August 14, 2020

How To Get Fit Fast and More…

In today’s digest we bring you articles on How To Get Fit Fast, Exercise and Sleep: Your Ultimate Stress Defense, The 13 Best Methods For Increasing Training Intensity and The Best Cross-Trainers Still Available: Elliptical Cardio Machines For Your Home Gym. Hope you enjoy them…

How To Get Fit Fast

If you’ve started to notice that you get out of breath after one flight of stairs, it’s time to work on your fitness. The good news is that it won’t take that long to improve no matter what type of exercise you choose. Think a month or two, if not a few weeks, although of …

If you’ve started to notice that you get out of breath after one flight of stairs, it’s time to work on your fitness. The good news is that it won’t take that long to improve no matter what type of exercise you choose. Think a month or two, if not a few weeks, although of course some disciplines will help you improve faster than others. Some – shock horror – are also harder. They also range from being affordable for everyone to being a bit of a financial stretch for many.

To help you choose the right activity to get you fit, we went to experts in the most popular fields of sport and exercise to break down how their area helps people get fitter, how long before a beginner can expect to see results, and how much of a shock to the system it’s going to be at first.

We’ve got the lowdown on 11 activities below. Browse at your leisure or select a link from the list below to jump to that activity.


The cost: A few quid at your local pool, or free in the sea.

The expert: Jolyon Finck, Team GB swimming coach and ambassador for charity swimming challenge Swimathon.

In what ways do you become fitter?

The most significant fitness gain you get from swimming is cardiovascular. By using your whole body to propel yourself through the water you develop cardiovascular endurance. Once you’ve refined your technique it can also lead to strength gains and you can develop your flexibility. And if your intent is to change your body composition you can do that as well.

How hard will it be when you first start?

Swimming can be difficult, particularly if there’s a fear factor involved around being in the water. What I would suggest is to slowly increase time in the water to make that easier. In terms of the physiology it depends on the competence people have coming into it – have they been through a learn-to-swim programme and developed the skills as a young person? And have they engaged with swimming throughout their life? If you’re a complete beginner then a slow and steady approach is needed.

If you’re a complete beginner is getting lessons worthwhile?

Definitely. Any kind of technical advancement will make swimming easier. There is also an enormous volume of useful resources online.

How often should you do it as a beginner?

If you take on the Swimathon training programmes, they recommend an incremental development. One session in the first week, then if that goes well, two sessions in the second week, three in the third week, and then potentially cap it at three a week for a period of time. That depends on your objective. If your intention is to build up to, say, the Swimathon 5K then you might need a little more than that, but if your objective is just to get in to swimming and enjoy it then one to three times a week will give you the opportunity to develop your competence and your confidence in the water.

How long will it take for you to notice the improvement in your fitness?

The guys who go to the Olympics, who’ve been training for maybe ten years, when they have a break after a competition that might be one month off. Then it generally takes about a month to get their fitness back up. So if you consider that at the absolute expert level one month is enough to see a physiological difference, then at a beginner level I’d say one month is a pretty good time period after which to consider how it’s going.

Any other tips for beginners?

The essential equipment is a swimsuit that’s comfortable. A good pair of goggles, because chlorinated water can irritate the eyes. A swimming cap – most recreational facilities require that people wear a swimming cap to keep hair out of the filters. And a good towel! There’s nothing better than jumping out of a tough swimming session and wrapping up in a nice, fluffy towel. Also a drink bottle. You do sweat in the water when working hard, so there is a need to get that fluid back in. Many people don’t notice they’re sweating when in the pool because they’re surrounded by water.

Which Swimathon distance should you aim for if you’re new to swimming?

If you’re an absolute beginner then the shorter distances or maybe the relay would be most appropriate. There is a range of training programmes on the Swimathon website that are structured for the different levels and distances available within the Swimathon challenge.

Swimathon 2020 takes place 27th-29th March. Sign up now and help raise vital funds for Marie Curie and Cancer Research UK


The cost: Memberships for Be Military Fit (BMF) cost from £25 to £54, with a free trial available.

The expert: Tommy Matthews, managing director of BMF

In what ways do you become fitter?

BMF is a total-body training programme designed to hit all areas of fitness. Each class has a combination of five core components – physical preparation; strength; anaerobic capacity, speed and power; aerobic capacity; recovery – that ensure our members can achieve a wide variety of goals.

How hard will it be when you first start?

Adapting to anything new is not easy and outdoor fitness training is no different. We usually find that it takes members around three to four weeks of training with BMF before they start to feel in tune with the training programme and can really start to push themselves. We use a fitness level progression system in each class so beginners can join and work at their own level.

How often should you do it as a beginner?

At least once a week to notice any difference, but we’d advise them to start at two and look to progress to up to three to five sessions once they don’t need as much time to recover from each workout.

How long will it take for you to notice the improvement in your fitness?

We usually see our members noticing differences after four weeks and then major body changes at around the three-month stage if they stick to the programme and look after their diet. Initially members start to feel fitter and able to do more. Their cardiovascular system improves as does their endurance.

Any tips for beginners?

Turning up to that first session is a big hurdle to many people, but once you’re there and in the session you’ll be thankful you made the effort. The camaraderie is what makes it easy to come back again. The first tip for a beginner is, no matter what, make it to that first session and be prepared for the workout by dressing appropriately for the weather.

Weight Training

The cost: Personal training sessions lead to the biggest improvement in the shortest time. Expect to pay £30-£65 per one-on-one session.

The expert: David Jordan, director and PT at The Fitting Rooms

In what ways do you become fitter?

