If you've been sweating it out on a regular basis and the scale has barely budged—or worse, it spiked—you can likely blame an imbalance of two key weight-loss players: calories in (how much you eat) and calories burned (how much you worked off). What looks simple on paper gets tricky in practice, because a crazy-hard sweat session not only torches calories and revs your metabolism but can also up your hunger quotient.
(Simple tweaks, like eating a good breakfast, can also keep you metabolism humming. Try these 5 Ways to Boost Your Metabolism.)
Luckily, a few quick tweaks are all you need to make sure your workouts are helping—not hurting—your pound-shedding efforts.
Sweat By Numbers
Sorry to break it to you, but your last uber-tough workout probably didn't torch nearly as many calories as you thought it did.
"People grossly overestimate how many calories they burn during exercise, especially when they think it's high intensity," says Eric Doucet, Ph.D., a human kinetics professor at the University of Ottawa.
It doesn't help when your boot-camp instructor says each class blasts 1,000 calories—a total exaggeration—or you check the counters on cardio machines. Ellipticals have been reported to overestimate expenditure by 42 percent—more on that below, in "Cardio Recalculation".
"Estimating calorie output can be an inexact science," says Georgie Fear, a registered dietitian for Precision Nutrition.
That's because it involves factors like age, weight, body temperature, metabolic rate and hormonal changes (to name a few) that are complicated, difficult to track, and ever fluctuating. Many cardio machines, for example, factor in just age and weight—and are calibrated for men. What's more, at higher intensities, or as the machines get older, the readouts may become less accurate.
Instead of focusing on numbers, monitor your intensity by focusing on your perceived effort—how difficult the workout feels. In the weight room, the last few reps of every set should be tough to finish—if they're not, bump up the weight or number of reps.
During cardio workouts, add short bursts of speed to shock your body and spike your burn, suggests Mark Gorelick, Ph.D., an assistant professor of kinesiology at San Francisco State University.
After warming up, speed up to your near all-out max effort (it should feel unsustainable) for 30 seconds, then slow to a conversational pace for three minutes. Repeat six times.
Too easy? Adjust both the sprint and recovery to one minute. (For best results, include a speedier session in your weekly routine. Try one of these 4 Fast-Paced Cardio Workouts.)