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The new year is upon us, and with it comes the most popular time to set health and fitness goals. Resolutions can be notoriously difficult to keep, but if you know you want to start making exercise a part of your lifestyle, we have a plan to help you. When it comes whole-body fitness, strength training is great place to start.
Incorporating bodyweight strength exercises into your routine is a great way to build muscle and lose weight — if you want to. The best part is that you can do it at home! You don’t need a gym full of mysterious machines to get stronger.
Strength training boosts energy, improves mood — hello, endorphins! — and provides a full-body workout. You don’t need to make exercise the center of your life either, because this workout only takes 20 minutes. That’s less time than it takes to watch your favorite show — and you can even watch while you’re working out! Just 20 minutes, five days a week is all you need to start seeing results.
As a personal trainer, I am often asked if bodyweight exercises count as strength training and whether you can build muscle mass without equipment. The answer is yes! And there is good reason to add strength training moves to your routine. Research shows that the combination of strength training and cardio exercise bode well for weight loss. Strength training also helps build strong muscles that help burn fat and also helps speed up the metabolism.
Not only that, but strength training could improve your mood! Recent research suggests that strength training is associated with reductions in anxiety symptoms among healthy adults and reduced depression symptoms for adults with diagnosed depression. Studies also show that strength training improves sleep quality among depressed older adults.
So, adding strength training into your daily fitness routine could make your stronger, happier, and better rested! Who doesn’t want all those benefits?
If it’s not already part of your life, though, strength training can seem intimidating. It’s hard not to feel put off by images of young people on social media who seem to spend all day at the gym when you’re busy and all you want is to feel better. Well, don’t worry! I’ve designed this 20-minute routine to help you integrate strength training to be accessible for everyone.
How to do the 31-day strength challenge
The first thing you need to do is get your head in the game. As your personal trainer, I want to see you succeed — not just for the month of January, but all year long! I am stressing the importance of getting in a positive mindset because research shows that setting small, concrete goals increases your chances of success. Plus, having a clear cut plan to reach your goals instead of making vague resolutions increases your chance of success, too.
Imagine your fitness journey as an actual trip that you’re taking. If you want to go somewhere, it’s more likely that you’ll get there if you have a map and some directions instead of just gesturing towards the place you think you want to go. In this case, your destination is strength and the way you will get there is by committing to doing these 20-minute workouts. Every single circuit you do along the way is a step on the way to strength.
Use these 4 tips to get — and keep — your head in the game:
- Find your why. The first thing you should do before embarking on any lifestyle change is identify your “why”? If you want to exercise more, why? Is it to feel more confident in your body, be able to keep up with your grandchildren or have less aches and pains? When you hit a roadblock (which will happen!) having this why to motivate you to push through will make all the difference.
- Determine your plan of attack. It’s not enough to set a broad goal. We need to be specific about the steps it will take to get there. What does “exercising more” look like to you? Is it 5 days a week? Is it 20 minutes a day? What time of day? What type of exercise? Write out your goals and then get as specific as possible with what the path to get there looks like. Our 31-day calendar helps with this step. Print it out and hang it somewhere you will see it everyday.
- Pick your word of the month. This word represents what you want to feel as you accomplish your goals. The word represents how you feel after a workout, making a healthy food choice, or taking care of yourself (like going to bed earlier or prioritizing your mental health.) This word could be something like proud, accomplished, energized, happy, strong etc.
- Set up a weekly reward system for yourself. Did you do what you set out to do each day for the week? If so, CELEBRATE!
Here are five free and easy ways you can celebrate your success:
- Dance around the house to your favorite song.
- Call a friend and brag about your success.
- Take a longer than usual shower or bath.
- Add in lemon or orange slices to your water and feel fancy while sipping.
- Set aside extra time to do something you enjoy like reading a book or watching your favorite movie.
31-day bodyweight strength training routine
Download a printable calendar here.
This month we will cycle between three bodyweight circuits focused on the upper body, the lower body and the core. In case you don’t know, a circuit is a set of a few exercises performed one after another. These circuits will give you a full body strength-training workout that will complement any walking or cardio plan you already have in place.
We will never train the same part of the body — upper or lower — on consecutive days. That’s because the larger muscles of the body require a rest day in order for them to recover and repair. The muscles of the abdominals — the core — are smaller, so they don’t require a rest day. That means that you could perform the core circuit every day if you want to.
