Working out five days a week is hard and, frankly, not exactly my top priority. Tons of people seem to find it cathartic, fun, and stress-relieving—I am, sadly, not in that group. In fact, I find making time to exercise fairly stressful. But that doesn't mean I don't want to be healthy, look toned, and feel good. After all, don’t we all want that to some degree?
I do try to eat well, and I’m not exercise-adverse per se, but I just don’t want to have to make the gym my second home in order to be in decent shape. So I reached out to a few of my favorite fitness experts to get their secret tricks of the trade and some ideas for toning up that don’t involve adopting a rigorous workout schedule.
Read on for nine easy, expert-approved tips for toning up and getting fitter without needing to make working out your second full-time job.
Mix It Up
Amy Rosoff Davis, fitness expert and Selena Gomez's longtime trainer, notes that you should listen to your body and add a lot of variety to your routine. "This is something everyone should do when it comes to working out. Sometimes, just do yoga and stretching, and other times, hit it hard,” she says. “Working out, just like life, should be a balance." Mixing up your workouts with different types of exercise will help you develop a well-rounded fitness base, prevent overuse injuries, and keep things fun and fresh. So long, workout boredom!
"Walking is one of the best ways to get your body moving, and unlike metabolic training or HIIT, walking adds very little training stress to the body, which results in a higher ratio of fat burn,” explains trainer Carly Rowena. “This is because low-intensity exercises such as walking rely more heavily on fat reserves [instead of stored carbohydrates] for completion. Also, when [we] walk, our deep abdominal fat is the first to go, which is something we all want." Just remember to wear comfortable, but supportive, shoes.
"Try making a specific plan with goals that are realistic and attainable,” suggests Hannah Bronfman, a fitness enthusiast who used to struggle with finding motivation to work out. “If you make a plan and really dedicate yourself to it, the results will follow. Good things come to people who hustle!" Instead of trying to commit to exercising six days a week for an hour, start with something more approachable, like three days a week for 20 minutes. You’ll be more likely to accomplish your goal, which builds momentum, confidence, and a sense of achievement that can motivate you to keep going.
Find a Set of Stairs
Michael Olajide Jr., creator of AERO boxing workouts, says that stairs can provide great exercise. Not only should you skip the elevator wait and opt for taking the stairs whenever possible, but he also suggests using them for calf raises. "Step up onto each stair and drop your heels—then raise up as high as you can and drop below again," he explains. "This easy exercise tones your calf muscles, which is super important for running and cycling. Calves are often neglected, so this is a perfect one to do on-the-go."
Trick Your Brain
Sometimes we have every intention to go to the gym to lift weights after work or stream a bodyweight HIIT circuit from home before dinner, but life gets in the way. Or, let's face it, we talk ourselves out of it and opt for streaming a Netflix show instead. Fitness instructor Tanya Poppett has a solution: "Exercise in the morning before your brain figures out what you're doing," she says. By the time you're really awake and alert, you'll be through the warmup and already enjoying the endorphins. Win.
Commit to Just 20 Minutes a Day
Consider Tabata, a special type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). In just four minutes, you can have a huge physical impact. Next commercial break, set a timer on your phone and do eight rounds of any sort of exercise for 20 seconds, with 10 seconds of recovery in between. Squats, jumping jacks, push-ups, sprinting in place, burpees, and jump squats are all great options. Or clear off the clothes hanging on your Spin bike (that perhaps has been repurposed as a coatrack) and hop on for your intervals. You'll get your heart pumping, muscles working, and endorphins flowing before your show is back on. Try to do several rounds throughout the day, or aim for a single, continuous 20-minute HIIT workout.
Beginning with something that’s doable will make exercise more approachable and less intimidating. Faith Xue, our editorial director here at Byrdie, suggests that if you're not exactly a yoga master yet, ease yourself into the practice with Hatha yoga before diving into Vinyasa. "It's perfect for yoga newbies, anyone who may be recovering from an injury, or someone with a condition like arthritis," she explains.
Though we often neglect stretching, staying flexible can prevent aches and injuries, and a simple routine doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming, either. "My top tip for toned shoulders is good posture, which involves proper stretching. I recommend a chest stretch to elongate the pecs and upper trapezius,” says Dalton Wong, Jennifer Lawrence’s trainer and the founder of TwentyTwo Training. “With your back straight, raise your arms to create a T-shape with your body. Squeeze your shoulder blades and keep your core engaged, and hold the move for about one minute to fully stretch out your shoulders."
If you sit for most of the day, also be sure to stretch your hip flexors and quads.
Olajide shared another one of his favorite moves to tone the upper body—it might also get out some of that pent-up stress. "Grab light [1- to 2-pound] hand weights and stand shoulder-width apart, keeping your abs and core tight. Punch out in a straight line, alternating fists—this is really great for toning up your chest and shoulders,” he says. Aim for 30-60 seconds fast and hard. Then rest for 30 seconds, and repeat for 8-10 sets.