5 Things You Can Do Every Day To Fight Inflammation

Inflammation. It’s one of the buzziest words in the health world right now, yet it’s still a subject many people don’t fully understand.

That’s because inflammation, your immune system’s defense process, can be a good guy and a bad guy in our bodies. At the right times and in the right amounts, it’s a much-needed, natural part of your body’s day-to-day processes. “You need inflammation to stay alive in a hostile world,” says Barry Sears, Ph.D., author of the Zone Diet book series and president of the Inflammation Research Foundation. Without [it], you could not fight off microbial invasions, nor would physical injuries be able to heal.”

Things go south when your body can’t turn that inflammation off after it’s done its job, says Sears. Excess inflammation can cause weight gain, speed up the aging process, and even spur the development of chronic disease—and thanks to lifestyle factors like a processed Western diet and lack of exercise, it’s an issue for many Americans.

The good news: Small everyday changes can help fend off excess inflammation. Here are five the experts recommend.

1. Get Chummy with Cherries

Next time you visit the supermarket, grab some tart cherries or added-sugar-free tart cherry juice, says Chrissy Carroll, M.P.H., R.D. and USAT level-I triathlon coach. “Tart cherries are packed with polyphenols, like anthocyanins,” she says. Research suggests that these antioxidants help fight cellular damage and oxidative stress caused by free radicals, which are major factors in inflammation and have been linked to chronic inflammatory diseases.

One small study found that women with inflammatory joint issues drank about 10 ounces of tart cherry juice twice a day for three weeks had lower levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP), a common marker of inflammation.

Exactly how many cherries you need to consume to benefit still isn’t clear, since study doses have ranged from 45 to 270 cherries-worth of juice a day. For now, Carroll recommends either a cup of tart cherry juice or about 45 whole tart cherries a day.

2. Adopt An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

If you’re ready to commit to the anti-inflammatory game, your diet is a great place to start, says Rebecca Kerkenbush, M.S., R.D.

One major reason for this: An anti-inflammatory diet promotes a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. In general, Americans consume too many omega-6 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat found in the seed and vegetable oils used in packaged snacks and fast food. These fats encourage the body to synthesize hormones that promote inflammation, so step one is to reduce your consumption of processed foods, says Kerkenbush.

Next, amp up your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in foods like fatty fish (hello, salmon), walnuts, avocados, flax, and hemp. Unlike omega-6s, these fats have a protective effect on our immune system. “Omega-3s, in doses of three grams or more per day, have been found to be effective for reducing morning stiffness and joint discomfort,” she says.

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Once you’ve got your omegas right, make sure your diet is also rich in antioxidants (vegetables and berries) and fiber (whole grains and legumes), both of which also have immune-boosting properties. “Many studies are showing that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is good for decreasing inflammation,” says Kerkenbush. The more servings the better, so aim for eight to 10 servings of produce per day.

Of course, there are a few foods to avoid, too, including anything high in trans fat, saturated fat, simple carbs, and added sugar, says Kerkenbush. Limit these as much as possible.

3. Get More Sleep

“One often-overlooked cause of inflammation is sleep deprivation,” says Chris Brantner, a certified sleep science coach and founder of online sleep resource SleepZoo. People who don’t get enough shut-eye (one in three adults) experience higher levels of inflammation than those that do.

Sleep durations outside of the usual seven to eight hours seem to increase our levels of different types of cytokines, like that inflammation marker CRP we talked about earlier.

“It seems that too little sleep throws the body’s inflammatory response processes out of whack,” says Brantner. “It’s almost as if your body treats inadequate sleep as it would an illness, which might also help explain why your body is more susceptible to viruses when you haven’t been sleeping enough.”

It’s not just people with chronic sleep issues who experience this, either. Research indicates even just one night of too-short sleep—about six hours or less—is enough to trigger an inflammatory response.

If you’re struggling to squeeze in enough shut-eye, reevaluate your day-to-day habits. Bringing your phone into bed with you, consuming caffeine after two o’clock, and not sticking to a set bedtime and wakeup time can all throw off your sleep patterns—and increase inflammation.

4. Show Low-Intensity Exercise Some Love

Everyone’s all about high-intensity interval training these days, but if you go as hard as you can every single workout, you put your body in a continuous state of stress that experts say could trigger chronic inflammation.

“Plain and simple, exercise is stress, and when we exercise we create a state of inflammation,” says Aaron Drogoszewski, L.M.T., C.P.T., co-founder of ReCOVER in New York City, the first boutique studio dedicated solely to recovery. While we need some inflammation to adapt and grow stronger, too much is still too much—and doing high-intensity exercise too often can do more harm than good.

We’re not saying to swear off HIIT completely. (We wouldn’t want you to miss out on the benefits, like burning more calories long after your workout is over.) You should limit high-intensity sessions to a few times a week, though, and opt for lower-intensity exercise like walking or jogging the other days.

Related: Are You Doing Too Much HIIT?

While higher-intensity exercise spurs inflammation, low-intensity exercise can actually help fight it off. One small study found that even short, 20-minute sessions of treadmill walking had an anti-inflammatory effect by decreasing levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body.

In other words, if you don’t feel like going all out in the gym, that’s okay! It could be your body’s way of saying a more relaxed session is just what you need.

5. Finally Start Meditating

If you’ve been convinced that meditation is too woo-woo for you, it’s time for an attitude adjustment. Science has shown over and over again that meditation offers a myriad of benefits—including lower markers of inflammation.

In one study, researchers used the Trier Social Stress Test (which has participants give a presentation and perform a math test) and capsaicin cream to produce psychological stress and physical inflammation in participants. Some participants then followed a mindfulness meditation, while others used an unrelated stress-management practice. After measuring immune and hormonal markers of inflammation, the researchers found the meditation to be more effective for reducing stress-induced inflammation.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to drop everything and meditate for an hour a day. You can ease into a daily practice with short, 10-minute sessions and an app like Calm or Headspace.

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

Could You Be Eating Too Many Avocados?

Fifteen years ago, a New York Times reporter, a Good Day New York news crew, and a guy dressed like an avocado knocked on the door of an unsuspecting Bronx resident named Nancy Bayer to introduce her—and the rest of the country—to the California avocado. Bayer was treated to an avocado-stuffed omelet, as well as an avocado facial, and then a magician named Eddie made a bowl of avocados disappear. Before that show, many Americans had no idea just how versatile avocados really were.

Then, in 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) loosened restrictions on imported food and allowed shipments of avocados to start coming into the U.S. from Mexico, its largest producer.

Since then, we’ve become absolutely obsessed with avocados. So much so, that we consumed more than twice the avocados per capita in 2016 than we did in 2006, despite a nationwide avocado shortage that year.

Even after a 125 percent price surge in 2017, many health-conscious Americans continue to eat avocados almost every day, whether on toast or salads, in omelets, mashed into guacamole, or blended into smoothies.

We’ve clearly got it bad for the funky green fruit—but are we going a little avocado overboard? After all, “oftentimes in America, we find a health fad and we overdo it,” says Shivani Gupta, Ph.D., a nutritional research scientist and CEO of Fusionary Formulas.

Sure, avocadoes are great for us: They’re a good source of healthy unsaturated fat and antioxidants, are high in fiber and potassium, and have anti-inflammatory properties. All good things—except when we have them in excessive amounts. Too much fiber can cause uncomfortable side effects like bloating, gas, and cramping, while excess potassium can spell symptoms of fatigue, chest pain, and even heart palpitations in those with heart or kidney conditions, explains Sushrutha Nagaraj, a research scientist for nutritional research company Almeda Labs. Plus, an average avocado packs about 250 calories and between 20 and 25 grams of fat, so eating them every day can easily contribute to overdoing it on calories and fat.

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Calorie concerns aside, are there some people who shouldn’t have avocados? Maybe. Avocado allergies are a very real thing—especially for people with other allergies. “Typically, people who are allergic to latex show a cross-reactivity to fruits like bananas, papaya, and avocados,” says Nagaraj. It’s a weird connection—and one that’s not quite clear to experts yet. People with an avocado allergy often break out in a rash or find that their tongue swells or mouth becomes itchy after eating it.

Some experts, like researcher Valter Longo, Ph.D., Director of the USC Longevity Institute, also believe that avocados could spur inflammation in certain people—namely those whose ancestors didn’t eat the fruit—if eaten in large quantities for a long period of time. “Since it’s a new ingredient to our diets, our [body] may think of it as an alien ingredient and exhibit an inflammatory response [to] fight the invader and repair [itself],” says Nagaraj.

The research on genetics and nutrition needed to confirm that theory is still developing, though, so you don’t need to go swearing off your avocado toast just yet. If you’re concerned about inflammation and what foods might be triggering it, Gupta recommends trying a food sensitivity test, like Everlywell or Viome, to identify the foods that don’t jive with your system.

Related: 4 Types Of Foods That Help Fight Inflammation

Otherwise, consider it a-okay to enjoy three or four avocados per week, says Nagaraj. And, hey, a recent Nutrition study found that those who regularly ate avocados also ate more fruits and vegetables, fewer added sugars, and had lower BMIs and waist circumferences overall—so keep calm and guac on.

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

Why Having Healthy Mitochondria Matters—And How To Power Yours Up

If the word ‘mitochondria’ sounds vaguely familiar, congratulations: You remember something from your ninth grade biology class! But if you have no idea what mitochondria actually are, then you’re pretty much on par with the majority of the population.

It just so happens, though, that mitochondria—yes, you have tons of them in your body—is pretty darn important for our health. So important, in fact, that mitochondria are a trending topic in the science world right now.

Interest in researching mitochondria’s role in our health has skyrocketed recently because some experts believe that healthy mitochondria could be the best-kept secret for disease prevention. “[Research has shown that] at the root of most, if not all, age-related degenerative diseases lies mitochondrial dysfunction,” explains Lee Know, N.D., licensed naturopathic doctor and author of Mitochondria and the Future of Medicine. “This means that if we can focus our efforts on improving [their] health and function, we can reduce the risk of degenerative diseases and improve all aspects of our health.”

Suddenly interested in learning some cellular biology? Here’s what you need to know about your mitochondria, how they work, and what you can do to make sure yours are running (and keep on running) at full-speed.

Mitochondria 101

Mitochondria are organelles (like mini internal organs) that live in many of the cells throughout our body. All organelles play a specific role in keeping a cell healthy (just like our organs help us function), and it’s one of our mitochondria’s main jobs to turn fat, sugar, and protein into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the form of chemical energy our body uses.

“Mitochondria are responsible for producing over 90 percent of the energy that powers our cells, and since everything that happens in a cell requires energy, it’s incredibly important that these little powerhouses are healthy and fully functional,” says Know. Every cell in our metabolically active tissues—like our brain or heart muscle—contains up to a few thousand of these little cellular engines.