Lower body workout
Start in a squat position with your feet as wide as your hips. Pull your abs in and bend the knees to sit back as if you’re trying to sit into a chair. Then step your right foot to the right into a wide leg squat, and bring your left foot a step to the right to the starting squat position. Keep walking sideways with this squat 10 times, then stand up and repeat on your other side.
Squat with knee lift
Start in a squat position. As you press down through the heels, straighten your legs to stand and bring your left knee up toward your chest. Gently put your left foot back down and lower back into the squat. Then, stand up while lifting your right knee up towards your chest. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Side lunge with a twist
From standing, step your left foot to the left into a side lunge — as if you’re trying to sit your left butt cheek down into a chair. Then, press off of the left foot to come back to center and lift the left knee up toward your chest. Twist your torso to the left to engage your core and also work your balance on your right leg. Repeat 10 times on one side, then 10 times on the other.
Half-lunge walking lunge
Step your feet as wide apart as your hips. Then, step the right foot forward and bend the right knee into a 90° angle over your right ankle. Bend the left knee halfway down. This is a half-lunge position. Walk forward for 20 half lunges — 10 on each side.
Standing leg lift to the back
Stand upright on your right leg with your left leg back and left toes pointed down. Pull your navel in towards your spine and lift your left leg up towards the ceiling to engage the glutes. Repeat this 10 times, then switch legs.
Upper body workout
Pushups on the knees
Come onto your hands and knees. Place your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. Walk your hands forward about a foot and bring your shoulders forward so that they stay over your wrists. Pull your navel in toward your spine and bend your elbows out to the side to lower down into a pushup. Press down through the palms of the hands to come back up to your starting position. Repeat 10 times.
Sit on your butt on the ground, and place your hands behind you with your fingers facing your body. Lift your butt up off of the mat. Keep your knees over your ankles and bend the elbows straight back, lowering down into a tricep dip. Press down through the palms of the hands to straighten the arms, while engaging the tricep muscle — the back of the arms. Repeat 10 times.
Plank to downdog
Starting on your hands and knees, walk your knees back, tuck your toes under and lift your hips and shoulders off the ground into a plank position. Your body should be in a straight line, like a plank of wood. Maintain a flat back and keep your shoulders over your wrists. Reach the soles of your feet toward the back of the room. Then, pull the abs in and lift your hips toward the ceiling, coming into an upside down “V” position. Take a breath in and then exhale as you shift forward into plank. Repeat 10 times.
Stand up straight and reach your arms up toward the ceiling, keeping them shoulder-width apart. Then, pretend you’re grabbing a bar and pull the arms and elbows down with the elbows bent out to the sides, engaging the upper back. Squeeze the shoulder blades together. Then, return the arms to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
Reach your arms out to the sides as high as your shoulders and move them in 10 circles forward and then 10 circles backward. Repeat 10 times.
Crunch with knees up
Lay down on your back and bend your knees to a 90° angle. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows open wide. Lift your head and neck about an inch off the ground. This is the starting position. From here, engage your lower abs as you curl up as high as you can and hug your elbows in to try to touch your knees. Lower your head, neck and elbows down to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
Criss cross & reach with knees up
Lay on your back and keep your knees lifted at a 90° angle. Press your palms together at the center of your chest. Curl up as you reach your arms across your right thigh. Then, come back to center. Curl up across your left thigh. Then, come back to center. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Single leg lower & lift
Lying on your back, place your left foot on the ground and lift your right leg up toward the ceiling. This is the starting position. Tilt your pelvis to press your low back into the ground. Keep your back pressed against the ground as you lower the right leg down about 45°, then return the right leg to the starting position. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Single leg straight toe touch
Lift both legs and both arms up towards the ceiling. Then, curl your head and neck off the ground as you lower the right leg and reach all your your fingertips toward your left toes. Come back to center. Then, bring your right leg up and lower the left leg down. Reach up toward the right toes. Repeat 10 times to each side.
Modified side plank (elbow to knee)
From your knees, lower your right hand down to the ground to the right side of your body. Make sure the right shoulder stays over the right wrist. Then, extend your left leg out as high as your hip. Place your left hand behind your head and crunch your left elbow toward your left thigh. Your body may not move very much, but you’ll feel the left side of your waist working! Repeat 10 times on each side.
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