How much exercise do I need to do to lose weight? How do I get a six-pack? Where do I start with weight training? Virgin Active trainer Emily Cole has all the expert advice you need for getting fit
Over half of us don’t know what we’re doing in the gym and a quarter of us are too shy to ask for help when it comes to exercise, according to the latest research from Nuffield Health. But don’t let confusion or embarrassment get in the way of your fitness goals. We’ve teamed up with our straight-talking fitness expert, Emily Cole to find out the answers to your most-asked questions.
Warm up: planning your workout
1. Is working out in the morning better for you?
You should exercise at a time that suits you and your body. There’s no evidence to suggest that an early morning workout is better for you, but some people are just more efficient at this time. You’ll get results regardless of the time of day, as long as it works for you.
2. Should I approach my sessions with a plan?
Yes, this will help you get the most out of your workout. Decide which muscle groups you want to work on, whether you’re doing a strength session or a HIIT workout and what equipment you’ll need. Then, think about how many reps and sets you’re going to perform. That way, you won’t waste time procrastinating and you’ll work harder as a result.
3. Do I need to work out every day?
A good workout week doesn’t necessarily mean training every day. Three to four gym or home workouts each week is enough if you work as hard as you can in each session. Try to balance the week with a mix of cardio, HIIT, strength and yoga or Pilates. However, when it comes to being active you should aim to move as much as you can every day – whether that’s with brisk walking, jogging, swimming, gardening or putting your all into the housework!
4. How long do I need to work out for?
This depends on your fitness levels, what type of training you’re doing and what intensity you’re training at. Just remember, something is always better than nothing. If you only have 30 minutes, try to fit in a quick HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout or go for a run.
If you’re doing a strength workout, set aside more time for warming up and mobilising to help avoid injury and make sure you’re getting enough rest between sets. Either way, you definitely don’t need to be slogging it out for hours!
5. Do I need to vary my workout to see results?
If you want to see real change in your body you need to mix up your routine. The body quickly adapts to exercise and if you continue to do the same workout or use the same weights, it will plateau as it stops responding to the training stimulus. Increase frequency, intensity or the type of training as often as you can.
Let’s go: during your workout
6. How do I get a six-pack?
Doing 100 sit-ups a day won’t guarantee a defined set of abs; you’ll need to do a combination of things. Reducing body fat should be first on the agenda – you may have the strongest set of abdominal muscles but if your body fat percentage is too high, you won’t be able to see them.
Be sure to include some fat-burning HIIT training and cardio in your routine. However, diet is arguably the most important factor if you want to get lean. Use apps such as My Fitness Pal to track your calorie intake and if weight loss is your goal, ensure you are in a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you eat).
When you’ve reached your body fat goals, it’s time to target the abdominals and increase their muscle mass through your training. Great core exercises include plank variations, bicycle crunches and cable rotations, or try abs-specific classes at the gym.
7. What type of training do I need to do to increase muscle mass?
If you want to build muscle, you’ll need to start weight training. Lifting heavy weights effectively rips the muscle fibres and as the body repairs, it replaces damaged muscle fibres to form new strands. As a result, this increases the thickness and size of the muscle.
Choose heavier weights for lower reps and take a longer rest between sets. It’s important to train the muscle groups you want to build a few times per week. And don’t forget to increase your calorie intake – you need to feed muscles if you want them to grow.
8. What type of training do I need to do to lose weight?
Generally, cardio training such as swimming or running will burn the most calories per session. Weight training will help you burn more calories over the course of the day – muscle burns more calories at rest than other tissues, including fat, and therefore speeds up your resting metabolism.
Researchers at the University of Colorado have found that HIIT exercise burns 25%-30% more calories than a steady-state exercise session such as a run. Therefore, combining cardio, weights and HIIT-specific training alongside a diet that will leave you in a calorie deficit is the most effective route to weight loss.
9. What type of training do I need to get stronger?
Strength can mean different things to different people. For some it can mean being able to do one pull up, for others it might be reaching a deadlift PB, which is why it is important to train for your goals. In order to gain strength in a targeted area, you need to gradually increase your volume (times per week and reps) and the intensity of those sessions. Try setting yourself realistic targets each week so that you have something specific to aim for.
Cool down: after your workout
10. How often do I need to rest?
Ensure you have at least one rest day per week to allow your body to regenerate and repair, so you can come back stronger.
11. When should I stretch and how often?
Start with some dynamic stretching (active muscular stretching such as walking lunges or jogging with high knees) before a workout. Then, do static stretches such as a standing thigh stretch or side lunge for post-workout recovery, focusing on the muscles you’ve worked. This will decrease your risk of injury, improve blood flow and circulation, increase your range of motion and improve muscle function. You can never stretch too much!
12. What’s the best way to help sore muscles?
Diet plays a vital role in the rate at which your body can recover – protein is crucial for decreasing muscle damage and soreness after a workout, so make sure to fuel up properly. Rest and plenty of sleep will also give the body time to repair.
Treat yourself to a bath with Epsom salts, which are packed with magnesium that will gently relax muscles. Or try foam rolling, which acts as a self-massage and prevents damage to the connective tissue between the muscles.
13. How and when do I need to use a foam roller?
Foam rolling acts as a deep tissue massage, which will help to improve mobility and flexibility. Rolling pre-workout will prepare your body for exercise and increase circulation to the muscles you are preparing to train. Post-workout, foam rolling is a great recovery tool, as it removes lactic acid (a waste product your body produces during exercise) from your muscles.
14. How does exercise help mental health?
Research has shown that exercise can help to reduce stress, improve your self-confidence, alleviate anxiety and improve concentration. Plus, it releases endorphins, which encourage feelings of happiness.
Be careful not to over train, as this can put your body and mind under stress, raising levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Therefore a balanced exercise plan is key.
Feeling inspired but don’t know where to start in the gym? Here are 10 ways to banish gym floor fear for good.
As a Vitality member, you could get up to 50% off a pair of sports shoes with Runners Need. Available with eligible health insurance, life insurance and investments plans. Log in to Member Zone for the details.