This depends on how you train but weight training can improve aerobic fitness [for endurance], anaerobic fitness [for sprinting], strength, muscular endurance, hypertrophy (muscle gain) and fat loss.

How hard will it be when you first start?

It can be challenging and frustrating at first. People tend to feel a lactic acid build-up in their muscles like they’ve never experienced, and they also have movement patterns and techniques to learn. To make the best long-term progress, stay patient at the beginning, then push hard later on.

How often should you do it as a beginner?

Since there is so much to learn, frequent training in the large movements is vital. Three sessions a week focusing on a full-body approach each session is ideal.

How long will it take for you to notice the improvement in your fitness?

As a general rule, after the first week – despite little improvement in actual measurable strength – your body starts to feel stronger. After the first month there are measurable improvements in strength and anaerobic fitness. After three months – if diet is also addressed – there’s a measurable improvement in body composition.

Any other tips for beginners?

Be patient. Laying the correct foundation of techniques will ensure the best long-term results. After that be consistent and smart with your workout programming, train regularly and record everything to ensure you continue to make progress.


The cost: As a minimum, spend £30 on a pair of running shoes, but newer models go for between £100-£130.

The expert: Running coach Andy Hobdell

In what ways do you get fitter?

You become more aerobically fit – that’s your body’s ability to transport and use oxygen [giving you better stamina] – and by running you are strengthening your body.

How hard will it be when you first start?

If you’re starting out or getting back into exercise after a break it will feel strange to begin with. The most difficult part is being sensible. Many people start out covering too much distance or running too fast, or a combination of the two. They won’t want to do it again because it felt so hard.

Start by running for just ten minutes and break this up into jogging or running for 60 seconds and walking for 30 seconds. As things become easier, increase this to two minutes, then three minutes, until after a week or two you are running for the whole ten minutes.

How often should you do it as a beginner?

Aim to run every other day, so three times in one week and four times the next. If you feel like you need to take an extra day’s recovery then take one.

How long will it take for you to notice improvement in your fitness?

You can see a noticeable progression in two to three weeks. If on day one you complete your first run and then by the end of week three you’re running up to 20 minutes without a break, that’s excellent progress.

Any other tips for beginners?

Make sure you have some properly fitted trainers. There is nothing worse than running in the wrong trainers, which can cause injuries.

Seek out a local running club [typically memberships cost £30-£60 a year]. There is nothing better than combining training and socialising. Many running clubs today have a wide variety of levels of runner so that there is always someone for you to run with.

RECOMMENDED: An 8-Week Couch To 5K Training Plan For Beginners


The cost: As a minimum you’ll need a bike, a lock and (although it’s not a legal requirement) a helmet. If you buy new expect to spend at least £400 for all three, though the Cycle to Work scheme could save you a bundle. If you go second-hand you should be able to pick up a good bike under £300, possibly as little as £100.

The expert: Phil Burt, former head physiotherapist at British Cycling and founder of Phil Burt Innovation.

In what ways do you become fitter?

Eventually there will be a visible improvement in your legs, abdominals and upper body. However, the biggest development will be to your aerobic fitness.

How hard will it be when you first start?

Unless you’re hopping on your bike having built up a solid fitness base from another sport, the chances are you’ll be reasonably unfit and it will be tough. Sitting on the bike for hours on end may also feel a bit more uncomfortable than it did when you were a kid.

How often should you do it as a beginner?

It entirely depends on your goal and how much time you can dedicate. I would recommend starting at something you believe is doable and then do it again. If there are no problems then you should progress, but never increase the time or distance you cycle by more than 50% from one session to the next.

How long will it take for you to notice the improvement in your fitness?

A crude rule of thumb is that it takes roughly four weeks to see the benefits of training. When it comes to cycling, regular short rides are more effective than long sporadic sessions. And it’s important that you balance training, recovery and regeneration.

Any tips for beginners?

Make sure your riding position is working for you and not against you. It will improve your performance, enjoyment and prevent injuries. Whether it’s reading up on the subject and using size formulas or investing in a dynamic bike fit, make sure you do something to get your position right.

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Nordic Walking

The cost The price of a set of classes to learn the technique will vary according to where you are (find out what’s available near you with the British Nordic Walking instructor directory), but subsequent group outings are usually inexpensive – community groups in some areas offer free sessions. If you get hooked you’ll need to buy a set of Nordic Walking poles (which are very different to hiking poles) which range from £75 to £145 according to the carbon content, as well as hiking gear: depending on the type of outing, this could extend to walking boots or hiking shoes, waterproof jacket and trousers, and a day pack.

The expert Gareth Davies, British Nordic Walking instructor

In what ways do you become fitter?

Nordic Walking is a derivative of cross-country skiing and simultaneously builds cardio fitness, full-body strength, co-ordination and flexibility. It is an extremely accessible form of total-body exercise, making it ideal for weight management and developing physical fitness whatever your age or level of ability.

How hard will it be when you first start?

Everybody masters the technique at their own rate, but because walking is simple and familiar, most grasp the skill quickly compared with other new activities. Having two poles can feel reassuring and empowering, reducing anxiety while accentuating a person’s natural walking gait to become so much more than just walking with sticks.

How often should you do it as a beginner?

Once learnt, Nordic Walking is the perfect exercise for reaching the current NHS England minimum recommended exercise guidelines of 150 minutes’ steady exercise a week. Beginners would be guided by their instructor to build up to this target gradually over a number of weeks. In my experience, a typical pattern for a beginner with minimal fitness might be one to two 20- to 25-minute sessions a week.

How long will it take to notice the improvement in your fitness?

