Maximizing the Burn

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Trainer Laura Ball of Pure Austin Fitness discusses how to stay in shape during the holiday season by adding resistance-based training and weight lifting, and mixing up your workout routine.

L Style: The holidays often prove to be challenging, especially for women who are trying to maintain a flat belly. What’s the best exercise for working off those tempting holiday cookies?

Laura Ball: The most effective calorie burn will come from a combination of cardio and resistance training. Higher intensity sprints, or circuits that are coupled with resistance training or weights is a great way to work up a serious sweat. Also, choosing weighted exercises that are multi-joint – using multiple body parts at once – will maximize your time and maximize the burn. For example, do a squat, or step up onto a bench using hand weights, bringing the weights up into a shoulder press or a bicep curl. Or try a weighted lunge with a tricep extension overhead. The most effective exercises will hit several body parts at once. This coupled with some higher intensity cardio bursts (as long as that type of exercise is OK for you) is the fastest way to burn off any extra holiday calories.

L Style: For women using the holidays as an opportunity to begin working out, what’s the best place to start: Yoga? Aerobics? Weights?

Laura Ball: The best place to start will generally depend on what you like to do best. Figure that out and you can progress from there. If you are most comfortable and familiar with weights, then that would be a good place to start, and then start adding in some cardio at the beginning and/or end of your workout. If yoga makes you nervous, but you enjoy cardio, then maybe you could come to the gym, do some cardio, and then jump in to an intro level yoga class. Most yoga instructors teaching in a gym setting will be familiar with students that have never done yoga before, so they usually are totally ready to teach to all levels. In the long run, the best workout program will include all these elements: cardiovascular fitness from aerobics or cardio, muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility gained from weights and yoga. While stretching works too, going to a yoga class forces us to focus on balancing the muscles, and many yoga classes will also leave you sweaty and muscularly tired just from using your bodyweight.

L Style: Many women who are just beginning to incorporate regular exercise in to their lifestyles say losing weight happens slowly at first. Why does the female body seem to respond slower to exercise than the male body? Can women do anything to change this?

Laura Ball: It definitely seems that men can lose weight more quickly than women – not fair! Part of this is probably due to simple math: Men tend to be larger, so they might lose more total weight, but it would be the same relative weight. A 200-pound man losing 5 percent body mass would lose 10 pounds, whereas a 100-pound woman losing 5 percent body mass would only lose 5 pounds. Also, the further you are from a healthy weight, the more easily the initial weight tends to come off – your body wants to be healthy! Those last five vanity pounds might require the most work – your body senses you are close to your goal and gets more complacent! Also, men tend to have a higher percentage of muscle mass, and muscle is more metabolically active than fat. When a man starts to workout regularly, not only does he tend to build muscle faster, his body tends to burn more calories because of his already higher percentage of muscle fibers. In addition, men are more likely to use weights, which again increases muscle and makes them more metabolically active. Women can get the same benefits by focusing on adding weights or other resistance -based training methods to their program. Women tend to focus more on cardio, which ends up being a formula for calories in/calories out, and that becomes a long, slow battle. By adding resistance-based training such as weights, bands, even bodyweight, women can build lean, good-looking muscle, which will be more metabolically active. It also helps to focus on taking in more good, lean protein sources, as women have a harder time getting that muscle.

L Style: For women who workout several times a week, should they increase their physical activity during the holidays, or will their regular workout routine suffice?

Laura Ball: The best answer is probably: do whatever works. To set unreasonable self-expectations is a recipe for failure. A lot of people tend to be very Type A, so if they somehow fail their own expectation of how often they should workout, they will fall off the wagon altogether, and put off any workouts until after the holidays. This is not what we like to see. It’s best to maintain as regular a schedule as is possible, but allow for the fact that the increased number of social obligations during the holidays will likely cut in to some workouts. Bottom line: Don’t stop working out. Do what you can. Workouts will relieve stress and you will be that much more fit and ready to go after the holiday season is over.

L Style: The holidays can be stressful. What are the best workout tools and routines women can use as a means of reducing stress during the holidays?

Laura Ball: The holidays can be stressful for sure! It might be a good time to check out a new class, something you can just walk into and check your mind at the door. There are so many great, fun classes out there, and everyone is a beginner in the beginning! So there is no reason to be self-conscious or intimidated. Sculpting classes, spinning classes, dance–based classes, kickboxing classes, pilates, or power yoga classes are all great places to start. Then all you have to worry about is getting in the door, and the teacher can take care of the rest. Another good idea is to pack an exercise band or fitness circle with you if you travel. There are a number of great, easy exercises that you can do, and bands are especially great for building that lean, long muscle that women tend to prefer.

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