9 Signs You’re Vitamin B12 Deficient

We know to take our vitamin D in the winter and ramp up vitamin C when our immune system needs some love, and we never miss a day of our omega-3s. But there’s another nutrient many of us may need more of—and it’s finally making its way onto our radars, thanks to a little help from the attention of celebrities like Lo Bosworth, Chelsea Handler, and Rita Ora: vitamin B12.

We think of vitamin B12 as important for energy, and while it’s true that it helps us turn fat and protein into energy, it does so much more than that. “B12 is vital for the functioning of your nervous system, creating DNA and RNA (the building blocks of every cell in your body), brain health, and carrying oxygen throughout the body,” says Maggie Michalczyk R.D.N.

Like all vitamins, we can’t produce the B12 we need on our own, and have to get it through diet and/or supplements. (It’s found in animal products like eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, shellfish, salmon, tuna, chicken, and beef.) And since B12 is a water-soluble vitamin and isn’t stored in our body long-term, we need to re-stock regularly.

Thing is, we’re apparently not too good at getting in that much-needed B12: The National Institutes of Health estimates that up to 15 percent of Americans are deficient. Some people—like vegetarians and vegans, who don’t eat many (or any) animal products, and those with digestive conditions, who often have trouble absorbing the vitamin—are at higher risk for deficiency, but vitamin B12 is important for everyone, explains Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause some pretty crummy (and sneaky) side effects—and lead to serious health issues if left untreated. “Many people with deficiency go months or years without being diagnosed because it’s easy to write off the symptoms as stress from our go-go-go lifestyle,” says Michalczyk.

Below are nine signs you’re seriously wanting for B12 you shouldn’t overlook.

1. You’re Just Plain Exhausted

“Fatigue is one of the first signs of B12 deficiency,” says Michalczyk. Your body relies on the vitamin to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen to your organs. Without enough red blood cells to transport that oxygen, you can develop anemia, which is typically marked by fatigue (think overall weakness, trouble keeping up with your pup on walks or carrying groceries, and even lightheadedness.) If you’re experiencing constant fatigue for no clear reason, your doctor can first test your red blood cell count to confirm if you have anemia and then order further testing to determine if low B12 is the culprit.

2. Your Tongue Has Lost Its Texture

It’s not uncommon for people with B12 deficiency to lose ‘papillae,’ the tiny, taste bud-containing bumps on your tongue, says Pat Salber M.D., creator of the website The Doctor Weighs In. As a result, your tongue may appear smoother and shinier than usual, and your sense of taste may seem dull. For some people, vitamin B12 deficiency may also cause glossitis (inflammation of the tongue) and even mouth ulcers or burning and itching. These oral issues occur because vitamin B12-related anemia interferes with the proper growth and development of red blood cells.

3. You’re Pale Or Jaundiced

Because B12 influences red blood cell production and deficiency can leave you with a shortage, you may notice you look paler than usual, explains Valdez. Deficiency can also cause the red blood cells you do have to break down and release an orange-yellow pigment called bilirubin, which then leaves you looking rather yellow.

4. Your Hair Has Been Falling Out

Most of us lose an average of 80 strands of hair per day—and a lack of B12 can contribute to excess shedding. This, too, is because of B12’s role in red blood cell production and transport of oxygen throughout the body, says Valdez. Fewer blood cells and less oxygen to your hair follicles mean locks that are starving for nutrients.

Related: 8 Possible Reasons Why Your Hair Is Falling Out

5. You Feel A Tingling Sensation

“In conjunction with other B vitamins, B12 plays an important role in keeping your nervous system functioning properly,” says Michalczyk. Specifically, B12 plays a role in the production of a fatty substance called ‘myelin’ that surrounds and protects your nerves. Without ample B12, nerve cells are more susceptible to deterioration, which can lead to a ‘pins and needles’ sensation called ‘paresthesia’ in your hands and feet (like the feeling you get when you sit cross-legged for too long and your foot falls asleep). Ignoring this for too long can cause permanent damage to your nerves, Salber says.

6. You’ve Been Tripping A Lot

Because of its role in producing myelin and regulating the nervous system, a lack of B12 can cause the nerves in the spinal cord to atrophy over time, which can eventually diminish your sense of touch and affect your sense of where your body is in space (called ‘proprioception’), leaving you unsteady, says Valdez. These feelings of instability can be worsened by the dizziness that often comes along with low B12-related anemia.

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Since frequent tripping or stumbling can also be related to heart conditions or low blood pressure, talk to your doc if you’ve been feeling unusually clumsy.

7. You’re Very Forgetful

The deterioration of that protective myelin in nerves throughout your brain can leave you feeling incredibly absent-minded. “Most people come in before the symptom gets this bad, but symptoms that mimic dementia can occur,” says Michalczyk. In fact, one study published in the journal Neurology linked vitamin B12 deficiency to age-related memory decline—and even brain shrinkage. The researchers found that vitamin B12-deficient older people had the smallest brains and lowest scores on tests meant to measure thinking, reasoning, and memory.

8. You’re Stressed Or Sad All The Time

You may not associate your mood with vitamins, but many nutrients—including vitamin B12—can have an effect on your sense of well-being. “B12 deficiency may impact the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine,” says Valdez. These chemicals are often known as the ‘feel-good’ hormones, and their dysfunction has been implicated in mood issues like depression.

9. You Take Certain Prescription Drugs

Over time, some drugs, like metformin (which is commonly prescribed to people with type 2 diabetes), heartburn medications, oral contraceptives, antacids like proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), and even aspirin may lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency, explains Valdez. “These medications can reduce stomach acid, which then reduces the amount of B12 the body is able to absorb,” he says. To avoid any potential issues, Valdez recommends always asking your doctor about whether nutrient deficiencies are a side effect of any medications you’re about to start long-term.

Getting Your B12 Back On Track

“The only way to identify a vitamin B12 deficiency is to have blood work done by your doctor,” says Michalczyk. From there, they may recommend you eat more animal-based foods, if possible, or start taking a supplement to up your intake. If supplementing, Valdez recommends looking for B12 in the form of methylcobalamin (or methyl-B12), which is easiest for our bodies to absorb, at whatever dose your doctor recommends.

If your deficiency is a result of an inability to properly absorb vitamin B12 (as is the case in celiac or Crohn’s disease or because of certain meds), then B12 shots, which deliver the vitamin straight into your blood stream, are a good option, says Michalczyk. Just know that you’ll need a prescription and have to take a trip to the doc’s office to get one.

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I Tried 5:2 Intermittent Fasting For A Month—Here’s How It Went

My natural hunger cues have always left me itching for something to nosh on every three or four hours, so when my Mom swapped her three-meals-a-day eating style for smaller, more frequent meals back in the early 2000s, I became a certified grazer, too.

On a typical day, I’d enjoy six mini-meals: I’d start the day with a Bulletproof coffee and a little Greek yogurt, munch on a protein bar and an apple mid-morning, go for a salad with chicken and veggies at lunch time, enjoy a slice of avocado or almond butter and banana toast mid-afternoon, have grilled chicken and sautéed spinach for dinner, and snack on an apple with peanut butter before bed.

In college, eating these smaller, more frequent meals helped me avoid the ‘Freshman 15,’ and later, at the office, it kept me focused on my work. Research has even linked a ‘grazing’ eating style with lower fasting insulin levels, and I’ve found it keeps my blood sugar and energy levels nice and stable.

After ditching my cubicle to go full-time freelance this January, though, my grazing basically transformed into non-stop inhalation of almond butter. Whether seven o’clock in the morning or nine o’clock at night, you’d find me in the kitchen with a spoon in one hand and a jar of Justin’s nut butter in the other. I was spooning my way through a jar of nut butter every three to four days, and it was time to kick the habit.

As a CrossFit® athlete and health and fitness journalist, I’m constantly charging after new goals, learning about trends, and reading up on the latest research—and I wondered if intermittent fasting, which I’d seen lots of buzz about, could help me nip my out-of-control grazing in the bud. Curious, I decided to give it a go for a month.

Intermittent fasting, which is basically the exact opposite of my grazing ways, is the practice of abstaining from food, typically for extended periods of time. Though fasting has roots in many religions, including Christian, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhist, and Islam, it’s become popular in the wellness community in recent years for its weight loss and health benefits.

The thing with intermittent fasting: There’s no one right way to do it. Some approaches involve completely nixing food for two days per week, others involve eating only during a small six- to eight-hour window every day, and others involve eating just 500 calories a day two days per week.

Related: Is Intermittent Fasting Really All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

I usually eat between 2,200 and 2,400 calories a day, so going full days without any food did not appeal to me (how would I train?). I opted for a type of intermittent fasting known as 5:2 fasting.

Five days a week I’d eat as usual, but on two non-consecutive days, I’d limit myself to just 500 calories a day.

I still had hesitations: Could this approach help me overcome my nut butter habit? Would I be able to stick to it for a full month? Would it affect my workouts?

I hit up one of my favorite dietitians, Jessica Crandall, R.D, who’s a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to talk through my concerns. “If you’re an athlete, you need to plan when you’re going to take a rest or recovery day, and match that up with when you’re going to fast,” she told me.fasting is going to help with recovery? She also advised me to pay close attention to how I felt on the lower-calorie days, and to look out for any nausea, lightheadedness, or cramping.

I followed Crandall’s advice and planned out my first week so I’d fast on Thursday (when I’d do yoga instead of CrossFit) and Sunday (when I’d take a full rest day). In week one, I ate normally Monday through Wednesday and made an effort not to over-indulge on Wednesday night in anticipation of Thursday.

Week 1, Fasting Day 1

I’ll just come right out and say it: My first low-calorie day was a total fail.

I started off okay, whipping up my usual Bulletproof coffee (coffee with MCT oil, butter, and collagen protein) in the morning and sitting down to work until lunch. I’d normally drink my brew (which clocks in at 185 calories) and down my first two mini-meals in that time, but knowing I needed to make my 500 calories last all day, I sucked it up and stuck with just the coffee.

And then noon rolled around… My belly’s excessive grumbling let me know my body was not happy about this switch in routine, so I opened the fridge, looked longingly at my PB, and grabbed a Granny smith apple (60 calories) instead, hoping the fiber would help keep me satiated a little while longer.

An hour later I was hungry again, and I’d already ‘used up’ more than half of my prescribed daily calories. I no longer wanted a scoop of peanut butter; I wanted a 32-ounce steak.

I compromised by grilling up some chicken (200 calories), and luckily felt satiated.

Things went truly awry a few hours later, however, smack in the middle of a downward dog at yoga. I felt lightheaded and unstable (which didn’t surprise me considering I’d consumed just 465 calories, as opposed to my usual 1,500 by this point), and needed to avoid any positions where my head went below my waist for the rest of class. I left feeling agitated.

So what did I do? Hit up my favorite healthy chain, Sweetgreen, and order my go-to: a beet and goat cheese salad with chicken. I tweaked my order and skipped goat cheese and dressing to save some calories, and though the meal tasted pretty flavorless, it still clocked in at around 500 calories. Oops.

That salad made me feel human again, but it pushed my total calorie intake to 965 calories—almost twice more than I was prescribed.

Week 1, Fasting Day 2

I woke up wildly hungry the day after my first attempted fast and housed a three-egg, turkey, cheese, and broccoli omelet, and two slices of buttered whole-grain toast for breakfast. My total calories for the day came in higher than usual, at around 2,500.

On Sunday, my second fasting day, I slept until eleven and opted for a large (like very, very large) black iced coffee and three eggs for breakfast (210 calories).

I hoped my late start would make the rest of the day easier, but by mid-afternoon my stomach was growling again. I tried the fiber approach again by snacking on some carrots (110 calories), and they held me over for another two hours. For dinner, I grilled up some more chicken (200 calories) and sliced up half an avocado (120 calories).

I definitely didn’t feel satisfied or well-fueled. I noticed I’d been responding to emails at a sluggish pace, and again, I caved. I made myself a piece of plain Ezekiel toast (80 calories) so I could power through my inbox, and hit the hay having once again exceeded my calorie limit. At least I was only 200 calories over this time?

Tweaking My Approach

Clearly, week one didn’t go well. My body seemed okay overall—my digestion was still regular and my weight hadn’t changed—but I just didn’t feel good. I spent my first fasting days constantly thinking about food and had to lower my usual squat weight by 10 pounds during Friday’s workout. On Saturday, my training partner also commented that I seemed to be moving slower than usual.

I called Crandall again, and she suggested I increase my calorie intake to 750 and up my protein on fasting days. “As an athlete, you don’t want to put yourself at risk for muscle loss or nutrient deficiencies,” she said. “so try eating egg whites for breakfast and even more lean proteins, like chicken or beef, throughout the day,” she said. I hoped the tweaks would be enough to power my workouts and not feel supremely miserable on lower-calorie days.

Weeks Two And Three

Luckily, my next two weeks went significantly smoother. My digestion continued as normal, and while I was still a little testy on my low-cal days, I got through it. The best part, though? I kept my peanut butter addiction under control throughout my five normal eating days and consistently ate between 750 and 800 calories on my fasting days, which felt much more manageable than trying to stick to 500. Following Crandall’s advice, I made sure the bulk of my fasting-day calories came from proteins. I also focused on high-antioxidant vegetables, which she said would help with satiety and muscle recovery.

I settled into a routine on fasting days that looked like this:

  • Breakfast: large black coffee, two eggs, one egg white (160 calories)
  • Snack: granny smith apple (60 calories)
  • Lunch: undressed spinach salad with half a pound of grilled chicken (240 calories)
  • Dinner: half a pound of grilled chicken or pork with sautéed kale (250 calories)
  • Snack: apple or serving of baby carrots (50 calories)

My biggest remaining issue: that my Monday and Friday workouts (which followed fasting days) still suffered. I felt strong for the first 25 to 40 minutes, but then petered out. When I rowed, my calories-per-hour dropped by about 200; when I ran, I tacked 20 seconds onto my mile time; and when I did burpees (which are usually my thing), I felt like I was moving through molasses. Crandall explained that this was probably due to low carb intake on my fasting days.

