Last week, Cristin and I were on the road at a national Wellness convention in South Florida.  Faced with lousy weather compliments of Hurricane Sandy, and an unfamiliar hotel workout facility, I decided to plan the daily workout according to our training objective for the day.  When I asked Cristin what she wanted to accomplish, this was her response:

Let’s do something that burns calories and gets us stronger.

Perfect.  We can work off that.  In fact, if you ever wonder what to do when you visit the gym, or if you avoid the gym altogether because you don’t know what you should be doing while there, these words are a fine mantra and a great place to start.

First, most of us should be concerned with burning calories, because most of us are getting plenty of food, but not as much exercise as we should.  This puts us into a positive energy balance (more calories going in than being burned) and leads to weight gain.  There are plenty of options for burning calories, but keep these simple tips in mind:

#1 Try to incorporate your full body and/or big muscle groups when you exercise.


#2 Sweat.

When we use our entire body to workout, we are usually moving in a functional way, and we tend to burn a lot of calories.  Moving in a functional way just means mimicing how our bodies move naturally.  Our legs have the biggest muscles in our bodies, so make sure you are working your legs when you exercise—your legs can do an incredible amount of work and burn a ton of calories.  Your biggest muscles in your upper body are in your chest, back, and shoulders.  Generally, we use these muscles when we push and pull things (more “functional” exercises).  There is nothing wrong with doing bicep curls (especially if you are a college kid in sleeveless T trying to impress girls), but are there more beneficial, functional, and calorie burning exercises you could do with your upper body and arms?  Certainly.  For example, performing a seated row is a pulling exercise (functional).  It also incorporates large muscles in your back, shoulders, and yes, your biceps.

Secondly, whether you are lifting weights or doing cardio, break a sweat.  If you’re sweating, your body is producing heat, and if you’re producing heat, you’re burning calories.

The second part of Cristin’s objective for the day was doing something that “gets us stronger.”  Gaining strength doesn’t mean you have to turn into a bodybuilder.  However, it does mean you are stimulating your existing muscles beyond what they are accustomed to, and hopefully producing some new lean muscle.  This will help you do all your daily activities more efficiently.  Getting stronger by working and increasing your lean muscle mass will also boost your metabolism, so you’re burning more calories even when you’re not working out.  Now that sounds like a good plan!  You’ll also begin to notice your body looking more lean and shapely as well.  To get stronger, boost metabolism, and strengthen your bones, you really need to be doing resistance training. 

This is enough information to chew on for now.  I’ll break out some basic resistance training tips in the next post.  Also, if you have never lifted weights, or don’t know where to start, find a trainer at your university or local gym to help you get started.  They will teach you basic lifting exercises done with proper form.  For now, keep it simple by remembering the mantra:

Let’s do something that burns calories and gets us stronger!

Read rule #7. This is not your gym.

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