All winter long you've been hibernating in your cozy home – and now, suddenly, the sun has returned. Those weeks and months of sitting on the couch, huddled under blankets, give way to the prospect – for some, the horror – of slipping on a pair of shorts. But don't let the warm weather worry you. Fitness experts have weighed in to solve your woes. This five-point plan will prepare you for spring exposure.
Whether a high-performance athlete or regular mortal, every new client who walks through the doors of Peak Centre for Human Performance, a sports science centre in Ottawa, is advised to get a VO2 max test done. You should, too.
The test measures the total amount of oxygen you can take in and consume in one minute.
"That's going to tell us your body's efficiency," says Elly DiCola, an exercise physiologist who runs Peak Centre's lab. Why is that important to know?
The test lets fitness professionals prescribe exactly what exercise you should be doing for best results.
"I can actually pinpoint for someone through the testing at what speed on the treadmill that they need to go to be optimally burning the most fat," Ms. DiCola says.
Knowing where you are will help get you where you're going.
BEWARE THE HARD CORE
Slow and steady isn't welcome advice for anyone in a rush to get toned, but do you know who never wins the race? Weekend warriors sidelined with lower-back pain.
High-intensity circuit training and other hard-core regimens that promise to work you like a mule and get you buff like a thoroughbred are alluring for anyone who wants to look, well, alluring. But if you're coming off a long period of inactivity, it's best to avoid them, says Lorne Goldenberg, owner of Strength Tek Fitness, an Ottawa-based fitness and wellness consultancy.
"The hot trend in fitness are these circuit-training classes where you walk in, they beat the crap out of you just to show you how out of shape you are. If you're lucky you don't get injured … if you're not, you end up with an overuse injury," says Mr. Goldenberg, a former conditioning coach for the Montreal Canadiens.
Common overuse injuries affect the lower back, knees and shoulders, and none of them will help get you to the beach.
And don't think slow means stagnant. Stick to a reasonable program and you'll feel results – and see them in the mirror – within a month, Mr. Goldenberg says.
BUT MAKE SURE TO WORK THE CORE
The core, which starts in the hips and the glutes and goes up to your diaphragm, is "that whole area that is crucial to the body, which a lot of kinetic energy is transferred from," says Patrick Beriault, founder of KinMotion, a kinesiology-based clinic in Ottawa.
Whether you want to throw a ball better, improve your posture or get rock-hard abs, developing your core is key.
Forget about sit-ups and crunches. Instead, try lunges, which will target your glutes, hamstrings and abdominal muscles, Mr. Beriault says.
Do between five and 15 repetitions. Once you can do more than that easily, add more weight by holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Planks are also great core exercises, but if you can easily hold a plank for more than two or three minutes, you need to mix things up, Mr. Beriault says.
GETTING YOUR BUTT TO LOOK GOOD MEANS SQUAT
Mark Richman, a former Canadian Bodybuilding Federation heavyweight champion who will be competing for the title again this summer, knows you probably have your backside front of mind around this time of year.
Want to get your butt in bounce-a-quarter-off-it condition? Do squats, says Mr. Richman, who also runs Tribe Richman, a fitness and nutrition consultancy in Durham Region, just east of Toronto.
"Squats should definitely be a staple of anyone's leg routine," Mr. Richman says. Form, of course, is crucial. Most people tend to lean forward, which puts undue strain on their backs, he says. To do a squat well, face a wall no more than a couple of centimetres away from your knees – if you hit the wall as you squat, you're pitching forward.
"It basically should be straight down and back up," Mr. Richman says. After you can perform 30 squats fairly easily, then add weight to the exercise, he adds.
PUT A FORK IN IT
If you've ever heard someone say you can eat as much as you want as long as you work out, then you've heard at least one person who has no idea what they're talking about.
"You can work out as much as you want, and you can get as much rest as you want, but if you don't have the right nutrition, your results are not going to be the same," Mr. Richman says. "It's better to follow a consistent diet than to exercise."
Experts agree a person can safely lose between one and two pounds per week. There's no consensus on how to do that, but a good place to start is by avoiding foods with additives and preservatives, Mr. Richman says. One or two pounds might not sound like much, but if you start now, you can lose between 13 and 26 pounds by the first day of summer. Imagine yourself 26 pounds lighter. It feels as good as the sunshine, doesn't it?