From feedback, and the weight loss and increased physical performance I have witnessed, not very long at all – possibly only a few weeks. Nordic Walking’s advantages over other physical activities are a low perceived rate of exertion and a workload spread over the entire body. This means you are often physiologically working harder than you ever feel you are and rarely become stiff after a walk. Consequently, you can enjoy more frequent exercise with minimal risk of injury and the reward of significant health benefits.

Any tips for beginners?

Learn from a qualified and experienced British Nordic Walking instructor. There are around 300 in the UK and they all teach using the same International Nordic Walking Federation (INWA) 10-Step Teaching Method.

Try to remember: good technique is about the quality of the individual stroke, which is repeated thousands of times on a walk. The better it is, the quicker you reap the full health and fitness benefits of this amazingly simple but highly effective form of exercise.

Bodyweight Training

The cost: Potentially nothing, but a subscription with Freeletics costs from £2.54 a week

The expert: Seana Forbes, training specialist at fitness and nutrition app Freeletics

In what ways do you get fitter?

Regular high-intensity bodyweight training will not only make you stronger and increase endurance, it also promotes mobility, co-ordination, stability and balance.

How hard will it be when you first start?

It will probably be very tough, but it’s worth it because you will soon see progress.

How often should you do it as a beginner?

If you’re aiming to maintain your current fitness level you will usually be able to get away with two sessions a week, as long as they are effective workouts. If you want to progress, aim for three sessions a week, and if you want to lose weight you may be looking at four.

However, if you’re a beginner it is important you don’t overwhelm your body. If you’re feeling tired or sore take a rest day. Learn what your body needs and find a routine that works for you.

How long will it take for you to notice improvement in your fitness?

Usually, most users [of Freeletics] will start to see physical changes and progress after the first month or so of training if they also keep an eye on their nutrition.

Any other tips for beginners?

Take the time to learn the exercises and their movements. Film yourself or ask someone to check your technique. If you are not doing the exercises properly, this can lead to pain or injury.


The cost: From £10 for some group sessions up to £100-plus for one-on-one training. Dedicated boxing gyms cost approximately £30-£50 a month.

The expert: Keith McNiven, founder of personal training company Right Path Fitness.

In what ways do you get fitter?

You’ll improve your cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength. And it’s not just your arms that will feel the benefit. You’re twisting, you’re turning, you’re engaging your core and being quick on your feet. It all adds up to a really comprehensive training programme that will help you to get fit fast.

How hard will it be when you first start?

I’m not going to lie – if you’ve never boxed before you’ll find it tough. But it’s also one of the most exhilarating exercises you can do because it challenges you in so many ways – agility, strength, balance, co-ordination and endurance.

How often should you do it as a beginner?

If you do it right, boxing is a total-body workout. If it’s the only exercise you’re doing, then maybe start out with a couple of sessions a week and build up to three to four.

How long will it take for you to notice the improvement in your fitness?

Assuming you’re eating right, you’re working every muscle group so you’ll start to see real improvements in your fitness within six weeks, specifically to your stamina, speed and strength. Boxing is also brilliant for mental agility and helping to relieve stress, and you’ll get that benefit straight away.

Any tips for beginners?

You really need professional guidance, at least in the early stages to learn the correct techniques: how to punch, and how to protect and position yourself.


The cost: Sessions at boutique studios costs around £20, though the cost per class drops considerably if you buy in bulk.

The expert: Natalie Walker, head of the Ride class at Psycle

In what ways do you become fitter?

Ride classes at Psycle focus on anaerobic capacity and endurance, but they also improve power and muscular strength.

How hard will it be when you first start?

You’re in control of how hard it is because you’re in control of your pace. If you need a break you can sit down or back off the resistance, so it’s easy to work your way up at a pace that works for you.

How often should you do it as a beginner?

To lay the foundations and develop some muscle memory, two to three times a week is recommended, but the best advice is to listen to your body.

How long will it take for you to notice the improvement in your fitness?

Riders committing to three or more classes a week will see noticeable improvements in their fitness within a month. Because we are always varying the intensity, we’re able to work through all the energy systems to boost fitness quickly.

Any other tips for beginners?

Getting to know the positions on the bike and learning how to ride in rhythm are the main priorities so that you can get the most out of the workout. This can take a few classes to nail but once you’re in time with the room, you’ll fly.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

The cost: Group boutique classes cost in the region of £20

The expert: David Birtwistle, head trainer at F45 Shepherds Bush

In what ways do you get fitter?

If you want to have more control of your body, lose some weight and feel more capable, then HIIT is a great way of doing that.

How hard will it be when you first start?

Any new exercise is tough to begin with, but with the right trainer or trainers it will be manageable – and very beneficial.

How often should you do it as a beginner?

Two to three workouts a week for the first few weeks. HIIT training can be incredibly challenging, so it is important that beginners give their bodies some time to adjust, heal and grow, which is just as important as the training itself.

How long will it take for you to notice the improvement in your fitness?

A clear increase in fitness, stamina and perceived strength should all be very noticeable within a month of consistent HIIT training.

Any other tips for beginners?

Once you’ve been going for a few weeks, make the effort to increase your energy during a workout. You get out what you put in – coasting will get you nowhere.


The cost: The FA’s Mars Just Play! programme costs 50p-£3.50

The expert: Andy Dyke, national participation manager at the FA

In what ways do you get fitter?

Football can provide a great all-body workout. The constant walking, jogging and running helps to keep a player’s heart rate up, providing cardiovascular benefits, lowering body fat and helping to strengthen muscles.

How hard will it be when you first start?

This will vary, but sessions are designed in such a way that you can dip in and out as your body allows. A change of position or a five-minute break can help provide the breather you might need.

