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By Jessica Cassity
A successful workout program requires tracking and progression, says Brynn Jinnett, owner of Refine Method in New York City. By keeping tabs of your fitness, you'll be more inclined to improve it. Create a baseline fitness test, making sure to include moves that measure the strength of all of your major muscles. Maybe you gauge things like the number of pushups you can do, how long you can hold a plank, how many lunges you can do in 60 seconds, and how long you can hold a wall squat. Then make it your goal to beat those numbers one month from now.
A successful workout program requires tracking and progression, says Brynn Jinnett, owner of Refine Method in New York City. By keeping tabs of your fitness, you'll be more inclined to improve it. Create a baseline fitness test, making sure to include moves that measure the strength of all of your major muscles. Maybe you gauge things like the number of pushups you can do, how long you can hold a plank, how many lunges you can do in 60 seconds, and how long you can hold a wall squat. Then make it your goal to beat those numbers one month from now. (Related: 7 No-Equipment Moves for a Better Butt)
If you're trying to slim down, consume a majority of your calories before 3 p.m., says Paul Arciero, D.P.E., a professor of nutrition and exercise science at Skidmore College. People who eat their biggest meals early in the day shed more weight than those who eat the same number of calories with a majority of them later in the day. So keep your dinners light and don't let lunch get pushed back into the late afternoon.
And bulk up your breakfast with eggs—you won't find a more perfect protein source. Eggs are highly respected by dietitians because of their balance of essential amino acids (protein building blocks used by your body to manufacture everything from muscle fibers to brain chemicals). Researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center found that when people ate eggs in the morning, they felt less hungry throughout the day than when breakfast consisted of complex carbohydrates like bagels. "The protein and fat in the egg may be contributing to the feeling of satiety," says lead researcher Nikhil V. Dhurandhar, Ph.D.
What will majorly sideline your quest for a bikini body? An injury that could easily have been avoided. “The power of stretching is vastly underrated and oftentimes forgotten,” says Joey Hays, a certified GX cycle instructor in Portland, Oregon. “As we age, the elasticity of our muscles decreases and is accelerated by sports that can overuse and overwork muscles through repetitive motion.” This overuse can lead to aches, pains, and injury. That's why it's important to develop a stretching routine that targets the muscles you use the most—probably the ones in your legs and butt. After your cool-down, devote about five minutes to static stretching, making sure to hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. This dynamic warm-up will absolutely improve your weight-lifting game.
Skip the high-cal, sugar-spiked baked goods and sip this hydrating, nutrient-packed juice from Eric Helms, founder and owner of Juice Generation, when you want a sweet snack that sneaks in servings of produce to boot: In a juicer, combine 2 to 3 carrots (greens removed), 1 seeded apple, 1/2 small beet, and 1/4 peeled lemon. This combo will boost your vitamin A levels while also giving your skin a rosy glow and providing a little natural SPF for your skin thanks to all of the carotenoids packed in the beets and carrots.
Toss in a handful of spinach or kale, too—promise you won’t even taste it! One cup of spinach contains only about 40 calories and is a good source of calcium, an essential ingredient for muscle contraction. In other words, this flat-stomach food will also help fuel your workouts.
You can get the mind-body benefits of yoga without even rolling out a mat: Just work some poses and pauses into your morning grind, says Erin Moone, co-owner of StarCycle, an indoor cycling studio in Portland, Oregon. “Think 'yoga' from the time you rise until you walk out the door for work—it's a mediation in motion.” Do some shoulder openers in the shower while shampooing, blow-dry your hair upside-down to stretch out your hamstrings, and lunge into a warrior III while making your bed. The more you find time to fit in, the better—stress causes your body to hold onto more fat, so devoting your mornings to erasing any anxiety can help your weight-loss efforts in the long run.
Eating lunch at a restaurant can make it harder to lose weight. In fact, in one study, women who dined out midday at least once a week shed five fewer pounds than those who ate food from home. Pack your own noon meal and you'll not only save calories, you'll save cash too.
