When it comes to getting fit, it helps to pin down the specific goals you want to achieve—then keep those goals at the top of your mind every time you hit the gym or exercise at home. Consider the following strategies for achieving success when it comes to these five common fitness goals.
Fitness goal: Tone your arms
Getting shapely shoulders or tightening flabby skin under your arms comes down to regularly lifting weights. Aim for two to four arm workouts a week on nonconsecutive days to give your muscles a chance to rest.
A common roadblock to achieving toned arms is picking up weights that are too light—using just two or three pounds, for example, won’t challenge your major arm muscles enough to develop better shape and tone over time.
For the best payoff, lift weights that tire out your biceps, triceps and shoulders after one to three sets of about eight to 15 reps.
Fitness goal: Flatten your belly
In addition to watching what you eat, the fastest way to a flat belly is working not only the front and sides of your abs, but also the deepest layer of your abdominal muscles, which acts like a natural girdle for flattening your abs.
If a flat belly is your goal, do more than crunches for the fronts and sides of your abs—target the deep abs with moves that make you use your core to balance yourself. Example: try a plank (think of a straight-leg pushup position but on your forearms) while gently drawing your abs inward without holding your breath.
Fitness goal: Tone your legs and butt
While you can tone legs, butt and hips with cardio exercise such as cycling, uphill hiking or walking on a treadmill incline, to really define lower-body muscles, do resistance exercise like lunges and squats. These moves are especially efficient because they tone and shape multiple lower-body muscles at the same time.
Since muscles respond best to a range of moves, you’ll reach your goal for a toned butt, thighs and calves faster with plenty of exercise variation versus the same moves in every workout. And keep challenging yourself: When you can easily do a minute of squats or lunges without weights, hold onto a weighted bar or dumbbells to tone your leg muscles even more; aim for one to three sets of eight to 15 reps.
Fitness goal: Lose weight
Along with sensible eating and weight lifting, cardio exercise helps you lose weight. But it’s a myth that keeping your heart rate low during cardio is best for losing weight.
While gentle exercise is good for your health, there’s a better approach for dropping unwanted pounds: Work out with enough intensity so the exercise feels moderate, somewhat hard or hard for most or parts of the workout.
The reason? More vigorous exercise burns more calories, which is the key to losing weight. Just remember: Your goal is to complete your workouts feeling alert and invigorated, not zapped of energy.
Fitness goal: Build up cardio fitness
By four to six weeks of regular cardio exercise—where your heart rate is up and you’re breathing deeply—you should begin to notice improvements in how strong your heart and lungs feel when you work out.
To build up cardio fitness and boost health, start with at least 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise like brisk walking, cycling or elliptical training; work up to five days per week. To avoid hitting a plateau as you get fitter, mix up cardio activities and gradually increase how long you exercise (e.g., go from 30 to 45 minutes). Or, plan slightly shorter but more challenging workouts, such as alternating bouts of fast walking with jogging for 20-30 minutes.