It seems like every time the temperatures start falling and the days start growing shorter, many people begin packing on the pounds. You may think this is an exaggeration or a reflection of poor willpower around two huge holidays focused on eating, but there is an actual physiological explanation.
As the weather gets colder, the blood vessels in the skin contract, and when our extremities grow colder, blood begins to move to the center of our bodies. This event stimulates some of our internal organs such as our digestive tract, and things start hopping, meaning our appetite increases. We all know what happens after that. Yes, you guessed it, we gain weight!
If you want to look at it from a more “natural” perspective, consider the view presented by Eastern medicine. According to Eastern philosophy, the fall season is a time for the body to store energy, which just happens to correlate with the harvest season. That time when grains and fruits, nature’s most nutritious foods, are available in abundance. In the spring and summer, we are troubled by a lack of energy associated with an imbalance between yin and yang. However, by the fall season, our bodies begin to stabilize as the yin-yang balance is restored so we begin to store up our reserves for winter. Therefore, we need to be extremely careful in the fall and winter seasons, as our propensity for gaining weight is a lot higher.
Regardless of how you chose to view it, the result is the same. Not only is gaining weight in the winter months so much easier, but our ability to hide it, and thus live in denial, is even greater. It becomes so easy to hide those extra pounds under bulkier winter clothes, or to justify a few extra pounds with the rationale that we’ll take it off come spring and summer. Unfortunately, what often happens is summer sneaks up on us before we’ve even had a chance to take those extra pounds off, and hiding away beneath heavy sweaters and coats just isn’t an option anymore. Swimsuits and shorts are unforgiving!
So, now what?
Well, if you’re reading this book, you are obviously looking for a way to get in shape and stay that way for the summer. However, I’ve got to warn you, if you are looking for some magic quick fix that’s going to whip you back into shape in a couple of weeks, you’ve come to the wrong place. While I can definitely give you the right tools to help you get into fighting summer shape, it’s going to take dedication, time, and effort on your part. If you are willing to devote yourself to getting back into shape and staying that way, then definitely read on!
The first step in this process is largely psychological. You need to commit to making this lifestyle change. Notice I said lifestyle change and not diet. Dieting isn’t what this program is about. It’s about embracing a lifestyle that promotes healthy eating and physical activities. These are the keys to your success, and meticulous planning and consistent execution are the tools that will help you achieve success.
The good news is that you don’t have to purchase any expensive plan or special equipment to get the job done. In fact, you can develop your own plan of action. After all, who knows better than you what will and will not work when losing weight? The bad news is you will need to be disciplined and follow the plan you develop, if you want to be successful.
If you want to shed a few pounds for the run up to the summer season, you are going to have to alter what you eat. Yes, a whole lot depends on not just HOW MUCH you are eating, but WHAT you are eating. When you start to restrict the intake of calories and select healthier foods that reflect a balanced diet, your body will start using the fat, it’s stored to generate energy and you will lose weight.
As I mentioned, it is okay if you do not choose to follow a particular diet plan. However, you will need to educate yourself on what foods you can eat, and eliminate the ones that are high fat, high calorie. If you eat healthy foods in moderate amounts, you are half way to losing and keeping the weight off. The other half of the equation is increasing your physical activity level, which we will discuss in the second half of this book.
What to Eat
The Healthy Eating Pyramid is an essential tool that guides us towards eating nutritious food. The Healthy Eating Pyramid should not be confused with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Guide Pyramid, as they are completely different. How?
The Food Guide Pyramid (also known as My Pyramid), produced by the USDA, while well-intentioned, is flawed in terms of guiding people in eating a healthy diet. The recommendations are often rooted in out-dated science or are simply influenced by various special interest groups looking to make a profit. Therefore, the legitimacy of these recommendations is somewhat suspect.
The Healthy Eating Pyramid, created by the Harvard School of Public Health, is an alternative guide to better eating. The pyramid’s foundation is built on the ideas of daily exercise and weight control, two components that strongly influence your overall health.
