Whether you love a morning swim, enjoy sweating it out in a HIIT class or you’re all about mixing it up, we ask the experts how you can easily upgrade any workout to get results
Are you struggling to find the motivation to exercise, especially with the colder, darker days? Take on one of these mini challenges and you’ll get much bigger pay-offs from each session. Health writer Helen Foster asks the experts for the small improvements you can start making now.
1. Rev up your running… by focusing on your back
During your next run, forget about your legs and focus on your back. “If you’re leaning forward or your shoulders are rounded, you’ll constrict your lungs. This makes it harder to breathe and causes your weight to go forward over your lead leg, which puts stress through your knee – increasing the risk of injury,” says Simon Cowen, a specialist in marathon training. Pull yourself up from the hips as if you’ve got a balloon dragging you upwards from your head, and you’ll find breathing easier – vital for your stamina.
2. Succeed in the weights room… by going big, first
When you’re lifting weights, it’s always worth being mindful of which muscles become fatigued and when. “Shift the order in which you do your moves,” says Daniel Wheeler from Life Changing Fitness. “Start your session with exercises such as squats, deadlifts and barbell rows that use lots of big muscles. Doing these first means you can give them your full strength and capabilities, then you can swap to smaller moves like leg curls or tricep dips.” When it comes to pushing yourself, most people tend to see benefits from training to about 80-90% of their capacity, rather than pushing your muscles past fatigue.
Daniel also suggests carrying a notepad. “Record what you did and improve on that in your next workout by adding an extra rep or more weight,” he says. “Ensure your body progresses at every session.”
3. Power up your cycling… with active pedalling
For your next ride – whether outdoors or during a spin class – try concentrating on your pedalling style. Pedal stroke is often forgotten, but it can make a big difference to your speed and stamina.
Pedalling is not just a matter of pushing down – the whole circular movement matters. “Once you learn how to use the whole 360 degrees of your stroke, you’ll be able to pedal faster and smoother and keep your legs from burning out,” says cycling coach Tori Bortman in The Bicycling Big Book of Cycling for Beginners. Think of pedalling around a clock. From 12-4 is the strongest part of your stroke, so keep controlled and drive down. From 4-7, push your foot back as if you were trying to scrape something off the bottom of your shoe. Lift up and over between 8-11. You could even try cycling with cleats to improve this – find out how to at British Cycling.
4. Maximise your HIIT session… with a steady tempo
High Intensity Interval Training sees you alternating fast bursts of exercise with slower recovery sessions, so it might surprise you to hear that HIIT specialist Nicola Richardson from NRG Fitness suggests slowing down for better results. “You need to find the tempo that pushes you hardest but that you can also sustain for the entire workout,” she advises. “If you go out too fast at the start and can’t finish your routine at a tough pace, you won’t get the same results.”
Similarly, resting properly between intervals is essential – forcing your body to repeatedly adapt between going all out and resting is great for your cardio conditioning.
5. Improve your swimming… with a snorkel
If your ideal workout is getting some laps in, there’s a quick and easy way to improve the quality of your stroke and make breathing more efficient. “Good posture is the key to swimming faster, so check your form,” says Tim Hutton, coach at Swimming Nature, which offers bespoke swimming tuition. “The most common issue is head position. If it’s held too high, the legs drop down. If it’s too low, water hits your shoulders, slowing you down. Aim for a straight body.”
One reason people don’t hold their head well is that they can’t get their breathing right, so try a freestyle snorkel. You might feel a little silly, but give it a go for a few sessions. “Wearing it improves everything about your stroke,” says Tim.
Don’t let the cold weather and darker evenings hold you back – try one of these tweaks to your usual routine and see where it can take you.
Want to upgrade your workout but struggling with confidence at the gym? Read our guide to banishing gym floor fears.
Join Virgin Active
Get discounted gym membership at Virgin Active with Vitality*. A joining fee will apply.
*Selected Vitality products only. Minimum nonthly premiums and terms and conditions apply.