How often should you do it as a beginner?

The Just Play! programme is based on the ethos of “turn up and play”, meaning that you can attend as often as you like depending on your other commitments. Most sessions take place weekly, which provides the ideal template to ease yourself back into more regular exercise, but if you do feel like you’re moving too fast then you need not feel any guilt about missing the odd session along the way.

How long will it take for you to notice the improvement in your fitness?

You should start to feel benefits straight away in terms of improvements to both your fitness and your skills on the pitch.

Any other tips for beginners?

Don’t just focus on the fitness. The reason that football is so popular around the world is that it brings people so much enjoyment. Focus on simply enjoying the game and with it the opportunity to socialise and meet new people.

How To Get Fit Fast was originally published at

Exercise and Sleep: Your Ultimate Stress Defense

Stress Can Definitely Disrupt Sleep, but Can Good Sleep Beat Stress? Stress can be a sleep thief. That’s because when you’re stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. While it plays an important role in the fight-or-flight response, excess cortisol can trigger problems like anxiety, depression, and mental fogginess. Worse? “Those elevated cortisol levels …


Stress Can Definitely Disrupt Sleep, but Can Good Sleep Beat Stress?

Stress can be a sleep thief. That’s because when you’re stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. While it plays an important role in the fight-or-flight response, excess cortisol can trigger problems like anxiety, depression, and mental fogginess. Worse? “Those elevated cortisol levels send an energizing signal to your body that makes it difficult to relax and drift off to sleep at night,” Dr. Sonpal says.

What’s not so clear is exactly how consistently sleeping well helps prevent stress in the first place. A good place to start is looking at what goes wrong in the body (that could potentially lead to stress) when you don’t sleep well, explains Mark S. Aloia, PhD, associate professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver and global lead for behavior change with Philips Sleep and Respiratory Care.

Even in small amounts, sleep deprivation drives up your body’s stress response and makes you more sensitive to stress. “If you’re not getting the sleep you need, you’re more susceptible to the effects of stress,” Dr. Aloia says. As a result, your mood could be affected, you’re more impulsive, and you may be less able to cope with stress.

A small study published in September 2015 in The Journal of Neuroscience found that this effect may be a result of the brain actually changing our emotional response to triggers we may have otherwise not reacted to. Among a group of 10 adults, brain imaging scans showed that when the individuals were sleep-deprived they had more emotional processing going on for sets of images than when they were well-rested.

Other research has suggested it’s because when you’re not getting enough sleep, activity in your brain’s amygdala (a part of the prefrontal cortex, where our emotional responses come from) ramps up, according to a review published in October 2017 in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

How to Sleep Smarter: Get Enough of It and Nap With Intention

To alleviate those effects, logging enough sleep at night is the best strategy. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours every night.

What about a nap, though? It can help, and the effects are immediate. “If you’re excessively sleepy, which can increase stress levels, studies suggest that a well-planned nap can be beneficial,” Aloia says. A study published in March 2015 in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that a 30-minute nap helped alleviate stress in men who had slept only two hours the night before.

Two rules you need to remember, though: Keep that nap under 40 minutes, and time it so that you’re napping in the early afternoon, generally before 2 p.m. Nap too long or too late in the day, and you’ll have a tougher time falling asleep that night.

Exercise Helps Keep Stress Hormones in Check

The connection between exercise and stress is better understood. “Although we don’t know the exact mechanisms behind it, we know that exercise helps reduce stress,” says Jack Raglin, PhD, professor of kinesiology at Indiana University in Bloomington.

You may have heard of a “runner’s high” — that euphoric feeling people often report after logging an aerobic workout. Credit the release of feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act as the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators, essentially calming you down. But that’s not all. “A cocktail of hormones, including dopamine and endocannabinoids, interacts when you exercise, and together, they help dissipate stress,” Dr. Raglin says.

This neurochemical effect of exercise, in addition to stimulating these stress-busting hormones, also reduces levels of adrenaline and cortisol, your body’s stress hormones, Sonpal says. Together, more feel-good hormones and fewer stress hormones help you better manage stress.

The exercise won’t necessarily make the situation itself less stressful, but because you’ll be in a better mental state to handle it, the stress from that job interview or presentation won’t affect you as much as it ordinarily might, Raglin says. And research shows this is the case.

A study published in May 2014 in the journal Frontiers in Physiology found that when people who exercised regularly were asked to do a stressful task (give a five-minute speech or recite mental arithmetic), their heart rates on average stayed lower than those of a group of individuals who did not exercise regularly; and self-reported mood stayed higher in the exercisers.

Exercise also helps fight fatigue, one of the biggest consequences of stress, Raglin says. A review published in October 2013 in the journal Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health & Behavior, which considered 16 studies, found that 20- to 40-minute bouts of exercise tend to boost (rather than lower) energy levels in individuals.

The United States of Stress survey data found that overall, nearly one-quarter of respondents ranked engaging in some sort of physical activity or exercise as one of their top three ways of dealing with stress. But experts say nearly everyone can likely benefit from it.

Which Workouts Are Best for Stress?

The good news is any type of exercise will help, Sonpal says. “A little is good, a lot is better.”

Aerobic exercise gets the lion’s share of the spotlight, namely because it’s the one that releases those feel-good hormones the most.

One study that surveyed 472 small business owners about exercise habits and stress levels found that those who spent time exercising had lower stress levels, and those who reported doing rigorous or high-intensity exercise experienced lower levels of job stress and higher levels of job satisfaction. The study was published in April 2019 in the Journal of Leadership and Management.