In general, a healthy diet should consist of daily exercise and the following food groups:
- Whole Grains
- Healthy Fats & Oils
- Vegetables & Fats
- Nuts, Seeds, Beans, and Tofu
- Fish, Poultry, and Eggs
- Dairy (1 to 2 Servings Per Day) or Vitamin D/Calcium Supplements
- Red Meat, Processed Meat, and Butter (Used Sparingly)
- Refined Grains—White Bread, Rice, and Pasta; Potatoes; Sugary Drinks and Sweets; Salt (Used Sparingly)
The Healthy Eating Pyramid was created based on the best dietary information available today. It follows one guiding principle and that is that a healthy diet includes more foods from the base of the pyramid than from the higher levels. In other words, more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and less red meat, butter, white rice, and pasta. Easy enough, right?
Tips for Eating Healthy
Here are a few tips to follow when creating your healthy eating summer action plan:
- Make it quick and easy. Your plan has to fit your lifestyle in order to work well. Like your expectations, the eating plan you design has to be realistic and doable.
- Plan ahead. Creating a written plan that you follow allows you to not only track what you eat, but also to evaluate if you are eating plenty of the foods you need and less of the foods you don’t.
- Use visualization to stay motivated. If you are trying to get back to a lower weight, and you have pictures of when you were at that weight, pin them up on your mirror or refrigerator. Put them somewhere you look at frequently. Imagine yourself back at that weight, and focus on how great it will be to be at that weight again. If you are short on pictures, but maybe have a certain outfit you would love to wear, like a swimsuit, find a picture and use it as your focal point.
- Keep a food log. Research has shown that keeping a record of what you eat helps you to lose weight. It really makes sense as most people who have to write down everything they put into their mouth, often rethink whether it’s worth it or not. Keeping a record also helps you to identify the types of foods you are eating and if you are getting the right amounts. Maintaining a log should be easy and convenient. Do it the old fashion way with pencil and paper, or check out one of the many free online websites that will do it for you such as FitDay.
- Fill your pantry and refrigerator with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. For instance, tart fruits like blueberries and strawberries are rich sources of protein, vitamins, and antioxidants. These are also highly fibrous fruits and help improve your immune system, brain and memory function, and learning abilities. You can make these fruits into interesting dishes by adding fat-free yogurt and making a creamy smoothie or add them to salads to spice up a dish’s color and taste. Research shows that strawberries are useful in keeping blood sugar levels under control and thus help fight diabetes. They are even helpful in providing your body with Vitamin C and minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
- Make cooking fun. Summer is a great time to try new recipes and experiment with wonderful seasonal flavors.
- Eat a good balance. The plan that you make should include more protein and fiber and fewer carbohydrates.
- Eat smaller but more meals throughout the day. This will help to boost your metabolism, which will in turn help you to burn more calories.
- Make drinking more water an important part of your plan. Water is necessary to hydrate your body, and for processing food. Drinking water regularly keeps your system stable, helps in digestion, and improves cell functions as well. Recommendations on water intake vary, but 8 to 10 glasses a day is a good guideline. Obviously, the more physically active you are, you should plan on drinking even more. Additionally, if you drink a lot of caffeinated beverages, then you’ll need to compensate by drinking more water too, since caffeine actually decreases hydration.
- Control alcohol intake. It decreases metabolism and aids in fat storage.
- Eat fish that are high in Omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential fats as they raise metabolism. Mackerel and salmon, like flaxseed, are high in essential fats, which benefit heart patients as well.
- Spice it up. Spice up your table with mustard, pepper, and ginger, which have been found to increase metabolism. Clove, cinnamon, and bay leaf fight your sugar cravings.
- Milk does your body good. Go for skim milk, which is fat-free, but rich in calcium.
- Apart from eating healthy, eat on time. Eating meals at odd hours are nothing but unhealthy, so maintain a proper schedule for your body and eat at the same time every day. Never eat your meals in a hurry, and always chew every bite well before you swallow it.
