Getting yourself to the gym can be a drag—so you might as well make the most of your time there and get the best results possible. People often get stuck in the same old routine and just go through the motions, which does not make for super-effective workouts. The good news: Making a few simple tweaks to your form, your focus, and your effort level can energize your exercise and help you lose weight and get toned in less time. Use these tips from top trainers to get a bigger burn from five popular types of workouts.
1. TO BOOST YOUR STRENGTH TRAINING, WORK YOUR MUSCLES IN PAIRS.
Weightlifting is essential for getting toned and building lean muscle and strong bones, but a lot of people waste their time in the weight room. To get the most out of your session, first of all, don’t spend it all chatting. Second, work opposing muscle groups, advises Jimmy Minardi, certified personal trainer and founder of Minardi Training on Long Island, New York. “For example, do an exercise that works your biceps, then do a set of triceps exercise,” he says.
Also, do 10 minutes of cardio in your aerobic zone (around 130 to 140 beats per minute) at the beginning of your workout and in five-minute increments between sets of lifting. “Rotating between weight training and aerobic work is an amazing way to get great results in a short amount of time,” says Minardi.
2. LISTEN UP AT THE BARRE.
Even though this ballet-inspired workout is low-intensity, it can reap major slimming, muscle-sculpting results—if you do it right. To stay on track, first listen to your teacher. “Pay close attention when your instructor talks about where you’re supposed to feel an exercise and what you should focus on,” says Chelsea Gentry, an instructor at FlyBarre in New York City. “When you’re working really hard, it’s easy to tune out some of these details, but if you listen closely you’ll be able to take your form and your results to the next level.”
If a position feels awkward or hurts, ask how to tweak it; the teacher can usually suggest an adjustment that helps you get more out of the move, says Gentry. Finally, don’t be afraid to go light. “You should never sacrifice good form in order to use heavier weights,” she says. “It seems counterintuitive, but you can actually get way more out of an exercise using lighter weights if you make sure your body is in proper alignment.”
3. THINK POSITIVE DURING INTERVAL TRAINING.
High-intensity interval training (aka HIIT) is all the rage, and for good reason. You work at max effort for short intervals of cardio or strength moves, with little rest time in between. How to get even more out of this hard-core workout? Be your own coach, advises Nikki Warren, the Lake Tahoe–based cofounder of Kaia FIT: “Constantly think about where your body is in space, focus on form, and keep your muscles engaged.”
To push yourself harder, have a go-to positive mantra that you repeat to yourself. (She suggests something short and sweet, like, “Strong body, powerful mind.”) And an easy way to boost your performance is to drink plenty of water before, during, and after you sweat. “Studies show that being properly hydrated makes you 20 percent more efficient in your workout,” notes Warren. (This goes for all exercise, not just HIIT.)
4. WATCH YOUR FORM IN SPIN CLASS.
You can blast a serious amount of calories in one 45- or 60-minute group-cycling class, and tone your core and lower body to boot. But it’s easy to get lazy with the motion and hunch, which can harm your results. So first, make sure you’re in the right position. “I recommend riders place their hands on the far edges of the handle bars with their palms facing each other with a gentle grip on the side of the handle bar,” says Jared Stein, an instructor at Flywheel in New York City. Doing so lengthens your spine and lets your shoulders relax, so you don’t tense up and can work harder.
Then think about powering through your heels. “We’re a quad-dominant culture, meaning when we walk, jog, or run, we push off the ball of our foot and use the anterior muscles in our legs and trunk; we often forget about our glutes and hamstrings,” says Stein. But you should use both sides of your legs evenly on the bike—to rev up the most power and sculpt each side. Here’s how: As you push down, lead with your heel, not your toes. Then think about actively pulling up the pedal with your hamstrings, heel first. Finally, don’t be scared to go so hard that you feel breathless for a moment. “To truly make strides in our fitness, we need to go as hard as our bodies will allow. If being a little winded is going to be the most physically challenging thing we are going to encounter on a daily basis, we are going to be okay!”
5. TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND MAINTAIN YOUR FOCUS IN YOGA.
Depending on which type of practice you’re into, yoga can help you improve everything from your strength and stamina to your flexibility. To get into the zone and help you find Zen, focus your eyes on one point in front of you during each pose, advises Bethany Lyons, cofounder of Lyons Den Power Yoga in New York City. “Don’t let distractions take over,” she says. “Pay attention to what you’re doing now, on performing the best quality version of the pose or movement. Increased quality and focus equals increased results.”
Also essential: Remember to breathe, trying to keep it easy and steady. (If you ever stop breathing, that’s a sign you need to dial back your intensity or stop holding a particular pose, says Lyons.) Last but definitely not least, keep your core engaged—it’ll not only help tone your midsection, but will also keep you steady through your poses. Be aware of the parts of your body that are in contact with the floor for each pose, too, suggests Lyons, and focus on keeping them firmly planted. “A solid foundation will improve your results and reduce chance of injury,” she says.