Get More Burn From Your Workout

What's the secret to losing more weight? Boosting your metabolism. And how do you do that?

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte E. Grayson, MD

We walk and we walk. We could walk from Atlanta to Los Angeles, and still not lose that extra 10 pounds -- at least, that's how it seems. If you've hit a plateau in your weight-loss program, here are some tips to get more burn from your workout.

Boosting your metabolism is the secret, says Katie Heimburger, an exercise physiologist in Atlanta. What exactly is metabolism? It's the amount of energy -- in the form of calories -- that we burn during the day.

Sure, we burn calories when we run or walk. But we also burn calories when we sit at the computer or TV, even when we sleep -- what's referred to as "resting metabolic rate."

Tip #1: Build muscle mass. When you increase your muscle mass, you boost your resting metabolism -- and that makes your body burn more calories, says Heimburger. "That's why we recommend adding weight training to an exercise program."

Some examples: using hand weights to do bicep curls, using weight machines at a gym, even doing specific calisthenics like push-ups and abdominal crunches. "If you're building strength, you are losing weight," she explains.

Any kind of strength training is going to increase muscle mass, agrees Jamey McGee, fitness director at Wellness Center at Meadowmont, part of the University of North Carolina Healthcare System in Chapel Hill.

"That's why we have classes like yoga and pilates, to strengthen your body," she tells WebMD. "Pilates is about strengthening the core of your body -- your back, your abdomen. Some forms of yoga have a similar effect."

Heimburger recommends weight training twice a week. One advisory: "I don't recommend carrying weights or wearing ankle weights while you're walking. Adding weights could damage your joints. Weights should only be used when you're standing still."

A personal trainer or exercise physiologist can also set you up with a well-balanced strength-training program that targets the major muscle groups, Heimburger adds.

Tip #2: Get plenty of cardiovascular exercise. There's no getting around it -- the biggest burn comes from cardiovascular exercise, she tells WebMD. That means running, hiking, walking, cycling, taking aerobics classes, dancing, kickboxing, or using cardio machines at a gym, anything that gets your heart rate up.

Ideally, you should do this four to five times week for 30 to 40 minutes each time. "The whole idea here is just getting out there and burning as many calories as you can," says Heimburger. "What we say is, you should be exercising at a level where you can talk, but you can't sing."

Tip #3: Focus on frequency, duration, intensity. "As long as you step up your exercise program from what you're doing now, you're going to see faster weight-loss results," Heimburger tells WebMD. "Step up the amount of exercise, the length of time of your workouts and the intensity, and you'll definitely see progress."

Tip #4: Target losing one or two pounds a week. "That's pretty much the limit because any more than that would require severe diet restriction," says Heimburger. "If you think about it, one pound of body weight equals 3,500 calories. That's a lot to burn. Actually, that's all the fat your body will let you lose anyway. Any more weight loss will be water weight or muscle weight, and you'll gain that right back."

Tip #5: Don't run if you hate running. "If you don't like what you're doing, you're going to end up dropping out," Heimburger says. Find a form of exercise you enjoy, one that you'll like to do.

But consider this: Popular sports like tennis or racquetball let you combine muscle conditioning and cardiovascular burn. However, you won't build as much muscle mass (or lose as much weight) as you would with other forms of strength training, says McGee.

Tip #6: Exercise in the morning. You'll stick with your exercise program, says Heimburger. "I think it's because if you decide to exercise at lunch, you have plenty of time to come up excuses. But if you do it first thing in the morning, it eliminates the time you have to come up with those excuses."

Originally published Feb. 10, 2003.
Medically updated Dec. 7, 2004.

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Last Editorial Review: 3/1/2005 7:48:09 PM