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Coach Anika doing a side lunge.

For those who have a goal of losing inches in an effort to also add muscle tone and feel their best, not all forms of exercise are created equally to get you there.

From my experience with clients, I’ve seen that most people tend to over-emphasize cardio and under-utilize strength training. Once clients begin to address their nutrition and focus more on weightlifting, doing so at least three times per week, they’re always shocked to see how their body starts to change and how great they feel.

I developed the 21-day Lean + Tone program, which is part of Life Time’s suite of digital weight loss and training programming, complimentary for members, with this in mind. This nutrition- and exercise-based approach is the exact strategy I’ve found to help most people successfully jump-start a healthy routine and that goal body composition change.

The exercise component of the Lean + Tone program uses dumbbells and timed movements to help establish a healthy foundation for strength training. Each week features one specific 30- to 40-minute strength workout that is repeated three times, plus an optional bonus session to add in. I have you repeat the workout because I want to increase your confidence with it and have you focus on your form as well as introduce you to foundational movements that are part of every great workout routine.

To give you an idea of what the exercise portion of the program is like, try this total-body routine anytime you feel like you need a kick-start.

Equipment needed:

  • Pair of dumbbells

The Warm-Up

Choose your favorite aerobic activity (e.g., walking, jogging, or a moving on a piece of cardio equipment such as a rower or elliptical) for eight to 10 minutes.

Start out at a low intensity where it feels easy and like you could go for hours. Then, progressively increase your speed every two minutes.

The last two minutes should feel like a moderate-to-intense effort. Your breathing should be heavy and you should feel like you’re working hard.

The Workout

Do the movements in each block, one after the next, for the designated amount of time, then take the recommended rest. Repeat each block three times before moving on to the next block.

Pay close attention to your form and take your time with each movement. When you’re lowering your body weight or the weight of a dumbbell, slow down enough to make sure you’re in control and not letting gravity take over.

Block 1

Movement Time Rest Rounds
Dumbbell Overhead Alternating Forward Lunge 60 seconds 90 seconds 3
Dumbbell Kickstand RDL 45 seconds each leg
Dumbbell Bicep Curl 45 seconds

Dumbbell Overhead Alternating Forward Lunge

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, holding a dumbbell with both arms overhead.
  • Keeping your chest upright, step forward with your right foot and lower into a lunge position, then step back to the starting position. Repeat on the left side.

Tip: If you need lunge modifications, you can find options here: “Three Movements, Six Ways: How to Modify Staple Exercises.

Dumbbell Kickstand RDL

  • Stand with your feet directly under your hips and shoulder width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing your body.
  • Pull your shoulders down and back away from your ears. Hold this position throughout the movement.
  • Bend one knee and pop the foot of the bent knee up onto your toe, shifting it to align with the heel of your other foot.
  • Reach your tailbone and hips back as if to tap a wall behind you while reaching the dumbbells down towards your shoelaces, stopping at mid-shin.
  • Squeeze your glutes and stand back up, bringing your hips forward.

Dumbbell Bicep Curl

  • Stand with your legs shoulder width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing forward.
  • Keeping your torso still and holding your elbows close to your hips, bring the dumbbells up towards your shoulders, then lower your arms with control to the straight bottom position, keeping your shoulders relaxed.

Block 2

Movement Time Rest Rounds
Dumbbell Alternating Lateral Lunge 60 seconds 90 seconds 3
Dumbbell Overhead Tricep Extension 45 seconds
Modified V-Up 30 seconds

Dumbbell Alternating Lateral Lunge

  • Stand with your feet hip width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells (one in each hand) in front of your thighs with your palms facing each other.
  • Step out directly to the side with your right leg, bending down into a lunge position while keeping your left leg straight. Keep your chest upright and hold the dumbbells down directly under your torso.
  • Push into the ground with your right leg to return to standing. Repeat on the left side.

Dumbbell Overhead Tricep Extension

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, holding a dumbbell with both your palms around the bar.
  • Frame the bar part of the dumbbell, placing your palms flat, making a diamond or spade shape.
  • Get into the starting position: Lift the dumbbell up and over your head, bending your elbows so the dumbbell is behind your head and elbows are in close to your head.
  • Keeping your upper arms and elbows in place, extend your arms to lift the dumbbell straight over your head, then lower back to the starting position.

Modified V-Up

  • Lie on your back with your arms extended forward a few inches above your thighs with your palms facing down.
  • Get into the starting position: Using your abdominals, lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the ground and gaze forward and up. Keep your legs straight and lift them up off the floor a few inches.
  • Contract your abdominal muscles and lift your upper body up, bringing your legs in towards your chest, bending at the knee.
  • Lower down to the starting position with control.

Tip: If you need v-up modifications, you can find options here: “Three Movements, Six Ways: How to Modify Staple Exercises.

Block 3

Movement Time Rest Rounds
Dumbbell Sumo Squat 45 seconds 90 seconds 3
Bench Dips – Straight Legs 45 seconds
Dumbbell Upright Row 45 seconds

Dumbbell Sumo Squat

  • Stand with your feet wide and turn your toes out 45 degrees, holding a dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing your body and arms extended straight down from your shoulders.
  • Brace your core and, with control, bend your knees and hips to squat down until your thighs are about parallel to the ground. Don’t let your knees cave inward.
    • Tip: Engage your inner thighs and hips to track your knees over your feet.
    • Tip: Keep your chest up and maintain a neutral spine, neither overly arched nor overly curved.
  • Press through your feet to stand up. Think about spreading the floor with your feet and externally rotating at the hips as you rise.

Bench Dips – Straight Leg

  • Sit down on a bench, placing your hands next to your thighs.
  • Walk your feet out and straighten your legs, lift your hips and glutes off the bench, and hold there with your elbows extended straight.
  • Bending at the elbows, lower your body down as far as you can go, or until your arms form a 90-degree angle.
  • Push up through your palms, squeezing your triceps on the top for one second.

Tip: If you need to modify this movement, bend your legs.

Dumbbell Upright Row

  • Standing tall, grasp a pair of dumbbells and extend your arms straight down, with your palms facing the fronts of your thighs.
  • Keeping the dumbbells close to your body, with your shoulders relaxed, bend your elbows and raise the weights until your elbows reach shoulder height. Maintain a neutral neck and spine, and hold your gaze in front of you.
  • At the apex of the movement, retract your shoulder blades subtly to draw your elbows slightly back. Avoid scrunching your shoulders up.
  • Reverse the movement, lowering the weights back to the starting position.

Get Started

Access the Lean + Tone program on the Life Time app. Simply open the app, look for it under Workouts & Programs, and click into it to enroll.

download on the app store

Keep the conversation going.

Leave a comment, ask a question, or see what others are talking about in the Life Time Health Facebook group.

Anika Christ, RD, CPT

Anika Christ is a registered dietitian, personal trainer, and the senior director of nutrition and weight loss at Life Time. She’s known to many as “Coach Anika,” and is one of the original virtual coaches who continues to lead a number of digital programs each year. She started at Life Time in 2008 and has spent her entire career helping build Life Time’s nutrition and fat-loss programs. When she’s not at work, she enjoys reading, lifting weights with her husband, and playing with her two daughters.

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This 21-day program is centered around foundational strength training and healthy nutrition changes to help you lose body fat and gain muscle tone. This digital program is complimentary for Life Time members.

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