1. Pay lip service to hot abs
To achieve the firm midsection youâ€™ve always wanted, become a blowhard. â€œWhen doing crunches, I exhale during the contraction, my lips pursed, as if Iâ€™m blowing through a small straw,â€ says Jay Blahnik, a trainer in Laguna Beach, California, who has worked with Jane Fonda. â€œI feel my stomach muscles contract more intensely, and I stay more focused.â€
2. Set it and forget it
Watch the clock go ticktock and a 20-minute treadmill jog can feel like the Boston Marathon. (Itâ€™s only been five minutes?!) Instead, try a countdown. â€œI set a kitchen timer with the minutes Iâ€™m aiming to be active and go until I hear the alarm,â€ says Tom Seabourne, Ph.D., director of exercise science at Northeast Texas Community College in Mount Pleasant. When you canâ€™t see the time, youâ€™re more likely to concentrate on what youâ€™re doing right nowâ€”your form, how strong you feelâ€”rather than how long until you can stop. Plus, youâ€™ll avoid the urge to let up on the intensity when you have only a minute or two left.
3. Grab an icy beverage
Chilled HÂ²O (You thought we meant beer? Sorry!) could help you maximize your exercise. Cyclists were able to work out 23 percent longer when they drank cold water than when the beverage was at body temperature, a study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found. Blahnikâ€™s keep-it-cool tool: a refillable aluminum bottle.
4. Be belle of the ball
A $1 rubber ball can help you score million-dollar legs. During crunches and other ab moves, â€œholding an 8- to 12-inch ball between your knees or ankles gets your inner thighs and glutes in on the action,â€ says Brooke Siler, owner of re:AB Pilates Studio in New York City, who has worked with Kirsten Dunst.
5. Keep a to-do list
Planning strength workouts ahead can get you out of the gym (and into those skinny jeans) in record time. â€œI have a templateâ€”I always know what to do next so Iâ€™m not wasting time wandering around,â€ says fitness and lifestyle consultant Ashley Borden of Los Angeles, who trains singer Natasha Bedingfield. You can make your cheat sheet basic (a quick list) or more structuredâ€”whatever works best to keep you focused. The SELF Challenge has a simple but effective example.
6. Groove and get fit
Music is a great distraction; these iPod ideas turn it into a magic motivational tool, too: Make your music meaningful â€œI pick songs with lyrics that support the goals in my life,â€ says Mandy Ingber, a yoga and Spinning instructor in L.A. who trains Jennifer Aniston. â€œFor example, Iâ€™m letting go of a relationship and a job. George Michaelâ€™s â€˜Freedom 90â€™ and Frou Frouâ€™s â€˜Let Goâ€™ reflect that theme of release and let me use emotional energy to fuel my workout. It becomes a cathartic, therapeutic experience.â€ Add a goal song â€œPut your favorite song or a new tune at the end of your playlist, like a special treat to keep you exercising until you hear it,â€ says Meaghan B. Murphy, SELFâ€™s fitness director and a personal trainer.
7. â€œCheatâ€ on your treadmill
If you do the same cardio over and over, your body adapts and reaps fewer benefits. Solution: Switch it up every month, rotating the elliptical, treadmill, stairstepper and bike. â€œDay 1, I test how far I can go in a set time. Initially, a steady pace is challenging, so I keep it up for a week,â€ says Michelle Kennedy, an exercise physiologist in Washington, D.C. â€œThe next three weeks, I play with intervals, changing resistance, speed and incline. At monthâ€™s end, I test myself again. I stay motivated to see how my performance improves.â€
8. Begin at the bottom
When doing your strength work, start with your lower body. â€œLegs are your largest muscle group, so the moves require more energy than ones for your upper body,â€ says Naomi Wattsâ€™s pro, Rob Parr, author of Star Quality: The Red Carpet Workout for the Celebrity Body of Your Dreams (Wiley). Tackle below-the-belt moves when youâ€™re fresh to sculpt a better bottom half.
9. Praise your assets
Dragging it midworkout? â€œI repeat a funny mantra like â€˜I have a great ass! I have a great ass!â€™â€ says Ingber, who also cues thoughts of sex and her latest crush to rev up her energy. â€œItâ€™s sort of a joke, but when I think of how damn sexy I am, versus how Iâ€™ve got to get rid of cellulite, the positive message makes me want to sweat harder. But donâ€™t take my word for it; check out my ass!â€
10. Make a workout a win-win
A little friendly competition can turn a so-so sweat session into a serious slim-downâ€”and the other party doesnâ€™t even have to know itâ€™s a contest! Next time you feel as if youâ€™re phoning it in, pick a person in the gym who has a killer body or is working hard and make it your goal to do more than she does, says Mike Heatlie of Edinburgh, Scotland, Gwen Stefaniâ€™s trainer.