Notice that I mentioned smart, not hard. Though some exercises here may be high-intensity and may indeed be hard for you, you need not work as long and as hard as you may think. The goal here is to fire up your metabolism with an exercise program that takes the shortest time and the least effort possible without sacrificing results.
The two elements in this exercise program are strength and resistance training for building lean muscle mass and interval training for speeding up the metabolic process in general.
Strength and resistance training
The exercises under this training program are designed to literally build strength and resistance, as the name suggests. Tension is applied on the muscles to achieve this. The end result is increased muscle mass in your body.
Building muscle is important as more muscle in your body means more calories burned. Fitness trainer and consultant Robert Reames gives a perfect analogy by calling muscles fireplaces in the body that burn fuel – meaning calories. So the more fireplaces, the more fuel burned. For every pound of muscle added to your body, 40-50 calories more are burned per day.
Women need not worry about gaining large, unsightly muscles – your bodies are different from men. Your muscles will only add definition to your shape and in fact, make you look sexier.
While building muscles are usually associated with weight training, this is not always the case. There are in fact several exercises that do not require weights at all. If you are on a tight budget, you can in fact do exercises with no weights at all. For best results, though, do a combination of strength exercises with equipment and without equipment.
For clear differentiation, let us discuss weight lifting exercises first.
Weight lifting is a convenient muscle-building exercise as it applies tension to your muscles through an external source, the weights. You can also easily measure your progress as the number of pounds or grams is indicated on each weight. As your body adjusts and strengthens, you can add more weights or replace your current weights with heavier ones.
To determine how many grams or pounds your weights should have, try them out first. The best weights for you are those that put tension in your muscles but do not make you feel fatigued.
The best exercises for achieving faster results for boosting metabolism are those that work several muscles in your body together. It’s not a problem if you want to focus on a particular muscle, though, for example, if you want to tone or sculpt a specific body part.
There are many weight-lifting exercises you can choose from to include in your routine, but here are some basic examples:
1. Bench press – This is a multi-joint exercise, working the major muscles of the shoulders, chest and triceps. To do this, lie on a bench and hold the weight over your chest with your elbows bent at 90 degrees. “Press” the weight up until your arms straighten, then lower it slowly back to your starting position.
2. Chest fly – This works the chest, with an emphasis on outer muscles. Lie on a bench with your weights held overhead, palms facing inward. Lower the weights to your sides up to shoulder level, with your elbows slightly bent. Slowly bring the weights up, back to starting position.
3. Bicep curl – This is one of the most basic weight lifting exercises. This puts effort on the biceps, as the name suggests. To do this, hold the weights with your palms facing out. Bend your elbows to bring the weights to your shoulders without touching them. Slowly lower the weights down, but do not straighten the arm out totally to keep a level of tension.
4. Concentration curl – This also works the biceps. Kneel on one leg using the leg opposite the hand you are working with. Hold one weight with your working hand and put the other hand on your waist. Place the back of the upper arm of your working hand on the inner thigh of the other leg. You can lean into that leg to raise your elbow a little. Raise the weight to the front of your shoulder and then slowly lower the arm until almost straight.
5. Overhead press – This works the shoulder muscles. Stand or sit straight and hold your weights with your elbows bent and your hands in front of your eyes. Bring the weights over your head while keeping your back straight. Slowly bring the weights down to starting position.
Strength exercises without weights can be combined with weight lifting exercises for your routine.
Here are some examples:
1. Squat – A squat is a multi-joint exercise working the hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteals, and the lower back. In fact, this is one of the most effective strength exercises without weights. From a standing position, slowly lower your body until your knees bend at a 90-degree angle. Keep your feet flat on the floor while doing this. Return to a standing position slowly as well.
2. Pushup – This is also a very typical but effective strength and resistance exercise. While the basic one works well, adding complexity can work more muscles.
For example, you can do pushups between two chairs. These work the chest and the triceps. Place both feet on a stable chair and then place both hands on separate chairs. The two chairs your hands are resting on can have a gap of 60 centimeters. The chair with your feet should align with the middle of the other two chairs. Your body should be stretched naturally from the chair at your feet to the chairs in front. Slowly bring your chest down – beyond the surface of the chairs if you can!
