Boast a better body by Christmas!

Are you making the most of your workout? Or are you simply going through the motions, seeing little or no progress?

Far too many of us can answer the latter question with an emphatic YES! Our idea of a good workout is walking until we’re out of breath.

Well that won’t cut it if you want to slim down and tone up in time for the festivities... that time of the year where we love to get into that little black dress!

While a regular dose of cardio exercise is important, the benefits of adding a weight-training programme to your fitness routine can’t be denied - especially when you’re trying to shed a few extra pounds.

A recent study proved the added value of weight training. Volunteers who followed an eight-week weight training programme enjoyed a significant decrease in body fat and an increase in muscle strength.

Other studies have also shown that weight training reduces the risk of injury and wards off osteoporosis and heart disease. So what are you waiting for? You’ll boost your confidence and your slimming success – all in time for the Christmas party! Simply follow the advice of fitness guru Joyce Vedral.

The foundation of Vedral’s 13 books and 15 exercise videos, including Weight Training Made Easy (Warner), The Bone Building Body Shaping Workout (Simon & Schuster), and The Bathing Suit Workout (Little Brown & Company), is built upon the pyramid system, a technique where the number of repetitions decreases as the amount of weight used increases.

For example, you would do 12 repetitions of an exercise using a 2-pound weight, followed by 10 repetitions with a 3-pound weight and then 8 repetitions with a 5-pound weight. Body-builders rely on this technique to build mounds of muscle, but you won’t end up resembling the Incredible Hulk. Why? Because the lighter weights Vedral recommends will have you sculpting smaller, leaner muscles.

"Body builders use this principle because it is the most effective in muscle making... the most time-efficient," says Vedral.

"That is to say, you get the most results for your time. What do I mean by the most results? You are working out to tone up. The body is made up of skin, bone, fat, water and muscle. It’s the muscle that gives the body its tone and definition. So you need muscle and the only way to shape and sculpt muscle is by working out with weights the right way... and that’s by using the pyramid system."

The pyramid system keeps challenging the body by varying the amount of weight and the number of repetitions. It also makes increasing the weight you lift less difficult. For example, you might start out with 2-, 3- and 5-pound weights. When you are ready to progress to 3-, 5- and 8-pound weights, you are already accustomed to using the 3- and 5-pound weights.

Proponents say the pyramid system also prevents workouts from becoming monotonous. Vedral says it’s also easier to keep track of your sets since you aren’t doing the same number of reps over and over.

"The psychology of the pyramid system is simple," she says. "You never get bored and, at the same time, you continually challenge your muscles. There is a natural stretch in the first set. So those people who are too impatient to take the time to stretch, get a natural stretch before each exercise while using the light weights in the first set."

Vedral suggests trying the pyramid system with the three exercises below for an upper body workout that’ll help you make the transition from heavy, bulky clothes to more revealing festive fashions.

Standing Simultaneous Curl - Biceps

Stand with your feet hip width apart and your knees very slightly bent. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your body. Your arms should be straight down at your sides and close to your body. Flexing your biceps muscles as you go, curl your wrists to the front of your body. Bending at the elbows, curl your arms upward towards your shoulders until the dumbbells are about shoulder height. Without resting, return to the starting position. Repeat the movement until you have completed your set.

Seated One-Arm Overhead Triceps Extension - Triceps

Sit on a chair and hold a dumbbell in your right hand, palm facing the side of your body and your arm extended fully upward. Let your biceps muscle nearly touch your ear. Place your left hand on your right elbow. This serves to support your arm. In full control and feeling the stretch in your triceps muscle as you go, lower the dumbbell behind your head by unbending your elbow and allowing the dumbbell to descend until you cannot go any further. Keep your upper arm close to your ear and your elbow pointed forward. Without resting and flexing your triceps muscle as you go, return to the start position. Give your triceps muscle an extra flex and repeat the movement until you have completed your set. Repeat the exercise for the other arm.

Seated Simultaneous Dumbbell Press - Shoulder

With a dumbbell held in each hand at shoulder height, palms facing away from your body, sit on a flat exercise bench or, better, a chair with your back supported by the back of the chair. Flexing your shoulder muscles as you go, lift your arms upward until your arms are fully extended. Without resting and in full control, return to the start position and repeat the movement until you have completed your set.

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