Is Your Exercise Routine Making You Fat?

Can the very exercise you’re doing to slim down be sabotaging your weight-loss efforts? It’s a shocking notion, I know. And I am in no way suggesting that exercise is bad for you (in fact, you could fill an entire book with reasons to get your daily move on!).

But if you’re a cardio fanatic—and 71 percent of you are, according to a new poll on weight loss that Reader’s Digest conducted with Yahoo! Health—your go-to workout may not be the best way to spend your time in the gym.

I of all people should know. From 1998 to 2006, I was the executive editor of Fitness magazine. Studying fitness research and trying the trends were all part of my job. For years, I believed that I could eat anything I wanted because I was exercising so much. I was spending nine or more hours a week running, walking, biking, lifting weights, crunching my abs, relaxing and stretching my limbs in yoga, doing Pilates, and more.

I exercised like a fiend. And I ate like a linebacker. But I’m here to tell you, the more I exercised, the hungrier I was. And the more I ate, the more I needed to exercise to maintain a healthy weight.

Here’s what happened: I saw a steady increase in my body weight of a pound a year.

After digging into the research more, I was shocked to learn that focusing solely on continuous cardio might actually have been contributing to my weight gain. (Seriously? I hear you say. Yes, seriously.) Aerobic exercise, the kind that makes your heart pound and your body sweat, demands that you increase your energy output. Because your body is always trying to stay in balance, this type of movement may actually act as a biological cue to make you eat more. Researchers also believe that cardio may cue additional eating because it depletes glycogen stores in the liver and muscle in order to make glucose available for fuel.

Besides making you eat more, continuous aerobic exercise isn’t nearly as effective a weight-control strategy as surprising your body with aerobic interval training (short bursts of high-intensity, heart-pounding work) or strength training (push-ups, squats, anything that builds muscle and power). That’s why a HIIT workout (that stands for High intensity Interval  Training) workout is the only one I recommend in my new Digest Diet book, in addition to basic walking. Even better, this kind of exercise is so efficient at burning calories and fat, you can get reap full benefits in just 12 minutes. Twelve minutes!

Get started today with a few of my favorite at-home strength moves. They’re also great to add to your current routine to up your workout.

1. Basic Move: Squat Basic Squat

A. Stand in front of a chair with your feet hip-width apart and hands clasped at chest level.

B. With your heels flat on the floor and keeping your back straight, bend your legs and slowly lower your bottom until it’s nearly touching the chair’s seat, but don’t sit down. Keep your arms extended in front of you for balance. Return to the starting position to complete the move. Do 10 to 12 reps.

Make It Harder: Jumping Squats >>

2. Basic Move: Step-UpStep Up

A. Stand in front of a low step or at the base of a staircase. Place your right foot on the second stair.

B. Step up and tap your left foot lightly on the second stair. Keeping your right foot on the stair, step down with your left leg to complete the move. Do 10 to 12 reps with each leg.

Make It Harder: Weight-For-It Step-Up >>

3. Basic Move: Chair DipChair Dip

 A. Sit in a sturdy, armless chair with your feet flat on the floor. Place your palms on the edge of the seat beside your hips and extend your legs so that only your heels are on the floor.

B. Walk your heels forward until your butt is just in front of the chair and you’re supporting your body weight with your arms. Keeping your elbows pointed behind you, bend your arms to lower your body about 6 inches. Extend and straighten your arms to complete the move. Do 6 to 8 reps.

Make It Harder: Double-Chair Dip >>

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