Making It Through The Month

After four weeks of fasting, I stepped on the scale to see that I’d dropped two pounds—and losing weight wasn’t even my goal. My body fat percentage didn’t change, though, so I speculate it was just water weight.

Ultimately, my experiment proved that consistently dropping my calories so low twice a week wouldn’t be doable long-term if I wanted to keep training hard. Even after I settled into my routine, I found myself feeling pretty cranky and obsessing over food on fasting days—and day-dreaming about brunch mid-squat!

I will say, though, that the plan definitely did help me kick my nut butter habit. Ditching the calorie-dense creamy stuff on my low-cal days helped me realize I didn’t need that much of it on the other days of the week, aside from my usual nut butter and apple snack—and that’s a win for me.

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Where Does The Fat Go When You Lose Weight?

After successfully shedding body fat, we’re often too busy basking in sweet satisfaction to question where that fat actually went. Did it transform into muscle? End up in the toilet? Seep out of our pores as sweat?

If you’re suddenly curious (and stumped), don’t worry: A 2014 survey found that 98 percent of health professionals don’t know where that fat goes either.

Most health experts surveyed assumed that fat we ‘lose’ is just transformed into heat, hence why we often talk about it as something we ‘burn off’—but it doesn’t just zap into thin air!

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Think back to high school chemistry. You probably learned about something called the ‘law of conservation of matter.’ It means that mass cannot be created or destroyed, so fat can’t just disappear, explains Spencer Nadolsky, M.D., diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine and author of The Fat Loss Prescription.

After losing 33 pounds, a physicist-turned-media-personality named Ruben Meerman wanted to get to the bottom of where those pounds actually disappeared to, so he teamed up with lipid (a.k.a. fat) researcher Andrew Brown of the University of New South Wales to investigate.

Meerman and Brown’s study, which was published in The BMJ, looked at the chemistry of what happens to a triglyceride a.k.a. body fat molecule (it looks like this: C55H104O6+78O2) when it’s oxidized or broken down to be used for energy. It’s a complicated process, but that process creates two by-products that explain where our fat goes when we lose it: carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O).

When the researchers measured what happened to 22 pounds-worth of triglycerides ‘lost,’ they found that about 18.5 pounds-worth of carbon dioxide were exhaled through the lungs, while the rest exited the body as water, whether in sweat, urine, or another bodily fluid. So even though we don’t quite breathe or sweat little fat particles, we do excrete the by-products produced when our body breaks down body fat, explains Pennsylvania-based family medicine physician, Rob Danoff, D.O., M.S., F.A.C.O.F.P, F.A.A.F.P.

(Just in case you’re wondering, the carbon dioxide you breathe out doesn’t harm the environment. The researchers encountered that question a lot…)

Related: Why Cardio Is NOT The Best Way To Lose Weight

While this study doesn’t really give us any new information about how to lose weight, it does help us understand how losing weight works—and it’s actually pretty fascinating, right?

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The Movement Your Workouts Are Sorely Missing

In the age of desk jobs and screens everywhere, we don’t exactly spend our days running, jumping, and climbing around outside like our ancestors did. And try as we might to make up for all the time we spend sitting by hitting the gym or attending our favorite workout class, the movement we do squeeze into our day doesn’t always reflect how our ancestors moved, or challenge our bodies to their fullest potential.

Most of the exercise we do these days involves moving forward or backward—think running, lunging, and cycling (even deadlifting involves moving forward and backward through our hips)—and while these movements do benefit our bodies, they’re not the only movements we should be doing! Lateral exercises, which involve moving from side to side—like lateral shuffles and lateral lunges—are often left out of our workout routines. But that ends now.

Why Lateral Movements Matter

Most of us spend about 90 percent of our active time on those forward or backward movements, which leaves some of our muscles under-utilized and under-activated, and can mess with our stability and put our hip, knee, ankle, and shoulder joint health at risk, explains personal trainer Jenny LaBaw, C.P.T., CF-L2.

Lateral movements work many of our smaller stabilizer and forgotten-about muscles—like our hip abductors, hip adductors, gluteus medius, deltoids, and obliques, to name a few—and strengthen our joints, tendons, and ligaments at all angles by requiring our body move through a different range of motion. If you never train your body to move laterally, there’s a greater chance something will go wrong when life forces you to move that way, whether you’re navigating a busy sidewalk, carrying your groceries, or chasing your dog, says physical therapist Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of mobility company Movement Vault.

Incorporating lateral movements can balance out all of our repeated forward-backward movement, and help us build well-rounded strength, improve mobility, and avoid injury.

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Moving from side to side more often also helps us get better at the forward-backward moves, like squats, that we all love so much. By working our muscles in a different plane of motion, we teach our body to better activate our supporter muscles, explains Wickham. “Once you learn to activate those supporter muscles, you can strengthen them, and once you strengthen them your lifts go up.”

And, of course, lateral movements also prep your body for any sport that requires you to make quick movements in different directions, like tennis, basketball, and soccer, adds celebrity fitness and nutrition coach Kyle Brown, C.S.C.S., founder of FIT365. But even if the only sport you’re into is weekend Ultimate Frisbee or running around the backyard with your kids, the ability to move laterally will make you better at it.

4 Lateral Moves To Try

Ready to start building some side-to-side strength? Add a couple of these moves to your next workout to develop a more balanced, capable body.

1. Skater Jumps

Start in a slight squat position and push off through your right foot to jump to your left. Land on your left foot and allow your right foot to track behind it so your right toes touch the ground behind your left foot and you’re in a curtsy-like position. Then, push off through your left foot to land in a curtsy position on the opposite side. That’s one rep. You can swing your arms in opposite directions to propel you as you jump from side to side. Imagine you’re jumping side to side over a hurdle!

Do three sets of eight to 10 reps—or try these Tabata-style and alternate between 20 seconds of jumping back and forth 10 seconds of rest for four minutes total.

Why they work: “Skater squats are a great movement because each rep requires you to stop, stabilize, and absorb the load before you rapidly change directions,” says Brown. “Not only does this transfer over into sport performance, but it also helps develop neglected lower-body muscles, like the gluteus medius, hip abductors, and hip adductors.”

2. Lateral Lunges

Start standing with your feet hips-width distance apart. Keep your hands at your side and take a large step to the right with your right foot. As you step, bend your right knee and sit back into your heel as if squatting off to your right side. Keep your left leg straight and your right knee above your right foot. Then, push off through your right foot to return to the starting position. That’s one rep.  Perform three sets of eight to 10 reps on each side.

Make these count as cardio by adding a hop in between each lunge, so that you’re immediately exploding up off the ground in a jump shot after returning your lunging foot back to starting position. Or, up their strength-building potential by performing them while holding a kettlebell.

Why they work: Lateral lunges light up your gluteus medius and maximus muscles, quadriceps, and hip abductors and adductors, says Wickham.

Related: Are You Neglecting These Two Glute Muscles?

3. Lateral Step-Ups

Stand to the side of a bench, box, or step that’s just shorter than knee-height. Step the foot closest to the step up onto the platform, pressing through your heel and squeezing through your glutes to drive upward until your leg is fully extended. Allow your opposite leg to trail your anchor leg, so you finish standing on the platform. Then, step down with your trailing leg, followed by your anchor leg to return to your starting position. That’s one rep. Perform three sets of eight reps on each side.

Why they work: Lateral step-ups are great for hip, glute, hamstring, and quad strength, as well as overall lower-body stability, explains Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S., Pn1, founder of Training2xl. If the boxes or benches at your gym are too high, start off by doing these on stacked weight plates.

4. Lateral Arm Raises

Start standing and hold a pair of light dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing in. Keeping your arms straight and bracing your core, raise the dumbbells up and out to your sides until they’re about shoulder height and you look like a giant ‘T.’ Pause, then slowly lower the weights back down to your sides. That’s one rep. Aim for three sets of eight to 10 reps.

Why they work: Many lateral movements give all of the attention to your abs and lower body, but strong shoulders are important too, whether for carrying kids or just hailing a cab, and moving your arms laterally works your deltoids, says LaBaw.

Is The ‘Fat-Burning Zone’ A Sham?

If you’ve hopped on any cardio machine ever, you’ve probably seen the graph or different colored hearts (or whatever) identifying the different exercise ‘zones’ that use your heart rate to categorize the intensity of your workout.

Which zone we should be cardio-ing away in, though, isn’t so clear—and the enticing ‘fat-burning’ zone, in particular, is actually pretty misleading.

You’re in the ‘fat-burning zone’ when you exercise at a pace that gets your heartrate up to between 60 and 75 percent of your maximum (220 minus your age). “If you measured your exertion or effort on a scale of one to ten, the fat-burning zone would be a five or six,” explains exercise physiologist Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T., host of the All About Fitness Podcast. This is a pretty low-intensity pace, and you’ll probably be able to carry on a conversation as you move.

Given its name, you’d think the fat-burning zone is where you want to be if you’re trying to lose weight, right? Well, not quite.

Workouts that focus on the fat-burning zone are a rooted in the outdated (but persistent) belief that long, slow workouts are more effective for weight loss than shorter, more intense workouts. Here, exercise experts break down why the fat-burning zone isn’t really your fat-loss friend.

The Fat-Burning Basics

To fuel literally everything we do, our body produces and uses a form of chemical energy called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). What we create that ATP from, though, depends on what ingredients we have in our system (like carbs or fat from food, or stored body fat) and how much energy we need how quickly (depending on whether we’re just hanging out or sprinting, for example).

Technically, the fat-burning zone is legit: At lower intensities, our body’s primary ATP fuel source is fatty acids from food or body fat, whereas at higher intensities—usually an effort level of seven or higher—we primarily use the carbohydrates circulating in our bloodstream as sugar or stored in our muscles as glycogen.

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“Our body needs oxygen to turn fat into ATP, and when we’re resting or working out at a low intensity, that oxygen is readily available,” explains Tiffany Chag, M.S., R.D, C.S.C.S., sports dietitian at Hospital for Special Surgery. When we work out at higher intensities, oxygen becomes scarce and our body turns to carbs, instead. It’s never entirely one or the other—just a different proportion: Fat can still account for between 10 and 45 percent of our total energy expenditure during high-intensity exercise.

Exercise Intensity And Weight Loss

While it’s true we burn a higher percentage of calories from fat in the fat-burning zone, that doesn’t translate to quicker fat loss. Burning more calories total—regardless of whether the energy used comes from fat or carbs—is what matters for fat loss, explains running coach and exercise physiologist, Janet Hamilton, MA, RCEP, CSCS, founder of Running Strong.

Unsurprisingly, we burn more calories overall when we work out at higher intensities—like 75 to 85 percent of our max heartrate, or an effort level of seven or eight—because our organs and muscles have to work harder to meet that high energy demand. For example, a 155-pound person burns about 260 calories cycling at a moderate pace for 30 minutes, but churns through about 315 at a more vigorous pace.

That’s where HIIT (high-intensity interval training), which involves alternating between short intervals of max-effort and intervals of low-intensity recovery, comes in. By upping the intensity so much (even just for short bursts of time), we can burn just as much fat, if not more, in less time—even if carbs account for a larger percentage of our calories burned, explains Christi Marraccini C.P.T., Head Coach at Tone House in New York City.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

By pushing so hard during HIIT’s work intervals, we increase our body’s demand for oxygen during the rest intervals, and throughout the rest of the day after the workout, explains McCall. (This is called ‘EPOC,’ or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.)  Our body continues working harder-than-usual to deliver that oxygen, and we continue burning calories.

The Time And Place For The Fat-Burning Zone

HIIT is great, but too much high-intensity work can lead to injury or burnout over time—so our experts recommend your weekly workout routine strikes a balance between higher- and lower-intensity exercise. Every other—or every third—cardio workout can be HIIT, but the rest should actually land in that fat-burning zone. “This kind of breakdown will allow your body to recover and your muscle to repair after tough workouts, while still giving you the opportunity to move,” says Chag.

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Exactly What To Eat (And Drink) After A Workout To Boost Recovery

Sure, if you’re committed to living a healthy lifestyle, you probably don’t skip out on your workouts—but what about your post-workout refueling routine? After all, proper nutrition after training has a huge impact on the results you see—whether you’re training for a marathon or building a more muscular body.

Plain and simple, exercise stresses your body. As your working muscles contract to power you through whatever movement you’re doing, you churn through your energy stores and create tiny tears in your muscle tissue. That’s why post-workout nutrition—which provides your body with the nutrients it needs to restock its energy stores, rebuild damaged muscle tissue, and grow bigger and stronger—is so important.

Here’s what four fitness and nutrition experts recommend you load up on after your next sweat.

1. Carbs

When you work out, your body first uses whatever sugar you have in your blood for energy. Once that’s used up, it typically relies on the glycogen—a form of sugar stored in your muscles and liver—for fuel. So if you want to work out again at some point, you need to refill the tank! “Your post-workout nutrition is all about replenishing the glycogen you depleted during exercise, which you can do by eating carbs,” explains dietitian and exercise physiologist, Jim White R.D.N., owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. Research shows that your body is extra-efficient at using carbs for glycogen after exercise—and that glycogen helps offset muscle breakdown.

Both fast-digesting simple carbs and slow-digesting complex carbs will do the trick. If you’re on-the-go and need something quick, fruit (like a banana or an apple) is an easy simple carb option. Bars (like Bonk Breaker’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Brownie) also come in handy in a pinch. If you have time for more of a meal, go for a complex carb like quinoa, whole-wheat bread, or brown rice, suggests Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

2. Protein

If your workout involved strength training, which can create micro-tears in your muscle tissue, you also need to eat ample protein post-workout. “After your workout, your body repairs those micro-tears so your muscles grow bigger and stronger than before, but it needs protein to do it,” says White. Why? Protein is made up of molecules called amino acids, which are the ‘building blocks of muscle.’

Related: 13 Fun Protein Snacks For When You’re Bored Of Bars

White recommends eating a post-workout meal that contains a two-to-one ratio of carbs to protein. That’s about 30 to 50 grams of carbs and 15 to 25 grams of protein. Some easy combos include brown rice and beans, chicken and sweet potatoes, and smoothies made with protein powder and fruit.

