There’s so much fitness information out there that it can be dizzying: Which is the best exercise? What’s the exact, optimal time of day to exercise? How long should each workout be? What food is best to eat after exercise?
Just like losing weight, getting strong and building endurance starts with the basics: Get the big stuff right, and you’ll see success.
So don’t sweat the small stuff! Start sweating with these five proven strategies instead. They’re proven to help you build muscle, increase strength and endurance, and most important, keep your fitness plan sustainable.
Protein is literally the building block of muscle: When you strength train, your muscles use protein molecules to build more muscle tissue through a process called muscle protein synthesis. When the amount of this process that’s happening outweighs the amount of muscle breakdown that occurs from your workout, your body can build muscle. But without enough protein, that can’t happen.
How much is enough? Maybe less than you think. Though a ratio of one gram of protein per one pound of bodyweight is sometimes touted, scientists have found you can maximize strength gains with slightly less. In a 2022 research review, scientists found that eating at least 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight is the sweet spot. So if you weigh 220 pounds, you’ll want to eat 154 or more grams of protein per day to maximize your strength progress.
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Along with diet and exercise, clinical research shows that the addition of Velositol® to whey protein doubles the impact of protein on muscle protein synthesis that occurs compared to when just whey protein is consumed alone.* This may be in part because Velositol contains chromium picolinate, an element that helps to improve and preserve lean body mass.**
Velositol’s impact on protein doesn’t stop at muscle size. It also helps to increase muscle strength, endurance and power. In an eight-week clinical study, Velositol combined with 15 grams of whey protein more than doubled the squat reps (25 vs. 12 reps) in healthy exercisers compared to just 15 grams of whey protein alone.***
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High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is all the rage. This type of exercise alternates bursts of seriously intense exercise with rest. And while HIIT can help burn fat and calories, it can also burn you out.
To gain long, strong endurance, athletes—including world-beating pros—do long, slower workouts using what’s called “Zone 2” cardio. The “zone” refers to a heart rate zone that is 60 to 75 percent of your overall maximum heart rate. This effort is hard enough to create an aerobic training effect, but easy enough that you can do it for a long time—which builds endurance. In fact, studies have found that performing this type of cardio has better benefits for building endurance than more intense cardio methods.
You don’t even have to run: Your Zone 2 might just be a brisk walk. To find yours, try a “talk test.” Get on a treadmill (or a stationary bike) and choose a 15-word sentence to say. Slowly increase your speed on the treadmill, saying your 15-word sentence aloud each time. When you can’t say the sentence without stopping to catch your breath, you’ve gone beyond Zone 2—back off a little, and mark this speed and your heart rate for yourself. Your Zone 2 is just under this level: Perform workouts of 30 minutes or longer a few times per week at this speed and effort.
Everybody loves biceps curls. However, if you want to make your workout as efficient and effective as possible, focus on movements that use multiple joints at once. Try moves like the chest press—which uses your shoulders and elbows together—or a squat or leg press—which uses both your hips and knees together.
Choosing these types of exercises works more muscles at once, so you’re training more muscle in less time. You may also gain more strength. One study, published in Frontiers in Physiology, compared the effects of single-joint (SJ) and multi-joint (MJ) exercises. While no differences were found for body composition, “MJ exercises appear to be more efficient for improving muscle strength and maximal oxygen consumption than programs involving SJ exercises.”
If you’re just starting out, pick 4 to 6 multi-joint moves—either with free weights or machines—to do in each workout to maximize your efficiency.
You may think you’re maximizing your time in the gym by filling your workout with all work and no rest. But if you want to increase strength, your body needs to recover between exercise sets.
Short rest periods between sets of an exercise—lasting 30 to 90 seconds—can help increase muscle size, or hypertrophy. But to maximize strength, you may want to wait longer: Scientists have found that a rest period of two minutes or more may maximize strength gains.
This makes sense, of course: To maximize strength, you need to lift a heavy weight that really challenges you. And after lifting a weight like that for an exhausting set, you’re … exhausted. Your body needs a few minutes to reset. So if strength’s your goal, rest two minutes or more between your heavier sets of exercise.
Once you’re in the routine of working out, it can be easy to get in a rut. Have you been doing 3 sets of 10 repetitions of an exercise, with the same weight, for years? Are you running or cycling the same distance, at the same pace, over and over again?
If you want to increase your strength or endurance, you have to do more over time. This concept, called “progressive overload,” has long been found by scientists to increase strength, muscle size and endurance.
But the progress can be small: In strength exercises, work to increase your volume on each exercise or muscle group—a measure of how much weight you’re moving multiplied by the total number of repetitions. So if you’re doing an exercise with 20 pounds for three sets of 10 repetitions, your total volume is 600 pounds (30 reps times 20 pounds).
Next week, add one repetition to the last set—so you’re doing two sets of 10 reps, and one set of 11 reps. The week after that, do one set of 10, and two sets of 11. Just by doing this, you’ll have increased your volume on that exercise to 640 pounds in each workout. Over time, increase the amount of weight on the exercise, still trying to slowly improve your overall volume.
The same goes for endurance. If you normally run or bike a two-mile route in 22 minutes, try adding a little—maybe even another 0.1 miles—each week. Keep track of your progress in an app like NuMi. Even with small, incremental improvements, you’ll look back and be impressed with how far you’ve come.
Always speak with your doctor before starting an exercise routine.
*Along with diet and exercise, clinical research shows Velositol® + whey protein doubles the impact of protein on muscle protein synthesis versus whey protein alone.
**In combination with diet and exercise.
***Along with resistance training, a clinical study shows a significant increase in strength, endurance, and power after 8 weeks with 15 g whey protein + Velositol vs. 30 g whey protein.