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Get fit faster: Train like an athlete

Marta Montenegro, MS, NSCS, NSCA-PT, is the editor and publisher of SOBeFiT Magazine (www.sobefitmagazine.com) and creator of the Montenegro Method Fitness DVD series, a fusion of fitness, sports, and science. You can reach her at askmar...

Athletic training for fast results

Are traditional workouts boring you? Is it taking you forever to see real progress? Try exercising like a top athlete; it may be the key to reaping greater benefits in less time.

Woman doing pushups

Training like an athlete means efficient exercise

Did you know that a standard dumbbell shoulder press burns about five calories per minute? That's 20 minutes of pressing to work off a mere banana. But don't drop your dumbbells yet – by working out like an athlete, you can burn about twice as many calories in the same amount of time.

Top athletes train using high intensity training techniques (HITT), which are a combination of compound exercises that tax both the aerobic and anaerobic systems, while keeping the intensity over 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. HITT is a mix of different exercises that improve agility, speed, strength, muscle endurance and power. HITT includes drills such as combining sprint runs with plyometric pushups or barbell squats with tuck jumps.

High intensity training with compound exercises will cut your time in half at the gym by increasing the efficiency of your workout and give you better results faster. Here are six reasons why you should switch gears on your exercise regimen.

Six reasons to train like an athlete

1. Burn more calories during and after your workout

Research from the Journal of Strength & Conditioning shows that super sets (two exercises in a row that affect opposing muscles, such as biceps and triceps) and multiple sets both increase energy expenditure during and after the exercise period. This increase in workout intensity means you increase the calories you burn during your workout as well as the calories you burn once your workout is over (also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which boosts your metabolic rate due to a hormonal response).

2. Curb your cravings

A recent study from the Technical University of Munich found that people who worked out at low intensity levels felt hungrier after exercising than those who engaged in more demanding workout programs. Researchers say HITT decreases the secretion of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite. Put another way: The harder you work out, the less you will eat.

3. Increase your strength

Training like an athlete means gaining strength, but you have to challenge youself. When lifting weights, make sure that the last rep is hard to perform; if it isn't, increase the weight you are lifting. A study from Georgia Southern University found that heavy resistance training (two sets of eight reps) burned more calories than lifting two sets of 15 reps of a lighter load. But don't worry about bulking up: Female testosterone levels are one-tenth of the male levels, which makes it very hard to add muscle mass to our frames.

4. Develop power and agility

HITT will add more spring to your step and help you in everyday functional movements. Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning says that power and agility-oriented moves, such as depth jumps, jump squats and back squats, show more potential for increasing bone mass density than traditional athletic activities like walking or jogging.

5. Eat like an athlete

Repeat after me: You're not dieting; you're learning to fuel your body. If your relationship with food is often rocky, working out like an athlete will have you eating like one. Athletes do not consider the way they eat as a diet per se. They simply learn that some foods are far more effective than others as fuel for their bodies and eat healthily without going on deprivation diets (a common mistake associated with fad weight-loss strategies). With practice, adequate nutrition becomes second nature, and you'll never again feel like you're making a sacrifice with every meal.

6. Sleep better

A Taiwanese study that analyzed sleep quality among female student-athletes found that the group that was subjected to regular high-intensity training sessions reported better scores in sleep quality tests than the students who engaged in normal exercise programs.

My background and experience as an exercise physiologist, strength and conditioning coach, and certified trainer has allowed me to witness how effective this approach can be, to the point that I ended up creating my own training method (MM21) based on sports-oriented fitness techniques.

Sports training applies to every exercise program, regardless of your fitness level or how long you've been training. If I've learned something from my own training, it's that you don't have to be an athlete to train like one, or to enjoy the rewards of a great workout. I'll see you at the gym!

More high intensity fitness tips to get in top shape

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