3. BCAAs

While a good source of protein, like chicken breast or whey protein powder, provides a wide variety of amino acids, three—called the ‘branched-chain amino acids’ (BCAAs)—are particularly important post-workout. The BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) play a number of roles in the muscle recovery and building process: Leucine signals our muscles to begin muscle protein synthesis (the process through which they rebuild and grow), while isoleucine and valine can be used as energy sources.

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If you’re not noshing on animal proteins like steak or eggs (which are rich in BCAAs) after hitting the gym, Valdez recommends adding a scoop (usually about five grams) of a BCAA supplement to your water after strength training. (Two scoops of BodyTech’s Strawberry Lemonade Critical Aminos XT is our go-to.)

4. L-Glutamine

The most abundant amino acid in our bloodstream, l-glutamine plays a major role in recovery after a hard workout by bolstering our immune system, promoting glycogen storage, and warding off muscle breakdown. In fact, one small study published in the Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness reported that supplementing with glutamine for four days after strength-training significantly reduced muscle soreness.

You’ll find l-glutamine in most protein powders, but it can also be taken in stand-alone powder, pill, or liquid supplements. (BodyTech makes both unflavored powder and capsule options.) It’s also found in foods like meat, dairy, tofu, beans, eggs, and spinach, says White. Take up to five grams per day to support recovery.

5. Water

We know you’ve heard this one before, and that’s because it’s important. In fact, replenishing the fluids you lost during exercise is just as important as re-fueling with carbs and protein, says Valdez. Water is a necessary ‘ingredient’ for muscle protein synthesis, and one study published in the Journal of Athletic Training even suggests that failing to hydrate properly after a workout can exacerbate soreness.

Monitor the color of your urine to gauge your overall hydration status—the paler the yellow, the better. Or, weigh yourself before and after your workouts, and drink 16 ounces of fluid for every pound lost during exercise, says Valdez.

6. Antioxidants

Antioxidants do a body good in so many ways—and exercise recovery is one of them.

Let’s start with ginger: “Research has shown that adding ginger to your meals can help decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness by up to 25 percent,” says Marie Spano M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., C.S.C.S. How? Potent antioxidants in the root called gingerol, shogaol, and zingerone. (Gingerols in particular have been shown to modulate post-workout inflammation.) Spano recommends adding a teaspoon or two of ginger into a meal (it’s great in stir-fries), tea, or a smoothie within two hours of exercising.

Another antioxidant to try: tart cherry. Research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that marathoners who consumed 11 ounces of tart cherry juice leading up to, on the day of, and following their races experienced less muscle soreness. Researchers believe antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins found in cherries work their magic on post-exercise inflammation. Try stirring a cup of tart cherries into your Greek yogurt or oatmeal, or adding eight ounces of unsweetened tart cherry juice—like Dynamic Health’s Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate—to your post-workout smoothie.

Pin this infographic to keep your post-workout nutrition game strong: 

This Is The Most Common Gym Injury Out There

You’re crushing your last set of push-ups, whipping battle ropes around, or charging through overhead barbell presses, when suddenly you feel it: Something is up with your shoulder.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 8.6 million Americans report physical activity-related injuries each year—and new research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that of all the injuries we rack up in the weight room, a whopping 36 percent are shoulder injuries.

That’s no coincidence: The shoulder, which is a ball and socket joint, is the most complex—and has the greatest range of motion—of any joint in the body, explains physical therapist Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault. Unfortunately, that freedom means that the rotator cuff (the network of ligaments, muscles, and tendons that hold the joint together) is inherently unstable.

When your shoulder moves too far in any direction, or you have muscle or joint imbalances, it’s almost too easy to land yourself with an injury, which can sneak up over time or strike fast—especially if you’re lifting heavy loads.

The rotator cuff usually feels the brunt of it; overuse can cause rotator cuff tendinitis, in which the tendons in the rotator cuff get swollen or inflamed, or even full-on tears, says Wickham. Impingement issues, which happen when the two main shoulder bones (the humerus and scapula) pinch tendons between them when you lift your arm, are also pretty common.

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Similarly, less-than-ideal bench press, military press, or snatch form can cause the shoulder joint to hyperextend or even dislocate (meaning the head of your upper arm bone pops out of place), explains Josh Hillis C.P.T., P.E.S., author of Fat Loss Happens on Monday.

Are Your Shoulders Safe?

A dull ache in your shoulder here and there might indicate a muscular imbalance or just that you used too-heavy a weight too soon. While this could set you up for an injury down the line, you don’t need to panic just yet. “Pain that is severe or sustained, and that you would rank as more than a five out of ten, however, is likely an injury that requires medical attention,” says Wickham.

To keep your shoulders in tip-top shape, you need to work on mobility. Since we spend so much of the day in sub-optimal positions (sitting at our desks, hunched over watching Netflix, driving), we don’t utilize our joints’ full range of motion, and can lose some over time, explains Hillis.

Related: 6 Healthy Habits You’ll Thank Yourself For Starting 20 Years From Now

Spending a few minutes on mobility and range of motion before strength training ensures you can move safely and get the most benefit possible. Before your next shoulder day, try these two moves: First, get on the floor on all fours, with your hands and knees planted. Rotate at your wrists and knees to move your core in five slow and controlled clockwise circles and then five counter-clockwise circles. Then, cycle back and forth between a plank and downward-facing dog eight to 10 times. (You can also follow along with daily mobility videos from programs like Movement Vault or RomWod at home.)

Since the research suggests that shoulder issues often stem from bad exercise form, Hillis also recommends working with an exercise professional to make sure your technique and movement patterns are in the clear.

How Much Cardio Do You Really Need To Do?

For some people, there’s nothing better than a good cardio session, whether it’s a sunrise spin class, a lunchtime run, or a long walk after work. Others, though, prefer to spend their workout time with weights in-hand, avoiding cardio at all costs.

But even the biggest cardio hater has got to wonder: Is skipping out affecting your health? Love it or hate it, here’s how much cardio we all actually need to do.

The Case For Cardio

Each type of exercise offers undeniable benefits. Strength training boosts our metabolism, slashes our risk for health problems like type 2 diabetes, and helps us age better. Meanwhile, cardio torches calories, supports our cardiovascular health (like blood pressure and cholesterol), improves insulin sensitivity, increases lung capacity, promotes better sleep, and combats anxiety and depression, says Mariel Schofield, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., of Florida sports therapy clinic Westlake Sports Therapy. Cardio also keeps our circulatory system working optimally—so we can recover from strength training faster—and improves our body’s ability to utilize oxygen, adds Erica Suter, M.S., C.S.C.S.

In the long run, regular cardio exercise—like walking, swimming, cycling, or stair-climbing—has been shown to protect us against premature cardiovascular-related death while reducing risk of some cancers.

The Cardio Sweet Spot

If you want to improve your fitness or stay in shape, you should work out about five times a week total—three strength training and two cardio, says Yusuf Jeffers C.P.T., C.S.C.S., head coach at Mile High Run Club NYC. The CDC’s recommendation is similar, at 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (about five 30-minute workouts) a week.

Research also supports the idea that it takes just a few cardio sessions a week to reap legitimate health benefits, with one study finding that one to two hours of jogging had the greatest impact on mortality risk, and another finding that three 20- to 40-minute walks a week reduced symptoms of depression.

And for all the weight room addicts who still aren’t sold: According to The American Journal of Cardiology, cardio is more efficient at improving your cardiometabolic health, which means it actually benefits your strength training, too. So choose a form of cardio you enjoy—and get moving.

Optimize Your Cardio For Your Goals

If you’re pretty new to exercise, perform your cardio at a moderate pace. You should be able to speak intermittently with a workout buddy as you go and your heart rate should be between 50 and 70 percent of your max (220 minus your age). Start with 15 to 20 minutes and work your way up to 30 minutes or more.

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From there, how you spend your cardio time should reflect your goals. If you’re training for an endurance event like a running race, obstacle course race, or triathlon, keep your cardio steady but bump your heart rate up to between 70 and 90 percent of your max for at least 10 to 15 minutes of your workout. You should have a hard time saying more than a word or two at a time at this intensity. Up the amount of time you spend in that range as you feel more comfortable.

If you just want to burn as many calories as possible during your cardio sessions, swap steady effort for high-intensity interval training (HIIT), in which you alternate between bursts of all-out effort and low-intensity recovery. Alternate between sprinting and walking on the treadmill, or performing a few rounds bodyweight moves (like air squats and jumping jacks) and resting. These quick workouts (often 30 minutes or less) demand so much of your body that you continue burning calories long after leaving the gym.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

6 Supps That Enhance Your Memory And Help You Focus

In the age of endless push notifications and news updates, some days it feels like the only time we really slow down is when we take a bathroom break. This go-go-go lifestyle can be exhausting, so it’s no wonder 85 percent of Americans turn to caffeine to get them through the day—and many end up feeling even more strung out.

That’s where a newly-hot category of supplements—sometimes referred to as ‘nootropics’—comes in. “Nootropics are broadly defined as anything that enhances your cognitive capacity, from memory to mental agility to concentration,” explains Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D.N., author of The MIND Diet. Biohackers, workaholics, and wellness junkies alike turn to these natural substances to give their brains a boost.

If the following six natural brain and memory supplements aren’t on your radar yet, they should be.

 

1. Ginseng

The herb ginseng has been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years for everything from stomach upset to brain fog, explains Sumeet Sharma, Emory University M.D./Ph.D. candidate and head of Medicine and Science for Nootrobox—but it’s been used primarily for its cognitive benefits in recent decades.

Ginseng is an ‘adaptogen,’ a type of herb that helps protect our body from the negative effects of stress. Studies suggest these herbs can help modulate fatigue and low mood, and enhance attention and stamina.

Related: Adaptogens 101: These Herbs Are Trending For A Reason

Ginseng, in particular, seems to work its magic by boosting blood circulation and neurotransmitter activity in our brain, with one study finding that it helped people feel calmer and improved their performance on a math test.

You can find ginseng extract in capsule or tablet supplements (200 to 400 milligrams) and herbal teas. Just talk to your doc first if you take blood-thinners or diabetes medications, which may interact with the herb, says Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

 

2. MCTs

MCTs, or ‘medium-chain triglycerides,’ a type of fatty acid found in fats like coconut oil, are not only known for their weight management benefits, but also for their ability to support cognitive function.

Much of the research on MCTs and cognitive function looks at people with cognitive decline. Why? The brain’s ability to use glucose (sugar) for energy can decline over time, which contributes to cognitive decline by essentially starving brain cells to death. Meanwhile, the brain’s ability to use ketones (the energy source made from MCTs) remains intact, leading researchers to believe that using MCTs for fuel may help to promote brain health.

Research on healthy adults also suggests MCTs to be a viable and sustainable energy source for the brain, with one study finding that taking 20 to 30 grams of MCTs per day increased ketone levels enough to contribute to almost 10 percent of the brain’s total energy use.

Coconut oil is rich in MCTs, but you can also find pure MCT oils and supplements, says Valdez, who recommends shooting for about 20 grams a day.

 

3. L-Theanine

The amino acid l-theanine, a major component of black and green tea, increases levels of two hormones that help us feel less stressed and more balanced: GABA and dopamine. It’s no wonder a big mug of tea has such a soothing effect!

Interestingly, a study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that 50 milligrams of l-theanine (about two cups of black tea-worth) stimulated something called ‘alpha activity’ in the brain, which is associated with mental calm (but not drowsiness), alertness, and focus. Other research suggests l-theanine is especially helpful when taken alongside caffeine.

Sharma recommends taking l-theanine with your coffee or tea at a two-to-one ratio of l-theanine-to-caffeine—so if you’re drinking a mug of tea that packs around 50 milligrams, take 100 milligrams of l-theanine. Up to 200 milligrams of l-theanine a day appears to be a-okay, but talk to your doctor before taking it if you’re on blood pressure medication, says Valdez.

 

4. Ashwagandha

The name of this plant may be difficult to say five times fast, but its many syllables come with many benefits. The root of the ashwagandha herb has long been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for cognitive function and overall well-being, and is now a popular supplement among biohackers and wellness influencers alike.

Like ginseng, ashwagandha is also considered an adaptogen, and is specifically known for its ability to modulate cortisol production and ease feelings of anxiety, says Sharma. Studies also support its mental performance benefits, with one finding that people with mild cognitive impairments performed better on attention and information processing tests (and reported improved overall memory) after supplementing with 600 milligrams daily for eight weeks.

You can find ashwagandha supplements in capsule or powder form in dosages between 300 and 500 milligrams.

 

5. Maca

Maca root is another adaptogen that’s been getting a lot of buzz lately. Not only has this root herb been shown to help us adapt to stress and support overall vitality, but it’s also been shown support reproductive health and libido.

There isn’t a ton of research on Maca out there yet, but early studies suggest its potential for boosting energy. Maca is popular in both capsule supplements and powders—typically in doses between 1.5 and three grams.

 

6. Fish Oil

Sure, you’ve heard about fish oil’s cardiovascular benefits, but omega-3s also support memory and brain function through their involvement in communication between brain cells.

In fact, one study found that older adults with age-related cognitive decline performed better on memory tests after supplementing with 900 milligrams of omega-3s every day for 24 weeks. A second study also suggests that omega-3s support overall mood stability and feelings of wellness.

Experts recommend eating eight ounces of fish per week to stock the body on ample omega-3s, but if you’re not regularly consuming fish, you likely need a supplement (they often provide about a gram of omega-3s), says Valdez.

11 Caffeine-Free Ways To Power Your Workouts

There’s no denying it: Caffeine is probably the most well-known and effective workout-boosting ingredient out there. It’s also the most widely researched.

Studies have shown that downing caffeine before a workout can make it feel easier, boost your performance, and help ward off soreness afterwards. Caffeine works its magic by stimulating your central nervous system, which increases your output of hormones like epinephrine and ups your heart rate to prep your body for movement and boost your reaction time.