- Learn to understand your body and give it what it wants. Eat when your body really needs it, and do not fall prey to false hunger such is sometimes the case when you are actually thirsty.
- Indulge in the most important meal of the day. It is bad to skip your breakfast as it can lower your metabolism, making you feel pale and wan throughout the day. Your energy levels throughout the day depending on what you eat at the breakfast table. Consuming calories in the morning can easily be burned off throughout the day.
Fresh summer fruits are not only a great source of vitamins and nutrients, but they are the perfect refreshing fare on a hot summer day. Fruit (as well as vegetables) are also a great source of potassium and dietary fiber. The added bonus of the phytonutrients, which protect us against cancer, heart disease, and other diseases associated with growing older, can’t be beaten. Other than just eating fruit in its natural state, you can make a salad out of it and top it with low-fat ice cream. You can also make yummy shakes.
Peaches, Plums, and Nectarines: Abundant in the summer, these juicy fruits are rich in beta-carotene, which can protect you against heart disease and cancer. They also contain luitein and zeaxanthin, which are carotenoids that help filter and shield your eyes from sunlight, protecting them against such disorders as macular degeneration and cataracts. Did I mention that peaches and plums also contain flavonoids, another line of defense against cancer and heart disease?
Melons: A great fruit for hot summers is melon. The watermelon surely ranks as the best thirst quencher, and the taste is naturally sweet, especially the organically produced types. Apart from other nutrients, they are a rich source of potassium, which helps control blood pressure.
Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are tasty, color-rich treats that come filled with the strength of antioxidants to prevent cell damage. The tiny morsels are packed with loads of fiber and have few calories. Munch on them or cook them, as you like. Toss some of them on your cereals or mix them into your salads for a filling meal.
Mango: This juicy and delicious lovely orange-colored fruit is fiber-rich and filled with potassium, Vitamins A and C, and is very low in calories. Mango can be used in a variety of ways. You can juice it, make a milkshake, put it in a fruit salad, on pancakes, cereals, yogurt, waffles, puddings, or cakes. The possibilities are endless.
See red with tomatoes: this lycopene-rich fruit has many health benefits. Use this low-calorie juicy delight in all your summer dishes. Select fresh, firm, and dark red tomatoes and keep them at room temperature. The canned variety can also be added to your pasta, soups, and salads.
You could also try these tempting fruit-based recipes:
- 1 clove, garlic
- 1 small onion
- 1 tbs. olive oil
- 6 ounces chopped spinach
- 2 large peaches or nectarines, or 3 large plums
- 6 eggs
- 2 tbs. water
- 1/4 cup shredded Muenster cheese
- 1 tbs. fresh basil (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a heavy, ovenproof 10-inch fry pan, sauté one clove of minced garlic and one small onion, thinly sliced, in 1-tablespoon olive oil just until wilted. Add 6 ounces chopped fresh spinach and heat through, blending with the onion and garlic. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg. Remove from heat. Remove pits, slice two large fresh peaches or nectarines, or three large plums, and arrange slices on top of the spinach mixture. Beat six eggs with 2 tablespoons of water and pour over all ingredients. Top with 1/4 cup shredded Muenster cheese. Sprinkle with one tablespoon minced fresh basil leaves, if desired. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until set. Cut into wedges and serve. Makes six servings.
Mango Banana Smoothie
- 2 frozen, ripe bananas
- 1 mango, peeled and sliced
- 10 ounces calcium-fortified orange juice
- 1 cup low-fat or fat-free vanilla or mandarin orange yogurt
Cut the banana into chunks. In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. If the smoothie is too thick, thin with a little more orange juice. Makes four servings.
Green vegetables are healthy as well as they provide you with several key essential vitamins and nutrients. Try out delicious recipes and maintain healthy eating during summer. You can put them in salads, casseroles, or consider using them in soup. Make vegetable sandwiches or grill them up. A variety of vegetables such as carrots, onions, zucchini, garlic, peppers, eggplant, and asparagus are great on the grill.