For this reason, mitochondria also play a pretty big role in how we feel day-to-day, says Sumit Parikh, M.D., director of the Cleveland Clinic Neurogenetics, Metabolic & Mitochondrial Disease program. For example: “We feel mostly run down and tired when we are sick with a virus or bacteria. This is partly because the mitochondria are being recruited to help fight off the infection—so they’re [then not able] to make as much energy for our cells to maintain other tasks.”

Producing energy isn’t our mitochondria’s only job, though. They also serve an important role in our body’s recovery process. Whenever we exercise, for example, we stress the body, breaking it down so that it can build back up and become stronger. Mitochondria are responsible for making sure that ‘building back up’ part of the equation goes smoothly by activating certain genes that result in cells becoming stronger, says Know. So if your mitochondria don’t function properly, you may take longer than usual to recover from a hardcore workout, experience general fatigue, and even notice that wounds heal more slowly.

When our mitochondria function at 100 percent, they also coordinate apoptosis, or ‘programmed cell death,’ the process in which our body removes defective cells before they can do any damage, says Know. However, when our mitochondria aren’t in tip-top shape, they can’t clean up these defective cells effectively, and if a tissue or organ contains enough defective cells, it can become dysfunctional over time. The potential results: serious health conditions like heart failure, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and infertility.

Unfortunately, there aren’t currently any quick, at-home mitochondrial function tests available just yet. (Researchers are working on them!) But doctors can evaluate your mitochondrial health by testing your levels of related compounds, like ATP. Thing is, they don’t usually test them until after other health consequences pop up, says Know. Why? “We all have varying degrees of mitochondrial dysfunction,” Know explains. As long as your cells are able to meet your overall energy needs, a little dysfunction isn’t a big deal. It’s when the energy you’re able to produce dips below your needs that problems occur.

How To Power Up Your Mitochondria

Even if you’re not sure about your current state of mitochondrial health, one thing is certain: What you eat (and how much) is hugely important. Mitochondria need a wide variety of nutrients to function properly, so eating a diet that contains a wide variety of colors—which indicates a variety of nutrients—will help them thrive, says Know.

Two in particular to focus on: magnesium and B vitamins—especially vitamin B3. (Magnesium is an essential part of the ATP production process while B3 works to increase levels of NAD+, another compound necessary for cellular energy production.)

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You’ll also want to watch your calories. Excessive calorie intake causes your mitochondria to generate more free radicals, unstable molecules that can then damage their DNA and leave them unable to function properly. One way to avoid this: Stay away from sugar and ‘empty-calorie’ foods, says Know.

If you’re hardcore about boosting your mitochondria, you might even want to consider trying a ketogenic diet, Know says. That’s because ketones (the energy source you run on in the high-fat diet) are a ‘cleaner’ fuel source than sugar in that they actually eat up free radicals instead of produce them. Plus, “some cells become so damaged over time that they can no longer use glucose as a fuel source, and ketones offer these cells [an alternative] source of energy,” he adds.

Related: Want To Try Keto? Here’s What A Healthy Day Of Eating Fat Looks Like

Exercise is another key contributor to healthy mitochondrial function because it increases the energy demand put on our cells, and our cells adapt to this demand by producing more (and more efficient) mitochondria. After all, the more mitochondria you have, the less stress you put on each individual mitochondria—and the less stressed your mitochondria are, the fewer free radicals they generate and less likely they are to become damaged or dysfunctional.

4 Keto-Approved Ways To Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

The keto diet, which shuns carbs and ramps up healthy fats, may seem impossible to anyone with a sweet tooth. Sugar is an absolute no-go—even many fruits are difficult to squeeze into a day’s tiny carb allotment—which, sadly, leaves little room for typical carb-laden desserts. Plus, though Paleo and vegan treats line store shelves everywhere, pre-made keto goodies are pretty much nonexistent.

So if you really want to get your dessert fix on keto, you’re going to have to get creative. Luckily, these keto-savvy experts have a few easy tips and tweaks for having your cake and staying in ketosis, too.

1. Swap Your Sweetener

Though they may not look like table sugar, agave, honey, coconut sugar, and other natural sweeteners are still sugar, so they’re off-limits on keto. Your fix: Sub a sugar- and calorie-free sweetener into baked goods (and that morning cup of Joe).

There’s Stevia (the popular sugar substitute made from the Stevia rebaudiana plant), of course, but monk fruit (which is made from the Asian lo han guo plant) is also a popular sweetener for keto eaters, says Katherine Brooking, R.D., co-founder of nutrition consulting group Appetite for Health. Just be aware that these sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar, so a little goes a long way. (Monk fruit is reportedly 150 to 200 times as sweet as sugar…)

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Molly Kimball, R.D., nutrition manager at the Ochsner Fitness Center in New Orleans, also recommends Swerve Sweetener, which is made from fermented sugar alcohol and plant fiber. “It measures cup for cup like sugar, has zero glycemic impact, and zero net carb count.”

Though no scientific evidence suggests they cause cancer or other serious health problems, it’s worth noting that non-calorie sweeteners shouldn’t become a daily go-to if you’re focused on eating an overall healthy diet, says Brooking. These sweeteners don’t offer the nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber of whole-food sources of sweetness like fruit.

2. Fix Your Flour

If you just can’t avoid baked goods, trade in your usual wheat flour for almond flour or coconut flour. “Almond flour has 75 percent fewer carbs and 50 percent more protein than white or whole wheat flour, while coconut flour has 25 percent fewer carbs and more than three times as much fiber as whole-wheat,” says Kimball.

Each offers a unique texture and slight natural sweetness. Start experimenting by swapping out a quarter of a recipe’s flour for either almond or coconut flour to familiarize yourself with each flour. (Coconut flour is very dry and tends to require extra liquid.) Or, keep things simple by following a keto-friendly recipe—like this Keto Chocolate Cake In A Mug from Ruled.Me—that already incorporates them.

3. Go Crazy For Cocoa

Chocolate is one of the most crave-worthy treats out there, but considering a mere tablespoon of milk chocolate chips packs 43 grams of carbs and a whopping 26 grams of sugar, it’s tough to fit into a keto lifestyle.

But you don’t have to back away from the chocolate entirely: You can use cocoa powder or unsweetened dark baker’s chocolate in all sorts of keto-friendly recipes. “I love mixing cocoa powder, melted coconut oil, and Swerve sweetener, for a quick treat,” says Kimball. Pour the mixture into a baking pan, pop it in the fridge to set, and voila, you’ve got keto dark chocolate.

For more chocolately goodness, Kimball recommends these Keto Chocolate Salted Peanut Butter Fat Bombs from Swerve, which are basically vegan, keto peanut butter cups. (Or, whip up one of the decadent fat bomb recipes we rounded up.)

4. Befriend Berries

While super-sweet fruits—like bananas, pineapple, and anything dried—are off the table on keto because of their high sugar count, there is one exception: berries. Half a cup of raspberries and blackberries each pack just four grams of sugar, so they’re an easy way to satisfy your sweet tooth (not to mention load up on antioxidants). You can snack on berries fresh or frozen—just watch your portions!

Rule For The Road: Check The Macros

Since carbs should account for less than 10 percent of your daily calories on a standard keto diet, someone who eats 2,000 calories a day has room for just about 25 grams of net carbs (carbs minus fiber) a day. To enjoy these sweet treats without putting ketosis in jeopardy, Kimball recommends sticking to servings that contain about two to three grams of net carbs, two to three grams of protein, and 15 or more grams of fat.

Related: 15 Keto Snacks For All You Fat-Fuelers Out There

Pin this infographic for keto-friendly desserts, anytime:

5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Gut Health

Gut health may not be the sexiest topic, but there’s no denying how crucial it is for our overall wellbeing. Not only is our gut responsible for digesting food, but it’s also in charge of absorbing nutrients, keeping out bad bacteria, and regulating our immune system—and unfortunately, most Americans don’t give it the love it deserves.

Approximately 72 percent of Americans regularly deal with GI issues like nausea, abdominal pain, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. And many of us don’t even realize how these gut issues affect the rest of our bodies. “When our gut balance is off, all health is off,” says Lisa Ganjhu, D.O., a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health. “Our mind, body, and gut all intertwine together—so it’s a big component of our general wellbeing.” When our gut is compromised, we aren’t able to eat or poop as well, our immunity suffers, and even our peace of mind takes a hit.

Turns out, many of our everyday habits—even the ones we think are healthy—can sabotage our gut health and have serious repercussions for our health. Here are six common culprits—and expert advice for turning your gut around.

1. Stockpiling Drinks For The Weekend

Alcohol can affect gut health in a couple of ways. First: For many people, it causes inflammation in the stomach and colon, which leads to staple post-drinking discomfort like gas, bloating, and bathroom issues, says Ganjhu. Ever had the ‘beer runs’? Yeah, that’s a result of colon inflammation. Second: Alcohol alters our gut’s microbiome, with excess amounts even killing off some of the good bacteria (a.k.a. probiotics) we need to stay healthy.

Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol (two drinks per day for men, one for women) in one sitting ups the potential for these gut dysfunctions, so if you pass on alcohol Monday through Friday only to down a whole week’s worth on Saturday night, it’s time to reassess your use of booze.

2. Popping The Wrong Type Of Probiotics

Probiotic supplements are great for boosting the good bacteria in your gut, but one of the biggest mistakes Dr. Ganjhu sees is people choosing a probiotic without realizing that different types of probiotics serve different purposes. “Probiotic supplements aren’t all the same,” she explains. “Certain bacteria are there for certain parts of your body.” For example, while bifidobacterium acts solely in the gut, lactobacillus works to keep both vaginal and gut health in tip-top shape.

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If you’re constantly experiencing digestive issues and want to add a probiotic supplement to your routine, consider seeing a gastroenterologist who can evaluate your symptoms and suggest which probiotic might be best for you.

3. Ignoring Food Sensitivities

If a drop of dairy sends you running to the bathroom, you’ve probably already accepted that you have an intolerance and try to stay away from the stuff—but many of us may have subtle sensitivities to certain foods we’re not even aware of, and these sensitivities can lead to major issues over time.

“The more you eat foods that you are allergic or sensitive to, the more activated your white blood cells become,” says Vincent Pedre, M.D., medical director of Pedre Integrative Health and author of Happy Gut. This sends inflammatory signals throughout your body, and before you know it, issues you’d never associate with your gut—like allergies, asthma, joint inflammation and pain, and even anxiety and insomnia—crop up.

Related: Millions Of Americans Have Autoimmune Diseases—Could You?

Whether you believe you have a sensitivity or not, consider trying an elimination diet like Whole30 or Pedre’s 28-day Happy Gut Cleanse, which remove the most common allergy culprits (including grains, dairy, legumes, and soy) for a month before reintroducing each food group one at a time. It’s a simple DIY way to identify any underlying sensitivities, says Pedre. You might be surprised by how differently you feel with certain ingredients completely out of your system—and how you react to reintroducing them!

