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Seven tips for increasing your workout intensity

Friday - 5/17/2013, 9:25am  ET

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Having a motivating exercise partner can help increase the chance that you will reach your fitness goals. (Thinkstock)
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Lisa Reed, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Increasing the intensity of your workout burns more fat and builds muscle.

According to a recent article in the American College of Sports Medicine's Health and Fitness Journal, working out at a high-intensity delivers the benefits of endurance training in a shorter amount of time.

But if you're stuck in a rut, don't worry. When it comes to taking your workout up to the next level, there are a few simple steps you can take.

  1. Get a workout buddy. Having a motivating exercise partner can help increase the chance that you will reach your fitness goals. Just like having a personal trainer can provide encouragement and motivation, monitor your progress, add variety and make exercising more fun, having a workout buddy can increase the likelihood that you will stick with your routine. A workout buddy will also keep you on track, make you more accountable and have you planning your workouts in advance. If your workout buddy can only train on certain days, try to find more than one. And if you find one who is slightly more advanced, don't sweat it -- they will definitely increase the intensity of your workout.

  2. Combine strength and cardio and circuit train. By adding a cardio interval -- such as jumping jacks, jump rope or sprints between strength-resistance exercises -- targeting a different muscle group will rev-up the metabolism and keep the heart rate elevated. Because the exercise switches between muscle groups, no rest is needed between the strength exercises. This approach burns more calories during the workout and for an extended time afterwards. It also builds muscle and elevates the metabolism.

  3. Go to failure. When you complete your desired number of repetitions and find your muscles can't complete any more, try doing another one with the assistance of a spotter for a "forced rep." Lifting to failure does not mean you should lift the last few times with incorrect or wobbly form. Maintain proper form and rely on the spotter for extra support.

  4. Go for the hills. Add an incline to the treadmill or find a neighborhood with hills. Even adding a 2 percent incline will make you work harder, which in turn burns more calories. Climbing hills also gets your glutes ready for the beach. Researchers at the University of Georgia found that uphill running activates 9 percent more muscle with each stride, compared with walking at the same intensity on level ground. And unlike regular walking, hill walking will get more oxygen flowing through your body more quickly and help you build more stamina. Hill walking is a great way to get our body into shape. Unlike running, it does not put a ton of stress on your knees or feet. Make sure you warm-up properly and stretch after like any other exercise activity.

  5. Pre-exhaust The pre-exhaust method benefits single muscle group isolation training. The objective is to fatigue the muscle group you are targeting by single joint exercises before moving to compound movements for the same muscle.

    Of course you should always warm-up properly. For example if you are doing a lower body workout, perform a few sets on leg extensions, leg curls and body weight squats before performing compound movements in your workout (i.e.: squats and leg presses.) By fatiguing the muscle, you can actually lift more and increase the weights.

  6. Do a Fartlek. Fartlek comes from the Swedish meaning "speed play," or more generally, "slow fast." It represents an interval-type of speed training that can be effective in improving speed and endurance. These type of workouts initiate fast or intense training interspersed with periods of active recovery. Fartleks can be performed cross-country or on a track. It's best to vary your speed and terrain for the benefits of using different energy systems. Visit my Facebook page for an example of a Fartlek workout.

  7. Fuel your body right. As your workouts change up after a few weeks, you might notice that you feel more hungry than usual. The simple reason is because your metabolism has increased with the increased muscle. Remember, don't indulge in junk food to satisfy your hunger. You have been putting in the extra effort with your workouts, do not let it go to waste with poor nutrition. Your muscles need healthy food to keep you going. Fruit, vegetables, whole grains with lean protein sources are vital for a healthy lifestyle, for rest and recovery and energy for your next high intensity workout.

Remember, high intensity workouts are not for people just starting out. You should build up an endurance base before doing the high-intensity cardio, and start the weights with lighter weights, focusing on form. To raise the level of intensity, choose two higher-intensity training days per week. When you mix it up, your body will be an efficient fat burning lean machine.

Your body will need some time to adjust to the new exercises you're putting it through, too, so make sure that you get all the rest you need. Train hard, but train smart. Listen to your body and get adequate rest and recovery.

Lisa Reed is a certified personal trainer in the D.C. area and owner of Lisa Reed Fitness. Read more about Lisa at www.lisareedfitness.com. Follow @lisareedfitness and @WTOPLiving on Twitter.

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