The scourge of modern day living is that we never seem to have enough time – for anything. Despite more and more labor and time saving gadgets, from increased car ownership to internet shopping – all designed to save us time, we still seem short of it.

Nowadays, our lifestyles are frequently a constant whirl of activities and we rush from one to the other, barely pausing for breath. One of the problems is the lack of available time for the most important activity for good all-round and long-term health – exercise. Very often it’s exercise that gets sidelined in favour of other things because ‘we’re just too busy’.

Making time for exercise is important, so if you’re struggling to fit exercise into your life, help is at hand – here are our top tips to help you integrate exercise into your life, even on the busy days.

Commuter exercise

With traffic congestion ever on the increase, combining exercise with your commuting trips to and from work can not only save you a trip to the gym later, but it can also reduce your commuting time.

Walking a mile and a half at the beginning and end of your working day wins on every level…

  • It only takes about 25 minutes.
  • It counts towards your recommended weekly cardiovascular exercise quota of 5 sessions of 20 minutes or more.
  • It burns off the equivalent of up to half-a-pound of body fat a week.

Cycling is very efficient exercise and enables you to cover greater distances. Plus, you can get a better workout in the same time frame.

If you have shower facilities at work, perhaps try jogging a couple of times a week or even easier, a jog home brings in a quality workout.

Superset exercise

Super-setting is a great technique to save time in the gym. Used correctly, it can cut your exercise time by 50% yet still give you the same results. Instead of having rest periods between two sets of an exercise, you select an alternative exercise that rests the muscle that you’ve just trained, and exercises the opposite one, before you complete your second set.

For example, alternate exercises for:

  • Chest and upper back.
  • Stomach and lower back.
  • Front and back of upper arm.
  • Front and back of thigh.

Circuit training

This circuit training is great for a gym workout and combines cardiovascular and resistance training in one fast-paced and supremely effective session. Try out the sample program below:

  • Start with a cardiovascular (CV) warm-up for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Complete three sets of different resistance exercises for different muscle groups, without a break, for example:
    1. Chest press
    2. Lat pulldown
    3. Leg press
    4. Upright rows
    5. Skullcrushers
  • Move straight onto a piece of cardiovascular equipment for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Choose three more resistance exercises and keep alternating with cardiovascular training as before.
  • Finish with an easy, relaxed cool-down.

Activity for life

Being fit and healthy isn’t all about living at the gym or running marathons. Building activity into your life is a great way to keep fit without encroaching on precious time. Think about the following exercise inclusive strategies to help improve your fitness and save your time:

  • A family weekend activity such as a woodland walk is a great opportunity to spend time together and also enjoy the benefits of some exercise.Walking
  • Any sport – almost every sport requires physical fitness and there are a host of sports where you can build and improve your fitness as you learn the activity. Why not choose a new sport that you’ve always fancied trying and use it to improve your fitness as well?

Exercise and television

It sits in the corner of everyone’s lounge and we all watch it. But you can still enjoy your favourite shows and improve your fitness. Flexibility is the most neglected component of fitness and relaxing with a routine of all over stretches can easily be carried out whilst you tune into your regular soap operas!

Always make sure that you are well warmed up before you start and then simply ease into each stretch in the comfort of your own home. You’ll not only save specific training time, you’ll also find that your other workouts are more effective as your flexibility improves, as well as making you feel loose, supple and relaxed.

Make every training session count

When you workout, it is easy to slip into a rut and ‘go through the motions’. That could mean reading a book on an exercise bike or carrying out exercises without any real structure or focus. Although you get some training benefits, the problem is that you’re not maximizing your training time. The solution is each session a quality session, where you really put in the effort. The big advantage here is that because you are going for quality, you will find that you can do fewer training sessions and get either the same or even better results, thereby saving time.

Plan and organise your exercise

One of the keys to success in any field is to be organised – that way you are more efficient and you save time. Exercise is no different. You don’t need to be overly regimented, simply thinking in advance about how and when you can fit some exercise into your day will make a big difference. Why not try packing your gym bag the night before and taking it to work so that you can stop off for your workout on the way home? That way you save unnecessary traveling time.

Make the most of your lunch hour

Lunchtime can be an excellent opportunity to get an exercise session in. It could be a brisk walk in the park, a cycle ride or perhaps a quick gym visit followed by a sandwich at your desk. If you have an hour for lunch, with some planning you could squeeze a 30-minute session between traveling and showering and still be back before the hour is up.

Conclusion to time saving exercise

The key to saving time for exercise is to want to do it. Setting yourself a goal or challenge will help you concentrate on what is important to you and it will help you focus on incorporating exercise into your life. Communicate your goal to family and friends so that they can ‘buy-in’ to your commitment and help out with tasks and chores. Time for you is important and with some careful planning, everyone can tap into some of the exercise strategies above. Try out a few of the time-saving ideas and before you know it, your new exercise routine will have become something of a habit – and a fun and healthy one too.

Ask anyone who has run a conventional marathon or successfully completed L’Etape de Tour or indeed the Marathon Des Sables and they will probably tell you that winning the mental battle is the toughest part of their achievement.

Mental skill training

Almost all serious athletes acknowledge that mental skill training plays at least some role in their overall preparation and delivery of a great performance. Exactly how much of an influence is a hotly debated topic. Most level-headed sports scientists and enthusiasts would definitely argue that great results come from a combination of real physical training and sound mental training.

The power of positive thought

An intriguing study with direct implications for athletes was conducted by exercise scientist, Bill Morgan. Morgan hypnotised cyclists before they started to cycle on a bicycle ergometer. The cyclists were asked to pedal for 15 minutes at a constant speed against a constant resistance. For the first five minutes they were told that they were cycling on a flat road. As would be expected, their heart and breathing rates increased and then plateaued.

They were then told that for the next five minutes they would be cycling up a very steep hill. When this happened their heart and breathing rates dramatically increased. In the final five minute segment of the test, the cyclists were told that they were cycling on the flat road again. Their breathing and heart rates fell back down to ‘pre-hill’ levels. Physically the task had not increased in difficulty at any time throughout the test, it was just that the cyclists believed that things were going to be harder and their bodies responded accordingly.

