The GymIf you’re heading to the gym, we highly suggest getting a heart rate monitor — especially if you’re trying to do a program like Weight Watchers, which lets you offset some food calories with exercise calories. Calorie burn, as estimated by gym machines, is notoriously inflated — and you should be careful also not to fall into that age-old trap of thinking you can have pizza for dinner just because you worked out for 45 minutes. You may want to look into interval workouts to really rev up your metabolism — even shorter workouts can be more effective if done with intense bursts of energy. In addition to bringing a magazine, you may want to try to offset the boredom by bringing a friend, an audio book (we’ve heard great things about SimplyAudio.com), or — if you have TiVo — try putting some recorded shows on your iPod with the help of this tutorial. (We have NOT tried this yet — we will try it soon and let you know how it goes.) You also, obviously, can download shows via iTunes. Pros: If you’re already paying for a gym membership, hey! At least you’re using it! Good job. Plus you can catch up on your tv-viewing and wade through your magazine pile. Cons: In cold weather you have to dress for the gym and then undress for the workout… plus, see above re: mind-numbing boredom. In our experience it’s the easiest to fall into a rut this way, also — your body will get used to the exercises and it will stop being effective after a while. (Do your best to stay focused, and switch machines every so often.)
Home Exercise EquipmentIn all honesty, we almost never used the treadmill, bicycle, or rowing machine we had when we lived with the ‘rents, and accordingly we haven’t made the investment in gym equipment for our already-packed NYC apartment. However, if you can really commit to using it — and it can be done, as our friend L can attest — then you’re doing great. Smart Money just ran an article on which new machines are worth the money. If you’re truly time-starved, you may want to look into equipment such as the ROM (if you’ve ever used one please let us know your thoughts — we just saw an advertisement for one recently and were intrigued). One caveat: Because most machines focus on cardio, you may want to pick up some toning videos (we recommend some favorites below) to add some muscle and definition. Pros: You can work out in your pajamas if you want, AND fully enjoy whatever you have saved on your DVR. Cons: You may have a very expensive and unsightly coat hanger on your hands.
RunningIn terms of calorie burn and flexibility for your schedule, running is by far the best exercise for the busy woman. However, if you’ve never been a runner, the very IDEA of running can be exhausting. But trust us — it is entirely doable with the Couch to 5K program from CoolRunning.com. This online program — free, by the way — gets you up off the couch and on the street or treadmill with an easy-to-follow, minute-by-minute schedule. At the end of 10 weeks you’ll be running for 30 minutes solid. (Really.) Pros: You can do it anywhere, gym or no gym (as long as you’re dressed appropriately for the weather) — and when that last-minute emergency comes up at the office, the 10-minute delay won’t matter at all to your workout the way it might if you were trying to make a spinning class at the gym. Also, if you run outside you can maximize the time you set aside to workout — you don’t have to spend 15 minutes in the locker rooms getting ready to workout or ready to leave. Cons: Running can be incredibly hard on the joints, particularly if done outside on concrete. Treadmill running is actually less of a strain on joints (but harder on muscles). If you’re running outside you may want to look into reflective gear, such as these arm and leg bands from Brooks (available at Dick’s Sporting Goods for $10).
Exercise VideosExercise videos can be a great way to get the workout you need, even in limited space in your apartment or house. Minimal equipment is needed — most videos can be done with a set of 3- and 5-lb weights and a mat; with the more recent videos you don’t need much more than a 4×6 space in your apartment to do the workout. (Some of the ones we recommend below, like the Jari Love line, may require heavier weights, or step aerobics equipment, such as The Firm TransFIRMer.) Note also that you can try videos for next to no cost — try ordering them from Netflix or even your library. Half.com is another great place to get new and barely-used DVDs for lower prices. If you’re new to the video genre, some videos we recommend: Toning Videos: – Kathy Smith: Lift Weights to Lose Weight, Vol. 1 – 2 – For the intermediate. If you have 20-25 minutes to spare every day, you can alternate workouts for your arms and legs — or do the whole workout for a 60-minute toning workout. – Women’s Health: The Wedding Workout – For the newbie. 11-minute segments allow you to work your arms, legs, and abs on different days, or do a 35-minute workout all at once. (And no, you don’t have to be a bride-to-be to own it. There are only a few annoying comments about punching the photographer out, and that’s during the optional 11-minute cardio segment.) –Get Ripped! with Jari Love: Slim & Lean – This 60-minute toning video will leave your bits and pieces feeling like jell-o. For the hard-core workout bunny. Cardio: In our experience, it’s actually really hard to find a good video that is just cardio — if you have any suggestions please let us know. – Cardio Kickbox – For the intermediate-advanced. This is only 25 minutes but it is hard-core cardio. – 10 Minute Solution – Carb and Calorie Burner – For the beginner who really thinks she has no time. This is high-intensity stuff, done 10 minutes at a time. Mixed Cardio & Toning – Jillian Michaels – 30 Day Shred – For the intermediate. Again, this is only 25 minutes, but it’s an amazing workout if you focus and commit to it. – The Firm – Ultimate Calorie Blaster – For the intermediate. This is a great 45-minute step-aerobics video — basic moves at a high intensity. Pros: Much less monetary and space investment compared to home exercise equipment, and total flexibility with your schedule. We also find it easiest to zone out during these workouts (while still following the nice person on the television) and still get a good workout. You’re much less likely to get bored, also, because there’s always a new routine to try. Cons: You have to have be pretty motivated to do the videos on a regular basis. It’s also very difficult to find the right mix of cardio and toning with a video. Finally, it can be hard to get a great workout when you need to kick it to the next level — it seems unlikely to us that you’ll ever get a bikini body just doing workouts alone.
Personal TrainerA personal trainer may seem like a great idea if you’re a busy woman with more money than time. Almost every gym can introduce you to a personal trainer; most will even let you work out with a friend, with the trainer, for a discounted rate. (Full disclosure — we’ve only worked one-on-one with a personal trainer for about 3 months, back in early 2008.) For advice on choosing a personal trainer, check out this article from About.com. Pros: Your commitment should be much better to the gym — you have money invested, and you’ve got someone waiting at the gym for you. When we went to our trainer we were required to cancel our appointments 24-hours in advance or lose the money we’d paid for the session. Cons: Very expensive. Furthermore, in our limited experience, the workouts weren’t that great — if we had spent the time running or doing a workout video, it would made much better use of our money and time. You also have to nurture the relationship in ways that you may prefer not to — had we been more vocal about not liking the workouts then it may have been a better experience. We would ONLY recommend this to someone who’s already very near her weight-loss goal, and looking to tone up — in other words, for the girl looking for a bikini body. As our tone may indicate, we tend to run or do videos most of the time (but we’re trying to get back into the gym!). What do you guys do? Are you kicking things into higher gear because of New Year’s resolutions — and if so, how?
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