Meditation can be the key to unlocking your fat-loss potential.
It’s often been said that where the mind goes, the body follows. So it’s no surprise that meditation has become an increasingly popular, if not essential, part of countless fitness and training programs.
Does it really help, though? Research seems to indicate that it does. In one landmark Cleveland Clinic study, when test subjects used visualization techniques — imagining themselves performing exercises — they experienced physical strength gains of up to 53 percent. And a review of 47 trials published in JAMA Internal Medicine confirmed that meditation can help alleviate anxiety, depression and physical pain. Meditation has been found to reduce levels of cortisol, allowing you to recover as quickly as possible, and thus to train more often and more effectively. Here’s how to reap the rewards of meditation in your training.
Get in Touch
One popular and widely studied meditation technique is “mindfulness,” in which your mind and body “hang out” together in the present and quiet down negative thoughts. To begin, spend 10 minutes a day sitting in a quiet, comfortable place without distractions, closing your eyes and paying attention to your breath (try counting each inhalation and exhalation, or notice the rise and fall of your chest) and how your body feels (try scanning from the top of your head to the tips of your toes). When your thoughts drift, gently redirect your attention back into the present moment, to your breath and any physical sensations, smells or sounds.
Consistency is key, so try to meditate in the same place and at the same time every day, and focus on quality over quantity. If obstacles pop up, don’t let that derail your practice. Simply get back to it again the next day.
Find That Focal Point
Once you’ve practiced meditating a few times, you’ll likely discover that you can bring greater focus to your exercise routine. If you’re present in the moment, you can concentrate on your workouts and avoid running on automatic pilot, resulting in better, safer training.
If you find your thoughts drifting elsewhere — to unpaid bills, holiday plans or a recent argument — simply guide your mind back into the moment, focusing your energy and effort on your workout. Take your time and pay attention to how your muscles are working and how your body feels. Visualize how much more sculpted your muscles are becoming and how much closer you are to your fat-loss goals.
The same sort of focus can dramatically improve your eating habits. Again, consider how often your mind is somewhere else while you’re scarfing down a meal, not even realizing what you’re eating. With a trained mind, you’ll eat more consciously. As you prepare and eat meals, pay attention to smells, tastes and the sustenance they offer your body. Chances are you’ll make better food choices and feel satisfied and healthier, too.
Knock Down Walls
When your mind is strong, you can break through barriers that block your goals. Mindfulness training teaches you that your excuses are just thoughts in your head that needn’t stop you. Essentially, while an untrained mind’s default is to put up barriers, meditation teaches the brain to recognize these thoughts as background noise and then refocus on what needs to be done.
So the next time your mind says, “I’m starving,” and you reach for the nearest comfort food, take a moment to think before you eat. Similarly, if you’re working out and begin to think, I can’t do it or I’m bored, consider whether these thoughts are simply self-defeating stories. Your meditation practice will likely strengthen your belief in yourself and your ability to continue. And it will help you listen to your body so you can clearly determine whether you need to stop or whether you really can do a few more reps or run a few more minutes.
Reap the Rewards
For your fat-loss plan to succeed, you need a real understanding of your goal. Although you probably have a general view of why you’re dieting and working out — whether it’s to change the way your body looks or feel more energized — the specifics may not be as clear as they could be. Meditation helps you zero in on those details.
Take a few moments to ask yourself what you think the results of exercising your body and mind will be, how much you value those results, how you feel about your exercises (confident, embarrassed, frightened, determined) or how much control you have over your ability to make it happen. Instead of thinking your way to the “right” answer, sit for a few moments and allow your mind to calm down and become uncluttered. You may very well find that’s enough to give you clarity.
The bottom line: When you know what you need to do in the moment, when you have confidence in your abilities and a clear understanding of where you’re going, success is practically guaranteed.
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Often overlooked, nothing is more stunning and important to your everyday activities than strong, sculpted traps.
If you carry a heavy purse, schlep bags full of groceries or tote a toddler, you depend on your traps every day. But when was the last time you included them in your workout? For too many women, the answer is rarely, if ever. Yet nothing is more stunning than strong, sculpted traps — and nothing is more important to your everyday activities.
Your trapezius is a four-headed muscle that runs from the back of your skull to the middle of your back. The muscle is divided into three regions: the superior or upper region, the intermediate or middle region, and the inferior or lower region. The upper traps extend to the back of the neck, allowing the head to turn and tilt. The middle and lower traps support the shoulders, keeping them elevated and allowing them to retract the shoulder blades. The traps are also essential for survival because they are engaged whenever you breathe, helping to expand the upper region of the chest when you inhale.