The cyclists believed that things were going to be harder and their bodies responded accordingly…

So many top athletes and sports people refer to positive mental visualisation to help them achieve success. They picture themselves lifting a trophy or finishing a race in front of everyone else and use that mental imagery to spur them on when times get tough. Indeed that type of mental skill – just like physical training – isn’t mastered simply by doing it once. Can you imagine practicing for a race once or twice? No serious athlete would do that with their physical training and yet, too often, mental skills are ignored and sometimes forgotten altogether if they don’t bring immediate results.

For those who feel the mental approach is something that will work for them, they need to focus on the following:

  • Frequency – Practice on a regular basis. Just like physical training, you will need to practice regularly if you wish to see results. Mental training operates on the same principles as physical training. If you have a period of extended inactivity, you will lose the benefits of mental training without regular practice.
  • Duration – Make sure you practice for a significant period. That might be regular sessions of 20-30 minutes at a time.
  • Intensity – Bring an emotional content to your sessions so that you replicate (in your imagination) the race/event conditions.
  • Specificity – It’s important to develop a range of skills that can be applied to the ever-changing challenges of a race or event. For example: relaxation for pre-race conditions, self control for the early stages of a race, discipline and perseverance when the race becomes physically draining. Positive self-talk is an extremely important skill and helps steer your emotional reaction whatever the circumstances, towards a positive performance.
  • Progression – Improve the quality of your practices week after week.

Does mental training improve your performance?

Again there are multiple opinions on this from multiple sources but the research is certainly there to back up the argument. The great American marathon runner Bill Rodgers was a great advocate of mental skill training and he often speaks of visualising an enormous hand pushing him up the infamous Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon. There are many who feel it is no coincidence that Rodgers pulled away from his rivals at that critical point in his race (he won the Boston Marathon four times).

Many experts would agree with this because they believe that athletes seize control of the way they’re performing when they control their thinking. Positive self-talk will encourage a positive performance, but when negative thoughts are allowed to creep in, then self-confidence is eroded and mistakes occur.

Tennis players are a terrific example of the power of positive thinking. For them positive body language can intimidate an opponent into feeling negative and making unforced errors. Even when a player is match point down if they are mentally strong and still believe they can win the match, it often happens. Positive thoughts can be empowering while negative thoughts can be limiting and debilitating to performance.

Have a clear fitness goal

So many fitness resolutions are doomed to fail before they even start because there isn’t a clear plan or target. It’s all well and good to have bags of enthusiasm, but if you are vague about your goals, your exercise will ultimately be aimless and you simply won’t achieve results. Make sure you have a clear goal that is non-negotiable. That could be weight-related such as dropping several dress sizes or fitness goal orientated  such as running a 10k or half marathon.

When you have something to aim for it gives you focus and clarity on what you are doing and where you want to be in a few weeks’ time. Write it down and make a commitment to achieve it. Use the SMART model to help you focus by making your goals; specific; measurable; achievable; results-focused and time bound.

Be realistic about your fitness goals

While setting goals is vital, they have to be realistic. Don’t suddenly decide that swimming across the Atlantic is a viable objective, if you haven’t swum since school and that was only a few lengths in a 25m pool. Alternatively if a marathon is a long-term ambition but you haven’t run regularly for years or indeed ever, then target a 5k to start off with and then build up to a 10k and so on.

Your programme might involve walking at the start, but by slowing building up the miles you’ll be amazed by how far you run after a few weeks and what you feel you can achieve. Be sensible and build up to your targets gradually. Change happens gradually and steadily, it doesn’t occur overnight and your body will need time to adapt depending on your previous fitness history. That also means not doing too much too quickly or you will burn out, hurt yourself or just lose motivation.

Schedule your workouts

Part of making your challenge non-negotiable is making sure you stick to your fitness plan. Yes, life can get in the way sometimes and having to skip a workout every now and again is okay, but not every week. Exceptional circumstances notwithstanding you really should have a schedule and stick to it.

Look at your work/social diary carefully and schedule your exercise. Fit in runs/workouts at work during the lunch break or make a workout part of your commute (for instance you could run or cycle to the office). If you allocate that slot on your calendar/diary then you are much more likely to do it. If it’s in your diary it will feel like a commitment which feels more difficult to break.

Keep an exercise diary

Keeping a fitness journal is another weapon in the fitness armoury. Keeping track of how much you’ve done is a wonderful way of feeling inspired by your efforts and how far you’ve come. It’s also a brutal reminder if you haven’t done any exercise. Empty pages in a diary might just shame you back to the gym. Holding yourself accountable – personal accountability – is the number one way to improve yourself. The exercise isn’t the problem, it’s only ever you that is the problem – if doubting thoughts ever come to your mind. To take an extreme, world champions don’t become world champions by saying that the rules of the sport are flawed. Instead they understand where they fail within the rules of the sport and work to plug the holes in their fitness bucket.

Make exercise a group activity

A great way of staying motivated is by involving others in your project. If you are training for a 5k or a 10k then join a running group. You won’t want to let other people down by not turning up, so it will help you stay motivated. If the gym is your thing then why not book some exercise classes or a personal trainer? Whatever it is you want to achieve involving other people can help you get there.

Vary your exercise routine

Having been almost evangelical about setting goals and schedules, it is important to remember that you must also structure in a variety of workouts. Runners chasing a long-distance target should cross train to keep their mind and body fresh.

Instead of going for a run why not swim or cycle? If you are weight-training why not do a spinning class instead? It gives the major muscle groups a break whilst also keeping you mentally fresh. If you feel stale and de-motivated it can be a recipe for quitting.

Be a solution finder not a problem provider

Let’s face it sometimes we all have moments when we just don’t want to exercise. We have all been there, when the lure of the sofa and a good movie is simply more appealing than a run in the rain. The mental battle of sticking to an exercise plan can be more strenuous at times than the physical aspect.

Write down all the excuses you can possibly think of as to why you can’t do something and then come up with lots of reasons why your fitness goal matters so much to you. It will help you come up with strategies to deal with those negative thoughts about why you ‘can’t do’ something and make you more ‘can do’ about it all.