Beans are a great substitute for meat and they are very versatile. Beans are high in protein and fiber. They can be used in a variety of dishes including salads, pasta, salsa, soups, or stews. Most beans can be stored for long periods, if properly sealed, so they make a great staple for any pantry.
Try these great vegetable-based dishes:
Grilled Vegetable Kebabs
- ½ cup olive oil
- 3 zucchini
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 1 onion
- 12 oz halved mushrooms
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
Whisk the oil and vinegar and set aside. Cut each bell pepper into 12-inch wide pieces. Cut the zucchini into 12 half-inch slices. Cut the onion into 12 pieces. Thread the vegetables, alternately, on to four large skewers. Marinate the kabobs in the oil and vinegar mixture for 15 minutes. Grill them over medium coals for 12 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and slightly browned, turning them once. Serve hot. Makes four servings.
Grilled Vegetable Sandwich
- 1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise
- 1 medium sweet red pepper, quartered
- 1 small red onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 1/4 cup prepared Italian salad dressing
- 1 loaf ciabatta bread (14 ounces), halved lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
In a large Ziploc bag, combine the zucchini, pepper, onion, and salad dressing. Seal the bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Drain and discard the marinade. Brush cut sides of bread with oil; set aside. Place vegetables on the grill rack. Grill, covered, over medium heat for 4-5 minutes on each side or until crisp-tender. Remove and keep warm. Grill bread, oil side down, over medium heat for 30-60 seconds or until toasted. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, peel, and garlic. Spread over the bread bottom; sprinkle with cheese. Top with vegetables and remaining bread. Cut into four slices. Makes four servings.
The “It’s Too Hot to Eat” Salad
- 2-15oz cans black beans, drained and *well-rinsed*
- 1-15oz can whole kernel no-salt-added corn
- 1 medium to large tomato
- 1 medium bell pepper
- 1 small onion
- 1 mango
Finely chop the tomato, pepper, and onion, and coarsely chop the mango. Mix everything together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let chill for at least an hour before serving.
If you do not like to eat vegetables, try turning them into delicious refreshing soups. Soup? In the summer? Absolutely! There are a lot of filling soups that can be eaten cold such as Gazpacho, Roasted Tomato Soup, Cucumber, and Vichyssoise (a cold pureed potatoes and leek soup).
Eating fruits and vegetables that are in season will allow you to enjoy the freshest produce at the lowest price. Also, check out your local farmers’ markets, which do a good job of providing a wide selection of fresh in-season vegetables year round.
Grilling in the summer months is a favorite cooking method for many people. If you love to grill, you know that just about anything can be grilled including fruits and vegetables. However, when it comes to eating light and grilling, the two can easily go hand in hand if you select the right meats. Try to stick to lean cuts of beef, chicken breasts, and ground turkey during the summer. Grilled seafood is another good option. The key is to select lean cuts of meat such as sirloin, flank, and tenderloin, and to remove the skin on white-meat poultry choices. Also, keep the serving size smaller, around 3 ounces.
Ground turkey is a healthy alternative to ground beef, and if you are a hamburger lover, you will be pleasantly surprised by the substitution. Try this tasty burger idea:
Juicy Turkey Burgers
- 1 medium apple, peeled and finely shredded
- 1/2 cup cooked brown rice
- 2 tablespoons grated onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1-1/2 teaspoons rubbed sage
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 pound lean ground turkey
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
- 6 whole wheat hamburger buns, split
- 6 lettuce leaves
- 6 tomato slices
In a large bowl, combine the first 10 ingredients. Crumble turkey over the mixture and mix well. Shape into six 1/2-in.-thick patties. Using long-handled tongs moisten a paper towel with cooking oil and lightly coat the grill rack. Prepare the grill for indirect heat using a grill pan. Place burgers over a drip pan and grill, covered, over indirect medium heat or broil 4 inches from the heat for 6-7 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer reads 165° and juices run clear. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve on buns with lettuce and tomato.
