Mistake: You’re not refueling with protein
People who consumed a post-exercise protein drink gained more fat-burning muscle mass and lost 50% more body fat than those who didn’t refuel after working out, reports a study in the journal Fitness Management. The first 30 minutes after exercise are crucial because that’s when your muscles are especially receptive to amino acids, the building blocks of protein, says study author Wayne Westcott, PhD. Aim for 20 grams of protein and 30 grams of carbs. Try: 6 ounces of plain nonfat Greek yogurt with ¼ cup granola, ¼ cup blueberries, and ½ cup sliced strawberries. (For more ideas, check out these 10 post-workout smoothies.)
Mistake: You always do cardio first
Fat loss takes more than burning calories during a single workout—it requires building metabolism-boosting muscle. But many of us hit the cardio machines first, and have lost our steam by the team we hit the weights (if we pick them up at all.) “Instead, hit the weights first,” says Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University International. “When you have more energy, you’ll be able to lift heavier weights and get more muscle-building benefits, which will help you burn fat everywhere, including your belly.”
Mistake: You take a break between sets
If you’re kicking back between sets, you’re missing out on a major belly-fat frying opportunity. “Even though weight training is anaerobic, if you string 4 to 6 exercises together without any breaks between each one, you create an aerobic benefit so your heart rate goes up and you burn more calories than you would if you rest between sets,” Tumminello says. Plus, it creates a bigger afterburn, so you’ll continue burning calories for several hours after your workout.
Mistake: Your weights are too light
To get more fat-burning muscle, you need to keep challenging your muscles by lifting heavier weights, says Rachel Cosgrove, author of The Female Body Breakthrough. If you’ve been working out regularly, increase your weight by roughly 10% for a few moves each workout. For example, if you do 8 exercises, choose 2 exercises and increase those weights while the others stay the same (if you’ve been using 10-pound weights, go up to 12). The following week, choose 2 more exercises and increase the weight for those. Continue this process until you’ve upped the weight for all 8 moves. Then start again, going up 10% more for 2 more exercises at a time. Note: if upping the weight ever compromises your form, go back to the previous load until you’re strong enough to do all reps with good form.
Mistake: You routinely go full-throttle
If you exercise at a high intensity every workout, you may be overtraining, says Cosgrove. In addition to putting you at risk of injury, it can stall your progress. If you don’t give your body ample time to recover between exercise sessions (such as doing back-to-back strength-training workouts), your muscles are in a constant state of being broken down and aren’t getting the opportunity to repair, which is how you gain fat-torching muscle mass, she adds. Your body also perceives excess exercise as a stressor, which can boost levels of stress hormones and cause you to store rather than shed belly fat.
Mistake: You rely only on your workout to blast belly fat
Even if you’re a religious gym-goer, it may not be enough to fight middle-age spread. Research shows that people who meet the recommended 150 minutes per week of physical activity are still at increased risk of obesity if they spend the majority of their day sitting. The good news? Research also shows that people who report higher levels of non-exercise activity (such as taking extra trips to the water fountain or doing chores around the house rather than watching TV) have smaller waists than those who are more inactive. (Here are 25 ways to sneak in 10 minutes of exercise.)
Mistake: You’re still not doing intervals regularly
Interval training—alternating between high-intensity bursts of movement and a moderate pace—has been shown to amp your metabolism for up to 24 hours post-workout. Australian researchers found that when women performed a 20-minute interval training workout 3 times per week, they shed nearly 6 pounds more over 12 weeks compared to those who exercised for 40 minutes three times per week at a steady pace. Aim for 15 to 25 minutes of interval training 3 to 4 days per week. If you’re new to intervals or have a lot of weight to lose, start with walking or stationary cycling, which are easier on your joints.