15 Exercise Hacks In 3 Areas That Get Results With Less Effort
What’s a “hack?”
Besides something that you do to computers or someone that isn’t very skilled at a task, a “hack” is a creative solution that makes life easier.
In this case, we’re talking about health and fitness hacks; which means we’re talking about simple steps that you can take to help you make your life healthier and fit.
Hacks help in a number of ways. For example, imagine that you set a goal to run a marathon. That requires time, effort, planning and an abundance of motivation. Instead of doing it the hard way, you can leverage a few cardio, lifestyle, and mindset hacks to help you reach your goals with less time, energy, and effort.
To help you prioritize your hacks and personalize them to your health and fitness goals, we’ve divided them into 3 easy to use categories, including:
- Strength training
- General exercise
We’ll wrap it up by offering some quick tips to help you prioritize and integrate hacks into your health and fitness program, so that you can maximize your results and achieve your goals. Let’s start with strength training hacks.
1) Strength Training Hacks
Strength training is an important part of any health and fitness routine. Muscle burns more calories than fat. It looks great too. And strong muscles help you stay mobile and active – they reduce your risk of injury now and well into old age.
Leverage Compound Movements – Okay, let’s say that you’re working on arm strength. You could do biceps curls and work solely on that muscle group.
Or you could do pull-ups, which work on your biceps, triceps, shoulder muscles, abdominal muscles and more. Isolated movements are fine, but they’re not as powerful as compound movements.
You Don’t Need Weights to Build Strength – You don’t have to invest in barbells or other weights to build strength. In fact, if you’re just getting started you may not want to. Simply use your own weight for resistance instead.
Bodyweight exercises leverage your own mass to build resistance into your workout. It’s super easy and you can do bodyweight exercises virtually anywhere, and at any time. In fact, you can stand up right now and do 20 squats to start building strength in your legs and glutes.
Squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups are all bodyweight exercises that you can add to your daily routine to start building strength.
Tabata It – A Tabata is a form of High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT. It’s often applied to cardio training, but it can work for strength training as well. A tabata is 4 minutes of work. That’s it. It’s incredibly challenging. You perform a movement for twenty seconds and rest ten seconds. Repeat the process 8 times.
You might do a squat tabata, a push-up tabata, kettle bells or shoulder presses. You can even do a deadlift tabata. The key with strength training with this high intensity approach is to lift a weight that isn’t so heavy that you cannot maintain good form. If your form goes, you can hurt yourself. Think you can fit a four-minute workout into your day?
Gradually Increase The Weight – Start small and gradually add a little bit of weight each week. There are a few rules of thumb to consider. You can increase your weight by a specific percentage each week. For example, you might increase it by 5 percent each week.
Or you can increase it by a predetermined amount. For example, you might increase your weight by 5 pounds each week. This gives your body time to adapt and adjust while also strengthening.
Warm-Up and Cool Down – Warm up your muscles before you strength train. Begin with a few mobility exercises and then get the blood flowing. You can jog, jump rope, do squats and arm swings. You want to get your heart pumping and your muscles warmed up. They perform better when they’re warm; you’ll be able to go heavier and reduce your risk of injury.
After you work out, take advantage of those warmed muscles and stretch them out. Focus on mobility in the area that you exercised. For example, if you did deadlifts then you’ll want to work on mobility for your hamstrings, glutes, and hips.
Don’t skip this step. You’ll find that you not only recover more quickly if you warm up and cool down, but your performance will be better as well.
2) Cardio Fitness Hacks
Cardio is an important part of any fitness routine. It burns calories and helps with weight loss and weight management. It reduces stress, improves the health of your heart, and reduces your risk of heart disease. Long gone, however, is the idea that to get cardio health you have to exercise for hours a day. The following cardio hacks will help you get more results from your efforts.
Wear A Weighted Vest – The old school version of this is to run, walk, or hike with ankle weights. However, these can change your cadence and the actual movement of running. It can cause problems for ankles, knees and hips. You can also grab some small handheld dumbbells and carry them.
But that’s not much fun. Instead, wear a weighted vest. You can start with just a little bit of weight and gradually increase the weight. It adds intensity and calorie burning to your walk/jog/run, and introduces a strength component to the effort.
Listen To Music – Music not only helps you get your mind off of the exercise effort, which can be helpful if you’re on a cardio machine or running around a track.
Music also helps you improve your pace and effort. Try to match the BPM (beats per minute) of the music with that of your pace. Generally speaking, a good BPM is somewhere between 145 and 160.
You can build a playlist that gradually increases the BPM. There are also apps that you can use to find an ideal BPM for your playlist.
Sign Up For an Event – If you want to get motivated and really push yourself, sign up for an event or competition. There are walks, runs, and obstacle courses to consider. In the winter you might find a fun snowshoe race or skiing competition.
If dancing is your way to get cardio then consider signing up for a performance or a competition. The event can be for fun, for a charity, or for prizes and a personal record. Whatever your event, signing up and training for something will help you take your cardio to the next level.
Think Outside The Box – When you think of cardio you might think about running and… running. Or maybe you get on the elliptical machine or ride your bike. Most people are challenged to think beyond the basics.
The truth is that any activity that gets your heart pumping and keeps you in the aerobic zone is cardio. You can hula-hoop, do kettlebells, or jump rope. Or kick box, or row, swim, dance… the list goes on and on. Find something that you enjoy doing and/or vary your workout so you don’t get bored.
