Almost every expert we spoke with recommended high intensity interval training for those who want to get fit fast. Why? Because HIIT workouts produce a big calorie burn in a short amount of time. Just because it’s short doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. Interval training will save you time, but it also requires that you put in three or four times the effort during the short 20- to 30-second bursts of movement that the workouts are made up of. “Do shorter HIIT sessions for 15-20 minutes,” says ACSM certified personal trainer Aileene Palm. “Combine cardio moves like jumping jacks and jumping rope with compound resistance training exercises that target more than one muscle, like squats and push-ups.” Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist Lisa Reed, M.S. recommends four-minute long Tabata style workouts which she says incorporate high intensity interval training to improve cardio and strength fitness. Try one of her workouts here.
“Capitalizing on small opportunities to fit in exercise cumulatively will make a big difference,” says Reed. Which means you should always be looking for ways to increase your overall amount of daily activity. “When doing mundane things like watching TV, washing the dishes or brushing your teeth, do some resistance training exercises like calf raises and counter push-ups. Do abdominal exercises during commercial breaks while watching TV and always take the stairs,” adds Palm.
“When it comes to losing weight, diet plays more of a role than exercise,” says Palm. “Eat healthier; load up on fruits and veggies, eat lean protein and incorporate healthy fats at every meal.” Easier said than done, right? Anne Johnson, PhD, owner of DNA Personal Training shares some tips for implementing these diet strategies into your day to day routine: “Plan and shop ahead of time, commit to a manageable amount of time, like two weeks to start off, and eat enough protein with every meal to keep you full,” she says. She also recommends coming up with a transition plan that will help you maintain these habits over a longer period of time once the first few weeks have passed by. Even more advice: fitness trainer Matt Fellows suggests focusing on whole foods. “The fewer ingredients a food contains, the better your body will process it,” he says. “Small changes in diet will often bring large results.”
New York City celebrity trainer and CEO of Physical Advantage PC Laurie Towers has three favorite forms of cardio for weight loss. Her top pick: rowing. She says that it’s one of the best ways to work up a sweat because in addition to elevating your heart rate it also targets the muscles in your back, arms and abs for a totally body burn.
All cardio and no strength training will surely get you stuck in an exercise rut. “Short workouts with weights that are heavy for you will throw your metabolism into high gear and develop lean muscle fastest,” says Johnson. Fellows agrees that strength training is a must for anyone who wants to get fit fast. To get the most bang for your buck he recommends compound movements such as overhead press, squats, deadlifts, bench press, and pull-ups. “Larger muscles will burn more calories, making squats and other leg exercises more effective than bicep curls or crunches,” says Fellows.
Getting fit fast doesn’t require an expensive gym membership or fancy equipment. “Good old push-ups, sit-ups and squats go a long way,” says Johnson. She suggests trying a workout like this: Perform two rounds, do 10 reps of each exercise (push-ups, sit-ups and squats). Work your way up to 5 rounds, then add max efforts on alternating days— 2 sets of as many push-ups as possible with a 3-minute break in between. When you’re ready advance sit-ups to leg lifts.
"The newest trend in fitness isn’t a tech gadget or new pair of shoes,” says Cedric Bryant, Chief Science Officer for the American Council on Exercise. A recent study conducted by Bryant and his colleagues found that weight loss candidates who worked with a professional health coach over the course of 24 weeks lost an average of more than 9 percent of their total body weight. “Part personal trainer, part nutritionist, part everyday cheerleader- health coaches go far beyond helping you exercise. They address behavior change, physical activity and nutrition to empower people to positive, long-term healthy change,” he says.
“What has been effective for my clients is combining strength with cardio as active rest,” says Kenny Pena, owner of Pena's Fitness Method Studio in New York City. This type of workout might include a circuit that looks like this: a squat with or without weight for multiple reps (Pena says 25 is a good number) followed by 30 seconds of an intense exercise, like burpees or squat jumps. According to Pena this is one of the most effective ways to exercise because you're engaging large muscle groups to build strength while also increasing your heart rate to maximize calorie burn. “When you add the cardio component using the same muscle group you build endurance and burn more calories than you would waiting around for your next set,” he says. He also points out that short, intense bursts of cardio activate EPOC (excess post exercise oxygen consumption) which helps you burn even more calories even after you’re finished working out.
According to the National Sleep Foundation our biological circadian clocks regulate periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day. NASM certified personal trainer Samantha Isaacson recommends that you become more in tune with yours in order to make the most of your workouts. “Figure out at what time during the day you have the most energy,” she says. "Capitalize on that peak time when your body temperature and muscle strength are at their highest levels, which in turn leads to improved performance and results."
See also: What Time of Day is Best for Exercise?
Missing out on sleep can be quite detrimental to your health and can certainly hinder your weight loss goals. Not only will a lack of sleep make you less likely to work out, but it can also affect your appetite; a factor that very few people with weight loss goals fail to consider. “Sleep helps to regulate appetite, metabolism and energy expenditure. When we sleep too little, we produce more ghrelin, a hormone secreted by the stomach that tells the brain that we want to keep eating, and less leptin, a hormone that tells the brain we’re full and satisfied,” says Rebecca Q. Scott, PhD, a sleep specialist at the New York Sleep Institute and an Assistant Research Professor in the NYU School of Medicine.
Both Gunnar Peterson, a celebrity personal trainer with more than 20 years of experience, and Isaacson advise avoiding carbs (especially the processed kinds like white bread, white rice and added sugars) at night. “Make breakfast bigger than lunch and lunch bigger than dinner. Avoid complex carbs after dinner,” says Peterson. “Complex carbohydrates are great for energy, but they have to be used at the right time, during the day. If you are craving a snack after dinner, go with a handful of almonds to keep you satiated through the night.” Isaacson adds: "Towards the latter half of the day, your metabolism naturally begins to slow down, which makes it more likely that those recently digested carbs may be stored as unnecessary fat. In addition, your insulin sensitivity is believed to be reduced at night, which may also lead to fat storage."