We know you exercise to feel good, live longer, and reduce stress. But if you’re like many Americans, you also exercise to lose weight. With a total of 18 bajillion exercises and fitness classes to choose from, it’s not always easy to know where to start. Hot yoga? Weights? Cardio? Enter: Michele Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University at Montgomery. Follow her advice and watch the pounds melt away.
Lift Weight, Lose Weight
No, you won’t bulk up. Since women have lower levels of testosterone, you won’t develop softball-size biceps after hitting the weights three times a week, explains Olson. What will happen: You’ll lose fat while preserving muscle mass. See, if you maintain your muscle mass (harder than you’d think, since woman often lose muscle with age and if they rely solely on a calorie-restricted diet) you’ll maintain a higher resting metabolic rate, which means your body will be more efficient at burning calories, explains Olson. One study from the University of Arizona found that lifting weights even twice a week—heavier weights are better—can prevent weight gain over six years in postmenopausal women.
Don’t Skip Cardio
There’s no getting around it: To lose weight, you should include aerobic exercise in your workouts, says the Journal of Applied Physiology. But don’t worry if you’re not a long-distance runner. High-intensity interval training—i.e., sprinting at, say, 90 percent of your maximum effort for shorter periods of time—can allow you to burn extra calories in shorter periods of time, says a Journal of Obesity review. And these high-intensity exercise sessions might be especially good for people with busier schedules, who struggle to make time for longer sweat sessions. Want to give it a shot? Try alternating ten 60-second bursts at 90 percent of your maximum of effort with 60 seconds of recovery for 20 minutes.
Stop Focusing on Your Abs So Much
Repeat after us: “Spot training doesn’t work.” You can do crunches all day long, but the main benefit of exercising your ab muscles is that it, well, increases the efficiency of your ab muscles, says Olson. Don’t get us wrong, core strengthening is a good thing. But if you want to maximize the number of calories you burn, you should to work all the muscles in your body—not just the ones around your stomach. Plus, no one will see your strong core if there’s a layer of fat over it.
Don’t Forget About Yoga and Pilates
The calorie-burning benefits of a yoga or Pilates session might not always be equal to those of, say, a CrossFit workout, but that doesn’t mean you should skip them entirely. “Both are great for strength, balance, and core development,” says Olson. Plus, “they help with recovery and increase flexibility, which helps you to be better at lifting weights and doing other cardio activities, like jogging, spinning, or swimming.” Just be sure you’re lifting weights and doing aerobic exercise.
Consistency Is Key
No matter what you do, the most important thing is to stick with it. In fact, a majority of subjects in the National Weight Control Registry—a database of thousands of people who’ve been able to successfully maintain their weight over the years—perform about an hour of exercise each day, which suggests that high levels of physical activity is one major key to keeping the pounds off, says a review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Regularity is important,” says Olson. “Do about an hour of exercise five to seven times per week.” Think: Cardio five days a week and weights twice a week, with yoga and Pilates sprinkled in.