your workout. This will greatly help the recovery process and reduce soreness.
Stretch after you work out. The more time you can spend doing extra stretching at the end of your workout, the better you’ll recover. Don’t stretch your muscles when cold, as you’ll risk injuring them further. An extra 10 minutes after you work out, however, can do wonders. Also, easy movements and stretches night before bed and again first thing in the morning helps your blood circulate better and will also improve your recovery time.
Massage. You don’t have to go to a masseuse; self-massage is a great tool to aid recovery. The only time you don’t want to massage your muscles is right after you work out because you will interfere with the natural recovery process. But at any other time, just five minutes of self-massage can do wonders.
Ice. More on the circulation theme—nothing moves blood around like ice. It causes blood vessels to contract at first, and then open as you get used to it. If you’ve ever watched a locker room interview after a sporting event, you probably noticed that a lot of the athletes were icing parts of their body. That’s because it’s one of the greatest recovery aids we have available. Almost all injuries heal quicker if you apply ice. And soreness is “microtrauma,” or slight tears in your muscle tissue. These are necessary in order to get stronger, and they will heal faster if you ice them. You can ice any sore body part up to 20 minutes at a time, a few times throughout the day—if you can stand it, though you get used to it the more you do it.
Work out. Often the last thing you feel like doing when you’re sore but it gets back to the circulation thing. Working out promotes circulation. Sitting around while you’re sore is worse than working out, even though you probably feel like exercise is the last thing you should do. What you should do is not work out too hard. Warm up and then do part of your scheduled workout. Maybe half, maybe just a quarter. Use the extra time after the cool-down to stretch and/or ice. It’s a good excuse to be slightly lazy, since you are doing what’s often called a “recovery workout,” which is aimed at not breaking down too much muscle tissue. However, if your legs are sore, you don’t have to go easy on your upper body, and vice versa.
This blog post originally appeared on the Team Beachbody Blog on October 26, 2015 and was authored by Steve Edwards.