4. Eating Sugar Like It’s Your Job

Americans today consume about 100 times as much sugar as we did 100 years ago. And considering research shows that high-sugar foods light up the same parts of our brain as drugs, it’s no wonder so many of us can’t kick the habit. Not only does over-consuming sugar wreck your blood sugar, but it also contributes to yeast overgrowth known as candida, which can damage your intestinal walls and cause leaky gut, according to Pedre.

Keep sugar from wreaking havoc on your body by limiting your added sugar intake (including refined carbohydrates) to 50 grams a day, tops, recommends Pedre. Start by cutting out obvious culprits, like dessert foods, soda, and refined carbs like white rice, pasta, and bread. Then swap out things like sweetened milks, fruit juices, and white wine (which often contains sugar to mask the grapes’ acidity) for unsweetened beverages, veggie juices, and red wine.

5. Staying At Your Stressful Job

According to the American Psychological Association, we’re more stressed than ever, and that’s not doing our gut (or our entire body) any favors. Whenever you get a pit in your stomach, feel nauseous, or lose your appetite because of something going on in your life, you feel stress’ impact on your gut.

Stress triggers the release of hormones like norepinephrine and cortisol, which shift your body into ‘fight or flight’ mode and sabotage your immune function. Research even shows that stress can increase gut permeability, allowing bad bacteria in and out of the gut and throwing the microbiome out of balance. This stress response can also trigger other issues, like bloating, heartburn, and acid reflux.

If saying sayonara to your micromanaging boss or gossipy co-workers really isn’t an option, Pedre recommends integrating more stress-reducing practices—such as meditation, yoga, Tai chi, and hiking—into your day-to-day routine.

Pin this infographic to keep your gut health in good shape:

6 Skin Issues Caused By Working Out—And How To Get Rid Of Them

Exercise does our bodies (and minds) a ton of good. But let’s be real: A hardcore sweat session doesn’t always have the greatest effect on our skin. All that sweat means lingering bacteria, which makes breakouts and rashes more likely to pop up—especially if you’re not wearing the right gear.

So what’s a fitness devotee supposed to do? Follow this expert advice for beating the most common workout-related skin issues out there and hopefully you’ll never have to deal with a butt bump—yep, they’re a thing—again.

Skin SOS: Chest And Back Acne

What it looks like: Scattered red and pink bumps of various sizes.

What’s happening: All sorts of culprits can cause body acne, but often it’s a result of oil, sweat, and bacteria getting trapped in the pores, says Elyse Shelger, R.N., area medical lead for the skin-care center Skin Laundry. You’re especially prone to body breakouts if you don’t shower right after you work out. And even if you’re not hanging out in sweaty clothes post-workout, the skin-care products or fabrics you’re wearing, or even your sheets and towels, could be irritating your skin.

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What to do: When you work out, wear materials that are breathable and moisture-wicking (like bamboo, cotton, GORE-TEX, and Spandex), and toss ‘em in the laundry ASAP post-sweat. Then, properly cleanse your skin as soon as possible with a soap or wash that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide—both of which exfoliate, unclog pores, and fight acne.

Skin SOS: Face Breakouts

What they look like: Surface-level whiteheads, deep blackheads, small red bumps, or deep (and often painful) cystic pimples.

What’s happening: Like with your back and chest, when the pores on your face get clogged with oil, dirt, and bacteria, pink, inflamed bumps or pustules can pop up, says Julia Tzu, M.D., founder and medical director of Wall Street Dermatology.

Related: 4 Possible Reasons Why You’re Still Breaking Out As An Adult

What to do: First thing’s first: “Try not to wear makeup while working out, as the sweat and makeup can remain in your pores and lead to pimples,” says Shelger. Then, “Sanitize your yoga mats, wash any gym or yoga towels, and try not to touch your face after your hands have been in contact with dirty surfaces.” And—no ifs, ands, or buts—wash your face with a noncomedogenic (‘non-pore-clogging’) skin-care product as soon as you’re done working out, says Tzu. Micellar cleansing water or facial wipes can come in handy if you’re in a real time crunch.

Skin SOS: Chafing

What it looks like: Red, irritated skin that can be painful when exposed to the elements (including your shower).

What’s happening: Chafing simply indicates that a sensitive area of your body—usually your underarms, nipples, thighs, or the skin beneath tight sports bra or waist bands—has fallen victim to friction. Whether from your skin rubbing against itself or against irritating clothing, too much friction can lead to redness, bumps, and that awful stinging, says Shelger.

What to do: The best way to deal with chafing is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Before you sweat, apply petroleum jelly or chamois cream to spots that are prone to irritation, and avoid wearing textured clothing. If you do develop chafing, it’s important to keep the area clean and dry to prevent further irritation, Shelger says. Apply petroleum jelly regularly to help speed up the healing process.

Skin SOS: Athlete’s Foot

What it looks like: A dry, scaly rash that’s often accompanied by super-fun symptoms like itching, burning, stinging, and redness.

What’s happening: “Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungal infection,” says Shelger. “Like other fungi, it lives and grows best in damp environments. Wearing damp socks or shoes is the most common cause, but since it’s contagious, it can also be spread by walking barefoot in gyms, locker rooms, showers, and spas.”

What to do: Antifungal creams and powders are your best bet here, says Tzu. You can grab an over-the-counter tube at your local drugstore, but if the rash gets worse, you may need to see a doctor for a prescription-strength treatment. At home, you can also try soaking your feet in diluted vinegar, which creates an acidic environment that wards off bacteria. Fill a foot tub or bucket with one part water and one part vinegar, and soak your feet for up to 10 minutes a day until your skin clears up, she suggests.

To avoid getting the rash in the first place, never share shoes or walk barefoot on mats and floors, and remove sweaty socks as soon as your workout is over so your feet can breathe, suggests Shelger.

Skin SOS: Heat Rash

What it looks like: A red, inflamed rash or tiny pink blisters.

What’s happening: Typically, heat rash happens when heat and humidity block our sweat ducts, causing them to swell, says Shelger. It’s most common in areas where the skin folds (which are harder to keep dry), or where clothing creates friction.

What to do: If you already have those tiny heat rash bumps, all you can really do is keep the area clean to prevent further irritation. “Heat rash is usually self-resolving, requiring no treatment,” Shelger explains. But if you’re dealing with any uncomfortable symptoms—like itchiness, pain, or redness—a topical OTC steroid like cortisone cream may help, says Tzu.

Skin SOS: Butt Bumps

What they look like: Clusters of inflamed bumps on the buttocks that resemble pimples or terrible razor burn. They’re often itchy and can become crusty and sore-like in more serious cases.

What’s happening: Say hello to folliculitis, a.k.a. irritated hair follicles on your booty that are likely wigging out because of sweat, dirt, or bacteria clogging your pores. This can be caused by tight pants that cause friction and prevent your skin from breathing, or hanging out in sweaty workout gear for too long, says Shelger. Your backside is one of the most common spots for folliculitis, but it’s not the only place the bumps can pop up; any spot that’s cut off from oxygen and sitting in sweat and bacteria can fall victim.

What to do: Use a gentle benzoyl peroxide skin cleanser to help banish the bumps, suggests Tzu. Otherwise, make sure you’re wearing loose, 100-percent cotton undies when you work out (or consider going commando), and change out of damp clothes as soon as you’re finished.

11 Smart Tips For Cleansing Your System, Straight From Health Experts

When someone utters the word ‘cleanse,’ a few things might come to mind—hunger and suffering among them. Thankfully, expert advice (and horror stories) has shown us that putting ourselves through the misery of week-long liquid diets doesn’t do our bodies any good long-term. In fact, these intense cleanses often deprive us of the calories we need to function properly and leave us lacking in important nutrients like protein, essential fatty acids, fiber, and electrolytes, according to Harvard Medical School.

So, no, you don’t need to go hardcore to press the ‘reset’ button, but that doesn’t mean you can’t jump-start a healthier routine after slacking. To help you do it in a healthful, balanced way, we asked top health and fitness pros to share what they do when they’re in need of a clean slate.

In the Kitchen

Wake up with water. Every expert we talked to had the same top tip: drink more water. Why? “Your kidneys are your body’s natural cleansing organ, and they need water to make sure you’re flushing your system out so that you feel your best,” says Abbey Sharp, R.D., founder of Abbey’s Kitchen. It doesn’t matter so much how you drink it—whether it’s plain water, sparkling water, or lemon water—just that you do.

To make sure you’re getting enough, pay attention to your pee. “If you’re seeing bright yellow, it’s usually a sign that you’re not getting enough water,” explains Sharp. The goal is for it to be a pale-yellow hue—any darker and you need to grab a glass of H20, stat. “If you feel thirsty, you’re probably already really dehydrated,” she adds.

Add apple cider vinegar. If you want to level up your morning hydration routine, Molly Kimball, R.D., nutrition manager at the Ochsner Fitness Center in New Orleans, suggests spiking your glass with apple cider vinegar, which supports healthy blood sugar, and contains B vitamins, calcium, potassium, and antioxidants. She likes to add two to three tablespoons of ACV to warm water, green tea, or sparkling water every A.M. to start the day on a healthy note.

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

Focus on fiber. If there’s one nutrient you should hone in on when hitting the reset button, it’s fiber. “It’s important for promoting a healthy gut, and also keeps us feeling full longer so we don’t get blood sugar spikes,” says Sharp. A few of Sharp’s fibrous go-to’s include: split peas (16.3 grams per cooked cup), broccoli (5.1 grams per cup), raspberries (eight grams per cup), pears (5.5 grams per medium fruit), and bran cereal (seven to eight grams per cup). Women should aim for 25 grams each day, while men should shoot for 38 grams.

Featured Supplements

Juice your veggies. Though we’re definitely not suggesting you consume nothing but juice for days at a time, there are some upsides to keeping it in your daily routine. For instance, Kimball likes to drink cold-pressed veggie juice in the afternoon—typically a blend of greens (like spinach or kale), beets, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, and cilantro—to help her get in an extra serving of vegetables and feel energized for the rest of the work day.

Pro tip: If you don’t have a juicer or a quality juice shop nearby, Kimball recommends adding powdered greens (Amazing Grass is her favorite brand) to water or smoothies. Just peek at the label to make sure your powdered greens contain a variety of different-colored vegetables and no added sugar, she says.

Add collagen to your coffee. “Instead of adding sugar or drinking it black, I make my coffee pull double-duty as breakfast or a snack by adding a scoop of Vital Proteins collagen to it,” says Kimball. This protein is important for strong, healthy nails, hair, skin, and joints—and can make your usual cup of Joe more satiating.