Makes six servings.
What about a Raw Food Diet?
During the summer months, when it’s especially hot, the idea of cooking or eating anything hot isn’t very appealing. People tend to look for alternatives and often start hearing more about the Raw Food Diet, so, I thought I’d take a moment to discuss this diet approach.
The raw food approach is based on eating whole, living, nutritionally dense organic, uncooked, unprocessed foods – approximately 75 percent or more of your diet to be exact. By eating such a diet, you reap the rewards of eliminating toxins, energizing your body, and ultimately losing weight.
Raw food proponents insist that cooking food destroys important enzymes needed in the digestion and absorption of foods. Cooking food is believed to diminish its nutritional value, as well as its life force. Instead, a diet of mostly living or raw foods is advocated.
Participants of a raw food diet focus on eating unprocessed and uncooked plant foods. Typically, at least 75 percent should come from living or raw sources. Primary foods ingested on this diet include lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, sprouts, seeds, nuts, grains, beans, dried fruit, legumes, and seaweed. Vegetable and fruit juices are also encouraged, as they are considered an effective way of absorbing nutrients into the body.
Most followers of this approach tend to be vegetarian and do not eat animal-based products such as meat or dairy. However, some followers do include raw, organic animal products such as free-range organic chicken, sashimi (raw fish), meat (Carpaccio), and organic eggs and yogurt. Foods and drinks that are considered taboo include almost all other meat, fish and dairy products, as well as distilled liquors, caffeine, and refined sugars.
While the primary tenant behind the raw food diet is that food should not be heated above 116- 118 degrees Fahrenheit, some other forms of “cooking” techniques are permitted. Juicing, blending, soaking, and dehydrating foods to make foods more palpable is allowed.
Compared to the typical Western diet, the raw food diet contains fewer trans and saturated fats. It is also lower in sodium and higher in potassium, magnesium, folate, and fiber. One study in the Journal of Nutrition also found that the consumption of a raw foods diet assisted in lowering total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations.
Advocates of the raw food diets believe the health benefits of this approach are numerous. For those proponents, the diet has brought increased energy, improved skin appearance, and digestion, reduced risk of heart disease, the elimination of unwanted toxins, and weight loss.
Additional one comprehensive study, which reviewed over 50 existing medical studies of raw versus cooked food diets found that eating a diet loaded with raw vegetables was instrumental in reducing the risk of oral, pharyngeal, laryngeal, esophagea,l and gastric cancers.
Now, a few words about the drawbacks of a raw food plan. This is not an easy program for many people to follow. It does take a lot of time, energy, and commitment in terms of having to prepare many of the foods. Depending on where participants live, some allowed ingredients might be difficult to find and seasonality of fresh produce may also impact diet variety. Cost may also be prohibitive for some participants as organic and fresh foods tend to be more expensive.
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) has also challenged the program’s assertion that cooking foods above 116-118 degrees Fahrenheit kills enzymes. The organization insists that the body, not what goes into it, is what produces the enzymes necessary for digestion. Furthermore, by not cooking food above the 118 degrees Fahrenheit mark, participants may potentially open themselves up to harmful, food-borne bacteria found on some foods.
Mild headaches, digestive problems, dizziness, nausea, and food cravings often occur and sometimes last for several days if not weeks. Additionally, for individuals coming off a richer diet, a detox reaction when first starting the program may prove severe. The raw food diet is not appropriate for all people. Children, pregnant and nursing women, people with anemia, and people at risk for osteoporosis are also discouraged for undertaking the plan.
Certain nutritional deficiencies are likely to occur on a diet that is predominately comprised of raw, unprocessed foods. Participants often struggle with calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and D, and protein deficiencies when staying on the diet for an extended period.