Caffeine isn’t for everyone, though. Different people metabolize caffeine at different rates, so it can mess with some people’s sleep, upset their stomach, or make them feel nervous or jittery. Luckily, if you’re in the caffeine-free camp—or just like to hit the gym at night—there are plenty of caffeine-free workout supplements out there these days (thank you, science!).

Want to crush your next sweat session ‘stim-free’? Here are 11 expert- and research-backed power-ups worth trying.

1. The Obvious: Food

Working out without any calories in your system is like trying to drive a car that’s out of gas. Exactly what you eat before your workout depends on the type, intensity, and duration of exercise you’re doing, but your fuel should always include protein and carbs, says fitness expert Chris Freytag, C.P.T., C.H.C., founder of Get Healthy U. Carbohydrates provide the energy we need to perform while protein supports the repair and growth of our muscles.

Related: How To Pick The Perfect Pre-Workout Snack

Your go-to pre-workout could be a banana or slice of toast with a serving of peanut or almond butter, a handful of nuts, or a slice of deli meat—it’s as simple as that!

 

2. Creatine

Creatine is a popular performance ingredient both on its own and as part of other pre-workout formulas. This quick energy source is naturally produced from three amino acids and stored in our muscles. Studies show that supplementing with creatine can help you build muscle mass and strength over time by helping them work at a higher intensity, says Joy Dubost Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., founder of Dubost Food and Nutrition Solutions.

One study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, for example, found that men who supplemented with creatine made more strength and muscle mass gains after 12 weeks of strength training than those who did not. What’s more, another study found that those who supplemented with creatine also recovered from strength training significantly faster.

You’ll find anywhere between 250 and 850 milligrams of creatine in a three-ounce serving of meat and fish, but can power up your intake (and benefit) by adding a creatine supplement to your routine, says Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Most popular supplements use ‘creatine monohydrate’ and recommend a dose of around five grams a day.

Our Pick: BodyTech 100% Pure Creatine Monohydrate

 

3. Nitric Oxide Boosters

Nitric oxide (NO), a chemical naturally produced in our body, relaxes our blood vessels to increase blood flow. That circulation boost shuttles more oxygen, protein, and other nutrients to our heart, brain, and muscles—which can help our cells churn out more energy so we perform better.

One way to boost NO: beets. (Yes, beets.) Not only is this bright root vegetable chock-full of phytonutrients, antioxidants, and good-for-you carbohydrates, but it’s also packed with nitrates, which are turned into nitric oxide in our body, says Freytag. Drinking a cup of beet juice before exercise helped people work out for longer and use less oxygen to do so, found a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

You can also ramp up your NO production by upping your amino acid intake, since these protein-building molecules contain the nitrogen our bodies need to produce nitric oxide. Two aminos in particular—arginine and citrulline—are best known for their NO and performance-boosting abilities. For example, cyclists who regularly supplemented with citrulline performed better on a timed test and reported feeling less fatigued afterwards than those who took a placebo, found one study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

You’ll find arginine and citrulline in combination pre-workout formulas and as stand-alone supplements.

Our Picks: Dynamic Health Beetroot Juice, PEScience High Volume Supreme Nitric Oxide Matrix    

4. Tomato Juice

You probably shouldn’t fuel your next HIIT class with a Blood Mary—unless you take your cocktail virgin. One small study published in Food and Nutrition Sciences found that people who drank tomato juice prior to an exercise test reported feeling less fatigued throughout than people who drank water.

Researchers credit the lycopene (a potent antioxidant), essential amino acids, and natural sugars in tomato juice for its fatigue-resistant benefits. While the amino acids and sugars provide the body with energy, the lycopene acts against free radical compounds produced during exercise.

 

5. Electrolytes

In an effort to cut down on sugar, we may have stopped slugging back Glacier Crush-flavored sports drinks—but that doesn’t mean we still can’t benefit from workout-boosting electrolytes. Electrolytes are electrically-charged minerals in our blood and body fluids that help balance the amount of water in our body, our blood pH, and muscle and nerve function. Calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium are all electrolytes. When we sweat a lot or are dehydrated, we lose a lot of these minerals—which research has associated with a decline in performance.

That’s why Freytag (like many athletes) adds an electrolyte tablet to her water bottle to sip on before and throughout her workouts. “It’s simple, inexpensive, and tastes good,” she says. Look for an electrolyte tablet or drink mix with a short ingredients list and less than five grams of sugar.

Our Pick: BodyTech Lemon Lime Electrolyte Fizz

 

6. BCAAs

Of the 22 amino acids we need to build all of the proteins in our body, we have to get nine from food (often animal proteins), since we can’t make them on our own. Of those nine, three aminos, known as the ‘branched-chain amino acids’ or ‘BCAAs,’ are particularly important for exercise.

The BCAAs consist of leucine, isoleucine, and valine—and when our muscles are low on stored energy from carbs called glycogen, they can use these aminos for fuel, says Freytag.

One study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that when glycogen-depleted people consumed 300 milligrams of BCAAs, they were able to exercise for longer and burn more fat while doing so.  Research also shows that supplementing with aminos can help you better handle back-to-back sessions if you’re churning out two-a-days.

Freytag recommends adding a scoop of BCAA mix to your water before strength and interval training—just look for one that’s low in sugar.

Our Pick: BodyTech Fruit Punch Critical Aminos XT

 

7. HMB

HMB (‘beta-hydroxy-beta- methylbutyrate’) first entered the fitness scene decades ago, when high price tags kept it from really taking off. But with today’s lower prices, HMB is back to stay. “In science-speak, HMB is a product of the amino acid leucine,” explains Dubost. While leucine promotes muscle synthesis (building), HMB prevents muscle breakdown from occurring in the first place.

One review published in Nutrition & Metabolism suggests HMB may decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness, along with markers of muscle damage and body fat, while increasing performance. Meanwhile, a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that three grams of HMB per day helped athletes make strength, power, and hypertrophy gains even while training vigorously.

Want to give it a shot? Aim for three grams total a day, suggests Dubost.

Our Pick: BodyTech HMB (1,000mg)

 

8. Ginseng

Ginseng has long been used to support energy and vitality by boosting blood circulation and neurotransmitter activity in our brain. A review published in the Journal of Ginseng Research suggests ginseng may benefit both mental and physical performance—though other research on its impact on athletic performance has been a mixed bag, says Dubost.

You can find ginseng in capsule supplements, but it’s also popular in herbal teas.

Our Pick: plnt American Ginseng (400mg)

 

9. Beta-Alanine

Beta-alanine is a modified version of the amino acid alanine that our body uses to form a compound called carnosine, which helps reduce the buildup of hydrogen ions in our muscles and delay fatigue. One review published in Amino Acids found beta-alanine to be particularly helpful during high-intensity exercise (think interval or circuit training with work periods lasting a few minutes).

Because levels of beta-alanine in our body are usually very low, the benefits of supplementing may take a few weeks to notice, says Valdez. Supplements often provide anywhere from 800 to 2,000 milligrams, so Valdez recommends talking with a health professional about the right dosage for you.

Our Pick: BodyTech Beta-Alanine (1,600mg)

 

10. Carnitine

Carnitine is a compound our body makes from amino acids to carry fatty acids into our cells for energy—and up to 99 percent of it is stored in our muscles. Though previous evidence has often been inconclusive, long-term research shows that six months of carnitine supplementation can significantly increase levels of carnitine in muscles and buffer the buildup of lactate, which contributes to performance declines during high-intensity workouts. This research also shows that people who supplement with carnitine use less muscle glycogen during lower-intensity exercise, suggesting it may support fat burning.

You’ll find carnitine supplements ranging in dose from 500 to 2,000 milligrams, says Valdez.

Our Pick: The Vitamin Shoppe Raspberry Carnipure™ L-Carnitine (3,00mg)

 

11. Cordyceps

Mushrooms for health and wellness are trendier than ever—and the cordyceps variety has proved especially helpful for holistic-minded fitness enthusiasts. Traditionally used in Chinese medicine, the mushroom has been shown to support our body’s production of ATP (a.k.a. energy), which can benefit everyone from world-class athletes to elderly people trying to stay active, says Valdez. (An added bonus: These ‘shrooms have also been shown to stimulate our immune response.)

You can load up on cordyceps by taking a tablet or capsule supplement, or using a drink mix, like Four Sigmatic’s Cordyceps Mushroom Elixir Mix. Valdez recommends between three and nine grams twice a day.

Our Pick: The Vitamin Shoppe Cordyceps (1040mg)

The Post-Workout Stretch Routine You’ll Never Want To Skip

It’s tempting to bolt to the locker room or the car, still sweaty and out of breath, as soon as you finish your workout. After all, you’re busy and stretching after a workout isn’t nearly as important as the workout itself, right? We’ve all done it—but skipping our cool-down is one bad fitness habit we need to break.

Taking a few minutes to slow down ensures you walk out of the gym with a settled heart rate and central nervous system after pushing your body during your workout, says Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault.

Good ol’ static stretching helps your body shift back into ‘rest’ mode and gives you a chance to work on your range of motion, so you can keep moving to your fullest potential day after day. Plus, stretching helps ward off delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and decrease your risk for injury, according to a review published in the Journal of Athletic Training.

Sold yet? Tack this trainer-tested, full-body stretch onto the end of your next workout to show your hard-working body some TLC. We promise you’ll be out the door in less than 10 minutes.


1. Cat-Cow

The cat-cow movement, which is driven by your core and pelvis, is a great full-body stretch to do after a workout. It can also counteract bad posture by increasing your awareness of your spine position, says Wickham.

How to do it: Start on all fours, looking at the floor a few inches in front of your fingers and lengthening from your head to your tailbone.

Begin the ‘cat’ phase by using your abs to curl your spine up towards the ceiling while tucking your tailbone as you exhale. (You’ll look like a Halloween cat.)  Allow your chin to reach down and in toward your chest so your ears are between your biceps.

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Begin the ‘cow’ phase by allowing your belly to drop down to the floor and your back to arch as you inhale. Broaden across your shoulder blades, draw your shoulders back away from your ears, and lift your chin and chest to gaze up toward the ceiling.

Slowly cycle through eight to 10 rounds of cat-cow, keeping stress and pressure out of your head and neck.

2. Thoracic Spine Rotation

This move stretches your thoracic spine (middle and upper back) while reducing stiffness in your lower back by taking the muscles around your spine through their full ranges of motion, Wickham says.

How to do it: Start on all fours with your fingers spread slightly. Sit back on your heels and allow your forearms to drop to the ground. Keeping your right arm planted, place your left hand behind your head. Exhale and rotate your left elbow up to the sky, stretching the front of your torso. Hold for one deep breath in and out. Return to the starting position and repeat for five to 10 breaths. Switch arms and repeat.

3. Standing Side Bend

This simple position stretches your side-body muscles like your obliques, lats, even hip flexors, says Wickham. You’ll also engage the muscles you’re stretching (called an ‘isometric hold’), which research shows can boost flexibility and mobility even more than typical static stretching.

How to do it: Stand with your feet hips-width apart and lift your right arm straight up above your head. Bend to your torso to the left so your left hand extends down your left leg and you feel a stretch in your right oblique. Actively punch down with your left hand and up with your right hand and hold this position for three to five breaths before returning to a standing position. Perform five rounds per side.

4. Wall Stretch

Whether you just bench pressed, finished a vigorous Vinyasa class, or spent the day hunched over your desk before hitting the gym, chances are your pecs (chest muscles) could benefit from an extra stretch. That’s where the wall stretch comes in. It’ll also help loosen up your shoulders and triceps, Wickham says.

Related: Bad Posture Leads To Big Problems—Here’s How To Fix It

How to do it: Stand facing a wall (or pole) and place your right palm and forearm on the wall at shoulder-height. Slowly twist your feet to the left, pulling your body away from your outstretched right arm. Stop when you feel the stretch in your right pec. Exhale, pull your lower abs into your spine, and relax your shoulder blades back away from your ears. Then, walk a little further  to the left left. Here, contract your chest muscles for 10 seconds, and then relax them for 10 seconds. If possible, take another step forward and repeat one more time. Release the stretch and repeat on the opposite side.

5. Hamstring Stretch

If you run, bike, or work a desk job, chances are your hamstrings need some extra attention. Hamstring flexibility doesn’t just help you touch your toes; it’s also hugely important for the health of your hips, knees, and back, according to research published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

How to do it: Find a bench, box, or railing that’s a little lower than hip-height. Stand facing your platform and prop your right foot up so your heel is planted on the platform. Flex your foot and bend forward by creasing at your hips. Then, flex the hamstring and quads of your elevated foot for 10 seconds. Think about driving your heel down into the box. Relax your muscles and try to stretch a little deeper, then contract for another 10 seconds. Repeat for one minute, and then switch sides. Aim for three one-minute sets per side.

Related: I Stretched For 30 Days With The Goal Of Touching My Toes—See How It Went

9 Possible Reasons Why Your Fat Loss Has Plateaued

Anyone in the history of the world who’s ever tried to lose weight knows the struggle that is hitting a plateau. At first, the pounds practically fall off and you feel great (like motivational speaker-level great)—but then your progress starts to slow and suddenly you find yourself completely stalled. It’s the worst.

Plateaus are a total bummer, but before you swear off the veggies and running sneakers, know this: What you’re experiencing is completely normal—if not expected. Why? The leaner you get, the fewer calories your body needs, explains certified weight management specialist Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. Fail to adjust accordingly (and most of us do), and your fat loss peters out. Plus, as our bodies get fitter and adapt to our go-to workouts, the same routine won’t continue to do the trick.

Fire up your fat-burning engines and bust straight through that plateau by addressing these weight-loss saboteurs.

1. You Hit The Gym Without A Plan

When you walk aimlessly into the gym, you pretty much set yourself up for a ‘meh’ workout. “It’s hard to stay motivated when you don’t know what you’re supposed to be focusing on,” says Lisa Niren C.P.T., head trainer of CITYROW in New York City. “Having a plan ensures that you will be spending your workout time in the most strategic way.”