Remember to give yourself a treat

It’s easy to get lost in the focus of an exercise goal to the point where it becomes all-consuming. Sometimes that’s the way it has to be for a little while if you are to achieve a huge goal. But remember to give yourself a pat on the back at regular intervals and don’t forget that a little treat every now and again is a great motivation.

Whether that is just your favourite chocolate bar or a spa weekend away, a treat is a great way of rewarding you for how far you’ve come and more importantly, it will keep you coming back for more.

Listen to your body

Learning to listen to your body is so important if you are to avoid being a quitter. Yes you will have moments when you ache a bit and let’s face it, working out regularly will certainly hurt from time to time. However there is a big difference between an ache and an injury.

If something really hurts then stop immediately and get it looked at by a medical professional. Don’t be so stubborn that you make an injury many times worse by ploughing on regardless. By the same token don’t wimp out the first time you feel an ache or pain. Tune in to your body and you will be able to distinguish between your mind playing tricks on you and a genuine injury.

Get the right training gear

Many a new fitness regime has been blown off course by a lack of appropriate training kit. You can’t train for a marathon in tennis shoes and you certainly won’t be able to swim the Atlantic without some decent goggles.

Invest wisely in some sensible and appropriate training kit for whatever challenge awaits you. Without it you will have a brilliant excuse to quit and we don’t want that! Remember shopping for training gear and gadgets to support your goals can be fun and more importantly it will help you get where you want to go.

Many of us are given advice by friends, colleagues and gym buddies about supposed ‘facts’ concerning fitness and exercise. The press is regularly full of scare stories about the perils of too much or too little fitness training. The reality is that many of those media articles and pieces of advice are inaccurate and shouldn’t put you off exercising. So with that in mind we decided to examine in more detail some of the most familiar fitness myths.

Whether its worries about joint and body health, or not knowing what are the best types of exercise for your individual goals, there is a lot of information on fitness dos and don’ts that sometimes it can all get very confusing, even for the most experienced athletes! But don’t fret, as we have compiled a few of the most common misconceptions floating around, to help you find what is helpful for you.

‘No pain, no gain’

Now let’s nail this one on the head to begin with; if it feels uncomfortable and hard work when you are two thirds of the way through a spin class or even five minutes into a mountain climb, well, that is probably to be expected. However if you feel a sharp pain in your right knee every time you cycle/run, then it is probably a really good idea to stop and see a physio.

While taking it too easy in the gym won’t produce the results you want, pushing yourself too much can do more harm than good.

While taking it too easy in the gym won’t produce the results you want, pushing yourself too much can do more harm than good. There is a real difference between finding something hard and experiencing real pain from an injury. It is important to recognise the burn you get from exercise and the effort your body is putting in, if your body is injured or something is wrong then you need to stop. If the pain is sharp, unusual, stings or severe, not what you would usually expect with the heat you feel in your muscles during a workout, then something is wrong and you need to address the problem.

‘Weight training is no good if you want to lose weight’

Although the tendency for so many people is to shy away from the weights area at the gym, the reality is that if you want to lose weight, this is exactly where you need to be heading. A targeted weights session that involves high reps and low weights is going to tone muscles and burn more calories than an aerobic training session.

The key is the amount of calories you burn after you finish your session. For women, that-after burn can account for as many as 350 additional calories. And remember, a higher muscle mass can also boost the body’s metabolic activity, which means more efficient fat and calorie burning all round. The more protein in your body the more fat burnt, happy days. Your muscles won’t start expanding at an astronomical rate turning you into the hulk anytime soon, instead you will trim up much faster than with cardio alone.

‘You should keep your aerobic exercise intensity low to burn more fat’

So, let’s dispel this myth once and for all because the facts are these; exercise at a low intensity uses fat as the predominant fuel, while exercising at a high intensity uses mainly carbohydrate. (There’s a continuum between the two, so as exercise gets progressively harder, the amount of carbohydrate used increases and the amount of fat used decreases.) But the trouble is, low intensity exercise doesn’t burn many calories, while tougher workouts burn a great deal.

Think of it as two pieces of pie. In the low-intensity pie; mostly fat stores but only a very small piece as the calorie burn in so low. In the high-intensity pie, only a sliver of the calories come from fat stores, but, and this is the crucial bit, the pie is much bigger because a heck of a lot more calories are burnt. Therefore making the high intensity slice is preferred due to its high calorie, and in turn fat, burn. Okay?!

Although it is good to burn fat, as you would think to lose fat you have to burn fat, but weight loss essentially comes down to burning more calories than you consume, so burning more calories instead of fat is more important. So dont be deterred from high intensity and anaerobic activity as they will help lose overall weight and improve fitness more quickly.

‘The step machine or step classes give you a big behind’

Now unless you’ve gone berserk and set the resistance on the stepper so high that you can barely move the pedals up and down, the action of stepping will be an aerobic, low-resistance activity. As a result, it won’t present sufficient stimulus to muscle tissue to cause it to grow and therefore won’t have any effect on the size of your backside.

Stepping is actually a great cardio workout that will boost aerobic fitness and improve muscular endurance in the legs and glutes.

Stepping is actually a great cardio workout that will boost aerobic fitness and improve muscular endurance in the legs and glutes. But the main thing to remember is to keep your posture in check: keep the navel gently drawn to spine and tailbone tucked slightly under because stepping with your belly hanging out and your back arched will certainly give the appearance of a big behind!

Plus, even if an anaerobic activity, the majority of glute exercises won’t even enlarge your behind, the muscles get larger yes, but the process of working out will strip fat; causing a more perky and peachy behind instead of enlarging it. Large bottoms are a result of excessive fat stores around the hips and under the glutes, so working those muscles and stripping that fat will in fact reshape your behind.

‘If you walk 10,000 steps a day, you don’t need to do any other exercise’

Hmmm, this is a tricky one! It really does depend on your goals. The 10,000 steps a day guideline is aimed at disease prevention for those who don’t exercise and have got too comfortable in our automated society, rather than improved fitness.

