Shaping up

By Sharon Stephenson

It's the same every year - summer appears out of nowhere and we realise once again we've left it too late to deal with our muffin tops and droopy upper arms. But rather than starvation or frenzied gym sessions, follow our tips for toning. Here are some quick ways to get started on the shape-up.

1. Kick the salt habit:
"High levels of salt can increase fluid retention and toxic build-up in fat cells, which can lead to cellulite," says nutritionist Amanda Griggs. Her advice? Bypass the salt shaker and avoid salty foods such as bacon, ham, other processed meats and cheese.

2. Do the plank:
Downward dogs may be all very well but to work the core stomach muscles, the plank yoga move is best, says personal trainer Mish McCormack. Lie face down, resting on your forearms, creating a 90 degree angle with your upper arms. Keep your palms flat on the floor and resting on your elbows, raise up on to your toes. Keep your back flat in a straight line from head to toe and don't let your hips sag towards the floor. Hold for as long as you can and repeat three to five times. For optimum results, McCormack suggests doing the plank once a day, gradually increasing the length of time you hold the pose.

3. Fish for compliments:
"Choosing fish as your main source of protein can help reduce what we commonly call a pot belly, simply because it's easier to digest than meat," says Griggs.

"White fish is lighter, but oily fish has more omega 3 and 6, so go for a mix of the two."

4. Squat your way to a better butt:
McCormack reckons you can't go past squats if you want a great posterior. "Squats really are the best exercise for bottoms, because they firm muscles and help burn fat." She suggests aiming for three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, three to four times a week for great results. Stand up straight looking ahead with your arms by your sides and your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outwards. Keeping your back as straight as possible and your abdominals tight, slowly lower your hips straight down as though you're going to sit on a chair while keeping your knees tracking towards your toes. Squeeze your glutes momentarily at the bottom before returning slowly to the starting position.

5. Cut the sugar:
Sugar is hidden in many processed foods, says Griggs, so cutting it out in all its forms (ie, processed foods, white bread and pasta) should encourage fat loss, reduce bloating, improve energy and stabilise blood-sugar levels.

6. Fighting fit:
Boxing classes are a great way to get you fit, toned and feeling more confident, says McCormack. "They're an empowering, full-body workout of punches, kicks and moves that will help you improve your cardio fitness, muscle tone, agility and balance."

7. Say no:
If you enjoy a tipple most nights, cutting back on alcohol can reduce your calorie intake by up to 1000 per week - and that can mean significant weight loss. Aim to have at least two to three alcohol-free days a week - and when you are drinking, have a glass of water between each alcoholic drink.

8. Burn that fat:
It's a simple equation: to lose fat you need to burn more calories than you consume. Getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days, if not every day, is recommended but, if it suits you better, try splitting that into three 10-minute "exercise snacks". Walking, running, swimming and cycling are ideal forms of exercise, but remember, you're more likely to stick with exercise if you choose an activity you enjoy.

9. Top up the tank:
"The object is to never let yourself get too hungry, because then you might be tempted to binge on unhealthy foods," says Griggs. As a general rule, she advises eating low glycaemic index (GI) foods such as lean meat, soy, eggs or pulses every three hours, plus five servings of fruit and vegetables each day.

10. Find an exercise buddy:
"An exercise buddy can motivate you when the going gets tough, and it's widely acknowledged that a friend can help you reach your goals and make exercise more like fun than work," says McCormack. "If it's fun you'll do it more often, stick with it longer and achieve better results."

11. Don't get caught by hidden fats:
Fat can be calorie dense and is hidden in many foods. For example, just because a salad has lettuce in it, doesn't mean it's healthy - a Caesar salad can contain more fat than a serving of fish and chips (more than 12 teaspoons). Likewise, a sandwich is a great lunch option but it could include butter on each slice of bread as well as meat, cheese, mayonnaise and possibly egg and avocado - and that's six different fats.

12. Get as much incidental exercise as you can:
Between now and when you hit the beach, choose the active option wherever possible, advises McCormack. "That means walking to the bus stop, using the stairs instead of the lift and taking the dog out for an extra long walk after dinner. Basically, engaging in more incidental exercise can help boost your daily calories expenditure, keep your fat-burning metabolism engine fired up through the day, and help shed those unwanted kilograms." Try and change your approach so you view any kind of movement as an opportunity to burn calories, rather than as an inconvenience.

13. Portion distortion:
For many of us, it's not the quality of food that's the problem, it's the quantity. Making sure you don't get too much of a good thing is all about the size of your hands, says Griggs. "At dinner, carbs should be no bigger than the size of a clenched fist and meat the size of the palm of your hand. Veggies should contribute to at least half your plate."

- Herald on Sunday

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