As bathing suit season bears down again, anyone who’s spent more time hibernating in front of the TV than pumping the pedals of an exercise bike this winter can go into panic mode. Plunging into a super-intense workout program is one way to get back into your bikini, but it’s not the most effective – or safest – approach, especially if you’ve been laid back about fitness for the past few months.
“The common notion that exercise must be really hard or painful to be beneficial is simply wrong,” says Tariq Niazi, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. “Moderation is the key to safe exercise. Safe exercise programs start slowly and gradually build up in intensity, frequency, and duration.”
Overtraining – whether you’re pumping too much weight at the gym or running too many miles on the track – can be counterproductive. Rather than giving you the beach-perfect body you want, the extra intensity can burn you out, reduce your athletic performance, and cause injuries that force you to skip workouts. Excessive exercise can even make you gain weight, because stress causes your body to release the hormone cortisol, which affects fat storage.
Instead of sprinting into your bathing suit and possibly hurting yourself in the process, try these tips to safely – and gradually – reach your bikini-body goals.
Ease into your workout. You’re not going to get flat abs and enviable biceps overnight. Let go of the quick fix idea. The safest way to exercise, especially after a long break, is to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and length of your workouts. During your first few sessions, lift just 1 or 2 pounds, or no weights at all. Add a pound or two when the reps become too easy. Work your way into an aerobic workout with a 10-minute walk. Increase the time to 15 minutes, and then 20. Take the pace up to a jog or run only when you feel ready.
Don’t weigh yourself down. Lifting an enormous set of dumbbells might impress your fellow gym-goers, but you’ll sacrifice good form, and you could strain a muscle. A Canadian study found that you can build the same muscle tone with light weights as you can with heavier weights, as long as you increase the reps. “Rather than grunting and straining to lift heavy weights, you can grab something much lighter but you have to lift it until you can't lift it anymore,” says Stuart Phillips, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
Don’t push yourself to exertion. If you’re out of breath, sweating profusely, or struggling to get through one more set, you’re working too hard. Pull back on the intensity and bring it down to a level that’s comfortable for you.
Give your muscles time to recover. Lifting weights creates tiny tears in your muscles. Healing those tears is what makes muscles bigger and stronger. Letting your body have a day or two off in between workouts gives your muscles time to rebuild, which is why experts typically recommend strength training two or three days a week and alternating body parts (for example, arms one workout session, legs the next).
Leave time to stretch. Don’t run out of the gym as soon as you step off the treadmill. Take at least 10 to 15 minutes to cool down and stretch your muscles. Doing regular stretches will improve your flexibility and performance, as well as prevent injuries. Hold each stretch for at least 10 to 30 seconds.
Eat for your routine. Simultaneously going on a restrictive diet and bumping up the intensity of your training sessions is a dangerous mix. Cut back on unhealthy foods like sweets, soda, and fried foods, but don’t skimp on the protein, complex carbs, and other nutrients your muscles need to fuel you through your workouts. Eat more nutritionally dense foods like almonds, oatmeal, fruits and vegetables, and fish to get the most out of every calorie you consume.
May 05, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN