Stay Fit and Trim All Winter Long

It’s so easy to stay fit in the summer -- the beautiful days keep you outdoors and active, while the heat controls your appetite. Then the weather turns, and every day it seems you’re moving just a little bit less and eating just a little bit more.

But when you think about it, there’s really no excuse for such behavior. “It’s almost like a woman who’s pregnant and thinks, ‘I can eat anything I want!’” says Joshua Margolis, founder of New York City–based personal training service Mind Over Matter Health & Fitness. “You can, but it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.” In other words, winter is not a license to sit around and stuff your face. If it were, Colorado would be a state full of fat people; instead, it has boasted the nation’s lowest percentage of obese adults since 1990, a fact largely attributed to the population’s strong outdoor culture.

However, even if we accept that blaming the cold for our sloth-like habits is wrong, it can be tough to stay on track with health goals when it’s cozy inside and miserable outside. To help, we asked fitness expert Margolis and nutrition expert Ilyse Schapiro, a registered dietitian and certified dietitian/nutritionist at Brown & Medina Nutrition in New York City, for their best tips on how to stay healthy and happy during those long months of sleet and snow.

Eat Citrus
“Winter is cold and flu season, so it’s more important than ever to keep your immune system functioning at its best,” says Schapiro, who recommends taking vitamin C to give it that extra boost. “Oranges and clementines are in season, so why not put out a bowl of those during the game instead of a bowl of chips?”

Find a Workout Partner
It’s a dark, bitter morning, and your bed’s so warm and comfy ... but you’re supposed to meet Joe at indoor tennis in 30 minutes. Says Margolis: “Having a buddy to exercise with automatically creates accountability and responsibility.” If you’re in need of a partner, ask that guy you always see at the gym or someone from your intramural sport team, or simply post on Facebook: “Hey, I’m going out for a run in the morning. Anybody interested in joining?”

Choose Healthy Comfort Foods
We crave thick, heavy food in the winter. But instead of reaching for a can of calorie-packed cream-based soup, heat up some hearty lentil stew or veggie chili. Schapiro also recommends preparing recipes with low-fat instead of full-fat dairy and lean ground turkey versus ground beef. As for carbs, always opt for whole grains, including whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat couscous, quinoa and brown rice. For more ideas, check out EatingWell, Schapiro’s go-to source for healthy recipes.

Buy Winter Workout Gear
When you make a financial commitment to something, you tend to stick to it more. Likewise, spend money on a parka, goggles, base layers, ice tools -- the sky’s the limit -- and you’re probably not going to let them go to waste. For an extra guarantee, put your purchases somewhere you’ll see them every time you come in or out the door. Guilt is a brilliant motivator.

Get Your Beta-carotene
Antioxidants protect against damage to cells and can help fight diseases and illnesses from cancer to the common cold. If you increase your intake in the winter, says Schapiro, you can stave off or shorten the length of a cold. Beta-carotene is one major antioxidant, and foods rich in it are readily available during winter. Carrots, sweet potatoes and broccoli are all in season and are packed with the infection-fighting cells.

Pick up a Winter Sport
Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice hockey, ice climbing, snowmobiling … “An inordinate number of fitness disciplines require colder temperatures,” says Margolis. The winter season is a great reminder to mix up your workout. “If you’re doing the same thing repeatedly,” explains Margolis, “your body gradually gets used to it, and the energy you expend decreases. It’s no longer as challenging for your body.” Ramp up your workout by testing new cold-weather skills. Or simply get out there with your little cousins and have a snowball fight; 8-year-old kids can make you burn more calories than drill sergeants.

Why Your Abs Aren’t All That … Yet

A hundred crunches twice a week, week after week, month after month, and … nothing. If this is you, well, first of all, take heart in the fact that you’re not alone. Lots of guys approach abs the wrong way. Which comes to our second point: You’re probably approaching abs the wrong way. But again, don’t despair. We’ve got the fix, and we’re sharing it with you.

What You’re Doing Wrong

Several things, truthfully. The main one is you’re not giving your abs enough variety -- specifically, not enough ab muscle fiber recruitment. “You need to train your abs in all planes and in combination with a bunch of other exercises to achieve full development,” explains Mike Wunsch, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the director of fitness at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, Calif.

Secondly, and related to the above, your abs program needs to be a core workout. Most people put all their focus on the upper abs, but that’s only part of the core puzzle. Wunsch puts his clients through a series of exercises that include not only extension and flexion, but also rotations. As a result, the entire core gets worked. And he never waits until the end of the workout to do core work. “We do it right after the warm-up, so it’s the first high-intensity move you do. If popping abs are what you want, it must be a high priority.”

Finally, you’re not hitting your abs often enough. Abs are not like other muscles that need to be worked only twice a week, maximum, for solid development. For those abs to show, says Wunsch, you need to use his program four times a week, alternating the exercises with each ab-workout day.

Wunsch’s Program for Making Your Abs All That

Perform two core moves per workout, supersetting the moves. In other words, do the second exercise right after the first, then rest. Do two to four sets, with 30-second rests between each superset. (Beginners should start with two sets.)

Alternate workout A with workout B for each day you do abs, and make sure you get a day of rest for the core between the first two and last two workouts. Example: Monday is A, Tuesday B, Wednesday off, Thursday A, Friday B.

And remember: Do the core routine after the warm-up (i.e., before the rest of your workout).

Workout A
Plank Saw, eight to 12 reps

Dumbbell Russian Twists, eight reps to each side

Workout B
Dumbbell Farmers Walk, 25 to 40 feet

Prone Cobra, 10 reps with a five-second pause

Exercise descriptions
Plank Saw:
Get into a standard plank position. (Lie face-down with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, forearms underneath your chest and flat on the ground. Prop yourself up to form a bridge using your toes and forearms. Maintain a flat back and do not allow your hips to sag toward the ground.) Your toes should be on top of two plastic plates or something similar (paper plates, 5-pound weight plates, etc.) that will slide. To execute the saw, slide your body backward and then forward, like a saw, so the angle between your forearms and upper arms goes from about 135 degrees to about 45 degrees.

Dumbbell Russian Twists: Start seated on the floor with your knees bent at 90 degrees, heels in contact with the ground. Hold a dumbbell or weight plate straight out in front of you (with arms slightly bent at the elbows), then lean back until you feel the abs engage to stabilize your body. Rotate as far as possible to your right and touch the DB or plate to the ground behind you. Make sure you rotate your entire torso and are not just reaching around with your arms. After touching, forcefully change directions and move the load to the other side.

Dumbbell Farmers Walk: Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells, with the heels of your hands facing your hips, and walk about 25 feet (go farther each week) without putting them down. Take short, choppy steps when walking -- especially the first few steps. This allows you to conserve energy and stay balanced during your stride. Once you pick up momentum, you can take longer strides, but it’s almost always easier to maintain control with short, choppy steps.

Prone Cobra: Begin by lying face-down on the floor with your arms beside your hips and your palms facing up. Activate your core muscles by drawing your abs toward your spine and squeezing your butt. Slowly exhale and lift your chest off the floor and your arms up and backward toward your hips. Rotate your thumbs toward the ceiling as you carry out the movement. Pause at the top of the movement for five seconds. Then return to the starting position.

What Comes First: Build Muscle or Shed Fat?

You want to get rid of the flab. You also want to put on muscle. But you know that you can’t optimally (or even remotely) do both at the same time. So what plan should you embark on first?

The answer depends entirely on 1) your honest assessment of what you look like now, and 2) what you hope to look like in the not-too-distant future. Says Mike Wunsch, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the director of fitness at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, Calif.: “Every guy wants abs and arms” -- meaning cut abs and big arms. But, he adds, that’s like wanting to look like the chiseled bodybuilder … on the day of competition. “Ronnie Coleman doesn’t look like that 99 percent of the time,” he explains. “He’s usually 30 pounds heavier, having built up a ton of muscle before he goes into his cutting phase and then dehydrating just before the contest.”

Determine Your Goal

What you want to do is develop a sustainable physique that you can live with day in and day out. Take a look at yourself in the mirror: Do you have a decent amount of muscle but too much fat? Or are you pretty defined but lack any real muscle?

Once you’ve determined your goal, the next step is to embark on a fitness-and-nutrition plan that will change your shape accordingly. “If you have respectable strength, go right into a cutting program,” says Wunsch. “If you’ve got a six-pack but want to get bigger, you’re going to have to put on some fat along with that new muscle.” He gives an example of a 6-foot guy who’s a ripped 160, but who would rather be a ripped 190. To get there, he’s going to have to be a softer-looking 200 first.

First, Eat Right

If your goal is to get lean,
says Michael J. Sokol, a personal trainer recognized by the American Council on Exercise and owner of One-on-One Fitness in Chicago and Scottsdale, Ariz., you should consume six smaller balanced meals/snacks every two to three hours per day. Each one should contain protein (eggs, nuts, lean meat, fish, tuna, cottage cheese), quality, low-glycemic carbohydrates (wheat-berry bread, sweet potatoes, wheat pasta, fruit, brown/wild rice, steel-cut oats), dark veggies and plenty of water.

If your goal is to pack on the muscle, Wunsch advises getting at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Those six meals per day must be sizable, and one should include a post-workout whey protein recovery shake. While you don’t need to eat as “clean” (lower in fat, no junk) as those trying to get lean, you should still aim for nutrient-dense calories (e.g., a free-range, grass-fed hamburger with a whole baked potato, rather than a Whopper with fries). Just don’t skip those workouts -- with all that food, your body will be generating both muscle and fat, and intense workouts will ensure that much of it is the hard stuff.

Now: Build Strength or Burn Fat

Strength-building
is all about hoisting heavy weights approximately three workouts a week. A good approach is to do a push day (chest, shoulder and triceps), a pull day (back and biceps) and a leg day. Emphasize major compound moves (involving more than one muscle group), such as bench presses, incline presses, military presses and triceps presses on push days; pull-ups, deadlifts, back rows and straight bar curls on pull days; and squats, lunges and calf presses on leg days. Keep your reps below 10 per exercise, and rest 2 to 3 minutes between sets.

Meanwhile, says Wunsch, do zero cardio. “Aerobic conditioning has a negative influence on muscle gain,” he says. “You don’t want to tax the lean body mass that you’re trying to add.”

Wunsch’s fat-burning program is actually not that different, but everything is done at a quicker pace and with a higher rep range. While you’ll still do three workouts a week, the breakdown will be chest/back, shoulders/arms, and legs, which more freely allows you to superset exercises. For example, if you’re doing three supersets of push-ups/deadlifts, you’ll do the two exercises back-to-back (one superset) and rest 45 seconds between each superset. Aim to get at least 15 reps per exercise, per superset.

So, what about the cardio? Surprisingly, Wunsch doesn’t advocate standard cardio for fat loss either. “Running or biking is not what works best,” he says. “Look at the research.” Instead, you need to activate as many muscle fibers as possible with strength training to create a metabolic effect, and when you do any kind of fast movement, it should be done as equally timed intervals, such as sprints or heavy rope-jumping -- 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off -- for 10 to 20 minutes only.

Finally, whichever program you’re on, make sure to include some core conditioning. “Remember, your core is not for your six-pack,” says Wunsch. “It’s for resisting movement in your low spine and transferring energy from your upper body to your lower, and vice versa.” In other words, ditch the isolated crunches and go for total core moves, like ball roll-outs and planks.

Ronnie Coleman Photo by www.localfitness.com.au

The Workplace Workout

Experts agree the best time to exercise is midmorning or midday, when testosterone and general energy levels peak. But if you’re like most of us, that’s smack in the middle of your workday. So, do you relegate your workouts to sub-peak hours? Quit your job and go freelance so you can control your schedule? Not necessary, says Tom Seabourne, tae kwon do champion, TV host and author of 16 books. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Quick Total Body Workouts, is based on an appealing premise: You can work out every part of your body right at your desk.

“Everyone can find a few minutes a few times a day to get a quick full-body workout,” argues Seabourne. “You’ve got to get your blood pumping and get out of your seat.” By focusing on fast-twitch, Type IIB muscle fibers, Seabourne’s program will “increase your anaerobic and aerobic power, get your blood flowing, burn additional calories and help to energize your day,” he says. That’s not a bad set of outcomes, but perhaps an even more compelling argument for workplace workouts is the slate of recent studies showing that sitting for long periods of time can wreak havoc on your health -- even if you exercise regularly before or after work.

Below are 12 exercises that together will give you a total body workout, whether you have your own office or sit in a cubicle. Admittedly, a few of them may raise some eyebrows, depending on your office culture, but many can be done without anyone being the wiser. And even if your co-workers snicker at first, when they see the results -- both on your body and in your level of productivity -- they’ll be lining up at your desk for tips.

1. Swap out your core-killing office chair for a Swiss ball. Even better, if you have the means and your boss is laid back about such things, attach your computer to an exercise bike.

2. Pace back and forth while on the phone. If you have your own office, get a long cord and use the extent of it. If you’re in a cube and pacing would bother your co-workers, then march in place.

3. Do 45-degree planks on your desk while reading. First, bend your arms at a 90-degree angle and place your forearms on your desk. Then step backwards to form a plank from your shoulders to your ankles. Contract your core and hold for 30 seconds.

4. Drop a pencil and do some push-ups -- a couple of max sets (go to fatigue, generally 10 to 25 reps) a day, two to three times a week. Notice how quickly you’re able to increase your reps.

5. Do some dips in your chair before sitting down. With your heels on the ground, hands on the chair arms, and both legs straight and pointed away from you, lower yourself to the chair by bending your arms until your elbows reach a 90-degree angle. Then push back up for five to 15 reps. (If you’ve already swapped your chair for a Swiss ball, sit on the edge of your desk with a straight back, curl your hands around that same edge and place your calves on the ball, legs straight. Slide your butt away from the desk so your hips can descend toward the ground. That’s your starting position for the dip.)

6. Do squats while on a conference call. Keep doing them until you begin to lose your form or the call ends. Or until you start to talk funny.

7. Press your heels into the floor while typing. This easy and discreet move trains your quads, glutes and hams isometrically.

8. Pump your arms as fast as you can, like you’re sprinting. Go for 15 seconds, adding two seconds a week until you can do a full-minute arm-sprint.

9. Place a ball between your knees and squeeze. Do three sets of 10, and hold for three seconds per rep.

10. Do heel raises at the water cooler/fountain. Fifteen reps twice a day will work your calf muscles.

11. Do two-arm biceps curls while staring at your computer screen. Leave two (cheap) dumbbells at work and do two sets of 10 reps every other day. Bring heavier weights to the office as you get stronger.

12. Similarly, do dumbbell shoulder presses in front of your computer. Start with two sets of 10 reps and increase the weight as you get stronger.

The Cardio Myth

If you’ve taken up running, biking or swimming to get rid of a bulging belly, you’re hardly alone. But you may be wasting your time. If you really want to lose weight, claims Alwyn Cosgrove -- a certified strength conditioning specialist who is also the co-author of The New Rules of Lifting for Abs and owner of one of Men’s Health magazine’s top 10 gyms in America, Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, Calif. -- standard aerobic conditioning is simply not the most effective way to do it.

All of the trainers at Results Fitness subscribe to the theory that cardio just doesn’t work that well for fat loss. To find out why, we spoke to two of them. “It doesn’t promote the lean tissue growth required to elevate your metabolism and turn your body into a fat-burning machine,” begins fitness coach Brian Gilbert. Fellow fitness coach and certified strength conditioning specialist Charles Chattong goes on to explain that though you do burn more fat during cardio as compared to strength training, the minute the cardio stops, so does the fat burn. In contrast, he continues, “following a bout of high-intensity metabolic training [like weight training], the body’s metabolism remains elevated for several hours.”

So while the scale might tell you that you’re losing weight doing cardio, Gilbert says a closer look at your body composition would reveal that hardly anything has changed. In fact, the weight loss you’re seeing is usually the result of muscle loss. “Long bouts of aerobic conditioning will actually become a muscle-wasting exercise, which will lower your basal metabolic rate [how many calories you burn a day] and hinder your ability to burn fat,” he says.

In other words, your body will actually begin to tap into your hard-won muscle stores in order to meet the energy demands of the exercise. In a nutshell, says Gilbert, “you weigh less, but you’ve simply become a smaller version of your previous self.” Ouch … not exactly the goal most guys have in mind.

What we want is less fat and leaner muscles, right? So after chucking the cardio (and suddenly having much more training time at your disposal), your next step is to incorporate what Gilbert says are the two key components of any great fat-loss program: 1) Excellent nutrition and 2) Strength training that will increase your lean tissue and kick that metabolic rate into high gear.

Specifically, Chattong recommends that you embark on a program with both full-body metabolic resistance training and high-intensity interval training -- a combination that places a significant anaerobic demand on the body. That demand, says Chattong, ramps your metabolism up without sacrificing lean muscle mass.

To shed the fat and begin to sculpt the physique you desire, follow the workout below, which was designed by Chattong:

  • Train four times a week.
  • Alternate between workout Nos. 1 and 2, but never work out three days in a row.
  • Warm up before every workout with arm swings, lunges, and downward-facing dog and upward-facing dog poses.
  • Superset the A and B moves (i.e., do them back-to-back, without any rest in between). The rest comes after each superset is completed.

 

WORKOUT No. 1

 

Sets

Reps

Rest

Core training




A) Front plank (demo)

1-2

45-60s

0

B) Tall kneeling cable chop (demo)

1-2

12 reps/side

45s





Power Training




Med ball chest pass (demo)

3-4

10 reps

45s





Resistance Training




A) KB/DB goblet squat (demo)

2-3

12-15 reps

60s

B) One-arm DB row on bench (demo)

2-3

12-15 reps

60s





A) Sprinter step up (demo)

2-3

12-15 reps

60s

B) Cable pull down (demo)

2-3

12-15 reps

60s

 




Interval training




Sprint

6

60 yards

90s

 

WORKOUT No. 2

 

Sets

Reps

Rest

Core training




A) Side plank (demo)

1-2

20-30s

0

B) Stability ball jackknife (demo)

1-2

10 reps

45s





Combination Movement




Squat to DB press (demo)

2-3

10 reps

45s





Resistance Training




A) SHELC (demo)

2-3

12-15 reps

60s

B) T push-up (demo)

2-3

12-15 reps

60s





A) Split squat (demo)

2-3

12-15 reps

60s

B) Alternating DB shoulder press (demo)

2-3

12-15 reps

60s

 




Interval training




Rowing machine (or sprint again)

6

15 seconds

90s

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/sjlocke