Everyone embarking on a resistance exercise program is looking to achieve a better proportion of muscle to fat. The trick is making sure you follow a routine that builds and strengthens muscles instead of mistakenly burning muscle. The missing component in many people's exercise regimen is rest and recovery.

Athletes tend to drive themselves to work harder than they should to achieve their goals. But they can burn themselves out or injure themselves instead. Among the secrets we've uncovered from our 30-plus years as weightlifting champions and coaches, one of the most important is the interweaving of rest into exercise routines. While it seems contrary to many people, the results tell the real story.

So many clients who walk through our door are surprised when they find out that their endurance programs are actually causing muscle loss. This happens because they exercise continuously — sometimes for hours on end — without allowing periods of relaxation. The body burns fat when it's either exhausted or relaxed. Bottom line: bodies need downtime during exercise to burn fat.

When done right, resistance exercises strengthen muscles, while making it impossible to burn muscle cells for energy. The key is rest, rejuvenation and relaxation while you exercise, and immediately afterward. Here are four ways to do it.

1. Breathe in at the beginning, out at the end.

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Time each resistance exercise to begin with a 2-second inhale, and end with a 2-second exhale. While more sustainable than endurance training, this interval training has similar cardiovascular benefits, but without the side effects of exhaustion, inflammation, and musculoskeletal degeneration caused by repetitive motion. Conscious breathing allows the body to become completely relaxed after each exertion.

2. Form a mental picture of relaxation.

When you exhale, let go mentally of the previous repetition, and focus on releasing tension. This breathing technique, adapted from Olympic weightlifting training techniques, improves the quality of each repetition.

3. Observe yourself in space and time.

As you exhale, become aware of where you are in space and in time, and which parts of your body are in or out of balance. Taking this moment to pause and reconnect with your body promotes better form and keeps you from rushing through the exercises.

4. Do a five minute relaxation meditation afterward.

Spend five minutes of meditative relaxation following resistance exercise training to completely restore both the body and mind. We recommend combining aroma therapy and meditative music into this relaxation time.

The takeaway? Exercise without rest causes muscle loss. People who follow these techniques for several weeks not only lose fat and gain muscle, but become more calm and content.

When you can find the right balance between physical activity and relaxation--both during exercise and after exercise--you are on the road to reclaiming a healthy, youthful body.

Adapted with permission from The Happy Body book and DVD set.

Photo Credit: Stocksy


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