To get started, plan your workouts by the week. Aim for two to three days of strength training and two days of aerobic training (cardio) like a HIIT or kickboxing class, run through town, or interval workout on the rowing machine or stair-stepper. From there, use a notebook or an app to track the specifics, like how much weight you used for strength-training exercises or how fast you sprinted on the rower, she suggests. Tracking your progress will help you continue to push yourself—and know when it’s time to mix things up.

2. You Focus Too Much On Cardio

If you’re forcing yourself through endless miles on the treadmill or flights of stairs on the stair-master, chances are you’re sabotaging both your results and your sanity. While traditional cardio (in conjunction with a healthy diet) can help create the daily calorie deficit that’s essential to weight loss, it won’t keep you seeing progress long-term, says Danielle Bogarty, C.P.T.

The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories your body burns at rest—and the only way to build significant muscle is strength training. If weight loss is priority number-one, those two to three strength-training sessions a week are essential, she says.

3. You Don’t Do HIIT

As nice as it is to zone out on the elliptical and watch TV for an hour, it’s not the most fat-loss-friendly cardio approach. To rev your results, switch out that steady-state cardio for high-intensity interval training (HIIT). By alternating between intervals of all-out effort and recovery, you push your body to its metabolic limits, meaning you burn more calories in less time and keep on burning for up to 24 hours afterward as your body repairs, Niren explains. For maximum plateau-busting effect, limit your rest periods as much as possible: “They should be just enough time for you to recover so you can go all-out in your next work interval,” she explains.

You can still have elliptical dates with your favorite Netflix show, just save them for recovery day. Speaking of which…

4. You’re Not Recovering Properly

As much as you may think that losing weight means never missing a workout, more exercise isn’t necessarily what you need when you hit a plateau. In fact, the muscle recovery that occurs between workouts is when the magic really happens. Without ample time to repair and grow back stronger, your muscles continue to break down and over time your total muscle mass may decrease. That’s bad news for both your performance and your baseline calorie-burning potential. Remember: Recovery means more muscle and more muscle means more fat loss.

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That’s why Barry’s Bootcamp trainer Ashley Rutkowski, C.P.T, recommends her clients incorporate two active recovery days into their weekly routines.

Related: 8 Things To Do On An Active Recovery Day

If you’re stuck in Plateau City and feeling extra burnt out, consider taking a full recovery week to catch up on sleep, try a yoga class, or just relax, Rutkowski says. That week off will also slightly decondition your body, so you’ll burn more calories when you get back on your workout grind.

5. You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep and weight are so closely tied that research suggests missing out on just 30 minutes can increase your risk of obesity and diabetes and that just one night of severe sleep deprivation can reduce your insulin sensitivity by as much as 25 percent, making it harder for your body to process sugar.

Plus, missing out on sleep has also been shown to increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which promotes belly fat storage.

To power through your workouts, resist avoid cravings, and keep your hormones as balanced as possible, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night, suggests Taub-Dix.

6. Your Portions Are Generous

Even when you eat healthy, disregarding portion sizes can push you into calorie overload and undercut your fat-burning potential—especially when you’re trying to lose those last few pounds. For example: Topping your pre-workout toast with jumbo spoonfuls of PB alone can add 700 extra calories to your diet per week.

For optimal weight loss, make sure you’re following proper portion sizes to a ‘T.’ Three big ones to remember: a serving of protein (like chicken or steak) is three ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards; a serving of cooked carbs like pasta or quinoa is half a cup, or about the size of a tennis ball; and a serving of fats like nuts is just one ounce, or about a palm-full, Cording explains. If necessary, measure out and weigh your food until you’ve got your portion sizes down enough to eyeball them.

7. You’re Not Eating Enough Calories

When we want to lose weight, calories often become the enemy. The thing is, our bodies need the energy they get from calories, so when we deprive ourselves, we often feel sluggish and cranky—making everything from sitting through meetings to hitting the gym more difficult and less enjoyable, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N, author of Read It Before You Eat It.

The fat-loss sabotage doesn’t end there: According to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, women who followed a 1,200 (or less) calorie diet produced more of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to issues like trouble sleeping and fat storage around the middle.

Not to mention, your body reacts to calorie deprivation by slowing your metabolism, so you can function off the few calories you do consume, meaning you burn fewer throughout the day, Taub-Dix adds.

If your weight won’t budge and you feel sloth-like or just plain hangry all the time, it’s probably a sign of too few calories, says Taub-Dix. Instead of focusing on calories, just concentrate on eating more quality foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

8. You’ve Been Drinking A Lot

Alcohol’s ‘empty calories’ provide zero nutrition or health benefits, so it’s no surprise that it’s not a worthy part of a weight-loss plan. Your average bottle of beer packs close to 150 calories, a glass of wine comes in around 120, and a small rum and coke contains a whopping 155. Those liquid calories add up—and mess with your fat-loss efforts—real quick.

“If you’re going to drink, drink what you’ll be satisfied with the least of,” recommends Cording. For example, if you want a margarita, but opt for a vodka soda because it has fewer calories, you’re more likely to drink four of them to quash your cravings and end up consuming far more calories than you would have with a single marg.

9. You Eat Well 90% Of The Time… But Completely Lose Control The Other 10%

Indulging is part of life—and there’s nothing wrong with it! If you rarely allow yourself to indulge, you eventually hit a breaking point and spiral into a cookie binge instead of savoring one or two.

While one out-of-control eating fest won’t automatically derail your progress, it can damage your relationship with food and make living a consistently healthy, balanced lifestyle more difficult, says Taub-Dix.

Related: Cheat Meals Get A Lot Of Hate—Here’s How To Make Them Work For You

To manage cravings productively, keep track of what you crave long-term by keeping a food journal, suggests Cording. If you notice you’ve been craving bacon, make yourself a serving of bacon instead of continuing to feel deprived or going overboard on turkey bacon, or whatever ‘healthier’ food you eat instead. Stick to proper portion sizes and these treats will keep you sane without derailing your progress.

What Happened When I Drank Apple Cider Vinegar Every Morning For 2 Weeks

I consider myself a fit, healthy, wannabe wellness goddess. I do CrossFit® five times a week, attend yoga class regularly, frequent local health food joints, and fire up a meditation app during my morning subway commute.

My morning ritual, though, is as far from @yoga_girl’s or Gabby Bernstein’s as it can be. It usually starts with me hitting ‘snooze’ five times followed by 10 minutes spent mindlessly scrolling through Instagram before I finally trudge over to the fridge and pour myself a mason jar-full of cold brew coffee.

Then I crawl right back into bed with my laptop to start some work before finally getting up, washing my face, making some breakfast, and heading to yoga.

Sure, it’s not like I’m eating a box of munchkins every morning, but in the era of A.M. meditation, gratitude journaling, turmeric lattes, and collagen smoothies, I often wonder if my morning ritual could be doing a little more for me. Enter apple cider vinegar (ACV), stage left.

Pretty much the OG of at-home-remedies, ACV is a favorite among health gurus, beauty fanatics, and wellness junkies, with many people swearing by a shot (or a few tablespoons) of the stuff first thing in the morning. That’s because of its purported ability to boost digestion, support a healthy weight, and amplify your glow from the inside out. Understandably so, considering ACV packs antioxidants, B vitaminscalcium, and potassium, and supports healthy gut bacteria. Research shows that it can boost heart and immune health, and even support healthy blood sugar.

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Was this just the pungent punch-up my morning routine needed? I was about to find out. I bought myself a big ‘ole bottle of Bragg apple cider vinegar, imagining that with every sip of the pungent stuff I’d feel more invigorated, digest like the wind, and move one step closer to ‘Gabby Bernstein’ status.

I vowed to start each day for two weeks straight with ACV to decide if it was for me—and the results were a bit surprising.

I Confirmed That I’m Bad At Taking Shots

I played rugby in college, so I spent most of my time doing sprints, not shots. I never really liked the taste of alcohol, anyway, and as I became even more dedicated to fitness after graduation, I didn’t want drinking get in the way of my gains.

That said, as much I’d like to say that I waltzed into my kitchen on morning number-one and flawlessly threw back a shot of ACV, that’s not quite how it went. I poured a few teaspoons of ACV into a glass, but before I could even attempt to drink it the aggressive odor of vinegar practically punched me in the face. So, I totally chickened out, pinched my nose with my free hand, and spent the next five minutes taking baby sips of the stuff.

Once I finally got it all down, though, something magical happened: I felt instantly awake. (And, to get the eye-watering taste out of my mouth, I brushed my teeth before my morning cup of coffee for the first time ever.)

Since the whole shot thing clearly wasn’t going to work for me, I decided to dilute my ACV in water. (Lots of non-shot-takers mix their vinegar into water, tea, or seltzer—sometimes adding a little honey and fresh lemon to help the stuff go down easier.) For the remaining 13 days, I either poured two teaspoons of ACV into my water bottle and downed it bit by bit throughout the morning, or splurged on a Bragg’s ginger apple cider vinegar drink, which dilutes the ACV and balances it out with ginger spice and a bit of stevia. Toning down the kick of the vinegar made my new morning routine much more tolerable.

I Felt Healthy As A Horse

If I do say so myself, I have a quality immune system. I haven’t gotten sick—like ‘can’t get out of bed’ sick—in years. But I’d like to think that my morning ACV, which I started sipping during the height of cold and flu season, helped keep my system strong and my body able to work out twice a day without feeling rundown.

Things Got A Little Stinky

By ‘things,’ I mean my bodily fluids. Within five hours of my first shot, I noticed my urine smelled a bit like asparagus. And when I hit the gym or got sweaty in yoga class, the smell that oozed from my armpits—and everywhere else that sweats—was equally off. The acidic stench (a potent combination of vinegar and feet) burned my nose. I barely let myself breathe while doing downward-facing dog and child’s pose. By day three, I learned to be extra generous with my deodorant before doing anything remotely active.

And look, I know a vagina isn’t supposed to smell like a field of daisies and that it’s normal to smell a little different depending on where you’re at in your cycle, what you ate, or how much you’re sweating—but when I started drinking ACV, boy did I notice a change. A little concerned, I called my gyno to fill her in on the situation. She said that introducing such an acidic food into my pretty consistent diet may have thrown off my pH, and that my vagina was likely adjusting to the change. Interestingly though, she also mentioned that since ACV is so acidic, it can help mitigate some bacteria overgrowth—a major vagina win. At the end of the two weeks, though, I was still a bit smelly, waiting for my body to adjust.

My Digestion Felt The Difference

My digestive system typically moves pretty quickly—or quickly enough that I poop three or four times a day. I’m a creature of habit and nosh on pretty much the same healthy eats every day: oatmeal for breakfast, salad with chicken for lunch, ground turkey with kale for dinner, an absurd amount of peanut butter for dessert, and two apples and a protein shake whenever I need a snack. I also faithfully take a probiotic every night before bed—so my system knows what’s up. But when I first added ACV to the equation, something weird happened: I couldn’t go. I spent the first two days sitting on the toilet willing my body to do its thing—but nothing.

Dr. Google told me that drinking an extra cup or two of water might help get things moving, so on day three I vowed to drink tons of water in hopes of easing what was now straight-up discomfort. Much to my relief, I went to the bathroom after yoga, then again after lunch, and then a third time right before CrossFit.

In the name of regularity, I continued drinking as much water as possible throughout my experiment—and it kept me going two or three times a day. Some research suggests that the acids in ACV slow the activity of certain digestive enzymes, which can delay stomach emptying, explaining why my usually-hyper-speedy digestive system acted a little differently.

The ACV Checked My Appetite

Every morning after downing my morning vinegar, I felt really full (and bloated) for a couple of hours. I’m an avid kombucha drinker, so I was no stranger to this full sensation, though. Suddenly I understood the research around how drinking ACV can cause people to eat fewer calories.

Eventually I forced myself to eat some breakfast—I had to fuel my afternoon workout, after all—but I didn’t actually feel hungry until around lunchtime!

My post-ACV full-and-bloated sensation stuck around for the full two weeks. Moving forward, if I’m going to inflate for a few hours, I think I’d rather it be from a deliciously fizzy bottle of kombucha instead of ACV, though.

My Skin Looked The Same

Throughout my ACV experiment, I regularly rocked mud masks and chugged extra water (partially just to wash the vinegary burn out of my mouth)—so if my face looked extra glow-y, I can’t say it was thanks to the ACV. I’m sure the extra antioxidants the ACV offered didn’t do my complexion any harm, though!

So, Will I Continue?

My experiment definitely brought ACV’s very-real effects to life. Who can say ‘no’ to the vitamins, minerals, and gut-boosting compounds in this stuff? Though I won’t continue to swig down ACV in the A.M., I want to put the rest of my bottle to good use. I called my go-to nutritionist Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., who recommended using ACV in salad dressings—which is how I’ll be reaping the benefits of this golden liquid from now on.

Related: 14 Practical (And Unexpected!) Uses For Apple Cider Vinegar

8 Cardio Myths It’s Time To Stop Believing

Cardio is a bit of a controversial subject in the fitness world. On one end you’ve got endurance die-hards who swear by the benefits of a nice, long run, and on the other end you’ve got strength training enthusiasts who limit cardio as much as they possibly can. Even if you don’t have a hardcore cardio opinion, you’ve probably got a few questions about this often-misunderstood form of exercise!

We asked three fitness experts to clear up the cardio confusion so you can save yourself time, energy, and loads of motivation. You’ll work out smarter, protect your health, and charge towards the results you really want.

Myth 1: Doing tons of cardio is the best way to lose weight.

When we want to lose weight, we think about burning as many calories as possible—and logging endless miles on the treadmill or flights of stairs on the stair-master seems like the way to do it. Though traditional cardio workouts will help you create a daily calorie deficit, they’re not your best bet long-term, says Lisa Niren C.P.T., head trainer of CITYROW in New York City.

The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn even at rest—meaning you contribute to that caloric deficit just by living—and to really build that muscle, you need to strength train. Cardio can actually burn both fat and muscle, so doing too much can actually decrease your muscle mass, slow your metabolism, and undermine your ability to lose weight, Niren says.

Related: Why Cardio Is NOT The Best Way To Lose Weight

A workout routine that supports lasting weight loss combines regular strength training (about two or three days per week) with some high-intensity cardio like interval sprints or kickboxing, suggests Christi Marraccini, C.P.T., head coach at Tone House in New York City.

