You've done everything you can think of: jumping, wriggling, squatting up and down. You've grunted and maybe muttered a few choice words under your breath, but that chaps zipper just...won't...budge.
It's that time of year -- the one that translates into the dreaded "winter chunk." We've all been there, indulging in holiday excesses while slacking off on the fitness front.
But it's a brand-new year and time to get back on your horse, and maybe to a few shows in the next couple of months. Know what else that means? It's time to get back into your chaps (and jeans!). If the tops of those zippers just won't meet, don't worry. We're here to help with our chaps-fit plan.
We'll teach you four exercises that'll get your heart rate up, help you build lean muscle, and get you back in your chaps in no time. We'll also give you some nutritional tips and substitutions that will help you lose weight and maintain it after.
How well does the plan work? If you do the exercises three to four times a week--giving 100 percent in each round--and use the food substitutions, you will see results.
The two most common excuses people use to skip a workout are time and money, says personal trainer Justin Houghton. The Tabata workout from CrossFit (crossfit.com) negates both excuses.
You don't need a trainer, weights, or oodles of time. You simply need 10 minutes, some dedication, and an old-fashioned clock or stopwatch. You'll do such exercises as lunges and squats, so you don't need gym equipment, either.
"Tabata is a timing system; it's a four-minute workout," says Houghton. "It equals out to 20 seconds live (doing the reps) and 10 seconds off."
This means you'll do eight sets of each exercise, total.
"You do repetitions for technique and speed. Your technique has to be perfect," Houghton adds. "Once you perfect the technique, then you go for speed." (Watch a video of proper technique.)
Next, you'll aim for consistency between the sets.
"Let's say you're doing squats, and you get 18 squats in your first set in 20 seconds. On the eighth set, you might only get 12. Once you start getting 18 reps consistently for all sets, then you can go on to the more advanced versions," says the trainer.
These four simple exercises are a good place to start: lunges, squats, box jumps, and mountain climbers.
For a 10-minute workout, you'll choose two exercises and take a one-minute break in between. (Note: Because the lunges focus on one leg per four-minute session, make that exercise a single day's workout.)
With the exception of the mountain climbers, these exercises will work all the muscles in your legs. However, the main focus will be on your quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus and minimus (aka, your butt).
The mountain-climbers exercise works your whole body and focuses on your core. (Remember, tightening up your lower abs will also help those chaps fit better.)
Now, let's do a rundown of each exercise. Houghton describes proper technique, recommends a "cheat" to help you get started, and offers an advanced option.
Proper technique: Step out with your right leg, keeping your back foot pointed (toe on the ground and heel up). Keep your right knee at a 90-degree angle, and don't let it go out past your toes. Using your right leg only, push yourself back up to standing position.
Easy version: Place your hands on your knee and use some arm strength to push yourself back into standing position.
Advanced version: Alternating jump lunges. After your first lunge, you jump in the air, switch your legs, and end in the opposite lunge. For example, start with your right knee forward, jump up, and switch your legs, ending with your left knee forward.
Place the majority of your weight on your heels, keeping your back as straight as possible. Then, squat down and break 90 degrees with your legs--without letting your knees go out past your toes. Standing with your legs farther apart works your outer thighs. If your legs are closer together, you'll work your inner thighs.
Easy version: Try using a chair or something you can safely fall back on if you lose your balance. You can also use a pole or column (anything stable you can wrap a towel around) and use some arm strength to help you get all the way down and back up.
Advanced version: Monkey jumps. Get in traditional squatting position (your hamstrings will be touching your calves) with your hands touching the floor, between your legs. Jump up, tuck your knees up in the air, and land in the starting position. For this exercise, your knees will go out past your toes.
Proper technique: Using a staircase or curb (anything that's stable enough for you to jump up onto it), start on the flat level. Bend your knees, jump up onto the stair or curb, stand tall, and jump back to the first level.
Easy version: Start with a lower height, say six inches or so, and then work your way up to a surface that's 10 inches, then 12 inches tall.
Advanced version: Single-leg box jumps. Start back at the lower height, and jump up with only one leg, stand up, and jump back down.
Proper technique: Start in the push-up position, as low to the ground as possible (try to keep your back and butt level), and bring your right knee up and right foot in, then switch to your left knee up and left foot in, and continue alternating your legs. Try to bring your knees as close to your elbows as you can.
There really isn't an easier cheat version, so take it slow in the beginning. Once you're comfortable, you can do this in reps of 60 seconds and breaks of 20 seconds.
Advanced version: Mountain-climber alternating push-ups. Each time you switch legs (while your knee is still forward), do a push-up.
To get started, try working out three days a week, and vary which exercises you use. Once you get into the routine, add one more Tabata set (if you have the time) or increase your workouts to four times a week.
In addition to working your muscles, these exercises challenge your heart rate and help you build lean muscle. The higher your heart rate, the more calories your body burns, says Houghton.
Lean muscle also helps burn calories. In fact, one pound of lean muscle burns 52 calories per day, says certified personal trainer and nutritionist Rick Rogers.