But don’t rule out strength training. Raglin’s research has found that when people engage in mild forms of strength training, it reduces stress and increases energy just as much as aerobic activity. An analysis published in July 2014 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, which reviewed several randomized clinical trials, concluded that low-intensity strength and resistance training produced the most reliable and broadest decreases in anxiety levels.

How much exercise you’ll need to do to get rid of your stress then depends on the type of stress you’re dealing with. If you’re facing chronic stress that lasts weeks or months, getting regular exercise at least twice or three times a week is best, Raglin says.

But if you want your workout to help bust the anxiety you’re feeling about a job interview or some other acute situation that’s stressing you out, a single bout of exercise is all you need to quash it. “Although the effects will gradually fade, just as they would with a medication, you will get relief for several hours,” Raglin says. (That’s why hitting the gym ahead of a situation you might find stressful — like having to give a presentation — can help, he says.)

The takeaway is there are a lot of remedies that help with stress. But sleep and exercise are really foundational to the equation: Healthy sleep equals healthy exercise equals healthy stress. And shortchanging any of those factors can throw off the others.

Exercise and Sleep: Your Ultimate Stress Defense was originally published at

The 13 Best Methods For Increasing Training Intensity

Whether you do five sets of five reps, three sets of ten reps, or four sets of eight reps, you may not be training hard enough to build muscle or get stronger. Your body is very adaptable, but it’s also very lazy. Building muscle and gaining strength use a lot of energy and resources, and …

Whether you do five sets of five reps, three sets of ten reps, or four sets of eight reps, you may not be training hard enough to build muscle or get stronger.

Your body is very adaptable, but it’s also very lazy. Building muscle and gaining strength use a lot of energy and resources, and those are things your body hates to waste. Subsequently, you really need to push your muscles hard if you want them to change.

Lifting heavy weights and working to muscular failure can provide the workout intensity you need to trigger the adaptations you seek. But, if you’ve been training for a few years, even these methods may have lost some of their impact.

The good news is that there are lots of methods you can use to make your workouts even more intense. We call these methods training systems.

These systems involve manipulating training variables. By changing things like sets, reps, weight, rest periods, tempo, exercise selection, and exercise order, you can make almost any workout harder.

Here are a few instances where you should use training systems:

  • At the end of an exercise or workout when you feel you have extra energy left
  • To bring up a lagging muscle group
  • At the end of a period of training before you deload
  • During a bulk when you are eating more food than normal
  • If you are stuck in a training rut and want to kickstart your progress


Don’t make the mistake of using training systems all the time. Using them too often will not necessarily produce better results. Training systems take a lot out of your body. If you take out of your muscles more than you put back in, you will not recover, and you will not progress.

Here are 13 of our favorite training systems, along with examples of how to use them.

The 13 best systems for muscle size and strength

1. Supersets

Supersets involve doing two exercises back to back. There are two main types of supersets, and while each one is different, they are both effective. With both kinds of superset, make sure you move as quickly as possible between exercises. Rest only after completing the second of the paired exercises. This may mean you have to move exercise equipment to ensure you get from one exercise to the next with minimal delay.

Agonist-antagonist supersets – for these supersets, you alternate between exercises for opposing muscle groups, e.g., chest and back, biceps and triceps, or quadriceps and hamstrings. This makes better use of your training time and may also enhance recovery. You’ll also be able to get more work done per workout as you’ll spend less time resting. More volume per workout is an excellent way to trigger new muscle growth.


  • Bench press and bent over rows
  • Leg extensions and leg curls
  • Shoulder press and lat pulldowns
  • Crunches and back extensions
  • Biceps curls and triceps pushdowns

Bench Press Vs Pull-Ups Vs Shoulder Press

Agonist supersets – for these supersets, do two back-to-back exercises for the same muscle group. This increases training volume and also makes the second exercise much tougher. As a rule, make sure the second exercise is easier/simpler than the first one.


  • Bench press and push-ups
  • Pull-ups and lat pulldowns
  • Barbell curls and dumbbell curls
  • Hanging leg raises and crunches
  • Squats and lunges

2. Pre-exhaust

Pre-exhaust is a variation of the superset method described above. However, with pre-exhaust, the order of exercises is much more important.

When you do a compound exercise, smaller muscles called synergists fatigue before the target muscle, which is properly called the agonist. For example, when doing pull-ups, your biceps will tire before your lats. This means your lats won’t receive the stimulation they need to grow.

With pre-exhaust, you preferentially fatigue the agonist so that the synergists are temporarily stronger. This means the agonist will receive more stimulation. To do this, you perform an isolation exercise followed by a compound exercise for the same muscle group.

Arnold Leg Exercise


  • Leg extensions and squats (for quadriceps)
  • Leg curls and Romanian deadlifts (for hamstrings)
  • Cable crossovers and push-ups (for pecs)
  • Straight arm pulldowns and pull-ups (for lats)
  • Front dumbbell raises and dumbbell shoulder presses (for deltoids)

3. Post-exhaust

Post-exhaust is the reverse of pre-exhaust. Instead of starting your superset with an isolation exercise, you do the compound exercise first. In this instance, the aim is to “finish off” the target muscle group by working around the fatigued synergist muscle.


  • Lunges and leg extensions (for quadriceps)
  • Bench press and dumbbell flys (for pecs)
  • Deadlifts and leg curls (for hamstrings)
  • Shoulder press and lateral raises (for deltoids)
  • Bent over rows and straight arm pulldowns (for lats)

4. Trisets

Where supersets involve doing two exercises in a row, trisets involve three. This adds a lot of volume to your workout and saves lots of time too. When designing your own trisets, make sure that you put your exercises in order of hardest to easiest to ensure you can give each one your best effort.

