Former Houston Rockets superstar Yao Ming has appeared before his country’s lawmakers to push for measures to increase fitness levels among Chinese people, especially youth. In recent times, the nation’s legislators have been grappling with an obesity epidemic not unlike the one we’re fighting here in the west. Ming noted that five specific aspects of fitness are suffering across countries facing the problem, leading to widespread weight gain: endurance, power, strength, speed and diet. But there’s always time to turn things around. Here are five ways to turn your existing fitness regimen into one that fights fat by improving performance in each category.
Endurance: combine weights and cardio
You already hit the weights a few times a week, and you set other days aside for cardio work. That’s good, right? You may notice that you’re not necessarily melting the pounds off as quickly as you’d like to, nor building up your ability to go on. Doing your cardio with muscles fatigued from weightlifting turns your body into a fat furnace. You can also decrease time between sets and exercises to keep your muscles on edge, thus producing heightened levels of stamina.
Strength: convert fat into muscle
It’s no secret: putting on muscle through strength training decreases fat. If you’re already on a strength training regimen, keep it up. If you’re not, this may be the toughest tip on this list: hit the weight rack at least three times a week, once for each major muscle group (chest/shoulders, arms, core/legs). A good weight session causes your body to burn calories for days after the workout as it repairs the strain you put your muscles through. Furthermore, weight training enlists your body’s production of testosterone and growth hormones to convert fat into the calories it needs to help the rebuilding process along.
Power: decrease weight by increasing speed
While strength is the measure of your maximum ability to affect an external force, power is the speed at which you can use the same muscles to perform a similar action. Lucky for you, increasing your power comes with plenty of fat-burning movement. Alternate your strength training day with a day for increasing power. On it, you should attempt to do the same lifts, but with smaller weights that provide a satisfying resistance at best—not too heavy, not too light. For example, grab smaller weights for fast alternating bicep curls, or forgo weighted squats for those of the jumping variety.
Speed: incorporate intervals in your runs
It sounds crazy, but you can fight fat even more effectively if you stop running—and then start up again. Alternating intense sprint intervals with short periods of rest during your morning run mimics the pace of sports such as basketball and can supercharge your fat loss in a shorter time than continuous, moderate effort. Another benefit is reduced cholesterol, which promotes healthy arteries. Intervals work by using up a large amount of your muscles’ stored energy right off the bat so that the next equally-intense interval starts with fatigued muscles. This not only forces you to work harder, but begins a process wherein your body searches for stores of fat to burn off. That’s always good.
Diet: don’t eat less, eat smarter
Ming pointed out that China, like the US, is starting to face the “trappings of prosperity.” Processed, calorie-rich (and tasty) convenience foods account for much of the problem—and it’s rarely a moral failing, as Food Riot recently argued. The upside is that you can easily make good food convenient by cooking in batches, not to mention shopping at local produce stores that may save you the long trip to the nearest mega-grocer. Large quantities of fatty meat can be offset by increasing portions of greens and other vegetables. If you’re having trouble feeling full by increasing your vegetable intake, however, sweet potatoes and whole grains as side dishes can satisfy on a budget. On the flip side, you can also eat more lean proteins, such as eggs. Lastly, sometimes drinking water will help the hunger pangs pass—a good deal of the time, our bodies are just thirsty.