Switch up your shopping. When Carrie Underwood’s trainer, Eve Overland, C.P.T., needs to revamp her healthy-eating routine, she heads to the farmers market or grocery store with three missions: Buy a vegetable you like but rarely cook with, one that you’ve eaten before but have never cooked with, and one you’ve never tried or seen before. Once you’ve picked your produce, “find some yummy recipes and go to town,” she suggests. “Doing this with friends can also be fun and motivating.”

Watch your language. Don’t worry, potty mouths—we’re not saying you can’t drop an F-bomb when necessary, but a crucial part of giving your health that fresh slate is getting rid of the ‘good food’/‘bad food’ language we often use, says Sharp. “When we label foods as ‘bad,’ we tend to feel so deprived that we want them even more and end up bingeing,” she explains. The best way to approach a healthy cleanse is to concentrate on choosing the foods that make you feel the best and celebrating those awesome choices. Focus on the following: fiber- and nutrient-rich green veggies (like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard), eggs (for satiating protein and a range of nutrients), nuts (for unsaturated fats, fiber, and protein), and Greek yogurt (for calcium, vitamin D, and protein).

In the Gym

Prevent procrastination. It’s easy to stay in bed, scrolling through social media until—boom—all of a sudden a half-hour has flown by and you don’t have time to exercise. That’s why fitness coach Tiffany Rothe uses the “1,2,3 Go” trick. “The first thing I do when I wake up is count ‘1, 2, 3,’ then I jump out of bed, brush my teeth, and work out for at least 10 minutes,” she says. “I’ll even sleep in my workout clothes if I have to.” Why? Working out in the A.M. means there’s no ‘I need to exercise’ cloud hanging over your head later in the day—and Rothe says it encourages healthy decisions and productivity all day long.

Do a fasted workout. After going off the healthy diet and fitness rails, Joey Thurman, C.P.T., co-host of Home Sweat Home, often schedules fasted cardio first thing in the morning when his body is primed to utilize fat for energy, rather than carbs. Exercising before breakfast can significantly increase fat-burning throughout the day, according to a small study published in PLoS One.

Thurman recommends intervals: “I do eight rounds of 30-second sprints, followed by one-minute breathers.” He follows up his morning sweat with some greens, fruit, and a protein source to fuel muscle recovery.

Step in the sauna. “I am a big fan of infrared saunas,” says Overland. “Nothing says ‘cleanse’ to me more than a good sweat.” Many people leave the sauna feeling renewed—likely from sweating out so much water—and Overland finds the heat can also soothe sore muscles and rejuvenate the skin. Research suggests saunas work their magic by increasing circulation, and that regular sessions can support heart health long-term. Overland hops in the sauna for 30 minutes at a time, and follows it up with a cool shower. Just make sure you’re well-hydrated, and listen to your body when you’ve had enough.

Sign up for class. “If you’re used to doing the same old workout routine, it may be more of a challenge to get motivated to go back into doing it,” says Overland. That’s why she suggests signing up for a group exercise class. “You know you have to show up at a certain time, there is a clear beginning, middle, and end, and you won’t be tempted leave early,” she explains. “The energy is high, the music supports you, and you don’t have to think. Just do.”

If group classes aren’t your thing, consider hiring a trainer or online coach. “It doesn’t have to be for forever or a huge financial commitment,” says Overland. “Just enough time to change up your protocol.” You’ll get a fresh perspective that supports your goals and a workout that’s designed just for you.

Here’s What It Really Takes To Get A Six-Pack

Whether you’re male, female, a regular gym rat, or a weekend warrior, achieving defined abs is often considered the Holy Grail of fitness. But scoring—and maintaining—a six-pack is no joke. Getting there requires boatloads of commitment and discipline both in the kitchen and in the gym—and it’s easier for some people to achieve than it is for others.

Here’s everything you need to know about what it takes to shred up your midsection, straight from abdominal-sculpting experts themselves.

Genetics, Discipline, And More Discipline

Before you pump out a single workout or switch to kale smoothies for breakfast, your genetics determine your natural aptitude for abs. “Genetics play a role in how much muscle our bodies naturally form and how much fat we store in certain areas,” says Molly Kimball, R.D., of the Ochsner Fitness Center in New Orleans. But that’s not to say you should throw in the towel if your genetics don’t seem to be in your favor: “Your genetic makeup can make it easier or harder to get a six-pack, but it’s not going to make it impossible,” she says.

While you can’t change your DNA, you can change your workout routine and eating habits—two key factors in revealing abs, regardless of your genetics.

Work Out With A Purpose

If you want to ride the fast track to fab abs, zoning out on a cardio machine (hello, elliptical Netflix session) every once in a while just isn’t going to cut it. Generally, you’ll need to sweat it out about five days a week to really make your abs pop. Those workouts should include a balance of strength training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which will help you build muscle, rev your metabolism, and really see results.

Go for intensity, not time. Instead of spending hours slugging away at the gym, kick up your intensity. High-intensity cardio and strength training whittle away fat to help reveal your six-pack muscles, says Tina Haupert, C.P.T., nutrition coach and co-founder of Designed to Fit Nutrition.

When you alternate between intervals of hard work and rest, you burn more calories throughout the day and better challenge your body’s abilities than with longer bouts of lower-intensity exercise. In fact, research suggests that HIIT is more effective at reducing subcutaneous and abdominal fat than any other type of exercise. Swap out your usual hour-long jog for an interval session and you can torch calories and hit the showers in a half-hour or less. (Not sure what to do? Try one of these seven HIIT workouts.)

Grab a barbell. Strength training, which helps you build muscle, skyrocket your metabolism, and burn fat, is non-negotiable if you want to get ripped—and working with barbells can ramp up the emphasis on your midsection. When you perform staple moves (like squats) with a barbell, your entire core lights up in order to protect your spine, explains Ashley Borden, celebrity trainer on Khloe Kardashian’s Revenge Body. Make the barbell one of your go-to tools in the weight room, focus on big exercises like squats and deadlifts, and use weight that challenges you, and you’ll see those abs shine through, she says.

Turn up the heat with circuit-style training.  Circuit training can help you challenge and strengthen different muscle groups while engaging your core and shooting your heart rate up for an all-in-one cardio and strength workout, says Borden. Try this quick but tough circuit the next time you’re short on time but still want to maximize your six-pack progress. Choose a weight that challenges you and perform five rounds of the following four moves with as little rest in between as possible.

  • 5 deadlifts
  • 10 pushups
  • 15 jump squats
  • 1-minute forearm plank

Trade crunches for planks. Classic as they may be, crunches only work one of the muscle groups in your core—the rectus abdominis. Planks, though, attack all 360 degrees of your core, hitting muscles like your transverse abs and obliques in addition to those middle six-pack muscles as you work to keep your spine stable, says Borden. When you want to show your core a little extra love, try different planks, mountain-climbers, and even pushups.

Supplement with sleep. To see the most benefit from the work you do in the gym, you need consistent quality sleep. “Getting deep sleep is one of the most overlooked keys to keeping body and belly fat low,” says Borden. When you sleep, your brain releases growth hormone, which helps your body repair hard-worked muscles and maintain a strong metabolism.

When you miss out on sleep, though, you may end up with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which signals your body to hang onto extra weight, says Haupert. We all have different sleep needs, but aim for at least eight hours of shuteye a night to support Operation Six-Pack.

Eat For Abs

While your exercise efforts do make a difference, more than half the battle for abs takes place in the kitchen. “There are guys and girls who pound the pavement, hit the gym, and go to classes all the time, yet still have this layer of fat around their middle because of what they eat and drink,” says Kimball.

Think of it this way: Those few hundred calories you burn off in an hour at the gym can be eaten in a matter of minutes. The food choices you make either catapult you closer to abs or sabotage your progress.

Taking an “everything in moderation’ approach to food can keep your health in order, but it’s probably not going to cut it if you’re trying to see a six-pack, says Kimball. “It’s different for everyone, but for the majority of the population, there needs to be at least an 80/20 commitment to clean eating and, for many, 90/10,” she adds. That means eating for results 80 or 90 percent of the time, and indulging on treats (pizza!) 20, or just 10, percent of the time.

Beyond that, consider the following nutrition guidelines your six-pack bible.

Build well-balanced plates. Your abs eating plan starts with one basic principle: Every time you eat, your plate should contain lean proteins, healthy plant-based fats, and vegetables. Choose proteins like chicken, eggs, and fish, fats like avocados and olive oil, and non-starchy vegetables like spinach and kale, says Kimball. If you’re worried about bloating, steer clear of broccoli or cabbage.

Time your meals wisely. As soon as you start getting nit-picky about calories, you may feel like you’re on a diet—which can drain your motivation and throw off your abs-seeking efforts. Instead, hone in on the timing of your meals and aim to eat every four hours to keep your energy and metabolism steady, says Kimball. “If you focus more on that and the types of foods you eat, the amount of calories you consume will usually be in line with your goals,” she says. After all, you’re not as likely to overeat chicken, asparagus, and sautéed spinach as you are sugary vending machine snacks.

Cut down on carbs. A lot of people wonder whether they should cut down on certain foods when they want to trim down their midsection—and carbs are often the first to go. Why? “Carbs cause us to hold onto fluid,” says Kimball. We store three parts water for every one part carbohydrate—and that retained water may make you feel bloated while softening up the appearance of your six-pack.

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Here’s the thing, though: You don’t need to swear off all carbs, kiss fruit goodbye, and give up your morning oatmeal. Just steer clear of sugary foods and white processed carbs, which are the biggest bloat culprits, Kimball says.

Related: 8 Foods That Pack A Surprising Amount Of Sugar

Limit the booze. Much like carbs, alcohol causes fluid retention and bloating, explains Kimball. Plus these empty calories do nothing but sabotage your waistline. Stick to one drink a day max if a sleek stomach is top priority, and choose drinks like wine or vodka soda, which contain fewer calories and little sugar, suggests Kimball.

The Bottom Line

Unveiling and maintaining a six-pack is a lot of mental, physical, and emotional effort. “For some people, having washboard abs captures their commitment and dedication to having a certain physique,” says Haupert. But that accomplishment can come at a price—which may involve obsessing over food, avoiding food and drink-related social events, and missing out on fun to hit the gym or get to bed early.

If your sights are set on scoring a ripped middle, be honest with yourself about the effort it will take and ask yourself whether it’s worth the potential sacrifices. You may be up for the challenge, but you can still live a totally healthy lifestyle without having washboard abs. “Many of us have a lot of room for improvement with our habits, so even some tightening up nutritionally and exercise-wise can yield big results,” says Kimball.

The Best Ways To Get Back In The Zone After Slacking On Diet And Exercise

We’ve all had a few days—whether over a long weekend or on a vacation—where we’ve spent time doing a whole lot of nothing. Maybe our only workouts were walks to the kitchen or to get the mail—and our only meals came from the pizzeria around the corner.

