The secret to a bikini body? Strong muscles, just like an athlete's. Our friends at Self  have the pro tips you need just in time for Summer.
You don't have to flip tires to score a fit, sexy body. You do need to stop working out and start training. That's how athletes think about fitness. The goal of each session isn't to burn calories, yet that happens. Pros care about improving performance — running faster, jumping higher, recovering quickly. Shift your focus to their training strategies and you'll get hotter almost by accident.
Do a Dynamic Warmup
The proper exercise prequel is not a quick quad stretch. Athletes like basketball pro Skylar Diggins, who does butt kicks and high knees, and jogs in place, know this well. "Dynamic moves are vital to my training — they prep me physically and mentally," says the WNBA guard. She's right. "A bout of low-intensity full-body aerobic movement boosts blood flow and oxygen to working muscles, increasing core temperature," says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist in Darien, Connecticut. "This allows you to move faster and with more power during a workout, and it decreases injury risk." Elites might dedicate 30 minutes of a two-hour session to a dynamic warm-up. You can prime your body in five minutes for a cardio or strength workout with this total-body move. The walk-out plank push-up with rotation gets blood flowing as it loosens hammies, opens hip flexors, fires shoulder, chest, back, ab and leg muscles and readies your spine to pull, push and rotate with ease.
Stand tall, bend forward, walk hands out to plank. Do a push-up, then bring right foot to outside of right hand; extend right arm up as you open torso to right. Return to plank; repeat twist on left. Plank again. Walk hands back to feet and stand for 1 rep. Do 5 reps.
If Serena Williams only played tennis, there's a good chance she'd burn out, get hurt or both. "Any workout done exclusively can lead to an overuse injury and decreased results," Holland says. "Cross-training, engaging in an activity with different cardiovascular demands and muscle activation patterns, can increase endurance, strength and flexibility while allowing you to continue favorite activities with less risk."
How to cross-train if you're a...
- Runner: Spin to boost your aerobic capacity, without added pounding on joints.
- Cyclist: Take a Pilates class to stretch your low back and strengthen abs, two spots that can suffer on a bike.
- Yogi: Add two weekly strength workouts with bands or weights to build muscle.
- Boot Camper: Do a weekly long, slow jog to build endurance and offset intervals.
Work Hard, Then Ease Up
Athletes are always training for something. Find your something — and that doesn't necessarily have to be a race. Having that deadline allows you to structure your training using a pro strategy called periodization. Think of it as a super specific scheduling method that gets you fit, fitter, fittest at precisely the right time to meet your goal (the Olympic trials, or maybe your best friend's wedding ). A short-term plan might entail three weeks of increasing workout intensity followed by a taper, or down week, that allows muscles to recover and results to set in, says Andrew Kastor, a onetime competitive runner and current coach of the Asics Mammoth Track Club in Mammoth Lakes, California. That brings us to another term to think about when structuring your training: progressive overload. "It means making each workout push you a bit farther than you've gone before," says strength and conditioning coach Martin Rooney, founder of Training for Warriors and former speed coach for the New York Giants. "You add a little weight to the bar, or you run a bit faster, and you change your body." A good trainer or class instructor builds periodization and progressive overload into the workouts, so you're doing it without realizing it. No coach? No problem.
Apply this formula from Kastor to any cardio or strength program: Increase intensity by 10 percent each week for three weeks. Let's say you typically jog 5 miles. For Week 1, go 5.5 miles, which is 10 percent farther; if you usually lift 7-pound weights, up it to 8s that first week. Then for Week 2, dial it up 10 percent more, and again for Week 3. When you hit Week 4, you get a breather: Scale back to your base numbers (5 miles, 7 pounds). You can repeat the four-week plan with one caveat: Make your base intensities higher the next cycle.
Move in Every Direction
Few fitspo moments are more inspiring than watching a skier like Julia Mancuso carve side to side down a mountain at 80 mph. One training secret that makes that moment possible: "multiplanar" exercises (as in: exercises that have you move 360 degrees). The four-time Olympic medalist says, "I do hops and jumps in all directions, balance moves on a surfboard and agility-ladder drills." Chances are you're more one-dimensional (as in forward). "Most people train in the sagittal plane only — moving straight forward and backward, like when you run or raise and lower your arm for a biceps curl," explains Aletheia Fadness, performance specialist for the EXOS elite athlete-training facility in Carlsbad, California. But in life and in sport, you're constantly moving in all three planes of motion: sagittal, transverse (a sweeping cross-body move like when Michelle Wie rotates to swing a golf club) and frontal (soccer goalie Hope Solo facing forward and shuffling laterally to block a shot). Multiplanar moves have a laundry list of benefits. They engage more muscles, so you tone more quickly from every angle. They may help improve agility by 10 percent, according to research from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Why does being nimble matter? The ability to move quickly and easily can contribute to a bigger calorie burn. And these moves help prevent muscle imbalances, thereby lowering injury risk, which is to say, they'll keep you working out.