Quinoa + salmon (we have this recipe on repeat) is a go-to combo our experts recommend. Pronounced KEEN-wah, the whole grain contains 5 grams of fiber and 11 grams of protein per half cup. Quinoa's nutty flavor and crunchy-yet-chewy texture are like a cross between whole-wheat couscous and short-grain brown rice. Pair a half cup of this best food for abs with a four-ounce serving of wild salmon. Seafood, especially fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, is an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. If that doesn't hook you, consider this: Seafood is an excellent source of muscle-boosting, ab-friendly protein.
Anyone who's ever sipped a coffee before exercising knows that the drink can add some extra oomph to exercise. (Here’s why caffeine might just be the best thing to happen to your workouts.) But java is good for more than just powering your runs or plyo sessions: Research shows it can also help protect your body from the harmful effects of the sun, although you still need to slather on sunscreen. For a real treat, make your pre-warmup an iced coffee so the energizing effects of the caffeine peak when you hit the hardest part of your workout.
The end of the week often means meeting the girls for happy hour—and downing tons of calories between the beers and nachos. Have just as much fun without all the junk by joining your friends for a different fitness class each Friday evening, suggests Giselle McInnis, a former NFL cheerleader and co-owner of barre3 UTC/La Jolla, a studio in San Diego. Or if Sunday brunch is your weakness, turn those dates into Sweaty Sundays. Even if you go out after your workout, you’ll likely be less hungry for anything heavy—and if you are, you’ve already burned off some of those calories!
Nowadays we have heart rate monitors around our chests, GPS chips in our shoes, and MP3 players in our hands. But getting to the next level may require checking in with your body, not your metrics. “We're wired with hundreds of natural gauges, alarms, and dashboards to measure performance,” Hays says. “Listen to what your body is telling you to know when to push forward and when to dial it back.” Every few weeks try a (mostly) tech-free workout to see how it really feels. You may surprise yourself by going harder than before, or by realizing your current regimen is setting you up to harm your body.
Ditch the belly-ballooning carbonated drinks and brew some tea to banish bloat. Grate some ginger—the flat-stomach food is known to soothe the digestive tract—into hot water, then add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, or steep about 5 grams of dried dandelion leaf (a diuretic) in one cup of hot water, strain, and drink once the water cools slightly. Other varieties of tea shown to help with gas include peppermint and chamomile. (Related: 15 Refreshing Iced Tea Recipes to Help You Chill Out)
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, especially when they lead to leaner legs and a firmer, more lifted tush. Try this move—called “diamonds” because of the shape your legs make—from McInnis:
Seek out remixes or mash-ups of your favorite music to freshen up your playlist, Moone suggests. Only add songs that make you want to move—a strong beat can help you pick up the pace of your cardio routine, she says. We love Pandora’s Pop and Hip-Hop Power Workout station and Spotify’s Gold School playlist.
It’s not summer without backyard barbecues and burgers—but you don’t have to miss out. Minimize the damage by passing on the cheese and bacon and opting for a few creamy slices of avocado instead, says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. You’ll save at least 100 calories all while adding extra flavor, vitamins, and those beneficial monounsaturated fats.
Then pair your upgraded sammie with a bowl of berries. Most are loaded with fiber, every dieter's best friend. The more fiber you eat—experts say that it's best to get between 25 and 35 grams every day—the fewer calories you absorb from all the other stuff you put in your mouth. That's because fiber traps food particles and shuttles them out of your system before they're fully digested. Berries (and other fruits) are also high in antioxidants, which not only help protect you from chronic diseases like cancer but may also help you get more results from your workouts. "Antioxidants help improve blood flow, which can help muscles contract more efficiently," says David Katz, M.D., a professor at the Yale University School of Medicine.
Warmer, sunnier days can make you want to spend more time outside—but not necessarily running. Cut your mileage and enjoy the weather with high-intensity interval training, Jinnett says. Full-body circuit training not only burns a load of calories while you sweat, it also torches additional calories in the hours after by keeping your metabolic rate high.
