We are a few short weeks away from Memorial Day weekend. The unofficial kickoff to summer has many of us dusting off our gym memberships and meal prepping salads in hopes of shedding the last few pounds of winter weight.
According to Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD, founder and director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, surveys show that people gain an average of five to seven pounds each winter. So chances are you have some extra baggage you're trying to offload before you hit the beach.
But getting your fitness back on track doesn't have to mean spending hours toiling away on the treadmill. It's about working smarter.
The countdown is on: It's time to get strategic about your exercise routine. Employ these tricks of the trade to boost motivation, fast-track your results and even enjoy the process of getting fit.
Throw around some curse words
We've all let a four-letter-word slip during an intense round of burpees or pushing through the burn on those final few crunches.
It turns out that channeling your inner sailor may actually be helping you power through your workout.
A recent study found that those who swore while working out boosted performance by 2 to 4 percent — and an 8 percent increase in strength — compared to those who kept it clean.
Why exactly does throwing around expletives help? The researchers hypothesize that swearing provides a distraction that allows people to push harder than they normally would, similar to what happens when people meditate with a mantra.
So next time you're trying to bang out those last few reps, don't suppress the urge to mutter some choice words under your breathe — it may just help you power through a few extra rounds.
Play with toys
One of the simplest ways to up the intensity, and increase the effectiveness, of any workout is to add a prop. Dumbbells, TRX bands, kettlebells, weighted medicine balls and sliding discs can easily be found at every gym (or online if you like to workout at home), and they up the intensity of standard moves like pushups, squats and crunches.
Need some convincing to make the investment? Research sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that kettlebell training significantly boosts aerobic capacity, while also improving core strength and dynamic balance. In fact, workouts using kettlebells burn 20 calories per minute (which is equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace!) — that's 400 calories in just 20 minutes. Another study published in Human Movement Science found that doing a suspended pushup using TRX bands activated the abdominals 184 percent more than doing a standard pushup. Hello, beach body.
A recent study published in the journal Preventative Medicine Reports compared different ways that fitness routines motivate people to work out and found that competition was a far stronger motivator than friendly support. (Attendance rates were 90 percent higher in the competitive groups than in the control group.) In fact, you're better off leaving people alone than offering them support, which the study revealed made them less likely to go to the gym.
Think about your own experience: that "You can do it!" text from your best friend may be appreciated — but is it really motivating you to workout any harder or more frequently? We're much more likely to get in those extra steps when we're engaged in a Fitbit challenge, or run a little faster when the guy next to us on the treadmill is closing in on 6 miles.
"Competitive groups frame relationships in terms of goal-setting by the most active members. These relationships help to motivate exercise because they give people higher expectations for their own levels of performance," said Damon Centola, an associate professor in Penn's Annenberg School and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and senior author on the paper. "In a competitive setting, each person's activity raises the bar for everyone else. Social support is the opposite: a ratcheting-down can happen. If people stop exercising, it gives permission for others to stop, too, and the whole thing can unravel fairly quickly."
So channel your inner competitor. Get a fitness tracker and create weekly challenges with friends and family. Sign up for a race and set a personal time goal to work towards. Try a group fitness class that ranks your performance in real time, like spin or rowing. Or simply set a goal to keep up with a friend who is working out next to you.
Cut down on workout time (but up the intensity)
Yes, we are telling you to shorten the time you spend at the gym. But before you get too excited — you're also going to need to majorly up the intensity of your workout.
Studies have shown that one minute of all-out exercise can have the same benefits as 45-minutes of moderate exercise. So it's time to trade in that leisurely treadmill jog (during which you watch two episodes of Friends and read a magazine) for a high-intensity workout where you go all out for 20 minutes.
Interval training is a smart way to begin upping the intensity of your workouts. Research shows that alternating between eight seconds of high-intensity exercise and 12 seconds of lower intensity exercise for a 20 minute period, three times a week led to more weight loss than working out at a steady peace for twice as long. This type of interval training is also more effective at decreasing abdominal fat and body weight, while maintaining muscle mass. So say goodbye to the hour-long gym sessions. Get in, push yourself as hard as you can, and get on with your day (after you catch your breath).
Listen to the right music
When it comes to making those high-intensity workouts as painless as possible, the right playlist is key.
A 2014 study found that listening to music makes strenuous workouts feel easier, encouraging people to push themselves harder. A recent study published in the Journal of Sport Sciences came to similar conclusions about the use of music during high-intensity workouts. The researchers found that your playlist can make HIIT workouts more enjoyable and increase the chances that you consistently incorporate them into your routine. So what songs should we be adding to the queue? The answer is simple: your favorites. Whether you're a sucker for a top-40 hit, love 80's rock, or get lost in angsty Ed Sheerhan ballads, all that matters is that you're listening to music you enjoy.
Roll it out
Foam rolling has become increasingly trendy. And this is one workout fad that deserves to stay. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that rolling significantly reduced soreness and boosted recovery. In fact, it reduced muscle soreness one, two and three days after a squat routine, increased range of motion in the quadricep muscles and resulted in better performance in a vertical leap test. And you don't need to roll it out for long to reap the benefits: Just two minutes of foam rolling has been shown to increase range of motion by ten degrees.