Interval Training – Up in the strength training hacks, we talked about tabatas. You can leverage this concept with cardio as well. You can embrace the tabata and do cardio for twenty seconds on, with ten seconds of rest. Or you can create your own intervals.
For example, you might walk or jog for 400 meters (a quarter mile) and then sprint for 400 meters. You can apply intervals to any cardio exercise. The goal is to put in a moderate effort, followed by an intense effort, and to alternate the two for a specific period of time.
Increase Your Incline – You might be surprised to learn that bumping up the incline on your treadmill just a few degrees can burn significantly more calories, and doing so will improve your strength and endurance. Start small and increase it just a little bit.
Depending on your treadmill, that might mean bumping it up to a 3 instead of a 1 or 2. Or it might mean setting it to a 5 percent grade. As your body acclimates, or gets used to the incline, you can increase it just a little bit week by week.
You can also vary your workouts. Do one workout a week on a pre-set “Hills” program, or simply at a steep incline. You’ll work your muscles in a different way.
Swing Your Arms – Most elliptical machines have handles that you’re supposed to hold onto. They move your arms back and forth. However, if your elliptical doesn’t have these or if you’re on a treadmill, let go of the handrail.
You’ll improve your posture, and by swinging your arms to maintain balance and pace, you’ll also burn more calories. It’s a more natural way to move.
Get on The Trails – Bored with a treadmill? Get off the gym cardio equipment and take it outside. Hit the trails, your local paths and even the sidewalk. Enjoy the variety of each run by embracing nature, people, and the inevitable wildlife that you’ll encounter – yes, we’re talking about squirrels and birds.
It not only makes your workout more interesting, you may find that you spend so much time paying attention to your surroundings that you’re able to run further and faster. You can also hit the trails on your bike too!
3) General Exercise Hacks
Trouble finding time to exercise? Not motivated? What to get more for your exercise time and efforts? The following hacks will help you accomplish your exercise goals.
Weights Before Cardio – It’s tempting to do cardio first, to get it out of the way or to use it as a way to warm up your muscles for strength. However, it’s important to flip the order.
Why? Strength training increases your heart rate and puts your body into a fat burning mode right from the get go. And if you do strength first, you’ll still have energy for cardio, the opposite may not be true. You’ll maximize your efforts if you weight train first.
Find Your Ideal Workout Time – You have your own energy cycle. There are undoubtedly times of the day when you have more energy than others. That’s the time you should work out. If you are a morning person, then a morning workout is perfect.
If you’re a night owl, then nighttime is better. Also think about any conditions you may be dealing with. For example, if you wake with back pain you may want to wait until your back warms up before you exercise.
Dress For Working Out – Dressing for a workout sets the tone. It impacts your energy levels and your follow through. If you like to exercise in the morning and you are short on time, go to sleep in your workout clothes. You won’t skip workouts.
Create a Realistic Schedule; One that You’ll Follow Through On – Set a workout schedule that you know without a doubt you can follow through on, and then do so. As you become accustomed to working out on a regular basis, you can increase the frequency or duration.
Start Slowly – Don’t go overboard when you start a new program. Start with what you know you can do and increase your efforts as you improve. For example, you might add a minute each day, or week, to your workout time.
Make the Most of Those Pesky Commercials –You don’t watch the commercials anyway, why not make the most of that two to three minute break to get some exercise in. You can jump up from the couch and do sit-ups, pushups, and dips on your coffee table or squats. After your typical hour-long show, you’ll have worked out for 20 minutes.
Exercise First – If you find that exercise slips to the bottom of your priority list, start your day with it. This way, you won’t miss it and you’ll start the day off right. You may also be surprised how your energy level changes for the better.
A Combined Approach – Combine cardio and strength into one workout instead of two. A typical met-con or metabolic conditioning workout integrates strength training and cardio at a high intensity level. An example of a met-con workout might be to combine back squats, burpees and 100-meter sprints.
Exercise in Small Chunks – Instead of trying to get it all done in a day, break it up. For example, work out for ten minutes three times a day
Workout With Friends – Find a group or create an exercise group that you can’t let down. On the days when you don’t feel like working out, you’ll go anyway because you want to see your friends. And you’ll be there for them on the days when they don’t want to go.
Go When it’s Quiet – If you get your workout in at a gym, try going during the off times. You won’t have to wait for machines and you may be able to get a more efficient workout.
Learn Something New – Make your workout more interesting by learning something new. For example, if you’re a runner, try integrating a plyometric workout to your week. You’ll improve your speed and power.
Have Fun with Kettlebells – A kettlebell is a weight with a handle. The innocent looking ball of lead is great for both strength and cardio.
Try simple kettlebell swings, which integrate your leg, core, and upper body muscles while also working your heart and lungs.
Presses, one arm snatches and Turkish get-ups are other movements that you can have fun with using a kettlebell.
Hire a Trainer – You can spend days, weeks, and months in the gym and not achieve the results you want. Some of this may be motivation but much of it may simply be that you could improve your form.
A personal trainer can help you tweak your form so that you’re not only safe, but you also get the most from each movement. You can hire a trainer to show you how to properly use the equipment, and they can critique your form. You don’t have to hire a full-time trainer. You could occasionally check in with a trainer and get tips for improving your workout and your results.