Of course, if you start from a sedentary base then achieving that target on a daily basis will certainly improve your fitness, however it still only counts as low-intensity aerobic exercise. When this target was devised nationally, it was intended to help people add movement into their busy schedules, not replace you workout.

For all-round fitness, you should ideally complement this with shorter but higher-intensity aerobic exercise (such as going for a run, doing a spinning class or circuit training), strength training (using weights or your own bodyweight for resistance) and flexibility work. Each type of exercise has its own specific benefits which is why it’s never ideal to stick to the same intensity or same method of activity every time. Variation is key to keep your body on its toes and prevent your mind from entering a boring plateau with exercise.

‘Sit-ups are the best exercise to flatten the stomach’

Sit-ups, crunches and curls, literally any movement in which you curl your torso forward, work the ‘six-pack’ or rectus abdominis (RA) muscle in the front of the torso. Unfortunately, however, working this muscle doesn’t flatten the stomach and will certainly not give you abs. Deep below the six-pack lies a thick, corset-like strap of muscle that goes all the way around the waist, from back to front. This transversus abdominis (TA) muscle, also known as the core, is the one that is responsible for flattening the tummy, and yet few of us ever pay it any attention!

To activate your TA, put your thumbs on the sides of your waist, level with your navel, and put your other fingers over the pubic bone (the area beneath your belly button). Now pull this area bellow the belly button backwards (away from the fingers) without lifting the ribs or holding your breath. Practice this regularly throughout the day and once you can ‘engage your core’ (as we say in the trade!) and there are plenty more core exercises to strengthen your midriff and smooth out the abdomen.

‘The more water you drink when you’re exercising, the better’

While it’s true that our need for fluid increases markedly during exercise, it isn’t necessary to glug down gallons of water to stay hydrated. In fact, the ‘glug’ approach is counter-productive as the body can only deal with so much fluid at once, and if you pour in too much, you’ll simply pee it right out again!

Plus have you ever downed a bottle of water and gone for a jog, it feels like your stomach has been replaced with a washing machine. Water is supposed to replace the fluids lost in exercise so consuming copious amount in excess will be pointless or even damaging.

Indeed, in some situations (such as prolonged endurance events) you could even put yourself at risk of hyponatremia, which is a potentially fatal condition. The best approach is to maintain good hydration 24/7, not just 10 minutes before your workout. If you ensure that you drink water and other fluids throughout the day, then you won’t be starting out dehydrated and will get by perfectly well taking a few sips during exercise.

And your stomach won’t be sloshing uncomfortably! International sports authorities have now stopped recommending a certain amount of fluid to drink during exercise, due to the increased number of cases of hyponatremia in recent years. They now suggest you drink according to your thirst, or that you weigh yourself before and after a timed workout and replace the amount of weight loss in grams with the same amount of fluid in millimeters (for example, if you run for an hour and lose half a kilogram in body weight, you should aim to drink 500ml of water during future one-hour runs.)

‘Running is bad for your knees’

Running has long had a bad press for wrecking knees, but provided you train sensibly, wear the right kind of running shoes and do sensible things like warming up, heeding niggling pains and running on a variety of surfaces, it’s actually quite good for them. A study published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism showed that, far from increasing the risk of joint problems, running could protect against osteoarthritis by keeping joints and connective tissue strong, mobile and topped up with nutrients.

Many suffer from shin splints which can be exasperated by running, but this will only become an issue, so much that you should avoid running, if you have significantly inadequate shoes. Another study, published in the Journal of Rheumatology, found no difference in the amount or rate of degeneration in the knee and hip joints of runners and non-runners, although both groups experienced some degeneration with age. So don’t be discouraged to go running because you have dodgy knees, as it won’t be detrimental to head out for a run, just make sure you’re properly prepared for running, stretching and clothing wise.

‘The more exercise you do, the better’

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much exercise. It’s during rest, not exercise, that the body does all the necessary repairs and ‘housekeeping’ to make itself fitter and stronger, so if you take that rest away, you are never going to reach your full potential. This is not an excuse to only go the gym once a week and claim your body needs time to rest, that’s pushing it a little!

You need at least 48 hours between strength training workouts of certain body parts to allow muscles to recover, and while you can do aerobic training and flexibility work daily, it’s wise to go by the ‘hard, easy’ rule, where you follow tough training sessions with a gentler workout the next day.

Overtraining will also put you at risk of injury and can compromise your immune system, which may end up costing you weeks away from the gym while you recover. Too often athletes and individuals will burn out, as when combined with responsibilities and work, exercising too hard and for too long can eat into your physical and mental energy. Rest days are an important part of exercise, and the one day off won’t do anything to your progress, so dont worry yourself too much.

‘You shouldn’t exercise too late in the evening or it’ll keep you awake’

We’ve long been told that only gentle activity, like yoga or Pilates, is suitable for the latter part of the evening. If we do any other sort of exercise in the evening, we’re warned we could be lying in bed, wide awake, for hours. Not so, according to sleep expert Professor Youngstedt from the University of California. He found that exercise was as effective as sleeping pills in helping insomniacs get to the land of Nod. ‘People should experiment for themselves to see whether exercise promotes better sleep,’ advises Professor Youngstedt. He also found that outdoor exercise was more effective in aiding sleep problems than indoor workouts.

Exercising will inevitably tire you out, many times after a workout yes you feel great, but a shower and nap nicely follows. Sometimes the evening is the only time of day to fit in a workout due to busy schedules, and as beneficial as morning workouts can be – kickstarting the metabolism and freeing up the day – working out at night won’t keep you up till the early hours.

Resistance training builds too much muscle

If you’re going for that ‘lean’ look, people might have told you to avoid lifting heavier weights in case you end up bulking up rather than losing fat. Instead, they’ll suggest lifting lighter weights and doing more reps. These people are wrong. Lighter weights simply do not create the level of metabolic effect needed to initiate fat loss, which means you might not be enjoying the full fat burning potential of your training sessions.