3. Crunch – Yes, the basic crunch is a strength exercise, although it works mostly for the abs only. But though the crunch is well-known, not everyone knows how to do it properly. To do this correctly, lie on the floor or a mat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. You may put your hands behind your head. Raise your upper body – but lead with your chest – upwards until you feel your abs contract. To keep the tension, do not raise your body up to 90 degrees. Again, to keep tension, when you bring your body down, do not let it rest on the floor. Instead, keep yourself a bit elevated from the floor.
For variety in exercises and for working different sets of muscles, you can also try working out with different equipment like exercise balls.
In planning your routine for strength exercises, refer to the body’s muscle groups below and determine which you want to work on. Remember, though, that multi-joint exercises are still best to achieve faster metabolism.
1. Biceps – These are found at the front of your upper arm.
2. Triceps – These are at the back of your upper arm.
3. Deltoids – These are the caps of your shoulders.
4. The Pectoralis major – This is the large, fan-shaped muscle on the front of your upper chest.
5. Rhomboids – These are muscles in the middle of your upper back and located between the shoulder blades.
6. Trapezius – This is on your upper back, sometimes called ‘traps.’ The upper trapezius, in particular, runs from the back of your neck to your shoulder.
7. Latisimus dorsi – These are large muscles that go down the middle of your back. When exercised well, they give your back an attractive V shape, giving the illusion of a smaller waist.
8. Lower back – This comprises the erector spine muscles that enable back extension. This also helps in maintaining good posture.
9. Abdominals – Of course! This is where the belly fat usually goes, the flab you want to banish forever. The abdominals are composed of the external obliques, which trace paths down the sides and the front of the abdomen, and the rectus abdominus, a flat muscle running across the abdomen.
10. Gluteals – Also called “glutes,” the main muscle here is the gluteus maximus, the muscle on your buttocks.
11. Quadriceps – These muscles go up the front of your thigh.
12. Hamstrings – These are on the back of your thighs.
13. Hip abductors and adductors – These are located at your inner and outer thigh. Abductors are on the outside, moving the leg away from your body. On the other hand, adductors are on the inside, pulling the leg to the center of your body.
14. Calf – The calf muscles are on the back of the lower leg. The two calf muscles are the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The former gives the calf a stable, round shape while the soleus is a flat muscle below the gastrocnemius.
After choosing your exercises, you must think about the level of intensity and the duration of your exercises. The number of repetitions and sets actually depends on your level of tolerance – fatigue is a sign that you have overtaxed yourself. Let yourself feel the “burn” in your muscles or the soreness but do not push yourself more than you can go. In general, though, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends three sets or more of strength exercises with six to eight repetitions for each set for building muscle. If you are a beginner, though, it may take time before you reach this level. Not more than a 45-second rest should be taken between sets for best results in increasing metabolism.
Your exercise routine can last for only 30 minutes or less and still achieve optimum results.
At this point, I want to emphasize that strength and resistance exercises are the best and healthiest way to build muscles. Do not ever look for shortcuts, like performance-enhancing drugs or steroids with growth hormones. While they may help increase your muscle mass, they can have side effects such as heart attacks, liver damage, and even premature death. It is best for you to stick to the healthy and proven methods in building muscles.
The benefits of strength exercises are also numerous and not merely confined to boosting metabolism. They lower blood pressure, improve balance and flexibility, increase your stamina for other activities, and reduce your risk of injury – as these are strength exercises, they in fact strengthen your muscles and bones!
Yes, these exercises are about “intervals,” particularly the intervals of high-intensity exercise and rest. In this training, you do a cardiovascular exercise at the highest intensity you can manage, then shift to a moderate intensity, do high intensity again, then moderate, and so on. Reames calls this “metabolic burst” training, as the sudden burst you do in the high-intensity exercise also results in a burst of calorie-burning. Because of the sudden “burst” you give to your body, it also suddenly releases energy. The rest period, meanwhile, is essential for the body to get rid of the waste products in the muscles you are using in the exercise. It is important to keep a moderate intensity of exercise and not go into total rest. This is to ensure that the release of energy is continuous.
Interval training can be done for almost any type of cardiovascular exercise – running, biking, swimming, and more. For running, the rest period can be brisk walking; for biking and swimming, the activity can be done at a slower but moderate pace. The high-intensity and moderate-intensity exercise can also be slightly different. For example, the high-intensity exercise may be briskly walking up the stairs while the low-intensity exercise may be brisk walking on a flat surface.
