You may think you’re maximizing your fitness by being diligent at the gym, but it’s common to hit a plateau. Try these four research-backed tips to improve your results and overall health.

1. One-minute workout 
High-intensity cardio-respiratory work, whether on its own or in addition to the strength training you’re already doing, can have a dramatic impact on fat loss and overall fitness. One of the easiest ways to do that is to apply the research done by Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. 

Gibala has studied a one-minute workout that’s especially beneficial for people crunched for time. The workout keys on three 20-second intervals of all-out effort over a span of about 10 minutes. Here’s how it works:

  • Take a minute to change into workout clothes
  • Do a two- to three-minute warm-up on a piece of cardio equipment such as a treadmill, rower, assault bike or elliptical trainer
  • Follow with 20 seconds on that machine at your maximum effort
  • Rest for about two minutes. That could be a complete rest or low-intensity use of the machine
    Repeat the 20 seconds and rest periods twice more
  • Get changed and continue with your day

Gibala, who has a book on the topic, found those in his study group improved their fitness almost 20% by doing this workout three times a week for at least 12 weeks.  

2. Hot or cold therapy
One of the biggest inhibitors to people reaching their goals is that so much emphasis is put on how hard they’re working rather than looking at how poorly they’re recovering.

A valuable recovery mechanism uses hot or cold therapy. Spending time in a sauna opens your pores to increase the blood flow to your skin so you can sweat out a lot of toxins, including those from the environment. Showering in ice-cold water, or using an ice tub, boosts testosterone levels and anti-inflammatory properties and can increase capillary function, which moves oxygen and nutrients to tissues and removes waste products.

You can also alternate bursts of cold and hot water in a shower. When you go from the cold to hot, the blood rushes back out and flushes out your circulatory system.

So how does this help lose fat?

When you have a detoxification effect, your body functions more optimally. You improve your ability to recover, which in turn increases your ability to put on muscle and burn more fat at rest.

3. Ease back a notch
Some people are chronic exercisers. They don’t recover well after workouts because their eating habits are poor, their sleeping isn’t restful and yet they’re jacking themselves up with caffeine during the day and working out as hard and as long as they can.

Try taking a break for a couple days and do these three things:

  • Focus on nutrition by eating holistic food
  • Go for long, slow walks to rest their body
  • Practise diaphragmatic breathing

How does breathing play a role? Most people are upper-chamber breathers, but the goal is to activate your lower diaphragm.

Watch most people and you’ll see their clavicle and shoulders move when they inhale. That ignites your sympathetic nervous system, turning on your fight-or-flight responses, which elevates your heart rate and keeps you alert. That’s not good when you’re at rest.

Look at an infant or animal and there’s no movement in the shoulders when they breathe, it’s all in their torso and their whole body expands.

Diaphragmatic breathing helps to get out stagnant air and induces relaxation. You can do this breathing any time, but ideally before you go to bed as “down-regulation.” It’ll help you have a good night’s sleep, which makes you recover better and thus allows you to train harder and get better fat loss and results.

A great book that teaches this technique is Breathe by Dr. Belisa Vranich.

4. Quit sitting around so much
Our bodies are built to move, yet most people spend way too much time sitting at work or home.

There are simple ways you can increase your movement, which will result in caloric expenditure that’s 10 times more than sitting!

  • If you’re running a meeting, do your part standing up
  • While on a phone call, walk around in circles or back and forth
  • When you’re watching TV, do some stretching or mobility exercises such as squats
  • Consider using a standing desk, a practice that’s gaining popularity. Check out Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World by co-authors Juliet and Kelly Starrett

We also breathe better when we’re standing, plus research says we’re more alert and present when we’re standing compared to sitting.

These four tips might not sound like big difference makers, but give them a shot. After all, what do you have to lose – other than some extra pounds?