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Walking during your jog can help you run farther, which leads to a bigger calorie burn. Just make sure you're only stopping two or three times during a half-hour run.
updated 5/1/2011 12:07:39 PM ET 2011-05-01T16:07:39

You're used to putting in hard work to get a hard body—and that's a good thing. You have to be committed to health and fitness to see lasting results. But occasionally "cheating" during your workout won't mess with your fitness goals—in fact, it can even help. The trick is to cheat wisely so that your shortcuts never turn into setbacks. Follow this guide.

The cheat: Stopping to walk during a run

The verdict:Go for it

Taking short walk breaks helps you run farther, burn more calories, and sidestep injury, says exercise physiologist Tom Holland, author of "Beat the Gym." So whether you're working up to three miles or training for a long-distance event, walking now and then can serve as a useful tool to build up your mileage and endurance. Just make sure you're stopping only two or three times during a 30-minute run, for about 30 to 60 seconds a pop.

No gym? Work out at home!

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The cheat: Not stretching before a workout

The verdict: Go for it

While research shows that stretching after a workout can boost strength, prevent injury, and increase range of motion, a 2010 study of almost 1,400 runners found that limbering up before exercise may have few — if any — benefits. To get your blood flowing and muscles prepped, dynamic movements are more effective, says Katie Rothstein, an exercise physiologist at the Orthopedic & Rheumatology Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. Exercises like arm swings and butt kicks increase your joints' range of motion and prime your muscles for action.

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The cheat: Skipping the last three reps

The verdict: Bad idea

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The final reps of a move are where the magic happens. "You have to stress your muscles if you want them to change, and that occurs in those last few reps," says Holland. Your last reps should be tough to finish but not so difficult that you have to compromise your form. If your form starts to suffer early in the set, switch to a lower weight so you won't have to skip the last reps—or hurt yourself trying to push through them.

How to stay motivated to keep up your workout.

The cheat: Resting longer than the prescribed time during a circuit

The verdict: Go for it

Many circuits call for short rests — usually 30 to 60 seconds — to keep your heart rate high enough to produce a cardio benefit (read: calorie burn). But if you're really struggling after a tough set, tack on an extra 30 seconds of rest, says Rebecca Stephenson, a board-certified women's health specialist in physical therapy at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital. It will give you (and your muscles) enough of a breather to complete the next set with perfect form — without compromising your calorie burn.

The cheat: Exercising in the morning when you're dead tired

The verdict: Bad idea

If you truly didn't get enough shut-eye (you rolled in at 3 a.m. or you were up all night with a crying baby), crawl back under the covers. A study found that when dieters were sleep deprived they lost less body fat and more lean muscle mass than when they tallied more Z's. What's more, exercising when you're too drained can take your focus off proper form, upping your risk of injury. If you're just feeling groggy, get your butt out of bed by committing to do half of your workout, suggests Michele Olson, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Alabama. Chances are, you'll pick up steam as you go and bang out the whole thing. "Knowing that you can cut it short will get you out the door, which is the hardest part," she says.

The cheat: Leaving class before the cooldown

The verdict: Go for it

Letting your heart rate slowly come down after a workout is a must, but skipping a guided cooldown isn't a big deal, says Holland. Simply walking to the locker room or your car will help ease your body back to its regular core temperature and heart rate, and circulate blood from the muscles you just worked back to your organs. In fact, this is why the stroll to baggage claim after a marathon is so long, says Holland. Sitting or standing still after a long or intense workout can cause the blood in your extremities to pool, which can lead to cramping or even fainting.

How to boost your metabolism—even when resting.

The cheat: Blowing off lower-body strength training

The verdict: Bad idea

Your leg muscles do get a workout during cardio, but you need to hit the weights (or do squats or lunges) to make sure you're hitting all of your muscle groups. "Muscles work in pairs, and when you stick to one type of cardio, you train only half of the pair," says Holland. "Strength training corrects these imbalances, so you stay injury-free and get great-looking legs to boot." Supplement your cardio regimen with at least two lower-body or total-body strength workouts a week, or combine strength and cardio by doing plyometric supersets (explosive moves like squat jumps and split lunge jumps done back-to-back without rest), says Holland.

The cheat: Not drinking H20 during exercise

The verdict: Depends

Unless you're working out for more than an hour or you're sweating profusely, you can get away with sipping six ounces before and at least 10 ounces after a sweat session, says Rebecca Stephenson, of Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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