However, don't be consumed with calorie counts. Not all calories are created equal, he adds.
"You can actually eat 1,200 calories of the "bad stuff" and put on fat," says Rogers. "Or, you could eat 3,000 of the "good" calories and lose fat."
It's the choice of food that matters. Stick with carbohydrates (not grain- based) and protein, Rogers adds. And speaking of food?
Make Some Changes
"The number-one reason why people are overweight and obese in America is grain-based carbohydrates--that includes products made from wheat and rice, and potatoes add pounds, too," says Rogers. "Our bodies turn these carbohydrates into sugar, which is then turned into stored white fat cells.
"By cutting back on such foods as bread, pasta, rice--just one serving a day--you'll notice a difference. If you cut them out six days a week and only take one cheat day per week, you'll notice a significant difference," he adds.
Believe it or not, that weekly cheat day is important.
"It'll reset your metabolism and satisfy your craving for all those foods," the nutritionist says.
Another source of sugars stored as fat comes from dairy. After about 18 months of age, Rogers says, the body no longer has adequate digestive enzymes for dairy products.
However, if you really love carbs and dairy, don't despair. There are some good substitutions available.
Bread: When making a sandwich, consider using lettuce wraps instead.
Pasta: Spaghetti squash and pasta made from spinach are good choices. Tip:
If you really can't live without pasta, cook it "al dente," or slightly firmer than normal.
"It's the best of the worst choices," Rogers says. "Cooking it al dente doesn't break the carbohydrates down as much, which means less is turned into sugar and then stored into fat."
Rice: Try using couscous or quinoa as substitutes.
Sweet potatoes are a good swap for brown or Russet potatoes, and they're considered a vegetable, not a tuber like regular potatoes.
Milk/cream: Swap out the milk in your cereal or the cream in your coffee for coconut or almond milk. Tip: This switch alone will save you a significant amount of calories.
Alcohol is another big factor to watch out for.
"It's basically sugar on steroids that the body can't digest and turns into fat," Rogers says. "For every one shot of hard liquor (whiskey, tequila, etc.), you can have 25 pounds of strawberries and have the exact same amount of fat calories."
If you like the occasional glass of wine though, don't worry.
"Everything in moderation is fine," says Rogers. "If you're going to have alcohol, red wine is the best choice. It'll sabotage your workout the least."
Become a Fan of the Plan
This may sound like a lot to change, but the key to making the swaps work for you is to plan ahead.
"If you actually stop and plan what you're going to do (and eat), whether you cook or look up a restaurant menu online, nine times out of 10, that'll save you so much heartache," says Rogers.
"Also, don't try to switch everything at once. Do it gradually," he adds. "Try switching out one thing every three to four days. Then, it becomes a habit and a way of life."
Along with the suggested substitutions, Rogers has other tips for healthy foods.
"Stick to five major food groups: lean meats, anything that's not a fatty cut; seafood, anything that comes out of the ocean is good--as long as it's not fried or dipped in butter; any vegetables; any fruits; and any nuts or seeds."
If you're eating out, the easiest meal is a steak and salad. You can get that at almost any restaurant, Rogers shares. Just remember to swap out that baked potato for a sweet potato.
"Our bodies need the protein," he says, specifying that it's particularly important for women in their 40s and 50s, especially if they're starting an exercise routine.
"An average, middle-aged female can probably expect to lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 pounds in the first six to eight weeks," says Rogers.
Set the Chaps Aside
Now that you're armed with some quick, easy, and inexpensive exercises and healthy eating tips, stop struggling with your chaps zipper, take a deep breath, and hang the chaps back up.
It'll be OK.
Jot down a few ideas of when you can spare 10 minutes. If you're a morning person, wake up a little earlier. If you're more of a night owl, do the exercises while watching the news or your favorite TV show.
It doesn't matter when you can work it in, just start to make it a part of your routine.
After a week of workouts, check your progress by trying on your chaps again. Add that weekly try-on to your routine as well.
Won't it be such a great feeling to get that zipper zipped--without the grunting and cursing?
Houghton has participated in combative sports for the last 22 years. Originally from Michigan, he was a Golden Glove champion in that state. As an amateur, he was 11-0, and he also won five amateur mixed martial arts titles in Michigan and Indiana. Then he was invited to Colorado to join a world-class gym, The Grudge Training Center. Now, he is 3-0 as a professional fighter. Houghton is also a certified personal trainer through CrossFit and TRX. He's been certified since 2005 and trained at LA Boxing (laboxing.com) for a year.
Originally from the West Coast, Rogers literally grew up in a gym and gymnastics/dance studio. He holds a master's degree in exercise science, with concentrations in functional strength and fat loss, and a bachelor's degree in kinesiology, with a minor in nutrition. He's worked as a certified personal trainer for the past 21 years and as a certified nutritionist for the past 16 years. This contributor to our chaps-fit plan is a retired professional fighter with over 30 years of training in combat arts. His nutritional tips are based on the Paleo Diet (thepaleodiet.com). Rogers is co-owner and trainer at Gym-Synergy (synergymartialartsandfitness.com) in Westminster, Colorado.