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Convinced that last half inch will never melt away?

Fitness and nutrition experts say it's easy to shed with some common sense strategies.

If you have ever tried to get rid of those last few bulges, you know how difficult and frustrating it can be. Although you have been skipping desert religiously and worn out two treadmills, the tape measure refuses to budge and it seems like your scale remains maddeningly stuck. So what's the drama? How can those last few centimeters be so unyielding?

Stop thinking in terms of pounds right now. Muscle tissue weighs more than fat, and what your tape measure reads is what is important - not your scale! As you get closer to your goal, it may seem harder to shed that last half inch.

Back when we were hunter-gatherers, our bodies didn't know when the next meal was going to come along, so we learned to store fat for the next lean period. The result? When you under eat or skip meals, you may go into starvation mode - where your body holds on to very fat cell as if it were your last. Not good!

DON'T STARVE YOURSELF

The first step toward shimmying into that new bikini is easy: eat! Yes, eating is the key to weight loss, as long as you play by the rules.

Drink a lot of water every day, throw away the salt shaker and have some lean protein at every meal. A good suggestion is tuna or salmon. You will feel full longer and the sugar cravings will disappear.

Then eliminate all wheat based carbohydrates - which equal empty calories and bloating. Instead, substitute 'friendly' carbs such as basmati rice, lentils and root vegetables. (Skip the white bread, pasta, muffins and bagels.)

Yes, there are thousands of places that will charge you hundreds of dollars for one fad diet or another... but now you can save your money for some designer swim wear. (Most of what you need to know is on this page.)

THE IDEAL EXERCISE

While modifying your diet is half the battle, the right form of exercise can help close the gap. The ideal exercise? Walking four or five miles a day is key. What about running? Almost any other form of exercise (running, stair master, weight training, etc.) involves a pumping action that will cause your muscles to 'shorten' and bulk up. This is fine if you want to look like an ice skater or a body builder....

If you want to look more like a super model, however, stretched and elongated muscles are the ticket. Walking will melt fat off your body - in the order it went on.

You probably don't remember what you started noticing first, the double chin or some flab on your upper arms.... Maybe you are trying to walk off an inch or so on your butt and thighs, and a few weeks later you notice that your upper arms appear thinner (!) but the tape measure is stuck at the same number around the fullest part of your butt. (The correct place to measure your hips, by the way - not at the hip bone!)

This is because the arm flab appeared after the hip size increase probably right around the time you added the "freshman 15" (those fifteen pounds most people gain the first year of college while living on fast food and anything amber colored that drains out of a keg).

You will eventually see results all over... You can also do a few minutes of sit ups or pushups or exercise with some light weights every day - but odd as it may seem - walking will actually do more to define your abs and torso more than any other form of exercise.

SOME ALTERNATIVES

Swimming is good exercise too, but not everyone has access to a pool every day - and too much swimming can give you big shoulders. Great for a guy - maybe not so great for a girl. Again, it all depends on your goal. A male model or a female sports model might want to have a more athletic build than a 'typical' runway model, for example. (If you don't like walking and love to swim, use a paddle board so your legs do most of the work instead of your shoulders.)

You would prefer to run a few miles a day instead of walking? Consider this.... Not only will you be pumping your major muscle groups ('shortening' and bulking up your legs in the process) but sooner or later you will sustain an injury. Knee problems, a twisted ankle, even a blister will prevent you from being able to exercise at all for a few days, a few weeks, possibly even several months.

The solution? Speed walking. Wear some light ankle and wrist weights and simply walk faster - somewhere between a walk and a jog should satisfy your need for speed, shorten your exercise time and combat boredom.

MIX IT UP

Some people that walk or run several miles a day will plateau out at some point. If this happens to you, vary your workout by adding resistance training. Multiple reps with light weights is the best way to give your metabolism an extra boost. Muscle burns more calories than fat, even when you are at rest. If your muscles are toned, your body will work more efficiently around the clock.

THE NEXT LEVEL

If you are already walking and working out with light weights and things are not progressing, you can lick your metabolism up to the next level by trying something you have never done before. Kickboxing, swimming, even yoga can give you the final results you're after.

THE SLEEP FACTOR

Sleep is another thing that is essential to peak performance and many people skimp on it, completely sabotaging all other efforts. A full seven to nine hours of sleep is mandatory if you are trying to get in shape. Not sleeping enough can, in fact, stall your progress. One explanation: When you are sleep deprived your body produces higher levels of a stress hormone called cortisol. Similar to adrenaline, it keeps you alert and clearheaded but it also causes sugar and caffeine cravings. Cortisol also appears to affect the hormone that cause you to feel full, so you could be more likely to overeat if you're exhausted.

Now go throw away those exercise books, tell all those fad diet promoters to kiss off and send us a picture real soon.


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