Myth 2: You need to do at least 30 minutes of cardio for it to be worthwhile.

Any movement you can squeeze in does your body good, so don’t throw in the towel and stay on the couch just because you’ll only have 20 minutes to sweat. Maximize the health benefit of short cardio workouts by pushing yourself to keep your heart rate elevated to 70 to 85 percent of your max heart rate (220 minus your age) for at least 10 to 15 minutes, says Hannah Davis, C.S.C.S., creator of Operation Bikini Body Abs. Working at this intensity will help improve your aerobic capacity and burn more calories.

To really maximize your workout’s calorie-burning potential, swap steady-state cardio for high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Because HIIT involves bursts of intense effort, you’ll burn more calories in less time (and in the hours after you finish) than you would with steady-state cardio.

In HIIT workouts, you’ll alternate between bursts of all-out effort (they can last anywhere between five seconds and a few minutes) that rocket your heart rate to between 80 and 95 percent of your max and recovery periods that last long enough for your heart rate to drop back down to between 40 and 50 percent of your max, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. You can do HIIT workouts on cardio machines, or use bodyweight movements like burpees, jump squats, box jumps, and more.

Myth 3: You should do cardio every single day.

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: if you want to lose weight, your workout routine will need to emphasize strength training, not just cardio! Plus, even if weight-loss isn’t your goal, hitting cardio every day can backfire. Why? When you work out, you break down your muscles so that they can rebuild to become even bigger, stronger, and more capable. To do that, though, your body needs ample time to recover.

Pushing yourself to exercise every day can actually lead to overtraining, a state in which your body doesn’t have enough time to recover and rebuild muscle, and you experience issues like muscle breakdown, fatigue, and moodiness. That’s why Marraccini recommends one to two days of active recovery per week.

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If you’re feeling uncharacteristically unmotivated, moody, tired, or sick, skip the cardio and take an active recovery day instead.

Myth 4: Yoga doesn’t count as cardio.

Yogis will be glad to know that according to research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, yoga can provide benefits similar to those of traditional lower-intensity cardio workouts, like decreased risks of metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and poor cholesterol, as well as improved triglyceride levels and lower body mass.

Not all yoga classes are created equal, though. If you want to swap your light swim, walk, or bike ride for yoga, look for a class described as ‘power, ‘fast,’ or ‘hot,’ which will be more intense and boost your heart rate, according to yoga teacher and ICE NYC mobility instructor Gabrielle Morbitzer. At the end of the day, though, while can sub yoga in for lower-intensity workouts, it won’t have the same body and fitness effects of more vigorous workouts, like HIIT.

Myth 5: Fasted cardio torches the most fat.

If your body doesn’t have any calories from food to burn for exercise, it’ll dip further into your fat stores to power you through, right? As logical as the theory might sound, it’s not quite true in practice. Research shows that people burn the same amount of fat during steady cardio regardless of whether or not they ate beforehand. Plus, research has also shown that skipping a pre-workout snack can increase muscle breakdown, which sabotages your metabolism and ability to burn fat.

To perform at its best, your body needs fuel—so when you work out on an empty stomach, you may not be able to push yourself as hard. “That means your intensity may drop and your calorie burn ends up being lower than it could have been,” says Davis.

If working out first thing in the morning works best for your schedule, stick with it—but don’t force early-A.M. workouts or starve yourself before hitting the gym in the name of fat-burning. If you have time, eat a snack that contains some carbs and protein about an hour before getting sweaty.

Myth 6: You have to stay in the ‘fat-burning zone’ to burn fat.

The ‘fat-burning zone,’ which you’ve probably seen identified on cardio machines as being between 50 and 65 percent of your max heart rate, sounds like the place to be if you want your cardio workouts to help you lose weight. When you work at this intensity, you primarily use your aerobic energy system and burn fat for energy, explains Niren. Though a higher number of the total calories you burn will come from fat, you burn far fewer calories than you would exercising above your aerobic threshold, at 70 to 80 percent of your max heart rate. The higher the demand you put on your muscles, the more damage you inflict and the harder your body has to work to recover (all of which takes calories), says Davis.

Myth 7: You can skip leg day if you do cardio activities like cycling and running.

Cardio lovers and marathoners who avoid the squat rack, know this: Traditional cardio doesn’t build muscle or challenge your muscles through a full range of motion—both of which prevent injury—like strength training does. In fact, when you focus just on cardio, your body adapts and requires less and less energy to get through your usual routine over time—leading you straight into a plateau. While this is good news if you need to ration energy to get through a marathon, it’s bad news if you want to lose weight or build strength, says Niren.

Related: 6 Reasons You Should Never Skip Leg Day

Incorporate leg-strengthening exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges into your workout routine regularly in order to burn more calories, build strong legs, and lose weight more efficiently.

Myth 8: You should always do cardio before strength training.

Everyone and their mother has their own ideas about how you should structure your workouts, but whether you hit cardio or weights first really depends on your goals. “If you’re training for a race, I recommend doing cardio before strength” says Davis. In that case, your cardio pace and performance are higher priority than how much weight you use in the squat rack. If you’re not training for anything, though, strength train first so you’ll be as fresh as possible to lift heavy and maintain proper form and technique, Niren says. Plus, if you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll use glycogen fuel your strength training and more likely to burn fat for fuel during your cardio.

7 Stretches That’ll Help Fix Your Slouchy Shoulders

If you spend eight plus hours hunched over your desk at work, sit some more while you commute, and spend an hour or two watching Stranger Things before bed, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, Americans spend an average of 13 hours a day sitting.

While a sedentary lifestyle may seem ‘normal’ these days, it’s definitely not good for our bodies. Sitting all the time tightens up the muscles in our chest, neck, shoulders, back, and core, and can lead to muscle weakness, limited flexibility, joint and back pain, headaches, and a generally slouchy posture, says Marina Mangano, D.C., founder of Chiro Yoga Flow.

Our posture also affects how our blood circulates, which hormones our body releases, and how we generally feel overall. Research out of Harvard University found that study participants who slouched while sitting in a chair (called a ‘low-power position’) before an interview fared worse than participants to stood tall (called a ‘high-power position’). According to the study, low-power positions are associated with feelings of anxiety and increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

No matter how many years you’ve spent slouching, you can fix your weak posture, stop feeling as tense as a marble statue, and have a better range of motion. How? Stretching, of course! “Just fifteen minutes a day can make a real difference” says Aixa Goodrich, D.C., F.M.P., of South Florida Chiropractic Center.

Try these seven yoga poses—which work together to open the chest, loosen the shoulders, and strengthen the back—to increase your body awareness, relax, and gradually realign your body and improve your posture.

1. Active Child’s Pose

Child’s pose helps you explore the range of motion in your shoulders and lengthen your spine, explains Gabrielle Morbitzer, yoga and mobility instructor for ICE NYC. Plus, it’s soothing as heck.

How to do it: Start on your hands and knees. Widen your knees so that they are more than shoulders-width apart. Press the tops of your feet into the mat and touch your big toes to each other. Crawl your hands forward, and either extend your arms straight out towards the front of the mat, reaching through your fingertips, or drape them on the floor alongside your body. Slowly drop your hips back to rest on your heels and rest your forehead on the floor. Breathe here for five to 10 deep breaths.

2. Cat-Cow

Your core and pelvis should drive the cat-cow flow: “As you inhale you create an anterior tilt to the pelvis so that your tailbone is facing the ceiling, and as you exhale you create a posterior tilt so that your tailbone is turned towards the ground,” says Morbitzer. This movement sequence helps increase spinal awareness, which is a large part of less-than-perfect posture, she says.

How to do it: Start on all fours with your shoulders stacked over your wrists, your hips stacked over your knees, and the tops of your feet pressed into the ground. Look down a few inches in front of your fingers and lengthen from your head down to your tailbone.

To begin the ‘cat’ phase, use your abs to curl your spine up towards the ceiling tuck your tailbone under using (making the shape of a Halloween cat) as you exhale. Lengthen your neck and allow your chin to reach down and in toward your chest so your ears come down by your biceps.

To begin the ‘cow’ phase, swoop and scoop your pelvis so your belly drops down to the floor as you inhale. Broaden across your shoulder blades, drawing your shoulders away from your ears, and lift your chin and chest to gaze up toward the ceiling.

Cycle through cat-cow a few times, keeping tension and pressure out of the head and neck.

3. Camel Pose

Camel is a back-bend pose that helps improve arm strength and shoulder flexibility, says Mangago. It forces you to completely open up, countering the position you’re in all day at work.

How to do it: Kneel on the floor so your knees are stacked over your hips and the tops of your feet press into the ground. Zip your hands up the side of your body until your thumbs reach your armpits. Hook your thumbs into your pits for support, engage your core, and slowly begin to lean back so your chest opens up towards the ceiling.

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In this position, reach your hands back one at a time and grab onto your heels. (If you can’t reach your heels, tuck your toes under or use a block.) If it feels good, drop your head backwards and open your throat towards the ceiling. To intensify the move, bring your hips forward so they’re stacked over your hips. Hold this position for one minute, or about 10 long breaths.

4. Cow Face Pose

This pose opens the hips, shoulders, and chest. The best part about it, though? “While there is a hip opening component, people can practice the top portion of the pose at their desks,” says Mangano. Try practicing the top portion of this pose for one minute every hour during the work day, she suggests.

How to do it: Sit on the floor in a cross-legged position with your right leg over your left. Slide your knees in toward your center line so the right knee stacks directly on top of the left—or as close to this position as possible. Then, reach your left arm straight up towards the ceiling and bend your left elbow so that your left palm is facing the back of your neck. Raise your right arm out to the side, bend your elbow, and slide your right hand up the center of the back with your palm facing away from your body. If you can, clasp your hands. If you can’t, grab each end of a yoga strap, small towel, or T-shirt, and try again. Hold for 10 breaths, then release the pose and repeat with the left leg and right arm on top.

5. Downward Facing Dog

This staple pose, which opens up the chest and shoulders, can help relieve posture-related neck and back pain and help you stand up a little straighter, says Morbitzer.

How to do it:  Start on all fours. Tuck your toes, push your knees up off the floor, and lift your hips high, reaching your tailbone towards the ceiling. You should look like an upside-down V. Reach your heels back toward the mat and drop your head so that your neck is long. Press into the knuckles on your forefingers and thumbs to alleviate pressure on your wrists and make sure your wrist creases stay parallel to the front edge of your mat. To alleviate the pressure on your wrists, press into the knuckles of your forefinger and thumbs. Hold this position for at least three deep breaths.

If you don’t have the upper-body strength needed to hold this pose (it requires a good amount!), you might compensate by scrunching your shoulders up to your ears. If you notice yourself doing this, create space in your neck by actively drawing your shoulder blades down your back. If your shoulder blades begin to tense up, bend your knees and lower into child’s pose to rest until you’re ready to hold down dog again.

Related: Bad Posture Leads To Big Problems—Here’s How To Fix It

6. Plow Pose

This pose helps lengthen the upper-back, and, depending on the variation, open up the shoulders, notes Mangano. This is a deep stretch, so don’t force your body to do too much too soon.

How to do it: Lie on your back with your arms beside you and your palms facing the floor. Inhale and use your core muscles to lift your feet off the floor and raise your legs vertically so they form a 90-degree angle with your torso. Keeping your legs straight, lift your butt and use your abs to bring your feet up and over your head until your toes touch the floor behind your head. Then, either press your palms into the floor behind you or interlace your fingers behind your back and straighten your arms. Focus on pressing your shoulder blades into the floor. Keep the neck straight and the look upwards. If your hands are clasped, try to hold the position for five deep breaths. If your palms are pressed into the floor, try to hold for ten breaths. To come out of the pose, release your arms, lift your feet up off the floor, and roll the spine one vertebra at a time to slowly bring your legs back around and lower them down to your mat, while keeping your legs straight and feet together.

7. Bow Pose

“Bow pose help to counteract slouched shoulders by opening up the front of the body and strengthening the back of the body,” says Mangano.

How to do it: Begin lying flat on your stomach with your chin on the mat and your hands resting on either side of you. Then, bend your knees and bring your heels as close to your buttocks as you can. Reach backwards with both hand and grab onto your outer ankles. As you inhale, lift your heels up towards the ceiling so that your chest, thighs, and upper torso lift up off the mat. To intensify the stretch, try to lift your heels higher while keeping your tailbone pressed into the mat. Look forward and draw your shoulders away from your ears. Hold this position for 10 breaths. Release on an exhale by slowly lowering your thighs, and then the rest of your body, to the ground.

Related: Support your routine with all sorts of yoga accessories.

7 Signs You’re Over-Training

Whether you’re training for a race or competition or just serious about your workout grind, it can be easy to let a commitment to fitness to turn into an obsession. And when you just can’t miss a workout, your gym time can become more of a burden on your body than a benefit.

Why? Working out inflicts minor trauma on your body by creating micro-tears in your muscles, which then repair themselves and grow back stronger—unless you don’t give them proper rest to do so, explains Laura Miranda, D.P.T., M.S.P.T,. C.S.C.S., creator of PURSUIT. When you don’t balance working out with recovery and rest, you put your body in a state of overtraining, which the experts call ‘overtraining syndrome.’ When you work out too much and rest too little, your body can’t adapt and mayhem snowballs throughout your body, affecting your mood, hormones, nervous system, and immune function.

If you can’t remember the last time you took a rest day, these common signs and symptoms might mean you’re over-training and need to pump the brakes.

1. Your Sleep Quality Is Garbage

When your central nervous system is firing on all cylinders in an attempt to heal your muscles, you might have a hard time falling or staying asleep, explains Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S., Pn1, founder of Training2xl. (This is because your nervous system, when in ‘go’ mode,  churns out hormones like the stress hormone cortisol, which can mess with your Zzz’s.) Not sleeping well enough or long enough for a few days in a row can then impact your reaction time, immunity, cognitive function, and endurance.

Your body should be able to shift back into a normal sleep schedule after two rest days that involve ample bed time, but you may need additional rest days if you still experience sleep disturbances that second night, says Luciani.