As critical as your traps are to both your form and your function, adding this trio of moves to your workout routine can strengthen and define them. Perform three to five sets with 12 repetitions per set. Start with a weight that causes muscle fatigue for the final two reps. When all three sets become easy to do, increase the resistance.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart as you hold a barbell with an overhand grip. Your hands also should be shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. Raise your shoulders up as far as possible as you exhale. Hold the contraction for a count of one, then lower your shoulders. Repeat.
Bent-Over Dumbell Row
Hold a dumbbell securely in each hand, palms facing your torso. Bend forward at your waist so that your chest is leaning forward over your feet. Flatten your back so that a straight line is formed from your waist to your head. Keep a slight bend in your knees while keeping your feet shoulder-width apart. Start with your arms fully extended and the dumbbells held slightly ahead of you. Pull or “row” the dumbbells back toward your sides. Return to the starting position and repeat. Be sure to keep your head up, back straight and your shoulders back throughout this exercise to engage your traps and ensure stability throughout the entire move.
Cable Upright Row
This exercise requires a cable station. Attach the rope to the pulley and position it to the lowest point. Set to desired weight. Grasp each end of the rope with an overhand grip. Stand up straight, directly in front of the pulley. Pull the rope ends to the front of your shoulders with your elbows leading. Allow your wrists to flex as you lift. Lower and repeat.
Isometrics are static exercises that don’t rely on weights. Instead, they involve holding certain movements to create resistance by causing the muscles to act against each other. And they are an excellent way to improve your traps on the fly — whether you’re sitting at your desk, waiting in the checkout line or even sitting in rush-hour traffic. The basic idea is to contract your traps and hold the position for 30 seconds. Here’s one move you can do anytime, anywhere: With good posture, squeeze your shoulder blades together while keeping your chest lifted. Hold the position for 30 seconds, then release and repeat. As an alternative, you also can hold a shrug without weight. Yoga poses, such as Downward Dog, also improve your trapezius isometrically.
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Can’t seem to get yourself to the gym? These five tips can help you keep your weight-loss goals on track.
Can’t seem to get yourself to the gym? Tap into the motivational power of social support. In a study from Stanford University, over 200 people were given health-education lessons during which they set a weekly walking goal. From there, they were split into three groups: One that received encouraging phone calls from a live person, another that received the same number of phone calls from an automated computer system and the last that received no follow-up.
The phone calls paid off: A year later, the group that received live calls increased their weekly walking time on average by 78 percent, or an additional hour and 18 minutes! Whether you like to work out alone, with a buddy or in a large group, keep yourself in check with the following tips:
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Body fat: Everyone has it, and everyone wants less of it. But how can you make that happen and still be healthy and perform well? The answer may surprise you.
If you’re like many active women, your range of body-fat levels likely hovers between 14 and 24 percent. So what is the difference between Jane and Joanne Doe, wherein Jane has 15 percent body fat and Joanne has 22?
The assumption naturally is dietary differences: Maybe Jane eats super clean 24/7, while Joanne enjoys a glass of wine and dessert several times per week. But really, nutrition is only part of the equation; anyone can diet down to a low body fat with a little determination (and a lot of willpower). But maintaining a lean physique over the long term can be achieved with something you’re probably already doing: strength training.
It’s Your Choice!
You know having more muscle mass boosts metabolism, since you need to burn calories in order to maintain and support those cells. But instead of thinking inside the usual gym box, look at strength training from a different angle, one in which body composition is determined by the kind of strength work you do. Because in fact, tailoring your program to focus on performance, power and synergistic compound strength could be the key to shedding those last few percentage points.
Bodypart training is effective if you’re trying to bring up stubborn parts or balance certain muscle groups, but it’s not very metabolically taxing to work one muscle group at a time. These four training edicts could be the key to unlocking your own potential to sculpt a strong, capable body.
1. Believe In Bodyweight
Capably being able to move your own bodyweight not only makes you a better athlete but also makes you leaner. Bodyweight moves incorporate multiple muscle groups while also training your balance, agility and reaction time. The more muscles you work, the more calories you burn. The faster you get, the more calories you burn. The more agile and quick you are, the more calories you burn. (See the pattern here?) Bodyweight exercises are also unique in that they can be done for very low or very high numbers of reps and can create a strength, hypertrophy or metabolic fat-loss effect, depending on the rep range.
Take action: Put bodyweight moves at the beginning of a strength workout to warm up muscles and train movement patterns. Add them at the end of a strength workout as a burnout, doing high reps for volume to encourage hypertrophy.