One Washington University study also found that participants following a raw food diet were prone to lower bone mass. However, a more positive finding that overall bone quality was good was promising.
The verdict is mixed on whether the raw diet is truly a healthy long-term approach to a healthier lifestyle. It truly depends on whom you talk to! Advocates are passionate and committed to the approach, while some experts advise caution in staying on such a program long-term.
While there is strong evidence to suggest it has some very significant and notable health benefits, the practicality and feasibility of being able to sustain such a diet are questionable. No doubt, a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits will prove beneficial, but given the deficiency in protein and other essential vitamins and nutrients associated with this approach, it may not provide participants with the best-balanced approach to weight loss.
Summer Vacation Challenges
While summer vacations present a wonderful opportunity to soak in the sun and enjoy outdoor activities, it also brings various temptations that pile on calories. This could pose a problem if you are trying to maintain or reduce weight. Here are some vital diet tips to help you maintain your weight.
If you have planned a summer vacation, then you need to plan your calorie intake from the moment you step out of your house. If you have planned to take your car, then you could pack in some light salads, sandwiches made with whole wheat bread, low-calorie cereal bars, and some unsweetened iced tea or green tea. This will ensure that you do not pig out on burgers and fries as you road trip to your destination.
If you are traveling by air, then the temptations are even greater, since in-flight food, alcoholic drinks, and even fruit juices are high in calories. Pack your own healthy snacks, or if a meal plan is offered, consider the vegetarian options. Avoid alcohol, since it adds empty calories, and often increases the recovery period from jet lag. Drink plenty of water, and a small glass of canned juice, instead of fizzy drinks with no nutritional value.
The situation gets even worse, when you reach your hotel, with scrumptious breakfasts, unlimited buffet lunches, dinners, and a mouth-watering variety of desserts at every meal. While you may enjoy the delicacies spread out before you, try to pick out a lot of salads, grilled vegetables, and rice or whole wheat bread into your lunch and dinner schedules, and limit the amount of red meat or desserts on offer. Avoid salads dripping with mayonnaise-based dressings. If you stay near the sea, then your hotel should have a wide variety of fish, crabs, and lobsters on their menu, try them out, especially when not deep-fried or wrapped in the batter.
Include fruits, cereal, yogurt, whole grain bread, and bagels for breakfast, instead of omelets, bacon, or ham. For desserts, stick to fresh fruits with a little sherbet or sorbet instead of gorging on hip-exploding cheesecake and ice cream.
If you want to indulge in a few alcoholic drinks, stick to small quantities of beer or wine, instead of calorie-rich cocktails. In addition to adding calories, alcoholic drinks dehydrate the body and cause a hangover that could ruin your holiday.
Even if you do tuck into a few vacation delicacies, your hotel should offer you a variety of ways to burn off the fat. Go swimming, hit the gym, or at least engage in regular long walks. If your resort is on the beach, then you can go snorkeling, kayaking, or even hire a pedal boat.
As you enjoy your summer holidays, you can still ensure that you enjoy your various meals, while maintaining a low-calorie count. Even if you gulp down the odd high-calorie delicacy, you can still burn it off in a fun way through the physical activity on tap.
Maintaining a Healthy Summer Eating Plan
It is a myth that healthy eating means depriving yourself of your favorite foods. Excess is what’s bad, and any food eaten in moderate amounts is healthy. By maintaining a healthy, balanced summer diet, you can stay fresh and energetic all day long. If you learn to eat more nutritional and well-balanced foods, you will definitely reap the health benefits year-round!
Increasing Physical Activity Levels
Becoming more physically active forms an integral part of any healthy lifestyle, as it helps you to burn more calories. Taking a walk or a hike, jogging, swimming, or working out at the gym are just a few ways you can start to burn calories. As little as 20 minutes a day of regular physical activity can go a long way in burning those excess calories.
If you are just starting out and the idea of exercise makes you cringe, start out small. Commit to taking a walk around your neighborhood in the evenings or maybe grab a small group of friends and try a beginning yoga or Zumba class.