2. Your Resting Heart Rate Is Elevated

Your normal resting heart rate is the number of beats per minute (BPM) your heart beats at the start of the day—once you’ve chilled out after being woken up by your alarm. If your resting heart rate is higher than normal, it could be because your body is pumping more oxygen to your muscles to help them recover and heal, explains Grayson Wickham D.P.T., C.S.C.S founder of Movement Vault.

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Tons of fitness trackers and watches monitor your resting heart rate—but here’s how to test it manually, if you like doing things old school: Set a timer for 10 seconds and count the number of pulses on your wrist or neck, then multiply it by six. If your resting heart rate is five to 10 beats per minute higher than your usual number, it’s a sign that your body is under stress, says Luciani.

3. You Feel Moody And Unmotivated

Whether you’re hitting the gym, walking the dog, or flowing through some yoga, that movement usually improves your mood. However, if you train too much, you may experience the opposite effect and feel mentally fatigued and grumpy. “You might even start to lose your love of working out because your body can’t handle the stress those workouts are placing on it,” says Luciani.

If you feel unusually moody, stressed out, or uninterested in getting yourself to the gym, your nervous system and hormones may be burnt out from too much stress and not enough rest. You may also notice that your sex drive takes a hit, says Miranda. If overtraining persists for a long period of time (we’re talking months, here), you may even feel depressed, says Wickham.  It’s scary, but true—and research backs it up.

4. You Spend A Lot Of Time Under The Weather

While research shows that regular exercise can help boost your immune system, too much of it can actually have a negative effect on your immunity and make it harder for your body to fight off illness and infection. “If you’re over-training, you become more susceptible to sickness because you’re forcing your body to work so hard that it uses all its energy for training and can’t fully maintain up a strong immune system and keep your healthy,” explains Luciani.

If you notice you’re getting sick more often, dedicate a couple days a week to active recovery, on which you’ll stick to long walks, low-intensity yoga classes, or stretching, which increase circulation (and transport nutrients to our muscles) to boost recovery without putting extra stress on our bodies.

5. You’re ALWAYS Sore

Muscle soreness is your body’s way of telling you to that it needs more energy to repair and recover—and while a bit of muscle soreness is totally normal at the start of a new exercise routine, you shouldn’t constantly feel sore after your workouts.

Related: 5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Workouts

“Athletes tend to ignore fatigue because they mistake soreness as a sign of getting better, faster, stronger, and tougher,” explains Miranda.  Studies show that muscles may need anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to recover—and any soreness past that point indicates you’re just not recovering, says Luciani.

6. Your Last Few Workouts Have Been Lame

If you’ve felt slow or weak during your usual workouts, look out. For example, if you can usually handle a 60-minute HIIT class, crank out an eight-minute mile, or a 90-minute leg day, but find yourself huffing and puffing at your usual pace or weight, you’re in need of rest, explains Miranda. Consider a few bad workouts in a row your body’s way of telling you to take it easy—not a sign that you need to train more and harder.

7. You’re Not Getting Stronger

When you hit a strength-building plateau, there are two possible causes: either your body has gotten used to your workout or you’re not giving your muscles enough time to heal and grow stronger. Basically, you’re creating micro-tears on top of micro-tears in your muscles, says Luciani. So if you’re giving the weights your all but not seeing progress, chances are you’re overtraining.

The Bottom Line

When you know you need a rest, you can still move—just keep it light and easy. Do a low-intensity activity (like yoga, walking, or light swimming), make sure you’re eating ample protein, and take some time to generally unwind, recommends Luciani.

While how many recovery days you need depends on factors like your fitness level and the type and intensity of your workouts, most athletes will need about two or three per week.The most important thing, though, is to listen to your body. If you tend to push through the signals your body and mind send you, ask yourself the following three questions before hitting the gym: Did I sleep for seven hours last night without waking up? Do I want to train today? Am I in a good mood? If you answer ‘no’ to two or more of these questions, take the day off, says Wickham.

5 Times You Should Deadlift With A Trap Bar

The trap (or ‘hex’) bar—a hexagonal shaped bar you can literally step inside—has been around since the 80s, when a powerlifter named Al Gerard invented it to reduce the stress deadlifting put on his back, according to the USA Weightlifting Association (USAWA). These days, just about every gym has one—but since most people stick to straight barbell deadlifts, it often sits in the corner, collecting dust.

When you deadlift with a straight barbell, the bar is in front of you—so even if you keep it close to your shins, you have to extend forward to grab it and pull it up, explains Brandon Beatty, C.S.C.S., F.M.S. If you do it improperly, the deadlift—which fires up your legs and the entire back of your body—can strain your lower back.

That’s where the trap bar comes in:  “A conventional trap bar is shaped like a hexagon with handles on each side, so the lifter can stand in the middle, grip the handles on the sides, and stand up as if they’re picking up two suitcases,” says Jake Boly, M.S., C.S.C.S. This puts the weight closer to your center of gravity, so you’re in a better position to pull without putting pressure on your lower back.

Regardless of your lifting experience or goals, deadlifting with the trap bar can step up your workout routine and improve your fitness, says Beatty. Here are five circumstances in which it might come in handy.

1. You’re New To Lifting

If deadlifts are new territory for you, both Beatty and Boly recommend starting with the trap bar. The trap bar is a useful tool for teaching the deadlift because it helps someone learn the key components of proper form—like how to bend and move through their hips, maintain a straight back, and keep their knees stacked on top of their ankles—in a safer way, explains Boly.

It can also help you build the core and back strength needed to eventually deadlift heavier weight with proper form, says Beatty. (He also recommends working with a trainer one-on-one or in a class—like an intro to CrossFit® class—when starting out, to ensure you nail your form.)

2. You Want To Increase Quad And Glute Strength

Deadlifting with a trap bar puts your body in a slightly different position than deadlifting with a straight bar, so the move will work your muscles a little differently. In a straight barbell deadlift, your hamstrings, lower back, hip abductors, and core do the brunt of the work, but in a trap bar deadlift—which is a little closer to a squatting movement—your quads, glutes, and hamstrings take on more responsibility.

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Recent research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research confirms that deadlifting with the trap bar activates the leg muscles more and the back muscles less than deadlifting with the straight bar. So if your goals are quad gains and a booty pump, the trap bar is your new best friend.

3. You Have Lower Back Pain Or Limited Mobility

Of course, anyone with a back or spinal injury should check in with a doctor or physical therapist before lifting again, the trap bar is a useful tool for someone who needs to limit the stress they place on their lower back, says Boly.

Related: Bad Posture Can Lead To Big Problems—Here’s How To Fix It

Many trap bars have a second set of higher handles, which allows you to deadlift from a slightly higher starting position and decreases how much bend you need in your knees, hips, and lower back to do the move, says Beatty. This decrease in the range of motion you have to move through is great for people with limited lower-body mobility or who have a knee or hip injury, he says.

4. You Want To Become More Explosive

Remember that study we mentioned earlier? It also found that lifters could produce more force and power when deadlifting with the trap bar than when deadlifting with the straight bar. When you pull from inside the trap bar, you’re able to completely engage all of the powerful leg muscles like your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, which together are able to produce more power than the primary muscles used in the straight bar deadlift, says Beatty.

5. You Want To Keep Your Workouts Fresh And Plateau-Free

“For many people, the trap bar can replace the straight barbell for deadlifting because it still engages the muscles you want to target with deadlifting,” explains Boly. But if straight bar deadlifts are already a staple of your training plan, incorporate trap bar deadlifts every other time you deadlift, Beatty recommends. So if you deadlift twice a week, perform one session with the straight bar and one with the trap bar. Using the trap bar will force you to mix up your grip and, because it’s easier on your back, may even help you lift slightly heavier and overcome any straight bar deadlift plateaus, Beatty says.

Plus, performing a variety of exercises is best for muscular development over time, since you target different muscles in different ways, he says.

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8 Things To Do On An Active Recovery Day

No matter how dedicated you are to crushing it at the gym (or in spin class, the pool, or out on the track), some days you wake up and just need some rest.

Despite sore muscles and stiff limbs, many of us skimp on rest and recovery days—but they’re crucial to our progress and to maintaining the mental and physical balance that keeps an active lifestyle fun, says Grayson Wickham P.T., D.T.D., C.S.C.S., D.P.T., founder of Movement Vault.

If you work out hard most days, you probably need one active recovery day and one full-on rest day per week.

If you’ve been gritting your teeth through discomfort or general tiredness and can’t remember the last time you fully stopped moving, just take a full rest day so you can sleep in, lounge around, spend time with loved ones, or do nothing at all, says Wickham.

But if you just feel a little more stiff or sore than usual, or don’t feel up to going hard, an active recovery day may be more what you need. Instead of couching-it all day, you’ll do specific things to maximize your body’s repair after days of hard work, says David Otey, C.S.C.S., Pn1.  Active recovery days support the muscle-building, fat-blasting work you do in the gym, help balance your hormones and mental state, and reboot your central nervous system.

Sounds pretty great, right? Make the most of your next active recovery day by checking a few of these mind and body-boosting activities off your to-do list:

1. Light Cardio

Every time you exercise you create micro-tears in your muscles, says Otey. Ample recovery time helps your muscles repair the damage and grow stronger.

Doing some light cardio on an active recovery day will help get your blood pumping, which transports oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, without damaging them further, he says. Whether you head out for a walk or go for a bike ride, stick to about half an hour (or less) of low-intensity exercise (about 30 to 50 percent effort), says Otey.

2. Mobility And Flexibility Work

Active recovery day is the perfect opportunity to restore and work on your range of motion and flexibility by doing yoga, taking a mobility class, or doing some low-intensity dynamic stretches (like crawling, crab walking, or inch-worming) on your own, says Otey. Not only do these practices support blood flow, but they also help reduce your risk of future injury. Yoga, especially, has been shown to improve flexibility and mobility and benefit people with muscular issues, according to research published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

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If you go for yoga, stick to a beginner’s class, which will move and restore your body without taxing it too much, says Otey. (If you have a lot of experience on the mat, you may be able to get away with a more intermediate class.)

Related: I Stretched Every Day With The Goal Of Touching My Toes—See How It Went

No matter what you choose to do, your goal is to move and stretch every muscle—from your neck down to your feet, and to move every joint through its full range of motion.

3. Form Practice

If you’ve been itching to try a tricky move in the gym but don’t feel comfortable trying it out with weight in hand, active recovery day is a good time to practice the movement outside the gym.

If you want to nail the Turkish get-up, for example, you can work on the movement pattern at home pressure-free. Or, you can use a PVC pipe or empty barbell to work on your form for common CrossFit® moves like the squat cleans or power snatches, says Wickham. Not only will you build the muscle memory to maintain proper form when you add weight to the moves, but you’ll also tackle any anxiety about performing the move in the gym, he says.

4. Myofascial Work

‘Myofascial work’ is really just a fancy way of saying self-massage, and you’ve probably heard of the most popular method: foam rolling. By massaging your muscles with a foam roller or a lacrosse ball (which hits hard-to-roll areas like your chest and between your shoulder blades), you help to relieve tightness, knots, and circulate nutrients and waste products in and out of your muscles, says Wickham.

While you may need longer if you’re extremely tight or sore, start by spending a minute or two massaging out each of your limbs as well as your trunk (back and chest), he suggests. When you hit a trigger point or tight spot, pause and keep massaging that spot until it starts to dissipate, Wickham says. Over time this will help decrease overall stiffness and restore the muscle’s length and mobility.

Just don’t haphazardly sit on the foam roller while catching up on Netflix, though. To get the most benefit of self-massage, you have to really apply pressure to your muscles, says Mark Barroso C.P.T.

5. Sauna Time

If you love to drip with sweat, the sauna could become a part of your favorite active recovery day rituals. “I’m a big proponent of saunas because they’re relaxing, help promote better circulation, and can actually be good for the heart,” says Wickham.

Plus, according to one study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics, sitting in the sauna for 30 minutes can increase women’s levels of human growth hormone (HGH), which helps our bodies break down fats and build muscle.

Regular sauna sessions can also help the body cope with heat better, so you can perform at higher temperatures, says Wickham.

If you have any heart issues, check with your doc before sauna-ing, but otherwise these hot boxes are generally safe, says Otey. Just make sure you’re well-hydrated before you sweat and listen to your body when it wants out. If you get super drippy, be sure to drink a big glass of water and restock on electrolytes afterward, adds Barroso. (We love BodyTech’s grape Electrolyte Fizz.)

6. Epsom Salt Bath

Not only are Epsom salt baths incredibly relaxing, but they may also help support your health and fitness goals. These soaking salts contain magnesium, and can help soothe away everyday aches and soreness.

And while your body can’t absorb magnesium through your skin like it does when you eat it (which has been shown to enhance exercise performance, keep blood pressure in check, and regulate blood sugar), there’s certainly no harm in a relaxing bath. “Vegging out in the tub is a great way to relieve muscle tension,” says Barroso.

7. Meditation

Meditation can help you relax, repair, and rejuvenate—three things we all want to achieve on active recovery day. “Athletes tend to go rough on their bodies, and meditation can help them understand the relationship between physical exertion and mental awareness,” says meditation expert and founder of Break The Norms Chandresh Bhardwaj.

Beyond what we eat and how often we train, our fitness is also defined by how mindful we are with our bodies, he says. Athletes who meditate regularly can see benefits such as increased focus, reduced anxiety, better sleep, increased ability to cope with injury, decreased mind-chatter associated with failure, and increased humbleness after physical accomplishments and wins, says Bhardwaj.

If you’re new to meditation, Bhardwaj recommends starting with 24 minutes of the practice a day—one minute for every hour. It doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be a huge effort. Instead, it should be a time in which you can allow yourself to let go, relax, and be in the present moment, he says. Downloading a meditation app—like Headspace or Break the Norms—can be a good way to start.

8. Proper Refuel

We need more calories and carbs when we spend an hour in the gym strength training or hitting intervals hard than we do when we go for a casual walk or bike ride on an active recovery day—but we still need to fuel our body and muscles for our goals, according to Jonathan Valdez, M.B.A., R.D.N., C.D.N.

