Many of us will have created a fitness plan over the past year in a bid to live a healthier lifestyle. However, when it comes to exercise, the key challenges are maintaining motivation, improving muscle tone and physical form.
If this sounds like you, then fear not! We have expert fitness advice from Dave Mercer, Wellbeing Personal Trainer, from Nuffield Health, and Elliott Upton, a personal trainer at Ultimate Performance to help you become more active and stay on track.
Tips to become more active
Increasing physical activity is one of the most powerful interventions known for improving your health and fitness. At present, a third of working age adults do not meet the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendation for 150 weekly minutes of moderate intensity exercise, and over half of those spend less than 30 minutes a week being active.
More than two-thirds of adults spent at least two hours a day watching TV or using a computer and there is now growing evidence to suggest that sitting or lying down for long periods of time has a negative impact on health.
The good news is there are lots of little interventions you can make to create big changes in your health and wellbeing and maintain motivation.
Dave Mercer, Wellbeing Personal Trainer, from Nuffield Health shares his top fitness tips:
Ease yourself in
If you are only just starting your fitness journey, you need to make sure you don’t overdo it. Ease yourself into an exercise routine, starting at a high intensity may increase the risk of injury and could put you off your routine.
Find your motivation
If you find it tough to keep motivated to begin with, don’t worry, this is normal. Make sure to take mental notes of your progression, as you keep going then you will notice it getting easier and easier. As you start to see results, this will hopefully give you the motivation to keep going, try new things and push yourself to another level.
Discover an exercise you like
Not every form of exercise is suited to everyone, but it is always worth giving something a go as you might surprise yourself. I advise people to try everything twice and if you really don’t want to go back a third time, then it could be that isn’t the exercise for you. Cycling, for example, is a popular form of exercise as it can be both intense and leisurely, adapting to people of all fitness levels.
Start building good habits
It can take between three to eight weeks to build a habit. The amount of time it takes depends on the effort needed to build the habit. For a task as simple as, drinking a glass of water as soon as you wake up, the habit shouldn’t take long to build; however, encouraging exercise to become part of your everyday routine might take a bit longer.
A tip for helping you build exercise into a habit quicker would be to find a form of exercise you enjoy. If you like what you are doing, you are more likely to stick to it and you will look forward to doing it.
Don’t jump straight to aerobic training
Most people trying to lose weight will jump straight into an aerobic exercise, but this can leave other areas of fitness neglected. It’s important to include resistance training as part of your routine, as it strengthens muscles and helps develop your body shape.
It’s vital that your routine covers aerobic fitness, muscle development, flexibility/stability and also mental wellbeing. As long as you have some exercise that covers one or more of these areas, you will be on the right track.
As you develop muscle the body naturally burns more calories day to day, which can control chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, depression and anxiety, improves posture, reduces the risk of osteoporosis as well as maintaining flexibility and balance.
Make the most of a personal trainer
Many gyms offer free sessions with a personal trainer, and speaking to an expert can help to identify new exercises for you to try. Personal Trainers can also help you develop an exercise routine specific to the goals you want to achieve. They can also give you some added motivation and they advise on techniques to make sure you are doing the exercises correctly and help avoid injury.
Grab a fitness buddy
Another tip would be to find someone with similar interests and goals and see what they enjoy. You might find that you like the same things and can exercise together, having a friend to exercise with can give you added motivation.
Dave adds: “At Nuffield Health, we offer free Health MOTs to all our members, this provides the opportunity for members to sit down with a personal trainer to understand what their body needs and link that to their own targets/goals. Our personal trainers will then build a 12-week plan to help members reach their goal as quickly as possible. We recommend members have a Health MOT every three months, to monitor their progress and help keep them on track.”
Tips to improve muscle tone and physical form
Elliott Upton is a personal trainer at Ultimate Performance, a global personal training business. He has years of experience helping his clients to lead a healthier lifestyle, gain muscle, tone up, and sleep better. Elliott’s top fitness tips include:
Increase your daily activity levels
Losing body fat and maintaining a healthier weight means expending more energy than you consume from food. One of the simplest ways of doing this is by increasing your daily activity levels – and not just the 60 minutes you spend in the gym.
Walking and being active every day is the simplest way to increase this energy expenditure and it plays a big part in successful weight loss. A good target to aim for is a minimum of 10,000 steps per day. Consciously build in activities to your routine, such as cycling to work, taking the stairs, carrying the shopping home or going for a run.
These will all boost your daily calorie burn. Don’t forget, you can track this easily with a fitness watch or step counter on your phone.
Lift weights for better health
Weight training is one of the most effective methods for losing fat, shaping your body, and maintaining a healthy weight – whether you are male or female, old or young. Done correctly, weight training will help to increase the amount of muscle tissue you have, which in turn will increase your metabolic rate. One of the benefits of this is that you can incorporate a higher number of calories into your diet.
As a personal trainer, I always prioritise weights over cardio, because when you lose body fat your physique will have a much more pleasing appearance.
Weights actually change the shape of your body, whereas cardio just burns calories.
Health-wise, weight training helps individuals to feel younger, vibrant and healthier. Other benefits include increased muscle mass, strength and mobility, improved bone health, cognitive function and blood sugar control, and better metabolism.
