11 Ways to Get Fitter Without Trying

Work out with your fittest friend

We've all heard that buddying up helps you stay motivated - at least to get past the pain and onto the post-workout brunch - but researchers have discovered that we should be pretty particular with who we take to Pilates. In a Kansas State University study, researchers found people burned a lot more calories - as in, 200 per cent more - when they worked out alongside someone they perceived as fitter than them. Go make a gym date with that scary-fit buddy - her drive might just rub off on you.

Drink tea

You don't even have to move for this get-fit tip: just drink four cups of black tea a day. Why? Both mental and physical stress (i.e. a workout) produces cortisol in the body, a hormone that diminishes your muscles' ability to rebuild, get stronger and gain sexy definition. That's where researchers from London's University College come in: they found that people who enjoyed a cuppa or four produced half the amount of cortisol when presented with a stressful task than people who eschewed the brew.

Pump up the jams

We're all familiar with the surge that happens when Eye of the Tiger comes on our iPods, and the guys in the white coats have proved it: you can trick yourself into working harder with the right kind of music. Scientists at Simon Fraser University found that while our bodies want to move at a pace that expends the least amount of energy, a strongly rhythmic beat (oh hi, Rihanna) can override our innate laziness and make us unconsciously faster. If you're trying to improve your jogging pace, or just keep up, up-tempo music on your playlist will help. The researchers have even launched an iPhone app, Cruise Control, that matches the pace you're aiming for with the music in your library that has the requisite beat - or alters it to suit your desired speed.

Strength train at night

You might love early-morning yoga, but save the pump class for after work: researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi discovered that working out after 6 p.m. results in more muscle gain and less body fat than doing the exact same workout before 10 a.m.

Have a post-workout snack

No, we're not talking about falling into the, "I've earned it" trap that will see a finger bun get the better of you - this is about smart snacking. While you don't want to undo your hard work the minute you step out of the gym, it's important to feed your muscles after a workout, and a protein shake - or a couple of eggs and a glass of milk - within 30 minutes will help boost muscle repair and rebuilding according to Vision Personal Training's Kris Mount.

Focus on your muscles

The big guy at the gym who stares at his guns in the mirror might just be onto something - thinking about the muscle you're using during a move can actually make you stronger. A recent study at the University of South Carolina found that people who focused on a specific body part while performing a move that exercised it (for example, your bicep during a curl) increased their muscle activity by 26 per cent. Same move with better results? Sign us up.

Make friends with fish oil

Protein-packed fish is a winner when you're trying to become a lean, mean fit machine, but if you're not a fan you needn't plate it up. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who took a fish oil supplement benefited more from a strength-training program than women who didn't. Combine the two and you'll get stronger faster.

Take Off Your Shoes

Barefoot running is so 2012: now, it's all about losing your kicks to kill a strength workout. Taking off your shoes to lift weights removes the extra support they give you, forcing your muscles in your legs and feet to work harder to keep you upright. You might not notice a huge difference, but you'll be burning more calories than usual. Time for some new socks!

Do more in less time

It's hard enough to find the time - or the inclination - for a work out, so do yourself a favour and cut down to 30 minute sessions. Half an hour of going hard is just as effective as spending an hour pedalling steadily on the bike while watching Revenge, according to a study in The Journal of Applied Physiology, which found people who reduced the length of their workouts by 25 per cent could even improve their fitness, provided they boosted the intensity.

Stand up Straight

If you're struggling to get to the end of your step class, it could be more to do with your posture than your fitness levels. One recent study showed that when we hunch, our oxygen needs increase by 28 percent - in other words, we're spending more time gasping than getting anywhere. Before beginning exercise, move your shoulder blades back and down, and keep your core muscles engaged during the workout. And if you spend every day hunched over a computer, stretch out tight chest muscles by lying on the floor with a rolled-up towel or foam roller under your spine with your arms out.

Eat whole grains

Swap bagels for grainy bread and burn more fat - it's that simple. Researchers at the UK's Loughborough University found that when athletes ate slow-digesting, low GI carbs for breakfast and lunch, they not only had better endurance and burned more calories while they exercised, they continued to torch fat during the day. Opt for old-fashioned (not quick) oatmeal, sweet potatoes, grainy bread and brown rice.

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