Here's one sequence to try: Hold a heavy dumbbell or large water jug in each hand. Alternate walking lunges and pushups for 30-second intervals for a total of 5 rounds. Perform on the beach for an added challenge!
You already know that spicy foods that have capsaicin, an ingredient found in chile peppers, can help heat up your metabolism. But splurging on salsa and chips every evening isn't the best strategy for slimming down: Corn tortilla chips may be lower in fat than potato chips, but they still pack in seven grams and 140 calories per ounce, and, let’s face it, it's hard to resist diving into an entire bag once it’s open! Instead, sub flat-belly foods such as endive leaves or slices of red pepper or carrots. You'll still get that great crunch—without the extra fat and for far fewer calories. (Related: Easy Paleo Appetizers and Snacks for Parties)
If you're planning to Zumba your way to a better body, be sure you're really pushing your limits in class. “The bigger the arm and leg movements, the more intense the workout,” says Fen Tung, a Zumba instructor in Boston. To get the biggest burn, exaggerate your steps, lunges, slides, and kicks to really boost your heart rate. And try these five dance workouts that totally count as cardio.
Don't ruin your diet by indulging in super sugary drinks, says Chrissy Wellington, a nutritionist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts. Instead of that margarita (which can pack almost 500 calories), try a shot of one of the season’s new flavored vodkas with a splash of soda and squeeze of citrus for around 100 calories. Some of the fun varieties include Square One Organic Spirits Cucumber and Basil, Absolut Cilantro, and, for those who prefer fruity drinks, Smirnoff Sorbet Light in mango passion fruit, raspberry pomegranate, and lemon.
One study found that 40 percent of African American women avoided exercise because they didn't want to mess up their hair, and trainers say that women of all races use this cop-out. Simple fix: The oh-so-easy ponytail, which can transition from gym to office or even out on the town. Play around to find a ‘do you can rock during—and after—exercise, like one of these 15 red carpet-worthy hairstyles that fit right in at the gym.
If you can’t stand your iced coffee without extras, add a dash or two of cinnamon, which most shops now offer by the sugar. And seek out unsweetened soy milk, since soybeans are a great source of antioxidants, fiber, and protein. Liquid soy also makes a good meal replacement: A study from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that overweight subjects who drank a soy milk–based meal replacement lost more weight than those who consumed a traditional dairy-based diet drink.
For a 16-ounce drink, these two changes eliminates about 150 calories compared to using flavored syrup and 2-percent milk.
During strength-training sessions, focus on your legs, says Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S., author of Turbulence Training. “Moves like squats and lunges work the biggest muscles in your body, which means you get the biggest calorie burn during and after exercise.” You can always make these combo moves to tone the full-body. For example, add an overhead lift between each squat or do a plank row.
“Out of sight, out of mind” certainly applies when it comes to mindless eating. Keeping serving dishes in the kitchen and not in the dining room can help nix the tendency to go back for second helpings, cutting that meal’s calories by about a third, say Cornell University researchers.
Feel free to pepper your environment with healthy options, however, like a bowl of fruit, one of the best categories to find plenty of flat-belly foods. A study in the journal Nutrition found that overweight women who consumed three apples or pears a day for three months lost more weight than their counterparts who were fed a similar diet with oat cookies instead of fruits. "A large apple has five grams of fiber, but it's also nearly 85 percent water, which helps you feel full," explains Elisa Zied, R.D., author of So What Can I Eat?!. Apples also contain quercetin, a compound shown to help fight certain cancers, reduce cholesterol damage, and promote healthy lungs.