Dumbbell Flys

Dumbbell Flys


  • Barbell curls, dumbbell curls, cable curls (for biceps)
  • Dips, triceps pushdowns, cable kickbacks (for triceps)
  • Bench press, dumbbell flys, push-ups (for pecs)
  • Squats, lunges, leg extensions (for quadriceps)
  • Barbell shoulder press, upright rows, lateral raises (for deltoids)

5. Forced reps

When you reach muscular failure, you have NOT completely exhausted all your muscle fibers. However, you have exhausted enough of them that you can no longer do any more reps with the weight you are using.

With forced reps, you extend your set beyond normal failure to hit those unfatigued muscle fibers. You do this by using a free limb or, more usually, a training partner to help you continue your set.

For example, imagine you are bench pressing 140 lbs. You manage eight reps but are unable to do a ninth. Why? Because you can no longer generate 140 lbs. of force. However, you could still generate 120lbs. Your training partner lends you a little help (about 20 lbs. worth), so you can crank out a couple more reps.

This is a very stressful form of training, so you should only do a couple of forced reps per set. Also, your training partner should never end up lifting more weight than you are. Just a few pounds of assistance should be all that’s needed to help you complete another couple of reps.

6. Negative reps

You are stronger eccentrically than you are concentrically. That means you can lower more weight than you can lift. Negative reps make the most of this phenomenon.

Negative Reps

Negative Reps

Load up your chosen exercise with 110% of your normal training weight. Get your partners to lift the weight, and then lower it slowly and under control on your own. Get your partners to lift the weight again and then repeat. Terminate your set when you are no longer able to control the descent of the load.

No training partners? No problem! Just lift the weight with two limbs and lower it with one to achieve the same effect.

Negative rep training will cause significant muscle trauma and severe delayed onset muscle soreness, so use this method sparingly.

7. Rest-pause training

Rest-pause training extends your set by giving you a mini-break when you reach failure. Simply pump out as many reps as you can, rest for 10-15 seconds, and then crank out another couple of reps. Rest another 10-15 seconds and repeat again. One or two extra micro sets should be sufficient for most exercisers.

Rest-pause training is also a useful way to allow you to do the same number of reps per set.

For example:

  • 1stset – 10 reps
  • 2ndset – 8 reps, plus two rest-pause reps
  • 3rdset – 6 reps, plus four rest-pause reps
  • 4thset – 5 reps, plus five rest-pause reps

8. German volume training

German volume training, or GVT for short, is a high-volume training system designed to increase muscle mass quickly. It was a training system used by German weightlifters who wanted to move up a weight category as quickly as possible.

The premise is simple; do ten sets of ten reps with around 60% of your 1RM (one repetition maximum) resting precisely 60 seconds between sets.

You might not get all ten sets at first, but that’s okay – make that your goal. When you can do the full ten sets of ten, increase the weight by around 5% and start over.

Because GVT is such a high-volume training method, you should only use it for one compound exercise per muscle group, and no more than two muscle groups per workout. However, you can finish off your training session with an isolation exercise or two.


  • Squats – 10 sets, 10 reps, 60 seconds recovery between sets
  • Followed by Leg extensions, 3 sets of 10 reps, and leg curls, 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Bench press – 10 sets, 10 reps, 60 seconds recovery between sets
  • Followed by cable crossovers, 3 sets of 12 reps, and incline dumbbell presses, 3 sets of 8 reps

9. Escalating density training

Escalating density training, or EDT for short, challenges you to do more work within a specific time frame. This provides not only a harder workout but also an alternative to regular sets.

To do an EDT workout, select two exercises for opposing muscle groups e.g., leg extensions and leg curls. Load up each exercise with a weight you can lift 10-12 times. Set your timer for 15 minutes and then start training.

Your aim is to alternate between the two exercises and try and clock up as many reps of both exercises as you can in the allotted time. It doesn’t matter how many reps you do per set; just keep going back and forth, keeping your rests/transitions as short as possible.

At the end of the allotted time, make a note of how many reps you completed, and then try and beat that number next time you train. When you can do 30% more reps than your first attempt, it’s time to up the weights and start over.

You can adjust the length of your timeframe according to your needs. If you prefer to do lots of exercises per workout, 10-12 minute work periods are fine. If you prefer to do fewer exercisers per workout, 15-20 minutes will be better. You could also mix and match time frames, e.g., 20 minutes for major muscle groups and 10 minutes for smaller ones.

10. Drop sets

If you don’t have a training partner to help you with forced or negative reps, drop sets are the next best thing. In fact, if you train alone, drop sets are one of the best training systems you can use. They are probably the most popular training system in gyms today.

As discussed earlier, just because you have reached failure and are unable to complete another rep unaided, does not mean you have truly exhausted your muscles. You are simply too tired to generate the force needed to lift the weight you are using.

With drop sets, also known as strip sets, you reduce (or drop) the weight by just enough to allow you to crank out a few more reps. You can drop the weight just once or a couple of times as preferred, but you should probably end your drop set when you reach around 50% of your starting weight.

Drop Sets

Drop Sets

The size of the drops depends on the increments you have available, but 10-15% is usually about right. The number of reps you do after each drop depends on how much you reduce the weight by each time and may vary from set to set as you get more tired.


  • 12 reps with 60 lbs. (couldn’t manage 13 reps)
  • Reduce weight to 50 lbs. (1stdrop)
  • Rep out to failure
  • Reduce weight to 40 lbs. (2nddrop)
  • Rep out to failure
  • Reduce weight to 30 lbs. (3rddrop)
  • Rep out to failure and done!

