The 49 Best Fitness Tips You Shouldn’t Miss (Part 1)

Build a powerful body and get in the greatest shape of your life

1. Build Better Abs
Don’t work your abdominal muscles every day. “Physiologically, your abs are like any other muscle in your body,” says David Pearson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., an exercise scientist at Ball State University. Train them only 2 or 3 days a week.

2. Protect Your Neck
Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth when you do crunches. “It will help align your head properly, which helps reduce neck strain,” says Michael Mejia, C..S.C.S., Men’s Health exercise advisor.

3. Keep Muscles Limber
If you’re under 40, hold your stretches for 30 seconds. If you’re over 40, hold them for 60 seconds. As you reach your 40s, your muscles become less pliable, so they need to be stretched longer.

4. Don’t Drop the Ball
To catch a pop fly in the sun, use your glove to shade your eyes. It’s bigger than your free hand and puts the leather in perfect position to snag the ball.

5. Grow Muscle, Save Time
Keep your weight workouts under an hour. After 60 minutes, your body starts producing more of the stress hormone cortisol, which can have a testosterone-blocking, muscle-wasting effect.

6. Exercise in Order
Use dumbbells, barbells, and machines—in that order. “The smaller, stabilizer muscles you use with dumbbells fatigue before your larger muscle groups,” says Charles Staley, a strength coach in Las Vegas. So progress to machines, which require less help from your smaller muscles, as you grow tired.

7. Strengthen Your Core
Don’t be afraid of situps. We’ve changed our tune on these, and here’s why: Situps increase your range of motion, which makes your abdominals work harder and longer. (Doing crunches on a Swiss ball or with a rolled-up towel under your lower back has a similar effect.) Just avoid situps with anchored feet, which can hurt your lower back.

8. Test the Bench
Press your thumb into the bench before lifting. “If you can feel the wood, find another bench,” says Ken Kinakin, a chiropractor in Canada and founder of the Society of Weight-Training Injury Specialists. Hard benches can cause T4 syndrome—a misalignment of your thoracic spine that affects the nerve function of your arm, weakening it.

9. Swim Faster
To build speed in swimming, develop your ankle flexibility. Flexible feet will act like flippers and propel you faster through the water. To increase your flipper flex, do this: Sit on the floor with your shoes off. Extend your legs in front of you, heels on the floor. Point your toes straight out as far as possible, then flex them toward your shins as far as you can. Repeat for 1 minute.

10. Buy Shoes That Fit
Shop for workout shoes late in the day. That’s when your feet are the largest. Make sure there’s a half inch of space in front of your longest toe, and that you can easily wiggle your toes. Then slip off the shoes and compare them with your bare feet. If each shoe isn’t obviously wider and longer than your foot, go half a size bigger.

11. Kill Your Excuse
If you think you’re too busy to exercise, try this experiment: For one day, schedule a time to work out, and then stick to it—even if you can exercise for only 10 minutes. “At the end of the day, ask yourself if you were any less productive than usual,” says John Jakicic, Ph.D., an exercise psychologist at the Brown University school of medicine. The answer will probably be no—and your favorite excuse will be gone.

12. Help Your Forehand
To build forearm strength for tennis and racquetball, crumple newspaper: Lay a newspaper sheet on a flat surface. Start at one corner and crumple it into a ball with your dominant hand for 30 seconds. Repeat with your other hand.

13. Muscle Up Your Back
When doing lat pulldowns, don’t wrap your thumb around the bar. Instead, place it on top, alongside your index finger. This decreases the involvement of your arm muscles, so you’ll work your back harder. Works for pullups, too.

14. Drink A Pint, Get Ripped
If you’re a beginner, train to failure—the point at which you absolutely can’t do another repetition—then throw back a pint. In a new study, beginners who trained to failure with three sets of six exercises per day then drank a supplement immediately afterward gained over 5 pounds of muscle in just 8 weeks. A pint of 1 percent chocolate milk will provide all the nutrients you need to achieve the same result.

15. Lose Your Weak Spot
If you don’t like an exercise, start doing it. “You’re probably avoiding it because you’re weak at it,” says Mejia.