“Pretend life is a music video—have fun all day long by imagining you're moving to your favorite song,” Moone says. Add a little fancy footwork to your morning commute, shake your booty while washing dishes, or bust out some Bruno Mars moves while sitting through a boring conference call, and you’ll burn a few extra calories here and there. The next day your cheeks may hurt from smiling, and your thighs may be sore too. (Related: Follow Along with Our Ultimate At-Home Cardio Workout)
To help your muscles recover after a hard workout, reach for a snack that contains protein after each sweat session, Arciero says. Twenty-five grams is the amount required to help your muscles repair and build, and the addition of lean muscle mass will ultimately help you burn more calories all day long.
Get two benefits in one from Greek yogurt, one of the best foods for flat abs. Not only is it packed with protein (about 25 grams per cup), but people who get their calcium from yogurt rather than from other sources may lose more weight around their midsection, according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity. The probiotic bacteria in most yogurts help keep your digestive system healthy, which translates into a lower incidence of gas, bloating, and constipation, which can keep your tummy looking flat.
Strapped for time to exercise? “Lump your workout in with your errands by riding your bike on trips that are within a few miles of your house,” Hays says. With the weather warming and the days getting longer, hopping on a bike can help make a trip to the grocery store feel fun, not like a chore.
Have a water “appetizer” before each meal. You'll stay hydrated as the heat rises, which can make exercise feel easier, and drinking 2 cups of water before eating can help you consume fewer calories when you dig in, according to research from Virginia Tech.
Then grab a spoon: Scientists at Pennsylvania State University found that people who ate broth-based (or low-fat cream-based) soups two times a day were more successful in losing weight than those who ate the same amount of calories in snack food. Soup eaters also maintained, on average, a total weight loss of 16 pounds after one year. "Plus, it's a simple way to get your vegetables," says Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., author of Power Eating. (Related: 10 Healthy Soups to Keep You Slim and Satisfied)
Turn your resistance-training sessions into circuit-training workouts, Ballantyne says. By shortening your rest periods to less than 30 seconds between sets, you'll get more done faster. And as you breeze through that strength workout, you'll also be getting your cardio in, which can burn extra calories.
If you tend to crave unhealthy foods, like cookies or deep-dish pizza, the day after a late night, you’re not the only one: Too little sleep leads to 50-percent higher carb cravings, according to research from the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. And the more tired you feel, the stronger those cravings are because your body is literally trying to get more energy. Stay jazzed all day and kick cravings in the face by getting about seven hours of sleep a night, which research suggests is the ideal amount to feel recharged in the morning.
It’s been proven time and time again: People who exercise in a group tend to work longer and harder than those who train solo. (Check out the many benefits of taking a workout class vs. exercising alone.) At least once a week, ask a friend to join you in the weight room, go jogging with your sister, or meet with a cycling group to make sure you're really pushing yourself.
Pass on the creamy salad dressings and choose oil-and-vinegar-based ones, Gans suggests. Better yet, ask for all dressings on the side so you can control calories by limiting the amount you use. And remember to skip the fat-free ones—your body need fats to feel satisfied and absorb the veggies’ nutrients. (Related: 3-Ingredient Salad Dressings You Can Shake Up in No Time)
Then up the ante by opting for almonds instead of croutons. These nuts contain filling protein and fiber, not to mention vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. The flat-stomach food is also a good source of magnesium, a mineral your body must have in order to produce energy, build and maintain muscle tissue, and regulate blood sugar. "A stable blood-sugar level helps prevent cravings that can lead to overeating and weight gain," Katz says. But what makes almonds most interesting is their ability to block calories. Research indicates that the composition of their cell walls may help reduce the absorption of all of their fat, making them an extra-lean nut.
You don't have to be wearing sneakers to burn extra calories. New research from Oregon State University shows that mini-exercise blasts done all day long can easily add up to the suggested 30 minutes of physical activity. The trick is to actively seek out ways to get in a little extra exercise—you know the drill, opting to take the stairs instead of the escalator or standing on the bus, not sitting. Chances are you probably do this anyway, but if you notice that you're moving less when you wear cute but uncomfortable summer sandals and heels, switch to more-feet-friendly footwear during the day.