Resistance training with heavier weights is an amazing weight loss method, because as your strength develops you’ll be burning more and more fat when you’re not even working out. Regular resistance training with heavy weights serves to increase your metabolic rate by as much as 15 per cent according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, which speeds up the rate at which you burn calories.

Crunches will give you a flat stomach

Crunches have long been the exercise of choice for people looking for a toned flat stomach, but they’re wasting their time. And so are you if you are doing thousands of crunches hoping to lose body fat on your stomach.Crunches are a hugely ineffective fat loss exercise. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning compared a group of people doing crunches every day to a control group of people doing absolutely no exercise. They found that there was no noticeable difference in body fat between the two groups after six weeks.

In fact, crunches are so ineffective that experts at the University of San Antonio found that it would take 22,000 crunches to burn just a pound (0.5kg) of body fat. Targeting your stomach for specific weight loss is impossible, but you can speed things along a bit. Try a combination high intensity cardio session with sprint intervals and hill training, coupled with core-building exercises like the plank. This will turbo-charge your metabolism and strengthen your core at the same time.

Leg extensions burn fat on your legs

We’ve said it time and time again; spot-based exercises do not work for burning fat. But go into any gym in the world and you’ll see someone on the leg press machine for seemingly hours on end trying to ditch the fat on their thighs. Sadly, it’s not going to work. Leg extensions are an isolated exercise that develop the quadriceps, but do nothing for the body fat surrounding them. That means all you’ll be left with is defined quadriceps hidden under a layer of fat.

What you really want to be doing is compound exercises that will define your legs whilst simultaneously burning body fat. A great leg-based fat burning exercise session you can try is a set of jumping lunges. Think of a standard lunge that then springs into a lunge on the opposite leg, all the while swinging your arms. It’s almost like an exaggerated version of running on the spot, and will really help you to burn fat.

You should stick to the same workout

Once you’ve found a workout routine that works well for you, it can be tempting to stick with it indefinitely. This is a huge fat burning no-no. It’s thought that the human body takes around three weeks to adapt to a workout, after which point the results from that workout will gradually diminish. Before you know it, you’ll be meeting the dreaded fat loss plateau. That’s why if you want to burn fat effectively, you need to mix up your workouts.

Now we’re not saying you need to switch your workout routine every day. All you need to do is challenge your body from time to time by throwing a variety-filled circuit training session into your training schedule, and you’ll see sustained fat loss results. If you can’t fit in any circuit training, variety can even be as simple as changing the amount of reps you do of a certain exercise, or the weights that you lift. 

Ab-stimulators will give you a flat stomach

If any new-fangled effort-free workout machine sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. The fat burning-lie that ab-stimulators can give you a flat stomach has generated millions of pounds for the fitness industry, so you can see why this is a lie you hear so often. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin tested these electronic ab-stimulators, and found that they did cause the abdominal muscles to contract as claimed in the adverts. However, this contraction did not activate the chemical or neural signs that lead to muscle development, meaning the machines are effectively a waste of time.

These machines are in fact so useless, that the researchers could not notice any difference between a group of people who had been using ab-stimulators daily, and a group who had not used them at all. No extra abdominal development was noted, and absolutely no fat loss was measured. No matter how much you want there to be, there is no effort-free fat loss technique out there.

Once you’ve made the decision to get fit, one of the biggest challenges can be fitting your new exercise routine into a hectic lifestyle. Happily though scheduling your workouts doesn’t have to be stressful, in fact there are lots of fun ways you can make sure you incorporate exercise into your life without having to compromise anything.

Have a fitness plan

Some people love a schedule and like to know exactly what they’re doing and when, while others prefer to be more flexible. However if time really is of the essence then make a fitness plan. Schedule every day of the week and it will help you focus in on when you can work out. Remember you should always be ready to be flexible because sometimes stuff just happens and you have to skip a session, but by writing out a plan it makes it seem more formal and you will be more likely to commit to it and stick to it. 

Early morning exercise

One of the consequences of having a fitness plan is that you might quickly notice that you need to create a little more time to fit your exercise into your day. One solution is simply to set the alarm for 20-30 minutes earlier and do your workout before you head to work/school. That might be a quick run or perhaps a circuit session in the garden with weights at home. It’s a great energy-booster and will start your day with a healthy bang.

Alternatively make time at the end of the day if that suits you more. Some people really do prefer a trip to the gym after work so if that’s you, have a lie in and change your evening plans instead.

Make your commute to work your workout

Another great way of fitting exercise into your regular schedule is by making your commute to work your workout. Walk to the office if you can rather than take the car. How about cycling to work? Or perhaps run to work if that’s feasible. Using the time when you might have been sat on a bus/train/car is an easy and extremely effective way of generating time to exercise that you didn’t think you had.

Use your lunch break to exercise

If you live miles from work then turning your commute into a workout isn’t practical, but how about using your lunch break to exercise? Instead of grabbing a sandwich at your desk, take your gym gear with you and either run or walk or go to the gym if there’s one at work or nearby. Alternatively you could play squash or badminton, go for a swim, or even a quick fitness class if facilities are close at hand. Even if there aren’t showers at the office, there could be a leisure centre close by where you could grab a shower before heading back to work.

Lunchtime workouts are a wonderful way of re-energising your day and the break from your laptop/computer/phone is mentally re-invigorating too. If none of the above sports appeal to you, then why not just go for a brisk walk? Getting out in the fresh air and upping that heart rate is all good news for your cardiovascular system and your general wellbeing.

Exercising at home

Thanks to online workouts and a huge market of fitness titles, you don’t even have to step outside your front door to do a workout. Online programmes offer detailed advice and tips on what exercises to do and for which parts of the body. Fitness DVDs and TV channels offer a variety of workouts/routines and home gym equipment like dumbbells, kettle bells, mats, small weights and Swiss Balls, make it easy to organise your time and effort. It means there really isn’t any excuse not to work out and you can arrange your exercise around family/home life to suit you.

Walking exercise

Walking everywhere rather than taking the car or bus is a cheap and easy alternative to hitting the gym every day. It costs nothing and the health benefits are huge. If you need to take public transport to work, why not get off the bus/train/tube/tram a few stops early and walk the rest of the way? If you buy a pedometer you can monitor how many steps you walk each day and calculate the calories burned.

