The Fittest Year of Your Life

If you never changed, you'd still be sporting a feathered perm, purple leg warmers, and those Phil Collins concert tees. Change - in work, in style, in life - is good. It's no different for your year-round approach to fitness: Without some seasonal variations, you could be forever stuck with a body that's never quite where you want it to be. "When you alter your routine every 8 to 12 weeks, you're more likely to overcome plateaus, because you're providing ongoing physiological stimulation," says Ronald Deitrick, Ph.D., an exercise scientist at University of Scranton. With frequent changes, you'll also avoid burnout, reduce your risk of injury, and prime your body for the best year it's ever had. So for the new year, build the foundation by exercising three to five times a week for at least 30 minutes (make at least two of those workouts strength training). After that, just fine-tune your routine with the seasons - so that you make this the year you get the body you've always wanted.

Winter: Base-Building and Boredom-Busting
Your resolutions probably came with a regular gym membership and not-so-regular motivation. But this is when you need a schedule most. "You have to build a solid foundation of strength and cardiovascular health before you can move on to more intense - and more fun - activities," says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist in Darien, Connecticut. If you haven't exercised regularly, start with 2 days a week. Hit 6 weeks, and it's a habit. Start here.

Stay Low
Keep your cardio intensity lower than Beyonc?'s pants - about 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, or a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. "If you push too hard, you'll peak early and burn out," Holland says. Plus, you'll burn fat by doing 30 minutes at 60 to 70 percent. "When you train at lower intensities, you're teaching your body to use fat rather than carbohydrates," Holland says.

Be Spontaneous
Every once in a while, choose exercises the way you'd browse through a bookstore - go in without a plan. "You can do anything, just whatever you feel like, for 30 minutes to an hour," Holland says. "It's a great way to avoid boredom, and you don't have to wait for machines." For cardio, follow the guidelines outlined above. For strength, keep your weights low (low enough so that you can complete two to three sets of 10 mildly challenging reps), or just do one set of each exercise, mixing them as you please without thinking about what's coming next.

Schedule Breaks
The key to long-term success in a workout is the same as it is at work: Avoid burnout. Every 4 weeks ease up during the last week. "That will give your body time to absorb the work you've been doing," Holland says. "Your muscles get time to repair themselves, and you'll be more ready for the workouts to come." Do it by scaling back the number of workouts by one session (if you normally do three or four) or two sessions (if you do more) - and by easing up on the intensity.

Spring: High-Intensity Fat-Burning
Now you can start mixing and maxing, so you'll have an easier time slipping into your Tostitos of a bathing suit. "The party starts when winter is over," Holland says. "You've done your homework, so now you can kick your program into gear by increasing your intensity. But you also need to watch for overuse injuries, so cross-training is key." Here's how to ramp up your routine.

Climb High
Try pyramid intervals to push your body to new levels of intensity, says Sherri McMillan, owner of Northwest Personal Training in Portland, Oregon. You can do them as running sprints, on a treadmill, bike, or elliptical. Warm up, then do a short burst of 15 seconds, and slow down your intensity for 30 seconds. Next, sprint for 30 seconds, then jog for 45 seconds, sprint for a minute, then jog for a minute. Then take the time sets back down again. Repeat for 15 to 30 minutes.

Speed-Up Sets
To keep your heart rate elevated while strength training and to torch extra calories, try this 30-minute quick-change workout by Mike Mejia, a trainer in Plainview, New York. Alternate between cardio and strength training in 5-minute bouts. Use a different cardio machine each time and alternate between two different strength exercises for 5 minutes. For example, do 10 to 15 reps of a bench press and then 10 to 15 squats. Without resting, head back to the bench press for another set. After 5 minutes (usually two to three sets of each exercise), get on the elliptical machine for 5 minutes before tackling two more alternating strength exercises (like lat pulls and lunges). Continue for a total of three rounds (six strength moves, three cardio machines) or 30 minutes. add some spring

Inject plyometrics (plyos) into your routine once a week - you'll add power, speed, strength, and intensity. "Start slowly by just adding one set during the first week, and then if you feel fine, add two more sets during the following weeks," McMillan says. After a few weeks, do them in between weight-lifting sets to amplify your strength routine and burn more calories. Recent studies have shown that squat jumps performed after squats can enhance leg strength. To do them: Squat and explode as high as you can for five reps. You can do upper-body plyos by lying on your back, tossing a light medicine ball up into the air, and catching it.
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