You wouldn’t sleep through an entire semester of classes and expect to pass your finals with flying colors, would you?
Well, dragging yourself to the gym without putting much thought into your routine or lifestyle and expecting to lose weight is no different. You’re not going to trim down (or pull in a 4.0 GPA for that matter) unless you take the time to study. When we’re talking about your weight loss though, “studying” doesn’t involve opening a book or hitting the library; it’s all about looking at your routine and identifying any possible blunders that could be stalling your progress. Whether you’re a fitness newbie or a seasoned gym rat, chances are one (or more) of the factors below is the reason you're not seeing the results you want. Read on to find out what they are and what you can do to get back on track toward ditching that excess flab once and for all.
You likely already know that what you put in your mouth before hitting the gym can help ward off fatigue, but did you know that certain foods can actually make your workout less effective? Fatty foods like nuts and avocados take a long time to digest, so if you work out soon after eating them, you’re making your body compete with itself for blood supply. This can result in diminished exercise performance and workout-ending muscle cramps. Another pre-workout dietary no-no is not eating enough carbs. Taking in too little of the nutrient makes it near impossible to make it through a long, intense, calorie-blasting workout. So what should you eat? Check out The Best Fuel For Every Workout to find out.
Yes, cardio boosts heart health, burns calories and, for many, can also be an effective way to zone out and relax, but not all cardio workouts are created equal. Staying on the treadmill or bike for too long, for example, can actually eat away at lean muscle mass, which, over time, slows metabolism and makes it harder to burn fat and lose weight. Endurance training also encourages the body to store food as fat to ensure you have enough reserve fuel for all these extra miles. To get more fat-burning bang for your buck, incorporate our Rapid Weight Loss Plan for Cardio Lovers twice a week. Exercisers who combine cardio with high-intensity, total-body resistance training programs (like the one we link to above) lose more than twice as much fat as those who follow a moderate-intensity cardio plan, say Skidmore College researchers. Alternatively, cut your cardio workout duration to 30 to 45 minutes and throw in some 60-second all-out sprint intervals every two or three minutes to pump up the intensity.
Believe it or not, recovery and rest are just as important as your workout. When you don’t give yourself enough time to relax between sweat sessions, the body starts pumping out cortisol, a stress hormone that boosts fat storage and appetite—a killer combination for anyone looking to lose weight and burn fat. This doesn’t mean you have to take two days off for every day you hit the gym, but you should vary your workouts so you aren’t hitting the same muscles on consecutive days. That means back-to-back full-body strength-training sessions are out; doing upper body one day and lower body the next is fair game, though, as is alternating lighter workouts—like yoga or a spin class—with full-body resistance training. This tactic helps your muscles recover without cutting into your workout schedule. It’s a win-win.
While it’s true that a bad workout is better than no workout at all, that only holds true when some—not all—of your workouts lack intensity. Deep down you know that coasting along in the back of Zumba class every week, or barely breaking a sweat in the weight room isn’t going to help you achieve that lean look you’re working towards. If you want to see change in your body, you must challenge your muscles. “Lifting heavy weights is the best way to increase your metabolism, sustain long-term muscle growth and stay lean. If you’re doing more than ten reps with ease, your weight probably isn’t heavy enough, so vary your reps and consistently increase the amount you’re lifting, ” says Dustin Hassard, NCSF, Head Coach at Modern Athletics. The same holds true when you’re doing cardio—and it’s as simple as turning up the speed or the resistance. Don’t believe it? Consider this: A 150-pound person who bumps the treadmill speed from 5 MPH to 6 MPH will boost their calorie burn by 25 percent, which, over time, can add up to major weight loss.
Doing the same workout for months on end and expecting to lose weight is a lot like using a cheesy pickup line to land a date—it’s just not going to work. Sure, that barre class may have helped you lose the first five pounds, but after you’ve mastered the moves, your progress is sure to stall. If you want the scale to tip in your favor, you have to vary your workouts and do exercises that you’re not particularly good at so your body stays challenged. To keep seeing results, mix up your intensity or duration every time you hit the gym, then completely switch your workout once a month. That could mean trying a boxing class if you’ve become a hardcore yogini, or simply drawing up new resistance and cardio routines every four weeks.
You know that consuming protein after your workout aids muscle repair and growth, so the more of it you eat, the better–right? Not so much. Researchers say that for those who weigh about 150 pounds, consuming 20 grams of protein within a half hour of leaving the gym is optimal. Lisa De Fazio, MS, RD says women who weigh a bit less may only need about 12 grams. Take in anymore than the recommended amount and the protein will likely be stored as fat, while the excess amino acids will simply be excreted, she notes. A 7-ounce Fage Total 2% Plain Yogurt fits the bill and is easy to throw in a gym bag and eat on the go. Mix it with some berries to add some flavor-enhancing, energy-replenishing carbs to your post-workout snack. Not a big fan of the creamy treat? Learn more about the Best Recovery Fuel for Every Workout here—there are plenty of other options.