Work out with friends

Making arrangements to work out with your friends is another brilliant way of fitting exercise into your life. It’s motivating and inspiring to be with others who share your passion for fitness and if your friends are at a similar ability level, you can motivate each other to push on to new heights. Your group workouts can consist of team sports or you could opt to run/cycle together at a mutually convenient time.

From a practical point of view it’s a great way of keeping in touch and if you know that skipping a session runs the risk of letting others down, you are much less likely to do it. Even the most dedicated runners would admit that sometimes, just sometimes, the choice between a run in sub zero temperatures by themselves or a movie in the warm with friends ends with a stay at home runner. 

Get active – it’s good for you!

Remember something is always better than nothing. Even if it’s only a half hour, getting your heart rate up for 30 minutes will always be better from a health and fitness perspective, than lying on the couch watching TV! That can be anything from a brisk walk to the shops to a frantic 30 minutes of housework. The key is always in burning calories and moving your body. You will feel better for it and look better for it too.

Life is full of highs and lows; one day you might be feeling unbeatable after getting the job of your dreams, whilst the next day you might be feeling vulnerable and lonely because you tripped over a bar stool in front of your ex and their new partner. So, if life and our moods change so dramatically, why shouldn’t our fitness regimes? Here we show you how you can match your mood to your exercise – give it a go.

Sad

If you’re feeling a little blue, sometimes all you want to do is whip out the tub of ice cream, cuddle up in a duvet and put on Bridget Jones to take those tears away, but don’t give in! When you exercise endorphins get released, a natural happy hormone, making you feel less blue and things will get better. Plus the exercise will tire you out, helping you get a better night’s sleep, everyone always feels better after a nice rest.

The exercise

When you’re feeling blue the last thing you want to do is surround yourself by overly happy people who are dancing their hearts out as if they’re in a high school musical. Instead of going to a dance or aerobic class, and being surrounded by overly enthusiastic and happy people – the type of people that are happy on a monday morning – go for a swim instead.

Why?

When you’re sad swimming can be ideal to fix that down mood. If you need space from people and time to think over some things, taking a solitude swim can be ideal to get some space and clear your head. If you need someone to chat to and distract from your troubles, bringing a friend along and mixing up your swim can really help. Water is widely known for is soothing and relaxing nature, many use water noises to help them get to sleep for example, so immersing yourself in a pool of water and floating around in its soothing waves is the ideal way to take some time out from your blues.

Lonely

Every now and again, sometimes we just feel alone despite being surrounded by people, not the ideal mood to start a workout. But don’t be deterred from hitting the gym as an exercise class or asking someone for some exercise help, is great to make a friend or two.

The exercise

Working at a desk all day can sometimes get quite lonely, and so doing an exercise that requires communication and unity is the best way to both get your heart working hard whilst having fun and making some friend.Exercise classes are the best way to forget about loneliness, preferably something upbeat and fun like a dance or workout classes.

Why?

The upbeat music and enthusiastic instructor is the ideal way to add some enjoyment and fun to a workout. Dancing is the best way to not only workout your whole body, but the style of everyone dancing together, at the same time, will encourage a sense of unity and encouragement. Plus if you start regularly attending classes you will get to know some of the regular attenders, form friendships, and forget about that lonely feeling in no time!

Stressed

At some point in our lives work, tests and events can all inevitably build up stress and anxiety, even the most chilled out person can feel the pressure from time to time. But any form of fitness will help take your mind off your troubles and problems, so skipping the gym and stewing over whatever issues trouble you is never a good idea.

The exercise

If you’re feeling a little panicked and worried, or find it difficult to leave your work at the office, yoga is the perfect fitness fix for your worried mind, to relax clear you of life’s stresses.

Why?

For those who are stressed or anxious, the breathing exercises involved in yoga are particularly useful as they can slow your heart rate and help you meditate to clear out some of your negative, anxiety-inducing thoughts. The soothing music, still atmosphere and concentrated stretching is an ideal way to distract your mind, focusing on your balance, positions and breathing to clear your mind and restore your peace.

Frustrated

Its easy to get het up about the little things in life, the irritating in-laws are visiting for the weekend criticising everything you do, someone annoying sits next to you on the bus home or you get stuck in a bad traffic jam. But neglecting to get rid of these feelings can appear negatively in other areas of your life.

The exercise

You should head out for a run, putting in some headphones and hitting the treadmill or a scenic jog is the best way to get some much needed space and push out those frustrations.

Why?

As our lives become more claustrophobic, we crave the freedom that running encompasses. When you’re out in the elements, using your own strength and motivation, you can get the isolation and peace that the rhythmic pace and repetitive strides running provides. Getting some fresh air, and space from the typical environments that we confine ourselves to, is a good way to detach from the annoyances we associate with our lives.

Bored

Working 9-5, studying, the housework and hitting the gym can take up a lot of our time and can provide little excitement, unless you’re one of those unusual people that find the dishes thrilling. Boredom is an inevitable part of our society and so when the monotony of life gets to you, trying a new exercise is a perfect solution to add variety to our routines.

The exercise

Life can get dull and a fantastic fitness fix for those who are bored to tears, is taking up something competitive. Basketball, football, badminton, tennis or even something more unusual like judo, can do wonders to beat the boredom.

Why?

Fast-paced sports are ideal to keep the heart pumping and your mind occupied, so stay away from golf and cricket which can involve standing in a field for long periods of time. Whatever it may be that’s fun and available near you is the perfect way to get in your needed fitness without the monotony of a standard gym routine. Plus adding a social element to your exercise is a great way to make it fun and interesting; having a laugh whilst riling up your competitive side. After these sports I can guarantee your mind will be entertained, you will feel energised and also have a lot of fun!

Lazy

When moving off the sofa seems like your worst nightmare and motivation it as an all time low, the best solution is doing something that will pump you up, most preferably with some else! If netflix has uploaded a new season of your favourite program and you just cannot be bothered going the gym, have a gym buddy that will MAKE you get off your butt!