Exercising and spending more time on outdoor activities always seem easier in the summer because of the wonderful weather. Going for bike rides with the kids walks with your significant other, or hiking or rock climbing with friends can be both fun and rewarding in terms of fat-burning. A game of baseball, soccer, softball, swimming, or water aerobics can offer loads of fun.
For even greater results, you can incorporate a circuit training exercise routine as part of your fitness routine. As little as 20 minutes a day, 3 times a week can yield amazing results and keep you fit and trim throughout the summer. Here’s how.
Keep it Short with Circuit Training
What’s the best method of exercising? McMaster University published a study in the Journal of Physiology that looked at the different methods of exercising and concluded that high-intensity training was much better than long, steady workouts that feel like they go on forever. Researchers found that one-minute intense exercise, followed by a one-minute recovery interval session yielded the best results for fitness and weight loss. That means that an actual 20-minute exercise session included 10 minutes of high-intensity training and 10 minutes of rest. Doesn’t that sound doable?
Now here’s the best part. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you perform, you just need to do it intensely for one minute and then rest for one minute. It could be running, cycling, rowing, or cross-training. This method works for all types of exercise and is especially well suited for the circuit training approach to exercise.
Circuit training has long been used as an effective way to develop strength and cardiovascular fitness at the same time. It improves mobility, strength, and stamina. Circuit training doesn’t refer to a specific form of exercise, but instead to how an exercise session is structured. Typically, one circuit session consists of a series of strength exercises (usually 6 to 10) that are performed one after another, with brief periods of rest in between.
The total number of circuit sessions typically varies based on your training level, i.e. beginner, intermediate or advanced.
What are Strength-Training Exercises?
Strength training, also known as resistance training, refers to any type of exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an eternal resistance such as dumbbells, rubber exercise tubing, or even your own body weight. In short, any type of object that is going to cause your muscles to contract. Strength training offers several benefits. It can help you maintain muscle when restricting calories, allow you to burn more calories after a workout and while at rest, and improve your heart health. Examples of resistance training you may want to consider include:
- Using dumbbells or free weights to build muscle
- Incorporating an elastic exercise band in your workout
- Using an exercise ball when exercising your abs
- Water aerobics
Here is a selection of strength training exercises you may want to try. These are just a handful of the possibilities available. In addition to showing you a few that require no special equipment, I’ve also included a few that use weights, bands, and exercise balls.
Twisting crunches – Start by lying on your back with your knees at a ninety-degree angle and your hands by your side, or behind your head for support. Slowly lift your torso in a diagonal fashion (bring a shoulder towards the opposite knee). Keep your head and spine straightly aligned. Slowly return to the starting position without releasing tension on your abdominals. Repeat lying on your other side.
Bridge – Start with your body raised off the ground clenching your abdominals. Hold your body in this position for 30-60 seconds.
Pelvic Thrust – Start by lying down on a mat and raising your legs to a 90-degree angle. With your arms at your side, raise your pelvis up while trying to keep your legs perfectly vertical.
Jack Knives – Lie on the ground (beginner) or a bench (advanced) with your lower body not on the bench. Complete a crunch and bring your knees and shoulders together. This exercise can be performed with your knees bent or kept straight.
Air Bike – Start with your back flat on the ground. Raise your opposite arm and leg together. Repeat side to side until a complete set is finished.
Wall Push-Up – This exercise is great for people who are not able to do a regular push-up. To begin, start in a standing position, and then lean against a wall with your hands out. With your hands at shoulder length apart, press your body back to the starting position. To make it harder on yourself find something that is lower like a desk, then a bench, and finally the ground.
Chin-Ups – Hold the chin-up bar with palms facing forward with a wide grip. Hang from the bar. You may have to bend your knees to do so. Pull your body up until your neck meets the bar and then slowly release and return to the starting position.