It doesn’t matter how many reps you do after each drop; just do as many as you can. Do not rest any longer between drops than it takes to reduce the weight. For this reason, drop sets work best with resistance training machines and dumbbells. Changing the weight on barbells is too time-consuming.

There is a variation of this method called mechanical drop sets. Instead of reducing the weight as you fatigue, you move from a weak position to a stronger one. This is a useful system if you have limited exercise equipment but still want to take your workout beyond failure.


  • Good mornings -> Romanian deadlifts -> regular deadlifts
  • Steep incline bench press -> flat bench press -> decline bench press
  • Wide grip chin-ups -> neutral grip pull-ups -> underhand grip pull-ups
  • Push-ups with feet raised -> push-ups on toes -> push-ups on knees
  • Barbell shoulder press -> barbell push-press
  • Overhead squats -> front squats -> back squats

As with regular drop sets, move quickly from one exercise to the next to avoid recovering too much.

11. 50% training

50% training is an excellent alternative to straight sets. Each set is taken to failure, which means it’s a very intense form of training. However, it’s also self-regulating, and the number of sets you do will depend on how strong and energetic you are feeling.

Old School Training Methods

Simply do your first set to failure, rest exactly 60 seconds, and then do another set with the same weight. Because of fatigue, you won’t be able to do as many reps before being forced to stop. Rest for 60 seconds again and do another set. Keep going until you are unable to complete 50% of the number of reps in your first set.


  • 1stset – 12 reps
  • Rest 60 seconds
  • 2ndset – 10 reps
  • Rest 60 seconds
  • 3rdset – 8 reps
  • Rest 60 seconds
  • 4thset – 7 reps
  • Rest 60 seconds
  • 5thset – 5 reps (less than 50% of 12 reps, so you are all done!)

If you weren’t feeling great, you might find that you hit 50% of your opening set quite quickly. But, if you are feeling strong, it could take you five or more sets. Just go with the flow and allow your fatigue levels to dictate the number of sets you do.

12. Matrix training

Matrix training is one of the most popular training systems and the first one that a lot of people try. Also called 21s, it’s commonly done with biceps curls but can also be used with other exercises.

Matrix training involves breaking an exercise down into three ranges of motion:

  1. The outer range
  2. The inner range
  3. The full range

Once this is done, you perform seven reps in each phase to total 21 reps – hence the alternative name for matrix training. This makes one set, and you can do several sets per exercise or just use it for your last set to finish the target muscle group off.

Matrix sets keep your muscles under tension for longer and also cause a lot of muscle damage, which is what makes it such an effective way to build muscle. You’ll also get a good pump, which makes them even more gratifying.

Arnold Biceps Training


As biceps curls are the most commonly performed matrix training method, we’ll use that as our example.

  1. Starting with your arms straight, curl the weight up until your forearms are parallel to the floor and then lower them again. Do seven reps.
  2. Next, with your forearms parallel to the floor, curl your weights up to shoulder height and then lower them back to halfway. Do seven reps.
  3. Finally, do seven full reps, from full arm extension to full flexion.

Matrix training can be applied to virtually all exercises – even squats! Just use your imagination.

13. Iso-holds

Iso-holds are isometric or static pauses designed to eliminate momentum and increase your time under tension. Both of these elements can take an ineffective workout and make it much more productive and demanding.

To use iso-holds, simply pause mid-rep for a second or two.


  • Pause squats – pause at the bottom for two seconds
  • Pause deadlifts – pause with the bar at knee-height for two seconds
  • Pause bench press – pause with the bar just above your chest for two seconds
  • Pause chin-ups – pause with your chin above the bar for two seconds
  • Leg extensions – pause with your legs straight for two seconds

The main thing to remember with paused reps is that you should avoid pausing in any position where the weight is supported by your bones rather than your muscles. For example, when your arms are straight during pressing movements or your knees are straight in squats and leg presses.

Wrapping up

With 13 different training systems to choose from, you have more than enough ways to create an entire year of varied and productive workouts. Combine these systems with some different splits, a variety of set and rep schemes, and a couple of different exercises per muscle group, and you have everything you need to create a fun, varied, and effective training plan.

So, lagging body part? Stuck in a training rut? Need a new challenge?

Use one of the 13 best training methods outlined above!

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The 13 Best Methods For Increasing Training Intensity was originally published at

The Best Cross-Trainers Still Available: Elliptical Cardio Machines For Your Home Gym

The Best Cross-Trainers Still Available Since everyone switched to exercising at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our top picks are sold out. While things are flicking in and out of stock we’ve kept the listings below so you can check to see if one you like is available to buy. However, to avoid …

The Best Cross-Trainers Still Available

Since everyone switched to exercising at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our top picks are sold out. While things are flicking in and out of stock we’ve kept the listings below so you can check to see if one you like is available to buy. However, to avoid disappointment we’ll list the machines worth your money that you can buy now, or at least pre-order, at the top of the page.

JTX Strider-X7

This entry-level machine is available to order for delivery between 12th and 23rd October. It has a 16in (40cm) stride length, which will be fine for average-height adults working at a low to medium intensity. If you’re significantly above average height (or plan on really giving your home workouts some welly) it will be worth paying more for a machine like the JTX Tri-Fit (£725, delivery 28th September-12th October), which has a longer stride length than the Strider-X7. If you’re prepared to splash out on a gym-standard machine you can get the £899 JTX Zenith delivered between 4th and 18th September.

Buy from JTX | £399

Head Fitness Elliptical Cross Trainer

There are a number of cross-trainers still in stock on the Best Gym Equipment website, but most of them fit into the eye-wateringly expensive commercial-standard category. The entry-level Head Fitness elliptical is more wallet-friendly at £695 and the 6kg flywheel allows for eight levels of resistance controlled by a knob so you can increase the challenge of your workout with a quick twizzle.