The exercise

So your friend has managed to put your gym shoes on, what do you do next? Spinning! Believe it or not cycling can be a very motivating sport, and if you’re in a class with an instructor looking right at you telling you to push on, you will be surprised how hard you can workout! Plus cycling burn a ton of calories and gets those endorphins pumping, the productivity will start flowing!

Why?

Spinning can be an intense workout, hard hitting music with a determined instructor encouraging you to push harder. Plus each class starts slowly so going for a melodic spin on the bike will ease you into the energising exercise your about to embark upon. Combined with the encouragement of the rest of the class and your instructor, you will keep going and push through to feel better and motivated on the other side.

Angry

Anger can take us all over at the best of times, but just letting your anger stew and doing nothing about it will do you no good! Instead, vent out your built up fury through exercise, the best way to get over whatever it is that’s got to you. It will help you feel restful and restore your peace in the rest of your life, whilst burning a lot of calories and pumping some serious iron.

The exercise

So you missed your bus, found out your friend is dating one of your exes and got the plug pulled on a project you’ve been working on in work. Take some deep breaths and book your place in a Boxercise class, or even just put on some gloves and take it out on that punch bag.

Why?

Instead of punching your so-called friend or your awful boss, it might be wiser and more morally acceptable to instead pummel the air or the bag through boxing or a class. Practising your jabs and your right hooks to a hard-hitting beat is surprisingly therapeutic and when you hang up your gloves after your class you should feel a little less irate. Particularly if you focus your mind and picture the thing that’s irritating you the most, channeling all your energy and anger to punch that problem away, you will feel relaxed and relieved in no time.

8

Excited

Have something fun coming up in your life, or just been asked out on a date by that person you’ve had a crush on for months, then why not enhance and feed off the buzz of excitement?

The exercise

The best fitness fix for those times when you’re buzzing with excitement, is to thrive off this sudden fueling of energy with Zumba.

Why?

Zumba is built for excitable people. The heartfelt, pulsing tones are ideal for excited souls and the music is so upbeat that throwing your limbs around to the music can only raise you to a whole new level of excitement. Plus the joy and enthusiasm of the instructor and fellow individuals have, will only make you feel more excited and pumped up.

Happy

Essentially any exercise will make you happier due to the release of endorphins and knowing that you’ve worked hard and one your body some good. But when you’ve just had a good day and everything has gone your way, doing relaxing classes like yoga and tai-chi or hard hitting exercises such as weight lifting or HIIT training can sometime exhaust you and take away your happiness high.

The exercise

Doing something fast paced and enjoyable, jumping around and getting the cardio system working is best. Music based classes like dancercise or water aerobics is best to fuel from that happy feeling, whilst making it last longer and leave the gym happier that you were before.

Why?

Music, fast dancing, and big energetic movements are great when you’re feeling positive and energised. It can be very hard to motivate yourself for cardio exercises when in a bad mood, as you tend to feel negative about the hard work and only give half your effort. But when you’re happy you want to work hard and put your all in, so energy filled cardio exercises and classes are ideal to keep up that happiness.  

Tired

Getting up at 7am every day for work, or running around after the kids will inevitably take its toll on your energy levels. Having a bad night’s sleep or working yourself to the bone can make you feel unmotivated to hit the gym, and you’re right, over exerting yourself isn’t great, but missing the gym entirely isn’t good for you either.

The exercise

Soothing slow paced exercise is your key, as sometimes we just can’t physically or mentally cope with cardio or high energy exercise. Stretching or yoga can be great to work those muscles, aid flexibility and take away those guilty missed gym feelings we can get. And if hitting that exercise mat doesn’t appeal to you, go for a short round of gold, to get outdoors and fit in some exercise.

Why?

Resting your body and muscles from your exhausting life can be easily done through golf or stretching, calming your mind, getting outdoors in nature and ensuring a good nights sleep. When motivation is low, theres no point forcing yourself to start a hard workout that you know you won’t finish. Instead do something low intensity and calming to fit in some exercise without burning yourself out.

There are so many ways we can undermine ourselves in the pursuit of physical perfection. When it comes to working out, we assume that a couple of long gym sessions twice or three times a week will do the trick and we will end up getting the body of our dreams. The trouble is it really doesn’t work like that. Getting fit and looking good requires time, planning and patience and without it, you could be on the long painful road to nowhere.

No fitness plan means no hope

Most people love a plan. A lot don’t. Sometimes in life though you have to accept that without a roadmap you will get lost and this is especially true of getting fit. If you have a workout plan, a purpose or specific aim, then you have a template to success. If you follow it, the chances are you will achieve your goal. If you don’t, you won’t and although it sounds nice to just pop into the gym and make it up as you go along, that strategy just doesn’t produce results.

A plan will help you track your progress, challenge your workouts and help you develop and progress. Think of it like shopping. If you head out to shop aimlessly you will probably just browse aimlessly for hours. But if you head out with a list, you will use your time effectively and only get the things on the list, which will leave you plenty of time to head to the gym afterwards. 

Doing too much exercise too soon

Those of you with a plan are probably feeling a little smug right now and rightly so. But how many of you have thrown yourself head first at that plan like the proverbial bull in a china shop? Come on now. Be honest. It’s an easy mistake to make. The trouble is too much exercise too soon could lead to injury, boredom, lack of motivation and a fitness regime that fizzles out a month after it starts.

Your body needs time to rest and recover between workouts and remember that healing, muscle repair and fitness development and adaptation will happen when you let your body rest. The best plan is always to train smart rather than slogging it and that includes everything from getting your warm up right, with the appropriate stretches to cooling down properly.

 Not enough variety in your workouts

Don’t get stuck in a fitness rut. It’s something that is easy to fall into, especially if you’ve seen a personal trainer and had your own bespoke workout designed for you. That’s great, but it needs to be assessed and tweaked regularly. If you keep doing the same exercises your body will adapt to it and your progress will plateau. Remember you will also only be developing certain muscle groups while other areas will remain woefully underdeveloped.

It’s so important to keep challenging your mind and body if you want to keep achieving results.

