Getting yourself in enviable shape by spring takes easing yourself into an intense regimen the right way — and ditching excuses so you never fall off track of your goals. This month-long plan incorporates both, so you always have time to transform your body from average to astonishing.
For the first four weeks, you’ll return to the basics by performing a mix of both bodyweight-only exercises and resistance cord moves that produce maximum results. When combined into one routine, these basic strength-training, coordination-building movements hit as many muscle groups as possible, but best of all, they don’t cost a dime (OK, maybe a dollar or two!). All you need is a single stretch cord and a few things already in your house to do them!
But beyond being effective and inexpensive, the eight exercises you’ll stick with for Month One will rapidly shape up your body from head to toe, so you’ll have all the strength, coordination and stamina you’ll need to handle months two and three.
Your Muscle-Up Plan
To remind your muscles who’s boss, you’ll start by performing all eight moves together as a moderate-intensity circuit three times weekly. After two weeks, you’ll ease into exercising four times a week, splitting your workouts in half by training your chest, shoulders, triceps and abs on days one and four, and your legs, back and biceps on days two and five.
After training your entire body (either in one day or two, depending on the week), you’ll give your muscles a breather by resting for 24 hours before repeating the cycle. Finally, before starting each strength-training workout, warm up your muscles by either jogging or walking in place (or performing some form of light aerobic activity that gets both your arms and legs moving) for at least five minutes.
On Weeks One And Two
For each exercise, you’ll perform each movement using a resistance heavy enough to allow you to do one set of 12 to 15 repetitions per exercise in the order given, resting 90 seconds in between each set, before moving to the next exercise. After performing one set of each move, you’ll repeat the entire eight-move circuit once more. To keep your muscles under constant tension, you’ll maintain a two seconds up/two seconds down tempo.
The Order: bodyweight squat, push-up, reverse lunge, two-arm band row, two-arm shoulder press, standing biceps curl, dip, crunch.
Ramp It Up By… reducing the time between sets to 60 seconds, slowing things down to a three second up/three second down tempo, or perform the circuit three times instead of twice.
Dial It Down By… increasing the time between sets to two minutes, or speed things up to a one second up/one second down tempo.
On Weeks Three and Four
You’ll increase the intensity by dividing the routine into two separate strength-training workouts. For each workout, you’ll do three sets of each exercise in the order given, resting 60 seconds between sets, before moving onto the next exercise. For each exercise, you’ll perform each movement using a resistance heavy enough to allow between 10 and 12 repetitions per exercise.
The order: Days one and four (push-up, two-arm shoulder press, dip, bicycle, crunch). Days two and five (bodyweight squat, reverse lunge, two-arm band row, standing biceps curl).
Ramp it up by… reducing the time between sets to 30 to 45 seconds, slowing things down to a three second up/three second down tempo, or perform each exercise four times instead of three.
Dial it down by… increasing the time between sets to 90 seconds, speeding things up to a one second up/one second down tempo, or performing each exercise twice instead of three times.
In between your resistance-training workouts, you’ll also be incorporating some form of aerobic activity (walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, stair climbing, skipping rope, etc.), depending on your fitness level.
If you’re starting the routine out of shape, aim for 20 minutes a session for the first week, then add two to three additional minutes each additional week — your goal should be to end the month at 30 minutes of cardio each session. Otherwise, do 30 minutes of cardio in Week One, then add an additional five minutes each additional week — your goal will be to end the month doing 45 minutes of cardio each session.
What You’ll Need
• At least one resistance cord. Most cords/bands are color-coded to indicate their tension level. The most common order (from lowest to highest tension) is yellow, red, green, blue and black — but that’s not written in stone. To cover yourself, just have two to three different color cords at the ready. Resistance bands are not only cheap, portable and versatile, but they also maintain constant tension throughout every move, making them an effective tool in your gym bag.
• A sturdy chair
• A stable place to tie/anchor the cord
Muscles targeted: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, lower back and calves
Setup: Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands on your hips.
Move: Keeping your head and back straight, slowly squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Slowly push yourself back up into the start position and repeat.
Ramp it up by… extending your arms either in front of you, or out to your sides.
Dial it down by… leaning against a wall as you squat.
Tip: Keep your knees directly above your toes, but don’t let them extend past your feet.
Muscles targeted: chest, shoulders, triceps, core muscles
Setup: Place your hands flat on the floor shoulder-width apart keeping your arms straight, elbows unlocked. Straighten your legs behind you, feet spaced about six inches apart so that your body forms a straight line from your head down to your heels.
Move: Keeping your body in a straight line, bend your elbows and lower your chest down to the floor. Press yourself back up until your arms are straight, elbows unlocked. Repeat.