And while there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from the world for a little while—in fact, we’d even argue it’s good for us—getting back into the swing of a healthy routine afterward can be daunting.

Should you go balls-to-the-wall, hit a crazy-hard workout, and stick to super-clean eats? Or ease into your routine slowly, maybe with some restorative yoga and healthy-ish grub?

You don’t need a detox or an all-green diet to feel better—but there is a way to strategize your day so you don’t slip into a slump. From the gym to the kitchen, here’s how the experts suggest you bounce back.

At The Gym

Getting back to the gym after a few days off is tough—especially if you were on a nice lazy vacation—because it’s basically like a smack in the face that you are, in fact, back to reality. But don’t delay! “All you really need to do is restart and convince yourself—and your body—to get back in the groove,” says personal trainer Michael Blauner, C.P.T. “There’s no right or wrong way or amount of time necessary to start feeling great again.

Walk it out. Hitting the gym or cranking out a HIIT workout probably sounds terrible right now—so don’t push yourself through anything torturous. Keep it simple and head out for a walk, suggests Blauner. “That gets all the cylinders firing and quickly reminds you of how great you feel from exercise,” he says. Just set a timer or use an app to track your pace and try to hit a mile in 15 minutes or less. And put a little extra pep in your step after that first mile, if you can.

Start with what you love. If you’re feeling up to a little more than a stroll, give your body extra incentive to get back into action with your favorite workout. If you love dance, sign up for a shake-your-thang session with your favorite instructor. If you prefer strength training, hit the weight room. Focus on fun, not on burning calories.

Don’t worry about time. Your workouts shouldn’t feel like punishment for treating yourself and you don’t need to exercise for hours on end to make up for days you’ve missed. “Go with your instincts regarding how long your workout should be,” says Blauner. If 20 minutes is all you’ve got in the tank, then 20 minutes is all you’ve got in the tank. Do what you can, and as the week progresses, gradually tack on more time until you’re back to business as usual.

Follow a structured workout. When you don’t have the energy or willpower to decide what workout to do, having someone else tell you what to do might be just what you need to get your sweat on instead of crashing back onto the couch. This post-vacation workout from Blauner hits most of your major muscle groups and will jump-start your metabolism.

Need instructions for the moves? We’ve got you covered:

Move #1: Jump Squats
Start standing with feet hips-width distance apart. Lower into a squat. From the squat position, swing your arms back for momentum and push through your feet to explosively jump up into the air. Land softly and immediately lower into another squat for your second rep.

Move #2: Pushups
Start in a plank position with your hands planted on the ground beneath your shoulders and your body forming a straight line from head to toe. Keeping your core tight and body straight, bend at the elbows to lower your chest toward the ground. Then slowly push through your hands to push back up to the starting position.

Move #3: Seated Rows
Hold a moderately heavy dumbbell in each hand. Sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor and your abs engaged. Lift your arms to hold the dumbbells out straight in front of you with palms facing in. Squeezing your shoulder blades as if holding a tennis ball between them, row the dumbbells back until your elbows are behind you. Then extend your arms back to their original straight position.

Move #4: Bicep Curls
Stand with feet hips-width distance apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down by your sides and palms facing up. Keeping them close to your sides, bend at the elbows to curl the dumbbells up toward your biceps. Slowly lower down to return to start.

Move #5: Low Plank
Adjust the regular plank position by lowering down so that your elbows are planted on the ground beneath your shoulders, and your hands are flat on the floor in front of you. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your toes. Engage your core and shift your weight forward slightly. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.

Move #6: Mountain-Climbers
Start in a plank position. Engage your abs and quickly drive your left knee in towards your chest. Return your right leg to the starting position as you quickly drive your right knee in toward your chest. Continue quickly alternating for 15 reps on each side.

Move #7: Sit-Ups
Start lying on your back, with your feet flat on the floor and your arms crossed over your chest. (Locking your hands behind your head can strain your neck.) Engage your abs and drive your chest forward to sit all the way up. With control, lower back to the starting position.

In The Kitchen

As much as we enjoy our favorite treats, eating them for days straight can leave us feeling bloated, puffy, and tired afterward. And, when we eat way outside our norm for more than a few days (like we would on a long trip), then it’s common to come home with a not-so-happy digestive system, says clinical nutrition coach Ariane Hundt, M.S.

Related: 5 Foods That Could Be Messing With Your Gut

If you just want to feel like your best self again stat, that’s reasonable—but you’ll need to be patient. “One full day of indulgences—like lots of starches, sugar, and alcohol—may take two to three days to undo, so be patient and focus on re-balancing your diet.” Here’s your plan of action:

Increase your water intake. Your body tends to hold onto water after indulgent meals, so drinking a lot of water can help re-balance the electrolytes in your system (like sodium) and nix the bloat, says Hundt. Keep an eye on your urine and make sure it’s always pretty close to clear, she says.

Load up on fibrous veggies. In addition to avoiding sugar, noshing on fiber-filled veggies can help free you from sugar spikes and get your blood sugar back into balance, says Hundt. Fiber helps keep your digestive system moving and can help you get that leftover junk out of your system, she explains. Broccoli, asparagus, cucumbers, and mixed greens are especially good choices.

Related: Shop a selection of foods and drinks to support healthy eating.

Eat protein regularly. “Protein is the most satiating nutrient and the most helpful in preventing an appetite surge,” says Hundt. Try to eat lean proteins, such as chicken, lean grass-fed beef, and pasteurized eggs consistently throughout the day. Eat a serving of protein about every four hours to keep your energy and appetite balance, Hundt recommends.

Step away from the sugar. Sugar can create blood sugar imbalances that translate to major energy highs and lows, says Hundt. Post-sugar energy crashes can just make you—you guessed it—reach for more sugar, which is the last thing you need when trying to get back into your routine. Limit the sugar (and refined carbs) you eat and drink and reach for protein, instead. “Grab a few turkey slices, eat an extra side of chicken breast with lunch, or drink a protein shake,” she suggests.

Hundt designed the following one-day meal plan with these tips in mind, to help you feel like your usual self as soon as possible.

The Right Way To Ramp Up Your Fitness Post-Baby

You see these sorts of headlines all over the Internet: “Beyoncé wears a crop top and short shorts less than two months after welcoming twins.” And here you are eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at 11 p.m. because you just realized you hadn’t eaten all day.

Even though you’re not Beyoncé, the pressure to whip yourself back into pre-baby shape is real—and it can be overwhelming and a little scary. “It’s easy to forget that celebrities have an entire team of people to help them lose weight as quickly as possible,” says Gina Harney, C.P.T., creator of The Fitnessista’s Post-Baby Bod Plan. (Not to mention, unlike many of us, they can afford childcare, which means more gym time).

Thankfully, social media has made it easier than ever to connect with real images of mothers—and their postpartum bodies, serving as a necessary reminder that bouncing back takes time. It’s true—once you’ve had a baby, your body is changed forever, but that’s not a bad thing. “You can increase your speed, strength, energy, and crush your fitness game after having babies,” Harney says.

Here’s everything you need to know in order to craft a good-for-you fitness schedule postpartum:

Your Post-Baby Fitness Plan

First thing’s first: No matter what anyone says, there is no concrete timeline for when you should be “back in shape.” Every woman is different, and your bounce-back depends on your fitness level before and during the pregnancy, says OB/GYN Shyama Matthews, M.D. “The important thing is for exercise to be stress-relieving, not stress-provoking,” she says. Taking care of a baby is hard enough without putting intense demands on your fitness and body.

Most doctors recommend—or at least give you the green light—to resume gentle exercise six weeks after giving birth, barring there have been no complications. “It takes about this long for our bodies to return to the normal pre-pregnancy physiologic state, [and] it allows incisions to heal before starting any activity,” Matthews says.

But where do you even start? If you’ve hit that six-week mark and have been cleared by your doc to start moving, this guide will help you navigate the first six months of exercising post-baby.

Rules For The Road

Choose sleep over exercise. If you had a horrible night of sleep (or, more realistically, a string of horrible nights), try to snooze when the baby’s sleeping during the day, suggests Harney. Even if it means skipping exercise. “Chances are that you won’t have the energy to get in a strong workout anyway, so bank that sleep when you can,” she says. Why? Missing out on sleep can leave you with elevated cortisol levels, which signal your body to hold onto fat.

Eat more protein. You know getting enough protein is important no matter what fitness level you’re at, but it’s especially important to load up on postpartum. That’s because protein not only helps take care of your tissues and organs, but helps you build muscle, which revs your metabolism and supports fat-shedding. “Make sure that you have a serving of protein at each meal and snack to encourage lean muscle building,” says Harney. (Think a palm-sized piece of meat or poultry, or a scoop of protein powder.)

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Down that H2O. “For new moms, it’s crucial to stay hydrated,” says Taylor Merritt, C.P.T., C.H.E.S., general manager at TITLE Boxing Club San Diego. That’s especially true if you’re breastfeeding, and hoping to exercise on top of that. Merritt suggests keeping a water bottle with you at all times, and setting reminders on your phone to drink up throughout the day.

Related: 8 Fun Ways To Drink More Water When You Hate Water

Months 1 and 2

Walk, walk, walk. The first order of business is building up your cardiorespiratory fitness, says Matthews. “The number one thing every woman should do in the first month is to get out of the house and walk,” says Merritt. “Load the baby up in the stroller, carrier, or wrap, take it at your own pace, and stop if you feel any discomfort,” she says. Try to walk at least five days a week, for just 10 minutes at a time at first. As you feel stronger, you can start adding minutes to your walks, she says.

Skip the heavy weights. When it comes to strength training, patience is key. For now, big movements are off the table. “Squatting and lifting heavy put too much pressure on your pelvic floor and can cause bleeding to worsen or your stitches to tear,” says Merritt. Also, because your joints are still loose from the hormones that help them relax during pregnancy and childbirth, you’ll want to avoid any exercise that involves jumping or quick movements.

Instead, focus on your postural muscles (like your back and glutes), since the added weight on your front side during pregnancy can wreak havoc and throw off your posture, says Harney. It’s important to show those postural muscles some love, especially since you’ll rely on them when you’re lifting and carrying your babe. Her go-to moves: bent-over wide rows, hip bridges, hip extensions, and cat-cow pose.

And don’t worry, you don’t have to lay off the weights entirely. As a general rule of thumb, Harney recommends starting with bodyweight-only for lower body moves, but it’s okay to incorporate light weights for upper body work (think five or 10-pound dumbbells for exercises like bicep curls, tricep extensions, and shoulder presses). Start with one or two days of strength training per week and build up to two or three days per week, she says.