Buy from Best Gym Equipment | £695

NordicTrack Front Drive C 7.5

The advantage of front-drive cross-trainers like this one is the smaller footprint. It also has an 18in (46cm) stride length which auto-adjusts according to the power of your stride. While there’s no HD touchscreen, the machine will connect to the iFit app on a tablet or smartphone so you can follow workouts where the resistance and incline is adjusted automatically. You can pay more – both in this Front Drive series and elsewhere – for an integrated touchscreen, but this model has perfectly adequate specs for home use and we’re always partial to buying a tablet separately if you need to; that way you have a cross-trainer and a tablet for a similar amount of money as a more expensive machine.

Buy from NordicTrack | £799

Pity the gym-goer of the early 1990s, for their cardio workout options were limited to the treadmill, exercise bike and rowing machine. That’s because it wasn’t until 1995 that US company Precor introduced the cross-trainer to the world, sparking a new era in low-impact exercise.

The cross-trainer, or elliptical, has two large platforms you stand on that allow your feet to roll from heel to toe just as when walking or running, but because your feet never leave those platforms, you don’t experience the same impact on your joints and muscles. Unlike the treadmill or exercise bike, the cross-trainer also works your upper body via two handles you push while using it, making it a great option for homes where you only have space for one piece of equipment (and that space isn’t long enough for a rowing machine).

When it comes to choosing a cross-trainer, the first thing to check is whether the flywheel is at the front or back of the machine. Front-drive machines can be more compact and fold up when not in use, but the movement involved can feel more like you’re on a stair climber than a cross-trainer. A rear-drive machine, on the other hand, typically offers a longer stride length and a movement that’s more similar to running.

Another key feature to check is the weight of the flywheel, because heavier models make for a more stable, smooth-running machine. If you’re tall make sure to check the stride length and handle size, because too short a stride length in particular can make your workout feel uncomfortable. Other features that may affect your decision are the range of resistance and preset workout programmes available, because mixing up your training is one way to stop it becoming boring.

Best Budget Cross-Trainer: JLL CT300 Elliptical Cross-Trainer

The 5.5kg rear-drive flywheel on this machine is no heavyweight, but it allows it to run reasonably smoothly even as you crank up the resistance to the highest of the eight levels available. The console is basic but readable, and the 32cm stride length is long enough for most, though it might be a little cramped if you’re over 6ft (1.83m) tall. (Out of stock)

Best Self-Powered Cross-Trainer: Domyos Self-Powered EL520

Have you identified a perfect spot in your house for a cross-trainer, if only there was a power socket in the vicinity? Then let us present this self-powered machine as the solution to your elliptical dilemma. The free-standing trainer can be placed wherever you want it without the need for lengthy extension cables, running purely on the power you put through it while working out.

The 9kg flywheel ensures a smooth motion and there are nine training programmes you can follow on the machine, including three designed to help you lose weight. If you’re already in great shape and experienced on the elliptical, this machine might not offer a tough enough workout to satisfy, but the EL520 is great for beginners or those looking to get back into shape.

Buy from Decathlon | £349.99 (out of stock)

Best Cross-Trainer Under £300: Reebok ZR8 Cross-Trainer

The price of this trainer fluctuates and has dropped as low as £174, and while at the last time of checking it topped £300, exercise a little patience and the price will fall again soon. At any of those prices, however, it’s still a tremendous bargain given its features. The 9kg flywheel supports an impressive range of 32 different levels of resistance and there are 19 console programmes, including 12 different preset workouts.

While out of stock, you can “buy” it, with your account debited when the device is ready to ship.

Best Cross-Trainer Under £500: JTX Strider-X7

This is an excellent mid-range cross-trainer offering a similar set of features as the £725 JTX Tri-Fit, but it has a smaller stride length making it ideally suited to people under 5ft 9in (1.75m) – consider it karma for all those times a giant has obscured your view at a concert. The 12.5kg flywheel provides a smooth motion even if you are working at the top end of the 16 levels resistance available and there are 21 preset workouts to try, plus four that you can configure yourself.

Buy from JTX Fitness | £399 (delivered 3rd-17th July)

Best Cross-Trainer Under £1,000: Proform Endurance 720 E Elliptical Cross-Trainer (Out Of Stock)

A few key features might make you consider upgrading from a mid-range machine like the JTX Strider-X7 to this gym-standard cross-trainer. The standout is Bluetooth compatibility, which means you can link a tablet positioned in the holder to the machine and then spend your workouts virtual hiking in places like the Swiss Alps via the iFit app, which also contains guided training sessions. The Endurance 720 E also comes pre-loaded with 24 workouts, has 20 levels of resistance and can go up to an impressive 20% incline, so you can really get a feel for those mountains. Another handy feature is the adjustable stride length, so multiple users of the machine can easily set it up to suit them. (Out of stock)

Best Gym-Standard Cross-Trainer: Life Fitness E1 Track+ Console

The E1 is Life Fitness’s entry-level cross-trainer, but it’s still a commercial-standard machine that will easily withstand everything you could throw at it during a lifetime of use. The E1 comes with 20 levels of resistance, 12 preset workouts and two user-customisable workouts. If you opt for the more expensive Track+ console (as opposed to the Go console), the E1 also links with smartphones to track your workouts and create more personalised training options.

Buy from John Lewis | £2,295 (out of stock)

The Best Cross-Trainers Still Available: Elliptical Cardio Machines For Your Home Gym was originally published at