Not pushing yourself enough

Tempting though it is sometimes to stroll out of the gym after 20 minutes with barely a bead of sweat on your brow, it really is not the way to earn killer abs. Even the most enthusiastic fitness fanatic has days in the gym/on the road when they’re not really on it. Everyone is allowed a slight aberration from time to time, but for some people, every day is a light workout where they really don’t burn many calories.

If you don’t get that heart rate up you simply won’t burn calories/fat or lose weight/tone those problem areas. It’s a simple equation. Hard work brings results. Now that doesn’t mean work out until you faint, but it does mean get a sweat on and get those endorphins going.

Not working out correctly

How many times have you seen someone in the gym leaning casually over the elliptical machine reading a book? You can tell by their posture that their not committed to their workout and the reality is they won’t be burning a huge amount of calories with a workout like that. It’s so important to get your technique right when you’re using gym equipment or cardio exercise.

Just as reading a book while going through the stepping motions won’t really help, neither will flogging yourself on the rowing machine until you pull a back muscle because your technique is poor. It is always a great idea to seek advice when you are starting a fitness programme and the most important advice will be technical tips on how to do it properly.

Your body uses energy from its glycogen stores when you work out and if you want your muscles to recover properly, you need to replenish that energy. That said some people take the refuelling element too far. It can be awfully easy to eat more calories/kilojoules than you’ve burned by picking food full of ‘empty calories’. This term applies to food that is full of calories/kilojoules but offers little nutritional value. For example a cheeseburger is fine as an occasional treat, but it really shouldn’t be your meal of choice after a gym session.

It can also become a post workout habit to snack on energy bars and sports drinks which are full of sugar. Rehydrate with water instead and snack on healthy options like fruit and nuts. A healthy balanced diet will help you hit your fitness goals and improve the quality of your workouts.

Over-emphasis on cardio exercise which ignores weights

Many people shy away from weights when they put together a gym programme because they’re worried about bulking up. They tend to think that running or cycling miles and miles rather than workouts in the gym, will take them where they want to go. That is understandable up to a point, but by ignoring weight training you ignore huge potential health and fitness benefits.

It’s important to bear in mind that you are always in charge of how much weight you lift and the impact that has on your body, so if you want to look like a bodybuilder, you can indeed develop that look by lifting heavy weights. However if you want to tone muscle, increase your calorie/fat burn and boost your metabolic system, then low level weight sessions are a fantastic idea.

Thanks to the rapid advances in science and medicine the answers to the questions surrounding health and exercise are clearer than ever. There’s no doubt that frequency and intensity of exercise are directly related to long term health benefits, but for many people the key issue is what kind of exercise should I do and how much?

30 minutes of exercise a day is good for you
In the UK the recommendation from the government and the British Heart Foundation is for 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week for adults who fall into the 19-64 years of age category. However there are various forms that this exercise can take and the UK’s National Health Service breaks that down into 3 sections. Either 150 minutes or two and half hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity a week plus muscle strengthening activities on 2 days or; 75 minutes a week of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise plus muscle strengthening on 2 days or; a 90 minute mixture of moderate and vigorous intensity plus muscle strengthening activities.

Moderate and vigorous aerobic activity
The government defines moderate intensity exercise as something that elevates the heart rate, makes the body temperature rise and makes you breathe more heavily. This would include activities like fast walking, swimming, ice skating and some forms of dancing. Vigorous intensity exercise includes activities like football, rugby, aerobics, running, cycling/spinning (up hills or fast), tennis, dancing, squash and boxing/martial arts. If you are doing these things vigorously, they should make you breathe harder, give you a significantly higher heart rate and make conversation difficult.

Muscle strengthening exercises should involve working major muscle groups like the arms, leg, chest, abdomen, back and shoulders and all of that can be done with weight training, sit ups, press ups, circuit training and yoga. If you follow the recommended advice the health benefits are certainly huge. The risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and depression is reduced the more active you are, although diet and the amount of calories consumed is a massive part of the healthy equation.

Benefits of HIIT
Part of the equation in terms of what exercise you should do is informed by your lifestyle and its impact on the amount of time available for exercise. That in turn will dictate your choice of activity and the duration and intensity of your workout. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is becoming increasingly popular because of its convenience and health benefits.

The workouts can vary in duration from intervals of only 20 seconds up to around 7-8 minutes with recovery periods in between each interval.
The workouts can vary in duration from intervals of only 20 seconds up to around 7-8 minutes with recovery periods in between each interval. The idea is that you work at your maximal heart rate for that interval, which means you are aiming to get your heart rate up to between 80-95 per cent of capacity. As well as the general heart, lung and well being benefits, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, HIIT also increases aerobic and anaerobic fitness, provides improved cholesterol levels, boosts insulin sensitivity and offers an improvement in levels of abdominal fat.

Studies have also shown that HIIT, which can take the form of circuit training, sprints, cycle sprints and weights, offers a superior sustained calorie burn due to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) which helps burns fat. This makes it even more attractive compared to more conventional forms of exercise and add to that the convenience factor of getting the required health benefits from something that only requires half of the time and you can see why HIIT is one of the more appealing fitness fads for time-pressured people.

According to exercise physiologist Gary O’Donovan, vigorous exercise is the way forward to getting your body fit and/or trying to lose weight. He suggests that: “Health, fitness and performance are all maximized by working harder — which isn’t to say that you won’t benefit from lighter exercise, just that you will benefit more if you work harder during your fitness sessions.”

Ironically though to get to the stage where you can really benefit from HIIT you need to be fit enough to sustain that work rate and you can only achieve that kind of fitness from regular, longer moderate intensity aerobic workouts! Being as active as possible for as long as possible really is the best way to sustain a healthy lifestyle and enhance your life expectancy. Any exercise you can get for as long as possible whenever you can is always welcome. Only you can know what is realistic in terms of your own lifestyle, but the closer you get to the recommendations in terms of frequency and intensity of exercise, the chances are, the healthier you will be.

Government recommendations for exercise will vary from country to country. Therefore if you want to find out the specific recommendations for your location, visit the health section of your government’s website.