Good posture is the quickest, easiest way to look better -- and several pounds thinner -- in your favorite bikini. Slouching takes inches off your height and makes your tummy look rounder. Practice good posture by keeping your back straight and your shoulders back. Distribute your weight evenly on both hips. Your body, and your reflection, will thank you.
In the weeks before swimsuit season, aim to move your body more. "It's like putting pennies in a piggy bank," says Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body for Life for Women. "Every single piece of physical activity adds up." So turn on some music and dance. Try a Zumba class. Use the stairs at work. Every ounce of sweat will bring you closer to your goal.
To help get your body bikini-ready, "why not multitask?" suggests Peeke. "Push-ups are my No. 1 favorite because you can hit six muscles at once: biceps, triceps, deltoids, pecs, abs, and gluteals." Start with a bent-knee push-up, and have a trainer watch once to check your form. If you have a medical condition, get a doctor's OK before starting a new exercise program.
For the butt and thighs, Peeke recommends squats. A simple way to do these is to squat against a wall or an exercise ball, into an invisible chair. Keep your feet hip-width apart, knees over your ankles, and squeeze your abs to avoid arching your back. As you become stronger, you can hold dumbbells to increase the intensity. Aim for 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.
Note: If any exercise doesn't feel right, stop and check with a fitness pro. Depending on your condition, some exercises may not be recommended.
Rows are terrific for beginners hoping to exercise their arms and back. You'll need resistance bands or cables. Sit with your knees slightly bent and your back vertical. Gently lean forward to grasp the cable. Exhale when pulling backwards. To go forward, inhale and extend your elbows. Do 2-3 sets of 6-12 reps.
Deadlifts help tone the whole body, particularly the back, butt, and legs. You'll need a barbell or dumbbells to do this one. Stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width. Keep the weights close to your body as you lift them off the ground. Be sure to raise your shoulders and hips together, and avoid arching your back. Technique is important, so you may want to get some pointers from a trainer. Do one set of 8-12 reps.
Peeke is a fan of Pilates because it strengthens the core of your body: your back and abs. Can't get to class? Try a classic pose similar to the one shown here in your home. Lie on the floor and gently lift your legs and arms. Beginners should keep the knees bent and the arms parallel to the floor. As you become more advanced, aim to straighten your legs. Holding this pose will tighten the muscles in your back and tummy simultaneously.
"You could do crunches 'til the cows come home, but still have a belly," Peeke says, "unless you rein in your calories." Skipping the fries in favor of a low-calorie fruit or veggie side dish is an easy way to start. Substantial benefits can come from cutting way back on refined carbohydrates: white bread, white pasta, white rice, and, of course, sugar. These foods "wreak havoc on your appetite."
Foods that are high in protein or fiber can actually help slow the digestive process. The result is that your stomach feels full longer and sends a message to your brain that you don't need to eat more. You get more satisfaction with fewer calories.
Salads can fill you up and help you resist more fattening meals. But remember that not all salads are low in calories. Dressings, oils, croutons, bacon bits, and cheese add a lot of additional calories and fat. For a low-fat, nutritious salad, stick with vibrant vegetables, such as spinach and peppers.
Besides curbing your appetite, fiber can prevent that archenemy of the bikini-clad: constipation and bloating. By keeping you regular, a high-fiber diet may help your tummy look flatter. Just be careful about adding too much too quickly and drink plenty of water. Some high-fiber foods, such as beans, can make bloating worse at first. Other sources of fiber include veggies, fruits, and whole grains.
"Salt makes you bloat like a blowfish," Peeke warns. And the puffiness can last for days -- not a good thing when you're planning to debut your new bikini. Cut back on salt by eating fresh foods instead of canned. Ask for the sauce on the side when you eat out. Another way to reduce bloating is to eat smaller meals throughout the day.
Alcohol can undermine your goal of a bikini-ready body in several ways:
Studies show that people tend to chow down even more food when drinking alcohol.