16. Overcome Injuries, Build Big Arms
If you hurt your right arm, don’t stop exercising your left arm. Researchers at the University of Oklahoma found that people who trained only one arm for 2 weeks managed to increase arm strength in their nonexercising arm up to 10 percent. The reason: Exercising one arm stimulates the muscle nerve fibers in the opposite arm.

17. Cut Pain, Increase Gain
Count your repetitions backward. When you near the end of the set, you’ll think about how many you have left instead of how many you’ve done.

18. Turn Heads with Your Legs
Do standing and seated calf raises. You’ll get better results. “Your calves are made up of two different muscles, so you have to do the straight-leg and the bent-leg versions of the exercise to hit them both,” says Mejia.

19. Keep Your Stats, See Amazing Results
Test yourself often. Every 4 weeks, measure a variable—waist size, body fat, bench press—that equates to your end goal. “It’ll show you the tangible results of your training,” says Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S., a trainer in Canada. And that translates into motivation.

20. Kill the Pill
Don’t pop a pill after you work out. Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences found that ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) were no more effective than a placebo in relieving postexercise muscle soreness. More important, they say the drugs may actually suppress muscle growth when taken after a workout.

21. Putt Like a Pro
Roll a golf ball across the carpet to improve your putting. The distance doesn’t matter. Just toss it by hand and try to make it stop at a specific target. You’ll hone your ability to judge speed and line without even picking up a club.

22. Blow Off Your Belly
Exhale forcefully at the top of the movement when you do abdominal crunches. It forces your abs to work harder.

23. Build Big Biceps
Bend your wrists to work your biceps harder. That is, extend them backward slightly—and hold them that way—while you do arm curls.

24. Heal Faster
Don’t exercise when you’re sick—unless your symptoms are above the neck. And even then you might do better taking a day off. “Your body will use its resources to heal itself, not build muscle and endurance,” says Alwyn Cosgrove, C.S.C.S., a trainer in Santa Clarita, California.

25. Pick Up Your Pace
Increase the speed of your running strides—not their length—to get faster. Your foot should always land under your body, rather than out in front of it, and you should push off with the toes of your rear leg for propulsion.

26. Ditch the Weight Belt
Don’t train with a weight belt. Over time, regular training in a weight belt actually weakens your abdominal and lower-back muscles. Wear it only when attempting maximal lifts in such exercises as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses.

27. Ride More Efficiently
Practice cycling one-legged to ride more efficiently. This forces you to concentrate on pulling up at the bottom of the stroke, which better distributes the work among the major leg muscles. Lock both feet on your pedals, but let your left leg go limp while you do all the work with your right leg. Do this for 30 seconds, then switch legs. Ride normally for 5 minutes, then repeat the drill. Continue this way for a 20- to 30-minute workout.

28. Pay Now, Build Later
Pay your trainer in advance. “You’ll be more likely to follow through on exercise sessions,” says Mejia.

29. Flatten Your Gut
Work your invisible abdominal muscles. Your transversus abdominis lies beneath your rectus abdominis—the six-pack muscle—and flattens your waistline when you suck in your gut. Work it with the vacuum: Pull your belly button toward your spine and hold for 10 seconds while breathing normally. Repeat five times.

30. Stretch for Strength
Between sets, take 20 to 30 seconds to stretch the muscle you just worked. Boston researchers found that men who did this increased their strength by 20 percent.

31. Save Your Shoulders
Decrease the weight by 10 percent when you change your grip. So if you’ve been benchpressing 135 pounds for 10 repetitions with a medium grip, drop to 120 pounds when you switch to a wide grip. “You’ll be stressing your joints and muscles in a different way than they’re used to, which can cause injury,” says Kinakin.

32. Improve Quickness
For faster foot speed in sports, try this move: Start with your feet hip-width apart and your hands at your sides. Lift your left foot in front of you, touch it with your right hand, and lower it to the floor. Lift your right foot, touch it with your left hand, and lower it. Then touch your left foot behind you with your right hand, then your right foot behind you with your left hand. Go for 20 seconds at a time, moving as fast as you can, and repeat for a total of three to five sets.