2. Power Up
Compound and powerlifting moves are some of the most effective around when it comes to building strength. Why is strength important for fat loss? According to research in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, the stronger you are, the greater your exercise intensity and the higher your energy consumption both in the gym and out. And the more mass you have, the more calories you burn and the more fat you’ll lose as a result; powerlifting and compound moves by their very nature build muscle.
Take action: If you’re not familiar with big lifting movements, get a certified professional to show you the ropes. There are definite and specific techniques that should be applied to keep your body safe and make the gains and progress that you’re angling for. Once you’re familiar with the lifts, blend them into your program so they land in the first couple of slots in your workout when you’re freshest and have the most energy. Build in weight slowly over the course of several months to keep your joints and connective tissues safe.
3. Jump To It
Incorporating explosive athletic movements such as jumps, throws and Olympic lifts (snatch, clean-and-jerk) into your program targets fast-twitch muscle fibers. These are the largest and strongest muscle fibers in the body, metabolizing the most energy and improving insulin sensitivity and your ability to burn stored body fat, according to research in the ACSM Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews.
“Explosive training also causes a release of adrenaline, which hormonally triggers thermogenesis,” says Jennifer Petrosino, CSCS, and a professional powerlifter. “The result is a triple whammy of increased muscle and strength, with a decrease in body fat.”
Take action: Dedicate one to two workouts per week to explosive training such as plyometrics or Olympic lifting. Because it is so taxing, leave at least two days in between these kinds of workouts to allow for full recovery. Again, if you’re unfamiliar with this kind of lifting, have a professional show you proper technique to stay safe.
4. Seek Out Speed
Have you ever seen a chunky sprinter? Didn’t think so. Recent research demonstrated that sprint training performed three times weekly can reduce body fat by as much as 8 percent, as well as decreasing waist circumference and increasing muscle mass, according to a report in the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology. Athletes who train for speed work at such a high intensity are constantly in a state of EPOC — excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. Their bodies are constantly mobilizing body fat and carbs for fuel, boosting thermogenesis for many hours post-training.
Take action: You don’t need to be Lolo Jones in order to benefit from a sprinting protocol. Find a local track and try this progressive workout, designed by Martin Rooney, DPT, CSCS, which increases in distance over the course of eight weeks. After a thorough warm-up that includes jogging, running and five to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching and mobility work, do this workout up to twice a week, leaving at least two days of rest between workouts. For each sprint, push yourself hard, then take enough time so you fully recover. Then it’s time for the next sprint.
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Scared you might fail? Read on for simple ways to keep a positive mindset during your weight-loss journey.
When you first made the decision to get leaner and healthier, you were probably excited, possibly even a little giddy. The idea that you don’t have to be satisfied with the proverbial hand you were dealt is certainly empowering, and that rush of motivation may have caused you to jump headfirst into an intense diet and exercise plan.
But as the weeks went on and your results started to lag, your enthusiasm for your plan and your confidence in your willpower likely dwindled, as well. Kick your doubts to the curb with these gentle reminders that your fat-loss journey is in the hands of one person: you!
- Remind yourself it’s not impossible. Losing weight may seem similar to climbing a mountain in the beginning, but keep in mind that many people have overcome obstacles similar to or larger than yours – and are happier for it. Check out our Success Stories and prepare to be inspired!
- Don’t walk into temptation. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, but that’s because it rings true: “When you go to the supermarket, stay in the periphery and don’t go down the aisles,” advises Barry Sears, PhD, a prominent weight-loss author and expert in the science of anti-inflammatory nutrition. There’s one caveat, however: food manufacturers know that people head to the produce section and meat counter to find healthy food, so they often strategically place packaged foods they want you to believe are good for you near these areas. Don’t fall for their hype.
- Every little bit does help! “People hate too much change; it’s stressful,” says Sears. The number-one thing he recommends for those looking to lose weight is taking a high-quality fish oil supplement. Not only have omega-3 fatty acids been linked to increased weight loss, evidence suggests it may play a roll in reducing heart disease, stroke, diabetes and asthma.
- Go back to basics. You’ve probably seen the newly revamped United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate, the replacement for the beloved (but carb-heavy) USDA’s food pyramid. While it’s a good reference, Sears points out, “The USDA has one political purpose: to support American agriculture.” He goes on to note that the best way to ensure you are getting a balanced diet is to not put anything on your plate that “did not exist 10,000 years ago.” That basically means lean meats, vegetables and fruits, healthy fats and scant grains (which, coincidentally enough, we did not start farming until – you guessed it – 10,000 years ago).
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