Are you pushing yourself hard enough?

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Jogging on the treadmill whilst having a gossip is not going to reap real results – it’s time to get down to business!

If you’re pottering along to the gym two or three times a week, but don’t feel you’re seeing real results, the answer may be simple. The workouts you’re doing may not be very effective, or you may not be working hard enough! But don’t worry, if you think you’re guilty of taking your foot off the gas, we’ve got four sure-fire ways to give your workouts the boost they’ve been waiting for!

Up the intensity While a 30-minute steady-state run has long been the fall back of many a fitness fan, research is now stacking up to show that these sorts of workouts are considerably less effective than those of a higher intensity and shorter length.

Doing 10 one-minute sprints on a bike with about a minute’s rest between, three times a week, is as effective at building muscle as many hours of conventional long-term biking less strenuously, according to research conducted by scientists at McMaster University in Canada. So ditching your slow and steady sessions on the treadmill, cross trainer or pavement for a shorter workout of sprints and rests should help you see results in no time.

Get a personal trainer
Sometimes there’s nothing like a scary ex-marine shouting at you from across the park to get your backside in gear. We’re all guilty of giving ourselves an easy ride now and again, so getting a personal trainer could be your route to the body you’ve always wanted.

Sometimes we simply underestimate our own physical ability and it can take an outside with an objective viewpoint to make us see what we’re capable of. ‘A personal trainer will mix up your routine with a variety of exercises and challenge your body in new ways, which should kick-start your metabolism. Having someone else pushing you to achieve will also increase the intensity of your workout, helping you to overcome the plateau,’ says London-based personal trainer Mollie Millington (www.ptmollie.com). ‘Be sure to let your trainer know what your goals are so they can tailor the workout accordingly.’

If you’re going to get a trainer, find someone who’s registered with REPs, and who is prepared to offer a free first session to see if you like it before you commit to more. Try to find someone who you can afford to train with at least once a week so you can really get the most from them.

Get a heart rate monitor
Getting feedback about how hard you’ve pushed yourself in a session is a great way to monitor your progress and identify where you’re doing well and where you might be slacking. Heart rate monitors, usually comprising of a belt and a watch, are a great way of doing this.

MYZONE (www.myzone.org) monitors are the next generation of this and can display your effort levels live in real time, when used in a class, or store your effort levels (in the memory of the belt) when you’re working out independently. This information can then be wirelessly uploaded and accessed by an online user account, letting you check out how you did post-workout.

H2 Bike Run (www.h2clubs.co.uk) offer spin classes using the MYZONE heart rate monitor, which allows you (and the rest of the class) to see your effort levels projected onto a wall at the front throughout the class in the form of a coloured square with a percentage in it.

MYZONE effort points are awarded for each minute that you spend within each heart rate zone so, under 50 per cent of your maximum heart rate equals 0.5 points, 50-60 per cent of your maximum heart rate equals 1 point, 60-70 per cent of your maximum heart rate equals 1.5 points 80-100 per cent equals 2 points and so on.

As your effort increases, your square changes colour from blue to green to yellow and finally red, so everyone in the class (and your instructor!) can see if you’re really putting the work in! You wouldn’t want to be lagging behind with your square lit up in blue if the rest of the class are powering ahead with their squares on red!

And it can be used in other forms of exercise aside from spin. ‘I use MYZONE as a way of carefully tracking the intensity I am putting clients through during their SGUT (Sol Gilbert Ultimate Training) sessions,’ says Sol Gilbert of ZT Family Fitness (www.ztfamilyfitness.com). ‘Using MYZONE has definitely helped to show clients in real-time how hard they’re actually working. I often tell them to work out within a certain heart rate zone, so if I tell them to work out in the yellow zone they can actually see if they’re in it, or if they need to work harder to get into it.’

Lift heavier weights
There’s a common misconception that if women use heavy weightsthey will end up looking bulky, but doing fewer reps with a heavier weight could actually be the key to seeing real results from your workouts, particularly for weight loss.

‘Lifting heavy weights will not make you huge! You simply don’t have the testosterone levels in your body to build big muscles!’ says Rory James Manning, personal trainer and managing director of RJ Fitness (www.rj-fitness.co.uk). Rory says this is one of things he has most difficulty getting female clients to understand.

‘Lifting light weights will not get you nearly as toned as lifting heavy weights and there is no such thing as toned or un-toned muscle, muscle is muscle.  It can be big or small, but not “toned”. The best way to appear lean or “toned” is to have as much muscle as possible, while having the lowest body-fat percentage possible,’ says Rory.

If you’re doing lots of reps with light weights, it’s time to change up your game plan. ‘Are you guilty of going too light? If you are completing 15 reps or more you almost certainly are, as this won’t be heavy enough to split the muscle fibres! And you won’t see the same kind of fat loss you would if you increased your weight!’ says Rory.

And having more muscle will burn more fat. ‘A pound of muscle burns about 20 calories a day while a pound of fat burns less than five calories. Therefore the more muscle you build, the more fat you burn!’ says Rory.

If that sounds appealing to you, put down the light dumbbells, swap them for a weight that will really challenge you and take the number of reps you’re doing right down. ‘Take your rep range down to between six or 10 reps per set and increase your weight so the last two reps are almost impossible to get out (while keeping good form)!’ says Rory.