Shapely muscles are hidden under your excess body fat.
Even if you've been working out a lot, you may not be able to see results because you haven't burned the layer of fat covering the muscle. Burning the fat will give you the tight, toned look on your belly, legs, arms and butt to make all your hard work pay off. To achieve success, prioritize cardio exercise at the right intensity, increase the metabolic challenge of your strength training workouts, and control your calorie intake.
Prioritize Cardio Exercise
According to a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, aerobic training beats resistance training for reducing fat mass. Adults need a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week for good health, according to the CDC. But to really see results, adults should increase aerobic activity to at least 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 150 minutes of vigorous activity per week.
According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, if you're just beginning an exercise program, do 30 to 45-minute workouts during which you maintain a heart rate of about 65 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate - estimated by subtracting your age from 220. This will improve your body's ability to use oxygen to burn fat as it increases your fitness.
Once you have developed a basic fitness routine, increase the fat-burning effect by incorporating 1-minute intervals in which you get your heart rate up to about 76 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Throughout your workout, alternate periods of more intense activity with periods of recovery at a 1:3, 1:2, or 1:1 ratio. Continue to increase the amount of time you spend working out at a high intensity. Eventually, you can work up to intervals in the range of 86 to 95 percent, for maximum fat-burning results.
Replace the Fat With Lean Muscle
As you burn fat, it's important to replace it with muscle. Not only will this make you look more toned once you lose the fat, it will also give your metabolism a boost. This is because lean muscle mass is more metabolically active than fat, accounting for about 20 percent of your total daily energy expenditure versus 5 percent for fat, according to Paige Kinucan and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. of the University of New Mexico.
Each week, do two to three total-body strength workouts that hit all the major muscle groups. Focusing on compound exercises that use more than one muscle group at a time - such as push-ups, pull-ups, squats and lunges - will make your workouts more metabolically taxing. You can also increase the metabolic effects by taking shorter rest breaks between sets.
Arranging your strength workouts in a circuit, where you move from one exercise to the next with little rest in between, will keep your heart rate up throughout the workout for more calorie burning. The higher intensity will also encourage greater excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, which is an increase in your metabolic rate following high-intensity exercise.
Don't Forget Your Diet
You can do countless hours of cardio and hit the weights hard, but if you're not controlling your diet and eating healthy foods to support your exercise habits, you will not successfully burn fat. To get rid of the excess fat covering your muscle, you have to maintain a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than you burn each day. To do this, figure out how many calories you need daily to support physiological processes, tasks of daily living and exercise, and then keep your calorie intake below this.
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2018 concluded that it doesn't matter whether you follow a low-carb or low-fat diet; what's most important is that you eat nutritious foods that support energy production so you can hit it hard in the gym. Pass on processed refined foods, fast food, and sugary foods and drinks; instead eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and nuts and seeds.