Exercise Ball/Medicine Ball Throw – Start by lying supine on a ball with a medicine ball over the top of your head (holding with two hands). Complete a crunch and start throwing the ball ahead of you as you come up to the top.
Standing Row (Elastic Band) – Start by standing up straight and have the middle of the band tied to the doorknob so you can still grab both ends. With your hands grabbing both ends, extend fully while keeping tension on the band. Slowly bring the band in tight to your body contracting your shoulder blades. Return to the starting position.
Bicep Curls (Elastic Band) – Start by standing or sitting. With the band underneath your feet, and your feet and shoulders relaxed, raise the band using your biceps until you have completed a curl. Return to the starting position.
Close Grip Pulldown – Using a narrow grip handle, put your knees underneath the pad, and lean back slightly. Pull the handle down smoothly until it touches the top of your chest. Extend your arms back to the top.
Squats – Hold a barbell with an overhand grip so that it rests comfortably on your upper back. Set your feet shoulder-width apart, and keep your knees slightly bent, back straight, and eyes focused straight ahead. Slowly lower your body as if you were sitting back into a chair, keeping your back in its natural alignment and your lower legs nearly perpendicular to the floor. When your thighs are parallel to the floor, pause, then return to the starting position.
Bench Press – Lie on your back on a flat bench with your feet on the floor. Grab the barbell with an overhand grip, your hands just beyond shoulder-width apart. Lift the bar off the uprights, and hold it at arm’s length over your chest. Slowly lower the bar to your chest. Pause, and then push the bar back to the starting position.
Lying Cable Curls – Start by lying on a bench with your arms straight up holding a straight bar attached to a cable. With your back flat on the bench, lower the weight using your biceps keeping your elbows stationary.
Putting Together Your Workout
To create your own circuit training session, grab a pen and paper. You will start by identifying 3 or 4 circuits of 6 to 8 exercises that you want to perform. You can start with the list of exercises listed above. As you’re picking your exercises, make sure that no two consecutive exercises work for the same muscle group. For example, you don’t want to schedule a press-up right after a pull-up because you are working for the same muscle group. You want to work as many body parts as possible with each circuit.
After you’ve selected your exercises, you’ll want to include a warm-up session before you begin and a cool-down session at the end of each workout.
Why Warm Up?
A common mistake among people who are new to physical fitness is to skip the warm-up. This is a big mistake because a proper warm-up can help you reduce the risk of injury and can help to prepare your body and mind for the more strenuous workout to come. An added bonus is that you will burn more calories.
When you are performing a warm-up, it is best to start with the easiest and gentlest exercises first, and then build on them. Don’t think that a few simple stretches do a warm-up make. Your body needs more than that to function at its peak. Devote at least ten minutes to doing static stretches and some type of light aerobic exercises before kicking off a more intensive workout.
Circuit Training Session Examples
Below are a few examples of circuit training sessions that include 6 to 8 exercises. Each exercise should be done for 20 to 30 seconds with a 30-second recovery between each one. Do 3 to 5 sets with a 3-minute recovery between each set.
Six Exercise Sessions
- Press Ups
- Squat Jumps
- Sit Ups
- Squat Thrusts
- Bench Dips
- Traditional Crunches
- Bent-Leg Knee Raise
- Triceps Pushdown
- Leg Curls
Eight Exercise Sessions
- Press Ups
- Squat Jumps
- Sit Ups
- Squat Thrusts
- Bench Dips
- Shuttle Runs
- Back extension chest raise
- Traditional Crunches
- Bent-Leg Knee Raise
- Triceps Pushdown
- Leg Curls
- Back extension chest raise
- Bench Dips
A light and healthy approach to meals combined with regular physical activity will not only have your swimsuit ready in no time, but it will ensure that you maintain that sleek and toned physique throughout the summer.
By developing and sticking to a challenging but attainable goal, and creating a plan that addresses both healthy eating and your fitness level you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results you’ll see and feel. In no time at all, you’ll be out there, enjoying the dog days of summer!