At this time of year you’re bombarded with endless articles and posts claiming to reveal weight loss ‘secrets’ – the trouble is that the magic bullet to replace your belly with rippling abs doesn’t actually exist...
What you can do is to maximise the time you spend in the gym and the kitchen to get the results you want, without false starts, dead ends and frustration – RSNG has reviewed the latest on-point science to find out how…
1. HIIT The Gym But Use 60HIIT If you’re looking to shift a holiday bulge in your waistline, then this isn’t the ideal time to do time-consuming steady state cardio, whether that’s trudging along on the treadmill, or doing slow laps of the pool (unless you really are super-motivated and time rich.)
High Intensity Interval Training will push up your lactate threshold – while burning calories and firing up your metabolism – to get you noticablely fitter, fast. This, in turn, will stoke your motivation to do what comes next (more on that later).
So far, so good, but you should know that many people are doing HIIT all wrong. A brand new study by Liverpool John Moores University (presented by The Physiological Society, has discovered the optimal interval duration and rest period for HIIT sessions.
The researchers discovered that to get fitter you needed to do 6-10 intervals of 60 seconds (with 60 seconds rest in between), rather than the other common protocol of 4-8 30-second protocols with 120 seconds of rest in between. (They did the routines three-times per week for six weeks, with rest days in between, and then compared the results.)
Researcher Hannah Church said: ‘In order for people to get the most out of HIIT, you need to get the timing right. We found that 30 second intervals with 120 seconds of rest meant that participants’ heart rates didn’t stay up. 120 seconds is just too long to be resting for!’
You can do these sessions using simple bodyweight exercises (such as press-ups, pull-ups and jumps squats) but if you are doing them for the first time you need the supervision of a PT and to check with your doctor first (to check for possible heart health issues, which would make the sessions dangerous.)
You’ve just spent the holidays replenishing your reserves, so don’t go depleting them all over again’
2. Don’t Cut Calories Part of the push to get leaner in the New Year comes from guilt at all the holiday excess you’ve indulged in, prompting you to switch to a restrictive, low-calorie diet. It’s counterintuitive, but this is exactly what you shouldn’t do.
The holiday period should have been a chance to restock your physical and mental reserves, so use them to fuel your efforts to exercise more and achieve a healthier lifestyle, rather than depleting them all over again.
Instead of slashing back calories, look to swap out the inflammatory saturated fat and sugar of empty calorie treats with plenty of fresh fruit and veg, wholegrain carbs (to fuel your exercise plan), lean protein (to help your muscles recover) and healthy fats from plant sources. Not only will you be healthier, but these foods will make you feel fuller, helping you to consume fewer calories in the long run.
3. Look To Build Winter Strength And Muscle If you’re looking to develop a more active lifestyle, then it pays to start thinking seasonally. In the winter we generally consume more calories and spend more time indoors, which means winter is a great time to get stronger. You can put those extra cals and indoor hours to use in the weights room of the gym (or at home with some simple equipment) in order to get stronger and top up your muscle mass.
Not only will this help you to hit any of your ‘better looking body’ goals by building a V-shaped torso, it also means you can take on more endurance-based efforts, and adventures, in the summer without worrying about the slight muscle loss that often occurs.
Even without this, if you’re over 30, then your muscle mass will already be naturally depleting, unless you do something to counter the ageing process. Read Eddie Hall’s Six Golden Rules of The Weights Room for some pointers.
In the quest to get lean, it’s easy to believe that lighter is better. In actual fact, muscle is both denser and heavier than fat, which means that if your New Year training is going well you may make more of a dent on the scales – in this case, that’s a result!
4. Cut Sodium To Lose Cravings Indulging in fatty holiday foods is fun while it lasts, but your taste buds and body adapt, which can lead to cravings once you switch back to a healthier diet. Fortunately, there’s a health-giving hack you can use to counter these cravings: reduce your salt intake.
It turns out that eating salty foods, such as snacks, can actually increase your cravings for fatty foods, according to a 2016 study performed by Deakin University in Australia (which also discovered that there is a fat ‘taste’ in another study). It found that eating elevated amounts of salt increases fat sensitivity, AKA cravings.
The good news is that you already get enough salt from that naturally present in foods, so long as you’re eating a balanced diet, so all you need to do is avoid added salt, which will also help you to maintain a healthy heart – win, win!
5. Be Consistent When looking to burn bodyfat, the worst thing you can do is to yo yo between doing six workouts and eating like a health blogger one week, and then binging on The Witcher and eating takeout the week after, once it all becomes a bit much.
Your body will think there’s some kind of emergency going down and respond by packing even more bodyfat into your reserves. Instead, decide what you can realistically achieve in one week, without burning out or cutting corners, and then repeat that exactly over six weeks – even if it’s just one or two workouts a week, and some minor tweaks to your food intake.
Not only will you get to Week 6 leaner and healthier, but you’ll feel good about it too…
The most common pattern for bodyfat loss is quick early progress followed by a dispiriting plateau
6. Progression Is Golden The most common pattern for bodyfat loss is quick, early progress, which boosts your motivation, followed by a long and dispiriting plateau where nothing seems to happen.
This is completely natural because the easy gains come early, and because your body is hardwired by evolution to retain at least some spare reserves of bodyfat. That doesn’t mean it’s any less sucky, but it does mean you need to resist the urge to give up, and to keep gruadually progressing towards your goals.
Fortunately your body is also hardwired to adapt to increasingly challenging stimulus (ie your workouts.) So, hack into your evolutionary advantage by making sure you progress to incrementally harder workouts, or by introducing new kinds of movement and skill into your routines.
Try tracking more than just your weight by seeing how much you can improve your physical abilities, whether that’s the number of pull-ups you can do, your running time over 5K, your pace over 500m on the rowing machine, or taking up a new sport.
You might be surprised by the results…
WHAT NEXT? Looking for some ideas for fat-torching interval workouts? Then check out these calorie-killing sessions from top sportstars…
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.
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