If you're fuller in the hips and thighs, you might be tempted to mask your bottom with boy shorts. But this style can cut your thighs off at the wrong place. Opt for high-cut bottoms instead -- they'll make your legs look longer and leaner. For the top, choose a v-neck to draw attention toward your upper body.
If your tummy is your trouble-zone, more so than your hips, you're not alone. Thankfully, there are plenty of stylish one-piece suits that offer some camouflage. Side-detailing, wrap styles, and ruching all tend to make the middle look slimmer. Some suits even come with built-in tummy control. To draw attention away from your waist, choose a deep v-neck.
If you have an hourglass figure, you can pull off a lot of different styles. Wearing a suit in all one color will make you look sleek, but you can also liven up your look with a bold, daring print. Halter maillots are a great style, and don't be afraid of a deep plunge. String bikinis can work in your favor, too -- the ties will adjust to fit curvier hips.
If you have a full bust, you need a top that flatters and provides adequate support. Halter tops tie in the back and can give you just the right amount of lift. Tops with underwire or hidden bras also work well. If you're a size D or larger, stay away from high necklines and triangle tops, which won't give you enough support.
Look for pretty details at the neck that draw the eye up: fun fabric or mesh inserts, a sexy V-neck, or color blocking. Try a smooth, fitted skirt for extra coverage, but keep it short. Too much fabric can balloon into a muumuu. In a two-piece, a waistband with extra folds or ruffles can be adjusted higher for a look that trims the tummy. Cool colors slim, while shiny fabrics show every bulge.
Athletic builds look best in string bikinis; too much coverage can make you look boxy. Have fun with ruffles and pleating, which will add just the right amount of volume. Bold patterns will give you a more flirty look, and don't shy away from a little padding to help round you out up top.
You might like the look of tanned skin, but the sun takes a heavy toll on your health and your appearance. Sunlight consists of UVA rays, which can lead to premature aging and skin cancer, and UVB rays, which are the main cause of sunburn as well as premature aging and skin cancer. A broad-spectrum sunscreen will protect you against both types. Use at least an SPF 30 and make sure to coat the skin generously, and don't forget to use a protective lip balm.
UVA and UVB rays are also damaging to the eyes. Too much exposure raises the risk of cataracts over time. The bright light also makes you squint, which can contribute to fine lines around the eyes. Look for sunglasses that specifically offer protection against UVA and UVB rays. Remember that many lenses, even dark tinted ones, don't provide any UV protection.
If you want to show off smooth skin this summer, try exfoliating and moisturizing. Exfoliation is the removal of dead skin cells that make skin appear sallow and rough. Hydroxy acids, which can be found in many over-the-counter skin products, promote the exfoliation process. You'll also want to use a moisturizer every day. Moisturizers help the skin retain water, making it look plumper.
There are many ways to get rid of unwanted hair at the bikini line. Shaving provides a quick fix. Depilatory creams banish hair for up to two weeks. Waxing has longer-lasting results, while electrolysis and laser hair removal are considered permanent solutions. Laser hair removal work best for people with dark hair and light skin, and it's especially effective in the bikini area. A dermatologist can tell you which treatment will best suit your needs.
Sunless tanning products are surging in popularity as people learn about the dangers of UV rays. Today's products don't require rubbing bronze color onto your body. Sunless tanners use an ingredient called DHA that interacts with the top layer of skin. This causes a color change that won't stain your clothes. The "tan" slowly fades as dead skin cells wear off.
A great pedicure can help motivate you to get in shape for swimsuit season. If you go to a salon, schedule your appointment first thing in the morning when foot baths are typically cleanest. Bring your own utensils since bacteria and fungus can easily transfer between people. And don't shave your legs beforehand -- bacteria can enter through small cuts.
In her book, Peeke advises women to "strive for progress not perfection." Aiming for perfection often leads to paralysis. Instead of comparing yourself to the images in magazines, compare yourself to where you were a month ago. Celebrate the healthy changes you are making in your life and avoid unrealistic expectations. If you look around at the beach, you'll find most bodies are less than perfect.
View our slideshows to learn more about your health.