To Your Health
May, 2011 (Vol. 05, Issue 05)
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6 Common-Sense Strategies to Get in Great Shape

By Dr. Perry Nickelston

Legendary martial artist Bruce Lee once said, "Simplicity is the key to brilliance." He was right. In the world of fitness and exercise, simple principles give you the best results. Getting into shape does not have to be difficult.

Contrary to popular opinion, you don't need to annihilate yourself with grueling workouts that would exhaust most professional athletes. It's not about training hard, it's about training smart.

When sculpting a lean physique, quantity is not nearly as important as quality. You don't need to spend endless hours on expensive equipment, either. Walk into the majority of fitness clubs these days and you'll be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of exercise equipment. It's hard to know where to begin. Not only is it intimidating, but in reality, none of these fancy machines with innumerable moving parts is necessarily more effective in building a lean, muscular, functional body.

Complex does not mean better. You are about to discover simple exercise strategies that can be done easily, quickly and with great results, even if you are a beginner. So, what should you be doing? Good question. Let's get into some simple fitness tips and strategies to help you reach your goals.

1. Get Off the Machines

man lifting weight - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Free weights require more muscle activation for stabilization and control of movements, which means you burn more calories with every exercise. Muscles require energy to contract; the more energy you use with a movement, the more calories you burn and the leaner you get – assuming you don't overdo training and maintain good form.

An effective exercise strategy is to perform compound, multi-joint free-weight movements that integrate the upper and lower body. For example, instead of simply standing in one place doing biceps curls for your arms, add alternating single-leg lunges while curling. You now get the metabolic effect of using the lower-body leg muscles and the added challenge of controlling the upper-body free weight. There is no need to go as heavy on the weights since the body must use more muscle to control proper balance.

Lifting free weights conditions the body to release substances (hormones, enzymes) that promote fat breakdown and encourage muscle building. You can capitalize on fat breakdown with a minimum of three days a week of weight training. This frequency encourages additional glycogen usage and storage, preventing carbohydrates from being stored as fat.

Try this fat-shredding free-weight routine: Do six sets of 12 repetitions per multi-joint movement (for example, biceps curls combined with lunges) with only 15 seconds of rest between sets. The nice thing here is you get the fat loss and cumulative volume muscle fatigue benefits of minimal rest between sets.

2. Fine Tune Your Cardio

The timing of your cardiovascular workouts affects your fat-loss / muscle-mass equation. Cardio promotes fat loss, but do too much and you may also get hit with a decrease in strength, muscle and metabolism. Doing cardio workouts three times a week (minimum) in the morning before breakfast is ideal to capitalize on maximum fat burning. Since you will not have eaten for several hours, your body will be unable to recruit its stores of carbohydrates for fuel, and will instead burn stored body fat for energy. So, you burn more body fat in less time. If a morning cardio workout is not possible, then it is recommended after weight training, not before.