That means one of our goals on active recovery day—like on our training days—is to eat ample protein. Since you don’t need as many carbs to power you through a workout, Valdez recommends focusing more on eating 25 to 30 grams of protein at eat meal, along with 10 to 15 grams at snack-time.

Related: Grab a bar or protein supplement and bring nutrition with you wherever you go.

One of Valdez’s go-to nutritional powerhouses for athletes on recovery day: a fruit smoothie. The fruit will provide an array of vitamins and nutrients—strawberries and kiwi provide vitamin C, B vitamins, and antioxidants, for example—and using Greek yogurt as a base will pump up the protein and help muscles recover and rebuild after tough workouts, he says.

Along with protein, water is also top priority. “Your body uses water in countless ways, including flushing out waste, fueling the metabolism, and regulating pH and body temperature,” he says. So hydration, hydration, hydration is nonnegotiable.

Pin this infographic and make the most of your next active recovery day:

6 Reasons Why You Should Never Skip Leg Day

For whatever reason (*cough, excuse, cough*), plenty of people skip leg day. But ignoring all of the muscles below your belt-line is a massive mistake; training your lower body not only guarantees you’ll never be the victim of a nasty ‘skips leg day’ meme, but also helps you reap a number of health and fitness benefits. Here, experts share six big reasons why you should start showing your bottom half more love at the gym.

1. You’ll Burn More Calories

Whether losing weight is your goal or not, training your legs revs your metabolism. Classic leg-day exercises like squats and deadlifts make your body work harder because they involve large muscle groups and multiple joints, explains Laura Miranda, D.P.T., M.S.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of PURSUIT group fitness training.

“The more muscles groups you use, the more calories you are going to burn,” she says. For example, consider a bicep curl versus a deadlift. While the bicep curl mostly isolates your bicep muscles, the deadlift activates and engages your hamstrings, glutes, core, and lats. “And, just like the deadlift, most leg-day exercises require more than one muscle group,” she adds.

If you’re trying to lose weight, leg day will help you get there—otherwise, it’ll give you an excuse to eat a little more. (And who’s going to argue with that?)

2. You’ll Boost Your Cardiovascular System

When it comes to heart health, we typically think of aerobic activities, like running and biking, as being the most beneficial. However, a recent study out of Appalachian State University found that resistance exercise (like lifting weights) also offers cardiovascular health benefits. According to the study, 45 minutes of moderate-intensity resistance training both improved participants’ blood flow and lowered their blood pressure.

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“When your muscles contract, they help to push blood through your veins and back to your heart,” explains David Otey, C.S.C.S., Pn1. So though this study didn’t hone in on lower-body strength training, specifically, having more muscle there makes you better able to circulate blood to your lower extremities, he says.

3. You’ll Have A ‘Fitter’ Brain

Regular exercise has long been linked to a healthier brain, but according to research out of King’s College London, there’s a specific link between stronger legs and a stronger mind. The researchers followed older identical twins throughout a 10-year period and found that the twin who had greater leg power experienced less cognitive decline and that their brain generally aged better than the weaker-legged twin. Why? The researchers believe some of the benefit comes from the new cell production-stimulating hormones that muscles release during exercise—and since leg muscles are the largest in the body, they have the greatest potential for doing so.

4. You’ll Decrease Your Risk Of Injury

‘Use it or lose it’ might sound trite, but it’s definitely true for the joints in our lower body. “When you don’t use your joints, you set them up for breakdown,” says Miranda. By putting controlled stress on our muscles and joints during exercise, we signal them to adapt and grow stronger and more mobile, which is especially important as we age, says Marie Spano, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., C.S.C.S. If we don’t regularly move and challenge our lower bodies, though, we land with a higher risk of injury when we go for a hike or long walk.

Improving lower-body strength may even help reverse the rising need for hip and knee replacements in the U.S., suggests Miranda.

Related: Find joint and muscle support supps to boost your training and recovery.

Plus, if you’re an athlete or a runner, consistent lower-body training and strength could make the difference between getting injured and staying in the game, she says. In fact, exercises like lunges and squats promote stability in the knee, and can help prevent ACL tears, according to The American Council of Exercise. Squats and deadlifts also help develop hip strength and mobility, which are both common sources of injury for runners and other cardio lovers, Miranda adds. (So even if you’re training for a marathon, leg day is still a good idea.)

5. You’ll Build A Stronger Upper Body

Yep, leg day can actually help your upper-body training. Not only are most leg day moves compound exercises (meaning that they work your whole body), but stronger legs also give you a stronger base for upper-body exercises, like the push press and bench press, where your feet are anchored to the floor and some energy is transferred through your legs, says Otey.

Plus, if you constantly skip leg day and only train your upper body, at some point your body won’t want to carry the extra weight of more upper-body muscles and your gains will plateau. “The body is a self-regulating machine,” says Otey. Basically, it wants to grow proportionally.

6. You’ll Run Faster (And Longer)

“When most people want to get into shape, they either go on a run or hop on the elliptical,” says Miranda. But strength training can actually help you develop your endurance faster, which will make you a better, faster runner, she says. In fact, a systematic review published in Sports Medicine confirms that resistance training improves runners’ efficiency and time trial performance.

How To Add Leg Day Back Into Your Workout Routine

Convinced yet? If you’ve been neglecting your legs for a long-time, start by incorporating bodyweight exercises such as air squats, lunges, and step-ups into your routine, suggests Miranda.

Build up to three sets of 10 to 15 reps for each move, two or three times a week. Once you’ve been comfortably performing these lower-body moves pain-free for three or four weeks, it’s time to start using additional weight, so add five to 10 pounds, she says. When you’re able to comfortably complete three sets of eight to 10 reps, up your weight by another five to 10 pounds.

Related: Your Glutes Are Begging You To Do This Workout

10 Moves That’ll Light Up Your Lower Abs

From crunches to situps to planks to toe touches, there are endless ways to work your core. Many of our go-to moves give all the love to our upper abs and obliques, though, leaving our hard-to-target lower abs a little neglected.

And that’s less than ideal, considering our lower abs are crucial for preventing pain and injury, according to Hannah Davis, C.S.C.S., creator of the Operation Bikini Body Abs challenge. After all, our core muscles support our spine, which enables us to move freely and without pain.

Plus, a strong core helps us maximize our strength and power in a number of exercises, including  squats, deadlifts, and Olympic lifts, says Yusuf Jeffers, C.P.T., head coach at Tone House. Without a strong core, we’ll compensate by putting more of the load on our back—especially our lower back—which puts us at risk for a world of hurt.

These 10 lower-ab-targeting moves will help you develop that overall core strength for stronger, safer workouts—and, of course, a more cut-looking midsection.

1. Flutter Kicks

Start by lying on your back with your arms by your sides. Brace your core to lift your head and shoulders up off the ground. Raise your feet four to six inches off the ground. Keeping your core engaged, quickly flutter your feet up and down in short kicks. Try these Tabata-style, kicking for 20 seconds then resting for 10 seconds for four minutes total.

Why they work: Flutter kicks fire up your entire core and work your hip flexors, says ICE NYC HIIT coach, Margie Welch. The lower you keep your feet and the shorter the kicks, the more this move demands of your abs. Doing flutter kicks Tabata-style is a sure-fire way to reach abdominal exhaustion, she says.

2. Toes-To-Bar

Grab a pullup bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulders-width apart and hang from the bar with your core engaged and back straight. Keeping your legs together, use your core to lift your knees up towards your elbows. Then, keep your arms straight and kick your feet up to the bar. Slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position. Shoot for three to four sets of four to eight reps.

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Why they work: “To lift your legs while in a hanging position, your abdominal muscles have to be engaged” says Welch. (Not only do toes-to-bars engage all of your abdominal muscles, they also require your lats, hamstrings, and hip flexors to put in some work, too.) If this move is new for you, just focus on keeping your legs together and lifting your knees as high as possible, Welch says.

3. Russian Twists

Sit down with your feet together and planted on the floor, and your legs bent at a 90-degree angle in front of you. Hold a five to eight-pound dumbbell, kettlebell, medicine ball, or weight plate in both hands. While maintaining a flat back, twist your torso to the left so that the weight moves with you. When you feel a stretch in your obliques, stop twisting and return to the starting position. Then, repeat on the opposite side. If you can maintain proper form, try hovering your feet above the ground while twisting. Aim for three sets of 10 to 15 reps per side.

Related: 9 Moves That’ll Set Your Obliques On Fire

Why they work: Russian twists work the entire core, but that twisting motion really lights up your lower abs and obliques, Welch says. (Keeping your back flat will really emphasize those muscles.) Beginners can try this move weight-free and add or increase the weight as they progress.

4. Marches

Lie on your back with your lower back pressed firmly into the ground and your hands at your sides. Raise and bend your legs so that your knees form 90-degree angles, and you look like you’re sitting in an invisible chair. Flex your feet so they’re perpendicular to the ground. Keep your left leg in place, engage your core, and hinge at your hip to lower your right leg to the ground. Lower your heel as close to the ground as possible while keeping your lower back pressed into the ground. (Try to touch your heel to the floor.) Then lift your leg back up to the starting position. Then, switch sides and perform with the other leg. That’s one set. Complete three sets of eight to 10 reps.

Why they work: Consider yourself warned—marches look much easier than they are, says Jeffers. “They recruit all the local stabilizing muscles from your pelvis to your spine, require a strong core, and work your hip flexors,” he explains. Your core is only engaged when your back is nailed into the floor, so it’s okay if you can’t get your heel down to the floor at first!

5. Bird Dogs

Start on all fours with your hands and knees planted on the ground, your core engaged, and your back flat. Reach your right arm out in front of you while simultaneously reaching your left foot back behind you. Extend each limb as long as possible while keeping your torso straight. Hold this position for one or two seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat with your left arm and right leg. That’s one rep. Aim for two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Why they work: This simple core stabilization exercise will help build a strong lower core, because it activates your abdominals, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings as you move, says Jeffers. Plus, you also work your trapezius and shoulders every time you reach your arm out in front of you.

6. Lying Windshield Wipers

Start by lying on your back. Spread your arms straight out to your sides so you form a ‘T.’ Raise your legs up so they form a 90-degree angle with your torso and point straight up to the ceiling. Keep your shoulder blades on the floor. Glue your legs together and rotate them to down to one side, stopping when your opposite shoulder begins to pull up off the floor. Rotate your legs back up to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. That’s one rep. As you improve, move your arms down closer to your sides to decrease stability and increase the move’s difficulty. Repeat for three to four sets of six to 10 reps.

Why they work: The closer you can rotate your legs to the floor, the better your lower-abdominal and oblique strength and the greater your flexibility, says Jeffers. The more you practice, the closer to the floor you’ll be able to bring your legs.

7. Bicycles

Start lying on your back. Lightly interlace your fingers behind your head. Raise and bend your legs so that your knees form 90-degree angles, and you look like you’re sitting in an invisible chair. Lift your shoulder blades up off the floor—but don’t pull on your neck. Engage your core and rotate from the shoulders so your right elbow comes to meet your left knee. Simultaneously, extend your right leg out as straight as possible. Return to the starting position, then repeat on the other side. That’s one rep. Continue this pedaling motion for three sets of 10 to 16 reps.

Why they work: Few bodyweight core moves recruit as many abdominal muscles as bicycles do, explains Davis. Bicycles work the obliques, transverse abdominals, lower back, and even the hip flexors. “The biggest mistakes people make while doing bicycles is trying to go too fast and focusing too much on the knee-to-elbow touch,” says Jeffers. Instead, focus on the rotational side-to-side movement and engaging the core. Beginners can scale this move down by keeping their knees bent and feet planted on the floor while rotating their trunk, he suggests.

8. Woodchops

Connect a single handle to a cable machine set the pulley system to one of its highest positions. Grab the handle with your left hand and step away from the machine, so it’s about an arm’s-length to your left. Stand with your feet shoulders-width apart, and reach up to grab the handle with your right hand, so both arms are straight and both hands are around the handle. Pull the handle diagonally down and across the front of your body but rotating your torso. As you rotate, keep your core tight and back straight.. Pivot your left foot and allow your left knee to bend so you can rotate fully. Slowly return the handle to the starting position. That’s one rep. Perform three to four sets of eight to 10 reps per side.

Why they work: The constant tension in the cable machine keeps your muscles fired up from the beginning to the end of this move, says Davis. “Many people make the mistake of whipping their arms in a diagonal motion down to their opposite side,” Jeffers says. But the key here is for your entire trunk to move as one. If needed, practice the movement without weights until you can chop in one fluid and controlled trunk movement. The rotation of this move makes it especially effective for your lower abdominals and obliques, he says.

9. Full Body Extensions

Lie flat on your back with your legs straight and your arms stretched overhead with a light (three to five-pound) dumbbell in your hands. Pull your belly button into your spine and press your back flat into the floor. Keeping them together and straight, lift your arms and legs up until they’re perpendicular to the floor. Slowly lower your arms and legs so your feet and hands hover an inch or two above the ground. That’s one rep. Perform as many reps as you can before your arms or legs bend, or your back lifts up from the ground. Rest for one minute and repeat for three sets. (Don’t let your feet or hands touch the ground between reps.)

Why they work: “These always make my abs super sore from top to bottom and really work your entire core,” says Davis. Form is key, so start out using just your body weight and shooting for maybe four to six reps a set, she says. As you get stronger, you can add reps and weight.

10. Side Plank Rotations

Lie on one side with your legs straight, stacked one on top of the other. Prop yourself up on your forearm and raise your hips so that your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels. Extend your free arm straight up towards the ceiling. Keeping your core tight, lower your free arm and rotate towards the mat to come into a regular low plank. Hold this position for a second, then rotate your body up into a side plank on the opposite side and extend your opposite arm straight up towards the ceiling. Continue alternating from side to side until you feel your hips begin to dip towards the floor. Rest for one minute, then repeat for three total sets.

Why they work: Side plank rotations effectively recruits both the rectus abdominis (your six-pack muscles) and your obliques, says Davis.

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