Pick one exercise from each group below to create a mix-and-match multiplanar workout.
- Sprint, squat or lunge: Your choice here covers the sagittal plane. For the squat or lunge, do 2 sets of 12 reps. Pick sprints and go 30 seconds all-out with one-minute recoveries; repeat 5 times.
- Side shuffle, star jump or side raise: Now you're working in the frontal plane. Choose the shuffles or jumps and work for time: 45 seconds on, one minute rest; repeat six times. If you opt for the raises, perform 2 sets of 12 reps.
- 180 jump, wood chop or bicycle: Your third move is in the transverse plane. Here, you'll work for time again. Go 20 seconds hard, 10 seconds rest; repeat 8 times.
Your Body Is a Ferrari
For athletes, food is fuel, and they go for premium. Mindlessly inhaling refined carbs is like filling up on regular unleaded. Instead, focus on nutrients that help you hit your numbers, recover fast and get back at it the next day. Ask Kastor's wife and star trainee, elite distance runner Deena Kastor. "Processed foods make me feel terrible," she says. "I don't restrict — I eat cheese, risotto, drink red wine — but I always try to make my own meals, and I focus on quality ingredients."
Try it: Follow our Drop 10 diet (page 78) to make healthy eating easy, and add in these super-for-athletes foods:
- Beets: The chemical nitrate naturally found in the veggie has been shown to lower blood pressure and protect your heart, and as a preworkout beverage in, say, a smoothie, beetroot juice could reduce breath rate during exercise, which means it can be easier to move faster and go longer, say self contributing experts Willow Jarosh and Stephanie Clarke, R.D.s.
- Watermelon: A compound in the fruit may help increase the amount of nitric oxide in your blood. That's just a fancy way of saying it could help you run a little longer or do a few more box jumps if you have a slice about an hour pre-exercise.
- Tart Cherries: They contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which research has shown reduce inflammation after a tough session, so you may feel less sore and bounce back faster. Drink the juice, bake with them, or spread a jam on whole-grain toast.
Get Serious About Rest
Yes, Gabby Douglas loves flying into a double-flip on the gymnastics floor, but ask her to do it Monday through Sunday and she may just flip out. That's because athletes know that more isn't more. "Pros are phenomenal rest takers; it's everyday exercisers who often don't have enough confidence in their routines to take a day off," says David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. Built-in rest days are physically necessary for your body to get fitter. When you work out hard, you create tiny tears in your muscle tissue; those fibers can't rebuild and strengthen if you're asking them to go at it again the next day, Holland explains. So see, we're not saying you deserve a rest; it's part of your training! That also means no junk workouts. Skip kickboxing if you're still dead from yesterday's MetCon class. Don't run 30 minutes longer than you'd planned, just to make up for eating brownies the night before. That seemingly innocuous extra work adds up and can keep your body from being able to do crucial muscle repair; it may even edge you into overtraining—an ugly, plateau- and injury-inducing zone.
Borrow a page from the pros and...
- Schedule rest days: Yep, right into your Google Calendar or smartphone, just like you would a workout. You want a breather at least every three to four days, Rooney says, to prevent muscle fatigue from intense workouts, or 24 to 36 hours after a workout that makes you body-crushingly sore. (That's when delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, tends to strike, and when your muscles need the most reprieve.)
- Don't just sit there: Athletes foam-roll, stretch, take ice baths. OK, maybe that last one doesn't sound so appealing, but Fran-Bieuzen, Ph.D., who has studied contrast water therapy, says alternating your shower temp between super cold (50 degrees) and hot (crank it to 100), for two minutes each, may help ease muscle soreness, too.
- Do lie there: For at least seven hours. You need that sleep to capitalize on the gains you made in the gym. Some 80 percent of your supply of human growth hormone, what's created in your brain's pituitary gland to repair and strengthen muscles, is produced while you snooze. Regularly get less than seven hours a night and you're limiting your potential gains. "In fact, among some professional coaches and trainers, sleep is now being considered an 'advantage metric,'" says Epstein. Follow all six of our strategies and it's advantage, you.
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