We live in an interesting time; technology is always at our fingertips, as our smart phones are glued to our hands like Ari Gold from Entourage. The majority of today’s population sits in cubicles cranking out work, stands with poor posture, and sits with rolled shoulders while cruising social media or texting. And we wonder why people have back problems, musculoskeletal issues and general weakness. Life has gotten easier and exciting in many ways, but it has also made us lazy.
How can you prevent and reduce (or even eliminate) back pain, and build a foundation for increasing fitness? It’s very simple … get strong.
It’s OK if you’re a novice when it comes to strength training—the fact that you’re reading this, and considering whether you can complete this challenge puts you one step farther along than most because you are investing in yourself!
Let me simplify things for you. It first starts with a plan.
The idea is to get stronger and more mobile through a program that uses a small exercise selection that’s progressive. You will need to work out at home or hit the gym two times a week. Completing your strength workouts two days per week allows for ample recovery time, and should fit into your schedule.
Oh but wait, it doesn’t have to stop there! You should spend time doing secondary workouts 1-2 days a week. For this, you will need to walk, jog or bike (or complete your favorite cardiovascular exercise), and also work on your body’s mobility. These secondary workouts can be as short as 10 minutes, and shouldn’t be any longer than an hour.
Each week the goal will be to make the efforts just a little bit harder: Add a little more weight, do a few more reps, or add minutes to your walk, jog or bike ride.
You will do all six strength exercises when you work out, so keep track of how much weight you lift or how many you reps you do. Remember, the goal is to add a little weight or increase the reps each week. Do not push through any pain, and always keep proper form even if you have to decrease the weight. You may experience some soreness since you’re challenging your body to do things it hasn’t done before, so make sure you give yourself 48-72 hours of recovery before you do another strength session.
I picked these exercises because they lay the proper foundation you need as a beginner to get stronger. In addition, squats and shoulder presses are two exercises that should always be part of your exercise program regardless of ability. During your cardio days, complete the mobility exercises after you complete your cardio, which is optional on some days, or after a 5-minute warm-up.
Things to Note
On strength-training days, warm up for 5-10 minutes before completing the prescribed exercises, and cool down for 5 minutes when you finish the session. It’s important to prepare your body for the demands of exercise with a warm-up; it’s also important to lower your heart rate back to a resting state when you finish your workout, so don’t skip these parts of the workout.
If you opt out of the easy cardio on the days suggested (day 12, for example), warm up for a few minutes before starting your mobility exercises.
Equipment you’ll need: Set of dumbbells with varying weights (for example: 3 lbs., 5 lbs., 8 lbs., 10 lbs)
Weights are recommended for the following strength exercises:
- Dumbbell (DB) Shoulder Press
- Single-leg Deadlift
- Squats—starting on day 15. To do so, hold dumbbells in both hands (bend your elbows and keep the weights stationary above your shoulders) during the squats.
Start with the heaviest weights you can handle while completing the recommended number of reps and sets with good form. If you can’t complete the number or reps and sets without sacrificing your form, grab lighter weights to finish the reps/sets. If you feel any sharp pains, stop immediately and rest. If pain persists, see your doctor.
Rest durations should be followed between each set of each exercise. For example, rest for 20-30 seconds between each of the three sets of birddogs you complete on day 1; rest for 30-60 seconds between each of the three sets of planks you do on day 1, and so on.
How to Perform the Strength-Training Exercises
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and shoulder-width apart
- Tighten your abs and lift your pelvis off the floor until your knees, hips and shoulder are in line
- Return to starting position and repeat
- Get down on the floor on all fours
- Slowly extend your right arm in front of you while extending your left leg straight behind you
- Keep your hips and shoulders square and don’t arch your lower back
- Return to starting position and repeat on the opposite side
- Lie face down on the floor, feet close together and forearms on the floor
- Tighten your abs and lift your body up until it forms a straight line
- Hold that position until the time is up, and lower yourself to the floor
- Place your feet about shoulder-width apart
- Push your butt back and down, making sure that your hip crease goes below parallel (just below your knees)
- Make sure that you keep your knees out over your toes throughout the entire exercise
- Return to a standing position and repeat
Tip: Look at the floor about 6 feet in front of you; this allows for better hip drive coming out of the bottom position.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them by your side
- Pull your shoulder blades back and tighten up your abs
- Stand on your right foot and hinge over your waist, lowering the weights towards the floor
- Your left leg needs to go up and back behind you
- Make sure to keep your shoulders back so your back stays in alignment through the movement
- Focus your eyes on a point in front of you to help you stay balanced
- Return to the starting position and repeat
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and place them on your shoulders
- Tighten your abs
- Press your arms up in a vertical path until your elbows lock out
- Lower the weights back to your shoulders and repeat
How to Perform the Mobility Exercises
- Place your left knee down on the floor and put your foot up against a bench or chair
- Squeeze your butt and drive your hips towards the floor
- Hold the stretch, which you will feel in your quad, for 1-2 minutes on each leg
- Lie down on your back and form a T with your arms
- Keep your shoulders down on the floor
- Lift your knees up and lower them away from your left arm
- Hold the stretch for 1-2 minutes
- Get down on all fours
- Bring your right foot underneath you and bend forward—go as far as you feel comfortable
- Reach out in front of you with your hands
- Hold the stretch for 1-2 minutes
- Grab on to a rod or broom stick
- Pull the stick behind your head; only go as far as you can comfortably hold this stretch
- Hold the stretch for 1-2 minutes
Looking for more fitness challenges? Check out our other plans:
The 28-Day Squat Challenge
The 30-Day Walking Challenge
The 28-Day Run-Yoga-Meditation Challenge
The 30-Day Plank Challenge
The 30-Day High Intensity Interval Training Challenge
Infographics designed by Tierra Wilson.