5 Top Trainer Tactics
Follow these strategies to design your ultimate workout
NAIL A GOAL
And make it attainable and detailed. According to a study by the American College of Sports Medicine study, women who set smaller, specific goals are 30 percent likelier to reach them than those who shoot for big, general ones. To keep things simple, pick one of these (the three most often heard by trainers): a toned upper body; flat, bikini-worthy abs; or a strong, lean lower body. Then write down a weekly plan or register at traineo.com. This site not only helps track your workouts, it also lets you enter up to four motivators (coworker, boyfriend, whoever) who will get weekly progress reports via e-mail. If you slack, it's their job to harass you.
PICK SIX MOVES
"Lifting weights two to three times a week is enough to get noticeable results without spending hours each day in the gym," says Tom Terwilliger, owner of Terwilliger Fitness in Denver. "But this means you need to hit every major muscle group whenever you work out." Aim for six moves per workout and be sure to target all your key parts (abs, arms, back, chest, glutes, and legs). Use this chart to choose your moves. In all, the sequence shouldn't take longer than about five songs on your workout playlist.
Toned Upper Body
Work your chest - 1 move, back - 2 move, arms - 1 move, core - 1 move, lower body - 1 move
Work your core - 3 move, chest - 1 move, back - 1 move, lower body - 1 move
Lean Lower Body
Work your glutes - 2 move, quads - 1 move, hamstrings - 1 move, upper body - 1 move, core - 1 move
PLACE YOUR ORDER
How many times have you saved your least favorite move for the end, only to rush through it while debating whether your postgym beer counts as hydration? In a recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers found that women couldn't do as many reps toward the end of their workout. "You lose mental focus, and your muscles fatigue during a strength session," says Jeffrey Willardson, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of Eastern Illinois. Tackle the moves tied to your goal at the beginning of your workout when you have the most energy.
Some other general rules to lift by:
IF YOU WANT A TONED UPPER BODY
Think big, then small. Do chest and upper-back exercises before targeting your smaller arm muscles, since you end up working your biceps and triceps in most upper-body moves. If you've already exhausted them with isolating moves, you won't get as much out of anything you do afterward.
IF YOU WANT FLAT ABS
Squeeze them in. To get a firm, flat midsection even faster, insert a core exercise between your lower- and upper-body moves. "It will reactivate those muscles so they're constantly engaged during the workout," Terwilliger says. "It keeps them firing."
IF YOU WANT A LEAN LOWER BODY
Start with your bum. Hit it first and hit it hard. Because your glutes are the biggest muscles of all, your rear end burns more calories than any other body part.
GET YOUR NUMBERS STRAIGHT
The number of times you repeat a move is what strengthens your muscle fibers. How many reps do you need? That depends on your goal. If you want to...
Do 4 to 6 reps with a weight heavy enough that you can barely get through the last one.
Maximize power (how fast the muscle can move)
Do 8 to 12 reps.
Do 15 to 25 reps.
Breaking up moves into groups of repetitions, or sets, allows you to get through more reps -- because you can rest in between. Doing 3 sets is enough to challenge the muscle completely, Willardson says. If you're pressed for time, do 1 set of each move rather than skipping a move or two and doing all 3 sets. Studies show that you get 50 to 90 percent of your strength gains from your first set.
Generally, choose a weight that makes finishing your last set with good form barely doable. But once every four to six sessions, opt for a heft that leaves you totally spent after 4 to 6 reps (and, no, this doesn't get you out of the remaining 2 sets). This activates your fast-twitch muscles -- needed for short bursts of strength. "In everyday life, they don't get called on as often as other muscle fibers," says Mike Godard, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at Western Illinois University. "So they're especially important to pay attention to in the gym."
Rest between sets
Once a month, your body makes hormones that seem like evildoers. But every time you work out you produce growth hormone -- your ally in the fight for a halter-ready body. Growth hormone levels spike following an individual set of moves and help amino acids -- what protein is made of -- latch on to and feed the muscle so it can grow stronger. The key to gaining strength is to keep your recovery time to 30 to 60 seconds, Willardson says, so hormone levels are consistently amped and ready to help fuel your muscles.
TWEAK AS YOU GO
Once every 4 weeks, switch up your moves, weight, sets, reps, and/or rest. This will prevent your muscles from plateauing like a crap day for the Dow.