33. Repair Muscle Faster
Recover faster from a hard workout by lightly exercising the same muscles the following day. Use a light weight—about 20 percent of the weight you can lift one time—and do two sets of 25 repetitions. This will deliver more blood and nutrients into your muscles so they repair faster.

34. Dress Better
Buy only workout clothes that are black, white, or gray. They’ll go with everything, and you’ll never again waste time looking for a T-shirt that matches your gold-and-purple Lakers shorts.

35. Eat Meat and Grow
Eat meat—4 to 8 ounces every day—to grow more muscle. A study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutritioncompared two groups of older male weight lifters: One group ate meat, the other didn’t. Both groups grew stronger, but only the carnivores gained significant muscle. Chicken, turkey, and fish count, too.

36. Save Time in the Gym
Don’t worry about specific rest periods between sets. Instead, rest as you need it—less in your early sets when your muscles are fresh, and more as they become fatigued. “You’ll cut your workout time between 15 and 20 percent,” says Staley.

37. Get Home-Run Power
To hit more home runs, swing with a slight uppercut at high pitches. The high swing utilizes your powerful hip and midsection muscles instead of just your hands and arms.

38. Shake a Defender
To come open for a pass in football, run near enough to your defender that you can shake his hand. The closer you get, the easier it’ll be to blow past him. As you close in on him, shorten your strides without slowing down—it’ll help you cut faster.

39. Stay in the Saddle
When you cycle, keep your pace between 80 and 110 rpm. You’ll ride farther and faster with less fatigue and knee strain. To gauge your pace, count how many times your right leg comes to the top of the pedal stroke in 10 seconds, then multiply that number by 6. The result is your pedal rpms.

40. Build Arms Faster
Work opposing muscle groups—your biceps and triceps, for instance—back-to-back for a faster workout. “While one muscle is working, the other is forced to rest,” says Staley. You won’t need as much time between sets.

41. Get a Better Handle
To improve your ball-handling skills in basketball, practice dribbling while wearing leather or canvas work gloves. The thickness of the gloves helps improve the sensitivity of your fingertips, so you’ll have better ball control when you take them off. Jason Williams, a Memphis Grizzlies guard, credits his ball-handling mastery to this training method.

42. Improve Balance
Use a sofa cushion to improve your balance. Stand one-legged on the cushion and move a medicine ball (or a 1-gallon milk jug or heavy phone book) from hand to hand, side to side, and behind your head. Once you’ve mastered the move, try it with your eyes closed. “You’ll improve your balance, coordination, and body control, all important athletic attributes,” says Greg Brittenham, assistant coach of player development for the New York Knicks.

43. Get Stronger Fast
Do the same amount of exercise in 10 percent less time. It forces your muscles to work harder and improves your endurance at the same time. If it takes you 30 minutes to do a full-body workout on Monday, try to do it in 27 minutes on Wednesday.

44. See Ball, Hit Ball
Play better tennis by training your eyes to focus faster. You’ll hit more winners by learning to change your visual focus from distance, when your opponent is hitting the ball, to close up, when you’re hitting it. Try this drill while riding in a car: Focus on an object about a tennis-court length away. Then quickly shift focus to a closer object.

45. Double Dip Benefits
Do dips with your elbows in and your body straight to work your triceps. But lean forward and flare them out to focus on your chest.

46. Bench More Now
Look at your dominant hand—without turning your head—while you’re bench-pressing. “You’ll be able to lift more weight,” says Staley.

47. Do More Chinups
Don’t think about pulling yourself up when you do chinups. Instead, imagine pulling your elbows down. The exercise will seem easier.

48. Climb Like Spiderman
For rock or wall climbing, buy shoes that fit your bare feet so tightly you can stand but not walk comfortably. They’ll give you optimal control, and you’ll be better able to use your legs—the key to successful climbing.

49. Run Injury-Free
One week out of every six, cut your weekly training mileage and frequency in half. You’ll give your body a better chance to recover, and you’ll avoid permanent, nagging injuries.