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1. "I want to lose 10 pounds in the six months before my wedding. Should I try one of those liquid meal replacement diets?"
Six months is a reasonable amount of time to lose 10 pounds, so following any type of super-restricted diet is not recommended. The problem with severely reducing caloric intake is that once your body realizes it is being starved, it will literally hold onto stored fat and refuse to let go. Your body then begins to use other stored nutrients to fuel activity, namely protein. Once this occurs, muscle mass decreases and so does metabolism. It’s simple math, really: If you trim a few hundred calories off your daily intake and then burn a few hundred calories through exercise, you can lose a pound or two per week.
2. "I’m worried that I’ll become too muscular if I try lifting weights at the gym. How can I keep from bulking up?"
There are two types of exercise: aerobic (aka cardio) and strength-building. Aerobic exercise is wonderful: it strengthens the heart and lungs and burns calories. But it’s not enough. Next time you’re at the gym, take a look at the women who do nothing but cardio, then take a look at women who also lift weights. Those who incorporate strength training in their routine not only have better-looking bodies, they are stronger and tend to have a lower percentage of body fat. Next, stop worrying about bulking up. Only about 10 percent of women are able to build big muscles. If you fall into that group, you may choose to focus on high repetitions with lower weights to keep bulk at bay.
3. "What do you think of those as-seen-on-TV ab machines?"
Ah, those abominable abdominal devices! (And the question everyone asks.) There seems to be a new infomercial every week promising fast, ab-flattening results in record time. In a moment of late-night weakness you order the “gut-buster” and try it a few times. All too soon, the contraption is collecting dust in your closet. Sound familiar? You do not — repeat not — need a special gizmo to get a defined middle. Abdominal exercises alone are not effective for dynamite definition. Ab exercise strengthens your underlying muscles but it doesn’t do away with the outer layer of fat — that’s where cardio and diet come into play.
4. "When I drop a few pounds, it always seems to come off my face or chest — never my thighs or butt. Are there any exercises I can do to target the fat I’m trying to get rid of?"
The only way to spot-reduce instantly or quickly is with lipo-suction. I recommend weight-training instead. Combined with cardio (which burns fat all over), working out with weights can help you change the shape of your body — within the limitations of your basic size and shape, of course. While you can’t give yourself model-slim hips if you weren’t born with a narrow frame, you can sculpt leaner legs, a more shapely rear and nicely defined arms and see initial results in just a few weeks.
5. "I want to tone my arms so I look good in my sleeveless gown. Should I do more reps on my arm exercises or should I lift heavier weights?"
Whether you do many reps or use a heavier weight, lifting will certainly help. But if you’ve been using 8-pound dumbbells and find you can do a ridiculous number of reps without getting tired, I would definitely recommend moving to a heavier weight. To build and tone, you have to stress muscles to the point at which they are completely exhausted; it’s in that rest- and-repair period that your muscle gains strength and shape. When you’re training efficiently, your last reps should feel really difficult and you should not be able to do more without compromising proper form. And remember that toning the muscle is only part of the battle. If your newfound muscles are camouflaged by a layer of body fat, make sure you are doing cardio to burn fat and show off your glorious guns.
Adapted from Fit to Be Bride—The Complete Wedding Workout, by Bonne Marcus (Sterling, 2015).