No core work, though. Moves that work your rectus abdominis (six-pack muscles) put a lot of pressure in your abdomen, which you’ll want to avoid as your body heals from childbirth, says Harney. Stay away from traditional core exercises like crunches, planks, situps, and leg raises—even pushups will put too much pressure on your abs.

Plus, for many women, diastasis recti—a condition in which the large abdominal muscles separate—is a concern after childbirth. It happens when the connective tissue (called the linea alba) that runs down the middle of your core becomes weakened or stretched out. “It can make you look pregnant when you’re not, and because the core muscles are weak, it can throw a lot of other things out of whack,” says Harney. (Women with diastasis recti might deal with back pain and pelvic floor-related issues, like incontinence.) Two fingers-width of separation between your abs muscles is considered normal post-pregnancy, but having more than that requires being extra careful, she says.

To help heal diastasis recti, you basically need to re-teach your abdominal muscles how to work together, so you’ll need to avoid all crunching motions and extreme oblique training. “If you overtrain your obliques, they will continue to pull your abs apart,” says Harney. The general strength-training moves you are allowed to do will still work your abdominal muscles without putting you in harm’s way.

Do your Kegels. Ah, the beloved Kegel exercise. We’ve all been told to do it—but after you have a kid, it’s really time to get to work. “Many woman complain of urine leakage or frequent urination after delivering, and that’s because the pelvic floor muscles have just worked extra hard to carry the pregnancy, and can be stretched during vaginal delivery,” says Matthews. Kegel exercises help to strengthen the pelvic floor and help retain control of the bladder and urethra, she says.

Don’t remember how to do one? Contract your pelvic floor muscles for five seconds, then relax for five seconds. Focus on tightening those pelvic floor muscles, not your abs or glutes, says The Mayo Clinic. Build up to tightening your muscles for intervals of 10 seconds. Matthews recommends doing 15 to 20 reps several times a day—you can even knock ‘em out while brushing your teeth or doing the dishes, so that you actually remember to get them done, she says.

Another option: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, says Harney. Place one hand on your belly. Inhale to fill your belly (you want your belly to open up like an umbrella instead of your chest rising). As you exhale, pull your belly in and contract your pelvic floor.

Months 3 and 4

Pick up the pace. Now that your body has gotten used to daily walks, it’s time to up the ante. Increase your speed and pump your arms to help, or incorporate a light jog, suggests Merritt. You can even try intervals of fast walking or jogging for 30 seconds, followed by a minute of walking, she says. “This helps get your heart rate up and burn more calories.”

Check in on abdominal separation. If you have diastasis recti, now’s a good time to check your progress. While you can check it on your own, you do need to be super-careful and only touch the area very gently, because you’re likely touching organs in that space between your muscles, says Harney. If the idea makes you nervous or queasy, though, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor, midwife, or physical therapist to check for you.

At this point, if the separation is still two fingers-width or greater, continue modifying your exercises and stay away from more intense moves like planks and crunches. You could also try exercises like cat-cow pose, hip raises, and heel slides to mix things up, Harney suggests.

Go compound. If making time to work out before a baby was hard, it’s definitely a challenge now. That’s why Harney suggests using compound movements—which involve more than one exercise—to make the most of your strength-training time once you get used to exercising again.

At this point, it’s also okay to start adding bigger movements, like squats, back into your routine, says Harney. “You will likely feel more comfortable with basic strength training at this point, and ready to add in the challenge of a compound exercise.” Just be sure to maintain good form, and stay away from heavy weights until your doc gives you the go-ahead—again, you don’t want to put too much pressure on your pelvic floor.

Not sure which moves to do? Harney suggests a squat to upright row, bent-over row to triceps extension, and lunge to leg lift.

Months 5 and 6

Add in more weights. If you’ve been keeping up with light strength training up until this point, you’re likely ready for more of a challenge. Maintain your two to three strength-training sessions per week, and start to focus on lifting heavier (as long as your doc says it’s okay). If you can perform 10 reps of a given exercise with perfect form, it’s time to slowly up your weight, says Harney.

Start to jump. Now you can also consider incorporating plyometric exercises—think jump lunges and burpees—back into your workout rotation. If you’re breastfeeding, though, you might want to avoid stacking plyo moves back-to-back. Your chest is likely to be more tender and prone to leakage, and moves that involve a lot of bouncing for extended periods of time could make you feel extra sore or cause you to leak. Harney also recommends breastfeeding or pumping before working out and investing in a good sports bra to keep the girls as comfy as possible.

Check for diastasis rectiagain. Yep, this is something you’re going to want to keep improving on. If you’ve got less than two fingers-width of separation, you’re in the clear to resume any exercises you were previously modifying or skipping altogether, like full push-ups or planks, says Harney. But don’t feel like you have to push it just because you’ve hit the six-month mark. “It’s smarter to take it slowly,” she says. You can always add them back in later—and pushing yourself too hard may hinder your recovery.

7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is pretty much everywhere these days—and for good reason. With so many of us crunched for workout time and short on attention span, trainers across the country have turned to these quick but effective workouts.

Here’s how HIIT works: “You exert your maximum physical effort in a series of short work intervals, coupled with short periods of recovery,” says fitness and nutrition coach Adam Rosante, C.P.T., creator of Strong(h)er. Often, workouts take just a half-hour or less. This format leads to something called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. Because you push so hard during the work intervals, you increase your body’s need for oxygen both during your rest intervals and throughout the day after your workout. The extra work your body does to deliver that oxygen boosts your resting metabolic rate, a.k.a. the amount of calories you burn at rest.

In simple terms: You burn a lot of calories during the workout, and then continue burning more than you normally would after the workout is over. The key is making sure you really push it (we’re talking level-10 effort) during those work intervals, Rosante says.

Sounds pretty sweet, right? Put HIIT to work and try one (or all!) of these seven, top trainer-approved routines.

HIIT Workout #1: The ‘Complete 180’ Workout

Your trainer: Joey Thurman, C.P.T., author of 365 Health and Fitness Hacks That Could Save Your Life

“This workout is a mix between maximal heart rate aerobic conditioning and anaerobic (muscular) stimulation,” says Thurman. That means you work your cardiovascular system and your muscles. This three-move workout will challenge your cardio and work every muscle in your body.

The goal of this workout is to complete 180 total reps (hence the name) as safely and as quickly as possible. You’ll cycle through three moves, first performing 16 reps of each, then 14 of each, then 12, 10, and eight.

Rest and grab water as needed. Just try not to rest for more than 60 seconds, says Thurman.

Here are the moves:

Pushup with Oblique Knee Tuck
Start in pushup position with your hands about shoulder-width apart. Engage your core and bend at the elbows to slowly lower down until your chest reaches the ground. Then drive up through your palms and use your chest, shoulders, and triceps to push back up. Once you’re back at the top position, bring one foot slightly off of the ground and tuck your knee toward the same shoulder, engaging your obliques. Return your leg to starting position and repeat that tucking movement with the other leg. That’s one rep.

Bridge Crunch
Flip your body around so that your chest is facing the sky and you are in a reverse table-top position with your palms and the soles of your feet planted firmly on the ground. (This is also known as a bridge tuck.) Engage your glutes and keep your hips up. Contract your abs and bring one knee in toward your chest. Bring that knee back to starting position, then pull other knee in toward chest. That’s one rep.

Split Jump
Stand with your feet hips-width apart. Step your right foot back and lower into a lunge, with a 90-degree bend in both knees. Jump up explosively and switch your legs mid-air to land softly with your feet in the opposite position. Immediately lower back into a lunge and repeat the move with the mid-air leg switch so your original front foot is back in front. That’s one rep.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

HIIT Workout #2: The Do-Anywhere, Bodyweight-Only Workout

Your trainer: Adam Rosante, C.P.T., strength and nutrition coach

“I love to put a series of bodyweight moves together for a fat-burning and muscle-strengthening workout that can be done anywhere,” says Rosante. “This routine eviscerates fat and really targets the legs, butt, chest, shoulders and abs, while also putting a focus on the upper back (something that’s almost always neglected in bodyweight workouts) for balanced strength and postural alignment.”

You’ll perform six exercises back-to-back for 30 seconds each. Go as hard as you can and rest only when absolutely necessary. After you finish the sixth move, rest for 30 seconds. That’s one round. Repeat for up to eight rounds total. (It’ll take less than a half hour!)

Tip: Rosante recommends using an interval app on your phone so that you don’t get distracted from your workout by checking your watch or wall clock.

Here are the six moves you’ll be crushing:

1 1/4 Squat Jumps
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lower down into a squat. (Just maintain the natural arch in your lower back.) Then press through your heels to lift a quarter of the way back up. Lower down again, and then drive through the heels to explosively jump as high as you can. Land softly.

Cross-Body Mountain Climbers
Start in high-plank position. Drive your right knee to your left elbow, then return it back to starting position as you start to drive your left knee to your right elbow. Repeat at a quick pace, as if sprinting.

Split Jumps
Stand with your feet hips-width apart. Step your right foot back and lower into a lunge, with a 90-degree bend in both knees. Jump up explosively and switch your legs mid-air to land softly with your feet in the opposite position. Immediately lower back into a lunge and repeat the move with the mid-air leg switch so your original front foot is back in front. That’s one rep.

Contraction Pushups
Start at the top of a pushup position. Contract your core and bend at the elbows to lower your body all the way to the ground, then draw your shoulder blades together and squeeze the muscles in your upper back. Hold for five seconds. Release the contraction and push back up to start. That’s one rep.

Power Planks
Start in a low plank position on your forearms and toes. Keep your core engaged. Raise your hips high into the air, lift your right foot, and drive your right knee in toward your chest. Return to start. Repeat, this time lifting your left foot and driving your left knee in toward your chest. Return to start. That’s one rep.

Burpees
Stand with feet hips-width apart. Squat down and place your hands flat on the floor. Jump your feet back to land at the top of a pushup position, then immediately lower your entire body to the floor. Explosively press back up and jump your feet forward to land in a crouched position. Jump straight up as high as you can and your hands directly overhead. Land softly. That’s one rep.

HIIT Workout #3: The ‘F45 Foxtrot’ Workout

Your trainer: Riley Wafful, CP.T. at F45 Training

Wafful loves to vary the intervals in his HIIT sessions. Why? “The blend of endurance sets and short sprints sends your muscles into a state of shock. When coupled with a hybrid of cardio and resistance exercises, this will elevate your heart rate and ramp up fat burning,” she says.

This tough workout takes just 15 minutes—unless you’re feeling bold enough to double it for a full 30 minutes of sweat. You’ll perform four sets of five different exercises. In your first set, you’ll go hard for 45 seconds and rest for 15 seconds. Then in your second set, you’ll go hard for 20 seconds and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat that pattern for your last two sets. Move through each exercise back-to-back.