Ramp it up by… placing your feet on top of a stable object about 6 to 12 inches high, and/or pausing at the bottom of the move for one to two seconds each rep.
Dial it down by… resting on your knees instead of your feet, and/or lowering yourself halfway instead of all the way to the floor.
Tip: Keep your eyes focused on the floor — avoid looking at your hands or to the sides.
Muscles targeted: hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes and calves
Setup: Wrap a resistance cord around a sturdy, waist-high object and grab a handle in each hand. Stand facing the object, then step back until your arms are extended in front of you.
Move: Starting with your feet together, take a big step backward with your left foot and lower your hips until your right thigh is almost parallel to the floor. Slowly push yourself back up into a standing position, then repeat, this time taking a step backward with your right foot.
Ramp it up by… holding your fists by your sides (instead of keeping them extended forward).
Dial it down by… standing up as quickly as possible after every lunge, or skip using the resistance cord.
Tip: Bring the knee of your back leg down as close to the floor as possible — but never touch it.
Two-Arm Band Row
Muscles targeted: latissimus dorsi, rear deltoids, rhomboids, middle and lower trapezius
Setup: Stand on the center of the cord with both feet and grab a handle in each hand. With knees slightly bent, bend forward at the waist until your torso is close to parallel to the floor. Let your arms hang straight down, palms facing in.
Move: Without lifting your back or straightening your legs, bring your fists up until they reach the sides of your chest. Pause, then slowly lower them down until your arms are straight. Repeat.
Ramp it up by… positioning your torso higher (about a 45-degree angle) to lengthen your pull, and/or pausing for two seconds (or more) at the top of every rep.
Dial it down by… skipping the pause at the top.
Tip: Instead of pulling with your hands, imagine your goal is to draw your elbows up toward the ceiling.
Two-Arm Shoulder Press
Muscles targeted: shoulders and triceps
Setup: Stand on the center of the cord with both feet, grab a handle in each hand, then raise your hands up directly in front of your shoulders. Your palms should be facing forward, elbows pointing down.
Move: Straighten your arms over your head until your hands are directly above your shoulders, elbows unlocked. Lower your hands back down to your shoulders and repeat.
Ramp it up by… pausing for one to two seconds whenever your hands reach the halfway mark — either up or down.
Dial it down by… raising your hands only halfway every other rep.
Tip: Don’t lock your elbows at the top — leaving them unlocked will keep your muscles under continuous tension for better results.
Standing Biceps Curl
Muscles targeted: biceps
Setup: Stand on the center of the cord with both feet and grab a handle in each hand. Your arms should hang down in front of you, palms facing forward.
Move: Bend your elbows and slowly curl your fists up until they reach the front of your shoulders. Pause, lower the handles back down and repeat.
Ramp it up by… either flexing your biceps at the top of every rep, or pausing for one to two seconds each time your forearms are parallel.
Dial it down by… leaning back every other rep to let momentum cheat the weight up.
Tip: Keep your upper arms pinned to your sides — letting them sway either forward or back means either other muscles or momentum is raising the weight instead of just your biceps.
Muscles targeted: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major and minor
Setup: Sit on the edge of a sturdy chair and position your hands on the seat on either side of your hips, fingers facing forward. Place your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent, then slide your butt off the seat so that your bodyweight is supported by your arms.
Move: Bend your elbows and lower your body down to the floor, stopping when your arms are bent at a 90-degree angle. Push yourself back up by straightening your arms and repeat.
Ramp it up by… pausing for one to two seconds every few inches on the way down — and on the way up.
Dial it down by… stopping a few inches short of bending your arms 90 degrees.
Tip: Don’t lower yourself down any further than 90 degrees — the extra range isn’t worth the added stress you’ll place on your elbows.
Muscles targeted: abs, obliques and core
Setup: Attach the middle of a resistance cord to a sturdy object about a foot off the floor. Lie faceup on the floor facing away from the cord, knees bent, feet on the floor. Reach back and grab both ends, then place your fists by your ears. Shimmy away from the cord until you feel slight resistance.
Move: Keeping your fists by your ears, draw your left knee toward your chest while extending your right leg. Simultaneously curl your torso up and twist to the left so that your right elbow and left knee touch. Repeat the move, this time pulling your right knee in as you curl and twist your torso to the right, touching your left elbow to your right knee. Repeat.
Ramp it up by… moving farther away from where the cord’s attached to increase resistance, and/or never letting your feet rest on the floor after each rep.
Dial it down by… not touching your knees to your elbows, and/or resting on the floor for one second after every few reps.
Tip: Contract your abs before performing your first rep — and keep them that way until finishing the final rep.
Click HERE for Month 2.
Click HERE for Month 3.