Go ‘heavy’ in the gym three times per week
No matter what your gender is, if you are trying to lose body fat, lifting heavy weights is incredibly effective (remember, that ‘heavy’ is a relative term to each individual.) Doing 1,000 reps with a 2kg dumbbell won’t be enough to stimulate the muscle growth needed to improve body composition.
Performing big ‘compound’ exercises like squats, deadlifts and pull-ups, however, are a great bang-for-your-buck way to recruit more muscle mass in training and burn more calories. If you’re new to weightlifting, it’s best to start out performing a full-body workout programme three times a week. This means incorporating bodyweight exercises into your workouts that target legs, arms and core. Have a look for some beginners videos on YouTube and work your way up to longer sets and bigger weights as you improve.
Control your calories
People believe going to the gym a few times a week will cancel out all their poor diet and lifestyle habits. It won’t.
The old saying ‘you can’t out-train a bad diet’ holds true. There is no way around it, calories count. In order to lose weight, you need to be burning more calories than you consume. But not all calories are created equally – 1,000 calories from sweets and chocolate are not the same as 1,000 calories from lean meat and vegetables.
When it comes to losing weight and shaping your body, the quality of your calories counts as much as the amount. Getting the right balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates (collectively called ‘macronutrients’) is key.
Build your diet around nutrient-dense, single ingredient ‘whole’ foods such as lean meat, fibrous vegetables, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.
Eat a good source of protein in every meal
Protein intake is crucial if you are looking to lose body fat, develop lean muscle and maintain a healthy weight. It helps us preserve and build muscle tissue, so it is key when looking to change our body composition.
Protein also keeps you feeling fuller for longer. When you eat enough protein, you’ll be less likely to get hungry between meals, meaning you’re more likely to avoid poor food choices and unhealthy snacks.
Aim to include a healthy source of protein in every meal, including free-range meat, poultry, fish and seafood, dairy and plant-based sources. Men and women who work out should aim for between 1.8-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram bodyweight.
Enjoy healthy fats
Good sources of essential fats are vital for a healthier body. Healthy fats are a great source of energy and play vital roles in hormone production and aiding the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K. They are also important for managing inflammation and metabolism.
We advise avoiding trans fats which are ‘man made’ and associated with a number of health complications. Instead, you should base your diet around getting a balance of saturated (eggs, butter, ghee, coconut oil and animal fats), monounsaturated (olive oil, avocados and nuts) and polyunsaturated (fish oil and flax seeds) fat sources.
Remember, fat contains more than twice the amount of calories per gram than protein or carbs, so make sure to track your intake.
Cut out processed carbohydrates
For better health and more stable energy levels, it’s best to cut highly-processed sources of carbs from your diet, such as bread, pasta, cereal and baked goods.
Instead, replace them with green vegetables and carb sources with a lower glycaemic load, such as sweet potato.
Green vegetables are particularly good – firstly because they’re full of vitamins and minerals, but also because they’re very low calorie, so you can eat them in large quantities without pushing your calorie count up too high.
The high fibre content of green vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli aids digestion and helps to keep you feeling full.
Stretch after training, always
Whilst stretching both before and after a gruelling work out may not be at the forefront of your mind, it is an essential part of the recovery process and should certainly not be forgotten about.
It may seem like a minimal part of an exercise regime but stretching will help your body and muscles to repair themselves and help you to work out more efficiently and effectively when you next want to fit in some training.
Another consideration for your work out plan could be to add some Yoga or Pilates into the mix.
Whether you opt to attend a class or try some out from the comfort of your own home, both exercise regimes have a plethora of health benefits and are a fantastic way to improve strength, flexibility and reach and can actually help you with other exercises you choose to undertake, as well as offering a way to relax whilst still burning calories.
Rest and allow your body to recover
No matter what your exercise of preference, allowing your heart, bones, muscles and lungs sufficient enough time to recover is essential, and it’s important to listen to what your body is telling you.
You may feel as though you want to push yourself harder, this can actually have a detrimental effect on both your body and your work out. Of course, there are a number of ways you can help the recovery process along a little faster, but that will mean sticking to a strict regime, just as you would with your work out.
Stretching post work out is a great place to start but keeping hydrated (as mentioned above), eating the right kinds of nutrients to refuel your body, and ensuring you get a good night’s sleep will help to compliment this and promote muscle recovery, which in turn lowers the risk of injury going forward.
If you’ve really exerted yourself, treating your body to a massage or making use of a foam roller can ease any aches and improve circulation to the places that need it most. Ice baths or alternating between hot and cold showers can help to prevent injury and reduce soreness and swelling.
Slowing down doesn’t mean you have to stop completely, and slower exercises such as cycling or a brisk walk can actually help, especially when it comes to improving circulation, so if you feel like you need to get in those steps, this can be a great way to do so on those rest days.
What muscles does cycling work?
Cycling is an excellent form of exercise as it targets your lower body, helping strengthen your leg muscles. Riding a bike regularly will help develop your quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves without overstressing the muscles.
As mentioned previously, the beauty of cycling is that it can be as intense or gentle as you want it to be, so is a favoured activity for people of all fitness levels.
If you’re looking to kickstart a healthier lifestyle, Halfords are with you every step of the way! Head over to Halfords.com to explore our full range of cycling gear including bikes, cycling technology and cycling clothing.