Here are those five exercises:

Kettlebell Squat and Upright Row
Stand with your feet hips-width distance apart and place a kettlebell on the ground between your feet. Drop down into a deep squat and grab the kettlebell. As you stand up, row the kettlebell up to chest height. Extend your arms back down to lower the kettlebell, then squat back down to place the kettlebell back on the floor. Return to standing position. That’s one rep.

Bench Hops
Find a bench that’s about two feet tall, and stand beside it with the length of the bench alongside you. Plant your hands on the bench and jump up and over it to land on the other side. Repeat.

Around-the-Clock Box Step-Ups
Start standing with a box on your right side. Plant your right foot on the box and lower into a slight squat. Push through your heels to jump up into the air, rotating to the next side of the box as you jump. Return to standing position before lowering back down into a squat and repeating. Work your way around all four sides of the box.

Battle Ropes Frog Stomps
Start standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, holding a battle rope in each hand. Lower into a wide, low squat. Stay low and quickly lift one foot up at a time (in a stomping pattern) while whipping the battle ropes up and down in an alternating wave pattern.

Related: 9 Battlerope Moves To Build Strength And Get Shredded

Mountain-Climber Shoulder Taps
Start in a high-plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders and your body forming a straight line. Quickly drive one knee at a time in toward your chest as if sprinting. Complete 10 mountain-climbers. Then, starting in that plank position, lift one hand off the ground at a time to tap your opposite shoulder. Continue in an alternating pattern for six shoulder taps. Then return to the mountain-climbers.

I biked 20 miles today…just by working and training out of several locations across NYC. I did an intense strength program with my coach, I worked with a lovely new client dealing with Parkinson's, I had inspiring meetings, trained 2 of my favorite strong, successful women, and taught 3 classes. And I kept thinking about how thankful I am that this is now my life. I'm not the depressed, overweight, lost person I was. I am the strongest, most powerful, happy, grateful form of myself I have ever been, and the physical transformation of the last several years has been even more amazing personally. Today, I'm strong and proud AF, and excited to help other people on their journeys everyday. Own your strength and own your power. Every damn day. #tbt #strongwomen #strengthcoach #strongereveryday #alwaysimproving #grateful #bestversionofme

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HIIT Workout #4: The ‘Pick-Up-Those-Weights’ Workout

Your trainer: Ippolita di Paola, C.P.T. at LifeTime Athletic

“My favorite workout is a 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off fat-torcher that allows you to give your absolute max effort of speed and power by providing just enough recovery in between,” says di Paola.

You’ll perform three sets of 30 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of rest for each of this workout’s five exercises. Di Paola loves that this workout keeps you from getting too bored or too fatigued in one muscle group to keep performing. One run-through of the workout takes 15 minutes.

Here are the moves you’ll use:

Sit Outs (a.k.a. Break Dancers)
Start on all fours with your wrists below your shoulders, your knees below your hips, and toes planted on the ground. Push your knees up so they hover an inch or two off the ground. (This is ‘bear crawl’ position.) Tuck your right knee beneath your torso to kick your right leg out through to the opposite side so it fully extends out to the left. Rotate your hips to the left and up toward the ceiling and lift your left hand off the ground and up toward the ceiling. Staying low, come back to your starting bear crawl position. Repeat in the opposite direction, kicking out your left leg and reaching up with your right arm. Then return to starting position and repeat.

Double Kettlebell Swings
Start standing with your feet hips-width distance apart and two kettlebells placed in between your feet just in front of you. Hinge your hips back (like in a deadlift) while maintaining a flat back and open chest, with your shoulders higher than your hips and your hips higher you’re your knees. Grab the kettlebell handles and engage your lats. Swing the bells back through your legs then drive your hips powerfully forward to reach a standing position and allow the bells to float up to about ribs or shoulder-height. The top of your swing should look like a standing plank, with your legs and core tense, before the bells fall back toward your hips, propelling you into your next swing. Bring the bells back between your legs again and repeat. Make sure that your legs and hips are applying the force here.

Renegade Rows
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and get into a high-plank position with your wrists below your shoulders, your back flat, and your body in a straight line. Engage your core and legs to keep you stable. Row one dumbbell from the floor up to your rib cage and squeeze your shoulder blades together. (Try not to rotate your hips.) Lower the dumbbell back to floor and repeat on other side.

Kettlebell Overhead Lunges
Start by holding a kettlebell overhead in each hand with the handles resting across your palms and the bells resting on the outside of your wrists. Keep your arms and wrists straight in line with your ears.  Engage your core and step one foot back into a reverse lunge. Bring that foot back to center to return to start. Then step your other foot back into a reverse lunge. (Make it easier by bringing the kettlebells down to a racked position at shoulder-height instead of overhead.)

Hanging Leg Raises
With hands in line with shoulders, hang from a bar with straight arms. Use your core to lift your legs towards your chest. (It’s harder if you keep your legs extended straight out, otherwise you can bend your knees and draw them up.) With control, lower your legs back to the starting position.

Lateral Wall Balls
Stand perpendicular to a wall with your feet shoulders-width distance apart. Hold a ball between your hands at chest height. Use your core, arms, and back leg to rotate and throw the ball into the wall. Catch the ball and return to starting position. Repeat. (Switch sides for the second set, and then switch sides halfway through the third set.)

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HIIT Workout #5: The Battleropes Workout

Your trainer: Mark Langowski, C.P.T., founder of Body By Mark Wellness

“Battleropes are such a great piece of equipment because, at the end of the day, they’re efficient,” says Langowski. “You hit your legs, arms, back, and shoulders, all while elevating your heart rate.”

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, don’t you think? You’ll perform three to four sets of just two moves. Beginners will perform each move for 30 seconds, while more advanced trainees can perform each for a full minute. You’ll rest as little as possible between rounds, so if you follow 30-second intervals, you’ll be done in just about five minutes. If you’re up for 60-second intervals of work, you’ll be done in 10.

Don’t worry about the small time commitment, though — these two moves will tire you out just fine:

Beat the Drum
Stand in a slight squat position, holding the ends of two battleropes. With your hands at about waist-height (as if you were beating a drum), whip the battle ropes up and down in an alternating wave pattern as fast as you can. Be sure to keep your abs tight and legs still.

Pushups
As soon as you’re done with the battleropes, quickly drop into a plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders and toes planted. Bend at the elbows to lower into a pushup, then drive through your palms to push back up. (You want to hit at least 15 to 20 pushups per interval, so drop your knees if necessary.)

HIIT Workout #6: The TRX Master Workout

 Your trainer: Emily Cook Harris, C.P.T., founder of EMPOWERED

This workout targets your entire body—and takes less than 20 minutes to power through. “You’re varying the muscles that are worked from one movement to the next, so everything gets hit without completely fatiguing one muscle group,” says Cook Harris. You’ll tax your muscles and keep your heart rate elevated.

Cook Harris likes using TRX straps because they require a lot of core strength and stabilization—so every move is a core move.

In this workout, you’ll perform two speedy circuits of four exercises each. You’ll perform one move as fast as possible (with good form) for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds, and then move on to the next exercise. You’ll repeat each circuit twice. Check ‘em out:

CIRCUIT 1 (TRX straps at mid-length)

TRX Low Row
Stand facing the TRX structure and hold the handles with palms facing each other. Extend your arms as you lean back and walk your feet forward so your body is a straight line at a 45-degree angle from the ground. Dig your heels into the ground. Squeeze your shoulder blades and pull your chest up through the handles, keeping elbows pointed back and slightly outwards. (Be sure to squeeze your core and glutes to keep your back straight as you row.) Pause for a second at the top of the row before lowering back to the straight-arm starting position. Repeat.

TRX Squat + Squat Jump
Stand facing the TRX with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the handles at chest height in front of you with your elbows in at your sides and your palms facing in. (Stand far back enough that there’s tension in the straps.) Push your hips back and lower into a squat and push up through your heels to return to the starting position. Lower into another squat, this time driving through your heels to push off the ground, extend your hips, and jump up into the air. (You can lean back slightly since the tension in the TRX is countering your weight.) Land softly. Repeat.

TRX Single-Leg Hinge + Knee Drive
Stand facing the TRX, with your right leg planted and your left foot hovering above the ground. Hold the handles at about rib height with your arms extended and palms facing the floor. (Keep tension in the straps.) Press into the handles and extend your left leg straight back behind you, while keeping your hips squared. Keep a slight bend in your standing right leg as you hinge through the hips (like you would in a deadlift) and drive the heel of the extended left leg back. Continue to press into the handles and use your core to return to a standing position. As you do, bend your left knee and drive it up toward your chest. Lower your left leg to return to the starting position.  Complete two reps on one side before switching legs. (Emphasize slow and controlled movement and feel the activation in your glutes, hamstrings, and core.) Repeat.

TRX Split Jumps
Stand facing the TRX, with your feet hips-width distance apart. Hold the handles at about chest height with your arms extended and palms facing in. (Keep tension in the straps.) Step your right foot back and lower into a lunge. Jump up explosively, and switch your legs in mid-air to land softly with your feet in the opposite position. Immediately lower back into a lunge on the other side. Repeat.

CIRCUIT 2 (TRX straps at longest length)

TRX Chest Press
Stand facing away from the TRX with your feet shoulder-width distance apart. Hold the handles at chest height in front of you with your arms extended and palms facing the floor. With your body straight from head to heels, shift your weight to the balls of your feet and bend your elbows to lower your chest toward floor. Keep your hands high enough to prevent the straps from rubbing against your arms. Push up to return to starting position, maintaining a strong core and straight back throughout. Repeat.

TRX High Knees
Stand facing away from the TRX with your feet hips-width distance apart. Hold the handles at chest height with your elbows tight to your sides and palms facing in. Lean forward, shifting your weight to the balls of your feet, until the straps become taut. Keeping your core tight, drive your left knee up toward your chest while pressing down through the ball of your right foot. Quickly bring the left foot back to starting position, and repeat the movement with your right leg. Repeat.

TRX Pike
Start in high-plank position, facing away from the TRX, with your feet resting laces-down in the cradles. Engage your core and keep your legs straight as you lift your hips up to form an upside-down V (called a ‘pike’). Allow your head to drop naturally as your hips rise. With control, lower your hips back into high plank.  Stay strong through the core, press your feet into the handles, and tighten your quads. Repeat.

TRX Hamstring Runners
Start lying on your back with your arms at your sides and your heels resting in the foot cradles. Keeping your legs straight and core tight, engage your glutes and lift your hips off the floor. (Don’t arch your back!) Keep your hips lifted and drive one knee in towards your chest. Extend that leg back out and, at the same time, drive opposite knee in. Repeat quickly.

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HIIT WORKOUT #7: The ‘Dominate Dumbbells’ Workout

Your trainer: celebrity trainer Astrid Swan, C.P.T.