Each interval should last between one to four minutes. The rest period can be shorter or longer than your high-intensity exercise, depending on your condition. Doing your interval training routine for a total of 30 minutes already achieves optimal results. Just ensure that your moderate-intensity exercise really still has intensity while allowing your body to rest for the next burst of high-intensity exercise. Perform your personal best for the high-intensity exercise – being almost out of breath is a good sign.
A more accurate way of determining the highest level of intensity you can manage is by calculating your maximum heart rate. To get your maximum heart rate, simply subtract your age from 220. During exercise, a heart rate monitor will come in handy although this is optional. To monitor your heart rate manually, find your pulse in your wrist then count the number of beats within six seconds. Put the number zero at the end of that. If you counted 16 beats, your pulse rate is 160 beats per minute. Your pulse rate after high-intensity exercise should be 75-85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Your pulse rate during moderate-intensity exercise should always be greater than your resting heart rate, or your normal heart rate when you are not doing any exercise. Again, to get your resting heart rate, get your pulse rate while you are not doing exercise.
For those who want to boost metabolism primarily to lose weight, here’s the good news: after a few weeks of interval training, expect even your normal exercise with moderate intensity to burn more fat than usual.
A study by exercise scientist Jason Talanian supports this claim. After seven interval workouts distributed over two weeks, subjects increased their fat burning by 36 percent through normal cycling exercises only.
Also, according to Reames, after interval training comes the “metabolic afterburn” – this means that your body continues burning calories for 46 hours after your workout.
Interval training sure beats normal cardiovascular training. Also, normal cardiovascular exercise usually takes longer as the objective is endurance. Contrast this with interval training which only requires 30 minutes or less and which delivers significant results in just a few weeks.
Putting it all together
While you will be choosing your specific exercises for the strength and resistance training and interval training, I will be recommending an exercise schedule and giving you tips for your best application of the exercises.
Below would be the best weekly schedule for your workout:
Day 1: Strength and resistance exercises
Day 2: Interval training exercises
Day 3: Strength and resistance exercises
Day 4: Interval training exercises
Day 5: Strength and resistance exercises
Day 6: Interval training exercises
Day 7: Rest
As you can see, strength exercises and interval training are done on alternate days. This is to facilitate recovery of the muscles you use. Do not ever, ever do your strength exercise workout right after your interval training workout – this will slow down the process of muscle building.
One day without exercise during the week is also crucial for your body to make a full recovery.
Again, I would like to emphasize that you should never push your body to fatigue. Doing so would trigger a stress response in your body, which may have serious effects on your metabolism. (The link between stress and metabolism will be discussed in a later section). Also, make sure that you breathe normally throughout the exercises so that your body is not stressed.
Always perform warm-up exercises before your routine and cool-down exercises after. For a warm-up, a cardio of moderate intensity and arm circling would be a good example. For a cool-down, a total body stretch will relax your muscles. Breathing exercises will also help in relaxing.
You can apply variety to your exercise routines to work different muscles and for your own enjoyment, especially if you get bored with the same exercise routines.
Metabolism Masterclass Checkpoint: Before we proceed…
Here are some more things to think about as you plan your exercise program to fire up your metabolism:
1. Age does not matter. Yes, whether you are 20 or 60, you can trust that the exercise program we discussed will work for you. For older people, your interval training may not be as intense at first, but after some time, you just might be surprised how far your body can go. Looking at strength and resistance training in particular: here’s something for older people to consider: a scientific study conducted at Tufts university shows that age is not an obstacle to building muscle. In their study, 87- to 96-year-old women who underwent an 8-week strength training program tripled their strength and increased their muscle by ten percent.
2. Other exercise is good, but… I recommend you apply the exercise program discussed here. While it is true that any physical activity burns calories, it only has a one-time effect. The exercises here, however, are guaranteed to have a long-term effect. Also, endurance training is good, but you will get more and faster results from interval training.
3. More exercise does not mean faster metabolism. Logically, more exercise means more calories burned. But as your goal here is a long-term increase in your metabolism, you should not be obsessed by how much you exercise but on the quality of your exercise. Again, this deserves repetition – do not push yourself beyond your limits as it will drive your body into a stress reaction. Stress has a serious effect on metabolism.
So now you know the best exercise program to fire up your metabolism. But don’t stop reading just yet – exercise is only one part of your journey to a faster metabolism.