Workout Techniques for Muscle Building and Losing Calories

Racing through your workout purely for the sake of speed can increase your risk of injury. But there are some time-saving tricks that can do double duty: they get you out of the gym faster and give you better results. Neal Pire, MS, CSCS, FACSM, founder of Inspire Training Systems, N.J., and author of “Plyometrics for Athletes At All Levels,” says that by adding increased intensity and minimizing recovery time, you push up excess post oxygen consumption (EPOC). This means that your body continues to burn excess calories long after you’re done with your workout. In addition to extra calorie burn, some of these time- savers will help you gain strength while others can help you improve performance in your favorite sport. Try these 10 proven techniques to save time and boost results!

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1. Pyramid Training

Pyramid training saves you time by exhausting a muscle group in one set, instead of performing a set, resting and repeating. It’s also one of the most basic, safe and effective training modalities, says Scott Keppel, founder of Scott’s Training Systems, Chandler, Ariz. In pyramid training you start off with a lighter weight and higher reps, then begin adding weight and decreasing the reps with each set. He recommends choosing weights accordingly to the number of reps that are being performed. The weight for 20 reps will be considerably lower than the weight for six reps. Increase the weight as the sets progress. An increase of five to 15 percent is ideal as the reps decrease. Always start off with lighter weight and higher reps when utilizing pyramid training.

2. Tabata

It involves short four-minute bouts of explosive interval moves done for 20 seconds for eight rounds with a 10-second break between each round. A Tabata routine burned 13.5 calories a minute and doubled metabolic rate for 30 minutes afterwards, according to new research by Michele Olson, PhD, professor at Auburn University Montgomery, Ala. “It would take five times the amount of typical cardio exercise to shed the same number of calories that result from a four-minute Tabata.” Try this three times a week: Do standing squat moves pressing your arms up overhead. Later, add jumping to the squats and alternate doing one squat jump for 20 seconds followed by a regular squat with overhead arm press until you can string together jump squats for all of the rounds.

3. Interval Cardio

Many studies show that interval training is effective for improving athletic performance and enhancing weight loss in a short period of time, according to Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE). So instead of plodding along for an hour on a treadmill, alternate bouts of walking or jogging with more intense running and burn more calories in less time. This will keep calories burning for long after you’re done. If you’re a newbie, Matthews recommends walking for a minute alternating with jogging for 30 seconds. Repeat the cycle for the time you have. The exact work to rest ratio can vary, so it’s best to play around to see which ratio works best for your workout goals, current fitness level and mode of physical activity.

4. Mix Cardio and Weights

Instead of splitting up your cardio and weight routines, do both within the same workout. It’s the maximum use of your time, says Tom Holland, author of “Beat the Gym.” “You get everything all at once and you’re not in the gym for an hour.” He recommends choosing an upper body, lower body, abs and then a cardio interval. Choose a lower-body exercise (squat or lunge, for example) follow it with an upper body move (chest press or row) and complete the circuit with a short cardio burst. An example:15 bodyweight squats followed by 10 push-ups, 30 seconds of crunches and then 30 to 60 seconds of jumping jacks or running on a treadmill. As an alternate routine, you can try 15 lunges followed by 10 chest flies, 30 seconds of plank and 30 to 60 seconds of stair running.

5. Drop Sets

Drop sets start with your regular lifting poundage and then gradually reduce the weight in each following set. You’ll save the most time when you use this technique with smaller muscle groups such as biceps and triceps, says Pire. “You create a huge oxygen deficit and hormonal response, which gives you a big EPOC return as well.” For this to work, it’s essential that each drop set occurs immediately after the last rep of the set before it, without resting. Without rest, the muscle can experience muscle hypertrophy (increase in volume to the muscle). Keppel, recommends dropping the weight by 20 percent after completion of the last rep of each set. Then, dropping the weight 50 percent for more of a burn after the last set.

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6. Add Plyometrics

Adding explosive movement to traditional exercises burns mega-calories in minimal time and helps improve muscle force and power. Use plyometrics in your routine only after you have developed a good strength foundation, flexible joints, a strong core and make sure you’re free from any balance or joint issues. Plyometric drills are measured in how many times your feet hit the ground. Each exercise should last in the realm of five to 10 seconds and consist of no more than 60 to 100 foot contacts in the beginning, according to Fabio Comana, director of continuing education for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He also recommends six weeks of training followed by two weeks off for recovery and no more than two to three sessions a week or you risk overuse injuries.

7. Super Sets

Performing back-to-back moves of opposing muscle groups, or super-setting, is another way to stimulate maximum muscle growth in the minimum amount of time. Super sets save time by eliminating the rest periods between each muscle group by immediately flipping to the alternate muscle group. Back and chest, biceps and triceps, quads and hamstrings, etc. “In super sets you choose two exercises to perform one after the other with no rest,” says Greg Marshall, author of BODY FIT. “There are variations in super sets (e.g. working two opposing muscle groups or the same).” Try alternating flat dumbbell chest presses with close-grip pulldowns or incline dumbbell flies with seated rows.

8. Compound Sets

Compounds sets are similar to super-sets. Instead of alternating between two sets of opposing muscle groups, you perform two sets of exercises for the same muscle group. “Presses followed by lateral raises, for example, is a great shoulder workout and saves time. You’re further fatiguing the muscles with each movement,” says Pire. Since you’re working the same muscle, your goal is to further fatigue the muscle with successive sets. “You won’t be able to lift heavier because it’s exhausting,” says Pire. “You need only one or two sets and you’re done.” Try overhead shoulder presses followed by lateral raises. Triceps extensions followed by triceps kickbacks also work as do chest presses and chest flies.

9. Giant Sets

Performing three exercises for the same muscle group in a row without resting is a great shortcut known as giant sets. With giant sets, you can help build lean mass and shed body fat in short time, according to Keppel. The major goal of giant sets training is to complete each set/exercise (recommended rep range is eight to 12) with nothing left in the tank before moving on to the next set/exercise. Resting between each exercise/set is to be kept to a minimum (approximately 10 seconds). “To make a muscle grow, you need to place a strain on the muscle that it is unaccustomed to,” says Keppel. “Incorporating this technique is just one way to do that.” Resting less often means more calories burned and greater fat loss, Keppel explains.

10. Combine Two Moves into One

Try incorporating two moves, says exercise physiologist Tom Holland. For example, a squat with an overhead press or a lunge with a lateral raise involves your whole body. “This adds a balance and stability component, making it a functional move as well,” says Holland. A great total body move that involves both upper and lower body muscles is a Squat, Clean and Press. Pire uses this move with many of his clients and utilizes a sandbag with handles. A total body lift using a sandbag produces a huge metabolic effect, and boosts metabolism for hours afterward, according to Pire, who starts female clients with a 35-pound sandbag. Perform 12 to 15 reps of each of the three phases of the lift: Squat, Clean and Press.

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