This workout is Swan’s personal go-to when she only has a few minutes to sweat. “I love it because it is the perfect balance of upper and lower-body strength work, and it still gets my heart rate up,” Swan says.

In this workout, you’ll perform a circuit of five exercises three times. For each exercise, you’ll go hard for 40 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds before moving on to the next exercise. After you’ve performed all five exercises, you’ll rest for a full 60 seconds before starting the next round.

Get to work with those five exercises:

Burpee to Alternating Snatch
Start standing with your feet shoulder-width distance apart and a dumbbell on the floor just ahead of you. Perform a full burpee by planting your hands on the ground and jumping your feet straight out behind you so you land in a plank position. Then lower your body down to the ground, and push up, floating your feet into a crouched position so you can then explode upward in a jump. After the burpee, you’ll squat down to pick up the dumbbell for a snatch. Bend your knees and reach down to grip the dumbbell with your left hand. Your weight will be slightly forward. Squeeze your shoulder blades and bent at the elbow to forcefully push through your hips to row the dumbbell upward, as close to your body as possible. (You’ll come up onto your toes here.) Then, as the dumbbell approaches shoulder height, rotate your forearm up and back so it rests at about shoulder height and dip down into a slight squat. Push up from that slight squat and push the dumbbell up to the ceiling so your arm is fully extended overhead. Return the dumbbell to the ground. Perform your next burpee and then a snatch using your right arm. Repeat.

Renegade Rows
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and get into a high-plank position with your wrists below your shoulders, your back flat, and your body in a straight line. Engage your core and legs to keep you stable. Row one dumbbell from the floor up to your rib cage and squeeze your shoulder blades together. (Try not to rotate your hips.) Lower the dumbbell back to floor and repeat on other side.

Mountain Climbers
Start in high-plank position. Drive your right knee to your right elbow, and then return it back to starting position as you start to drive your left knee to your left elbow. Repeat at a quick pace, as if sprinting.

Alternating Lunges with Bicep Curl
Start standing with feet hips-width distance apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Step your right foot forward into a forward lunge. While in the forward lunge position, curl the dumbbells up to your chest and then lower back down to hanging position. Push off from your front heel and return to the standing position, keeping hips tucked. Repeat on the other leg.

Pushup Dumbbell Drag
Start in push-up position (high plank) with a dumbbell in one hand. Keeping your core engaged, lower your chest to ground for an uneven push-up. Push up through the floor to return to the starting position. Drag the dumbbell to the other side and grip it with your opposite hand. Repeat the pushup. Continue alternating.

Workout Dos And Don’ts For Every Trimester Of Pregnancy

With celebs bouncing back into their size 0 jeans less than a month after giving birth—and the internet’s recent obsession with moms-to-be maintaining six-pack abs—it’s no wonder pregnant women think a lot about what a bun in the oven means for their fitness. Whether you’re an avid gym-goer or a newbie to the exercise scene, Shyama Mathews, M.D., an OB-GYN in Princeton, New Jersey, says many women feel pressure to stay or get fit throughout their pregnancy.

Before you rush off to the gym, though, talk to your doc. “In your early appointments, bring up your desire to exercise, what you usually do, and what you want to do throughout your pregnancy,” says Mathews.

Then, assuming you have a healthy pregnancy and the doc gives the all-clear, it’s cool to start moving. Not only will exercise benefit you—moms experience increased blood flow to the uterus [which means more oxygen and nutrients to the baby], a decreased risk of diabetes, and generally have more energy when they exercise while pregnant—but it will also directly affect the baby’s growth and jump-start your postpartum recovery, says Mathews. Follow these guidelines through each trimester and before you know it you’ll be welcoming a healthy bundle of joy feeling just as healthy yourself.

exercise pregnant 1.jpg

FIRST TRIMESTER

Be prepared for energy drains. Many women figure out they’re pregnant after dealing with sore boobs, frequent nausea, and utter exhaustion—but Amanda Butler, certified personal trainer at The Fhitting Room in New York City (and soon-to-be mama herself), says getting into the gym can help with that third symptom. “In the first trimester, after I’d go to the gym I’d feel so much better,” she says. “It really helped boost my energy and my mood.”

Plus, strength training—with bouts of cardio and plenty of stretching—will better prepare your body for what’s going to happen throughout the next nine months. “You’re going to put on weight, so you want strong legs and a strong back to support the growing parts of your body,” says Butler. Not to mention a strong core will help you recover post-pregnancy, and will make tasks like picking up diaper bags and strollers easier later on.

Maintain a healthy diet. “One of the biggest wives’ tales is that you’re eating for two and anything goes,” says Mathews. Sure, you can have that bowl of ice cream if you’re really hankering for it, but you still want to eat healthy overall. After all, baby is getting the nutrients that you eat, so nourishing them with plenty of vitamins and minerals is a good call.

Sweat as usual. “In the initial stages of the first trimester, keeping up the level of activity that your body is conditioned to is perfectly fine,” says Mathews. So if you run, go ahead and keep running. If you lift, get after it. “Different things that might pop up later—back pain, bowel movement changes, joint pain—can be improved if you keep up with your fitness,” she says.

But there is one exception: “Contact sports and very aggressive forms of exercise, where direct trauma may come into play, should be avoided at any point of the pregnancy,” says Mathews. Butler also recommends modifying super high-impact exercises, like burpees, by jumping your feet in and out in a high-plank position.

But dont start a brand-new workout routine. “Now is not the time to take on a new, aggressive routine,” says Mathews. This might sound like common sense, but both Butler and Mathews say many women try to start up a hardcore fitness routine as soon as they find out they’re pregnant, thinking they need to be in the best shape of their lives before delivery. But going from zero to marathon training just puts you at risk for dehydration, shortness of breath, and a higher risk of injury, says Mathews.

That said, this isn’t an invitation to become a couch potato. “Start slow, and listen to your body before jumping into more challenging exercises and routines,” says Butler.

exercise pregnant 2

SECOND TRIMESTER

Stay off your back.  “As the pregnancy progresses, the uterus gets larger and compresses vessels in the abdomen, so don’t lie on your back,” says Mathews. This can impede blood flow to the brain and make you feel lightheaded or dizzy, and in extreme cases may cause you to lose consciousness.” Instead, always make sure your heart is above your uterus when exercising.

And, any time you’re getting up from an exercise on the floor, push yourself up with your arms, much like you would when coming out of Savasana at the end of a yoga class, to avoid straining your core, says Butler.

Crunches are a no-go. Just like you don’t want to use your core to help you get up off the floor, you don’t want to be doing crunches either, says Butler. Both increase your risk of diastasis recti, a common occurrence in pregnant women that involves the abdominal muscles splitting. (Unfortunately this can’t always be prevented, but avoiding crunch-like motions may help safeguard against it.) If your doc confirms you’re free of this abs-splitting, stick with gentler core exercises like planks and side planks, which are typically a-okay in your first two trimesters, advises Butler.

Focus on strength training. Whether you have a lot of experience with strength training or not, building resistance work into your routine can make for a healthier pregnancy, says Butler—especially as you start to show and put on weight.

If you’re starting from scratch, Butler suggests finding a personal trainer who’s pre- and post-natal certified to show you what exercises are safe to do and which should be avoided. Or, if that’s not an option, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for recommendations.

Either way, be careful about how you throw those weights around. When you’re pregnant, your joints—especially your hips—become more lax, which can increase your risk of injury, says Mathews. And as your uterus gets bigger in preparation for delivery, it places more pressure on the diaphragm, inhibiting your ability to take deep breaths. So move cautiously and lighten up the load, if needed.

Stretch, stretch, stretch. Stretching exercises, which you can find in prenatal yoga and Pilates classes, should be a regular part of your weekly workout routine, says Mathews, as they can help alleviate leg and back pain. You can still continue with vinyasa yoga classes—though you should avoid any style of hot yoga to avoid becoming overheated—so long as your instructor is aware of your pregnancy and comfortable helping you modify poses, says Butler.

Slow your roll. If you can keep up the same pace and intensity that you maintained before pregnancy—or even in the first trimester—hats off to you. It’s not impossible to do, but Mathews says it’s more likely that you’ll need to take things down a notch in your exercise routine. That’s because, in general, your body chemistry, metabolism, and rate of blood flow are all different when you’re pregnant—and these changes in blood flow may leave you lightheaded, dizzy, and short of breath, she says.

Throughout your second trimester, you may find you need to drop down the weight you lift, build in extra rest breaks, or cut out that final set of reps. Listen to your body and, as always, do what works for you.

exercise pregnant 3

THIRD TRIMESTER

Watch your balance. It’s likely that, by this point, your belly is getting quite big. And, other than an inability to see your toes, that affects your balance. “As your belly gets bigger, the way you distribute weight across your body and your center of gravity changes,” explains Mathews. “You may want to be more careful about things that may result in a fall.” So be wary of yoga poses or exercises that require extra balance.

Say hello to swimming. As your usual workouts become more difficult and you tire more easily, low-impact swimming can become a great form of exercise to incorporate into your fit pregnancy routine, especially in the third trimester, says Butler. Being in the water essentially gives you a break from the weight of your growing belly and can potentially alleviate any back pain, adds Mathews. Alternatively, you could also turn to the elliptical or arc trainer for cardio, which Butler says are easier on the joints.

Walk it out. Some women may have to give up running early on in their pregnancy, while others can tack on mileage right up through their due date. It’s all dependent on how your body responds to pregnancy, says Butler. “For me, running felt terrible because I felt like [my baby] was pressing on my bladder, so I felt like I had to pee all the time,” she says. “My heart rate would come up faster, too, so I had to stick to smaller distances and work in walk breaks.”

Speaking of, walking is something nearly every expectant mom can do, since it’s relatively low-impact and won’t spike your heart rate too much. Think of it as more of a leisurely stroll, and be cognizant of your breathing, hydration, and balance, says Mathews. Oh, and don’t be surprised if you experience a few small contractions here and there. “Those are not signs that you need to be on bed-rest, but it may mean you need more hydration and should lower the intensity,” she says.

As you approach your due date, just be aware that exercise may induce labor, says Mathews. (Docs often encourage women who are past their due date to take walks in hopes of kick-starting the process.)

Elevate your feet. If it hasn’t happened already, entering the third trimester likely means you’ll start to experience swelling (in the hands, ankles, and feet, especially) because you’re retaining fluid and the baby is getting bigger, says Butler. Make sure to elevate your feet after exercise to help alleviate some of that discomfort.

Beware of Braxton Hicks. These false contractions don’t send you into labor or progress labor, nor do they harm mom or baby—but they can be startling and uncomfortable, says Mathews. And they may be more likely to happen if you’re active. That’s because high levels of activity, coupled with dehydration, can bring them on. “If you do experience them, it may be a cue that you need to take it a little easier, and really make sure you’re staying hydrated,” says Mathews.

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