Amid all the pushing, pulling, squeezing, and heaving in the gym, one simple idea often gets lost: An effective exercise program can teach you to move with greater efficiency and better alignment.
Dancers, gymnasts, and other skilled movers aren’t just strong. Leaping through space, sticking a back tuck in a floor routine, or running downfield with defenders closing in each demand an oft-ignored skill called proprioception — the ability to sense where your body is as you move through space.
A great way to build this coveted skill is with body-weight exercises — movements that call on your body for resistance — using a smooth, regulated tempo to better feel and control each phase of a move.
That’s what you’ll do this month. Be prepared to walk a little taller as you continue working your way toward greater fitness.
In your strength training this month, you’ll again alternate between two full-body workouts, labeled A and B, on three nonconsecutive days each week. See the sample calendar on the next page for one way to arrange your workouts, but feel free to change exercise days based on your schedule.
There are two cardio sessions per week — also called A and B. Schedule the cardio whenever you can, and not necessarily on separate days from your strength work.
Exercises marked 1A and 1B, 2A and 2B, and so on are paired as supersets. Alternate between sets of each move, resting only as long as necessary between sets, until you’ve completed all assigned sets of each movement.
The sets and reps you perform will vary as the month proceeds. In the calendar at right, you’ll see the term “rounds.” For each exercise, you’ll perform the sets and reps indicated in the chart for the corresponding round. When the number of reps is lower, the resistance you use will be higher.
For each exercise, choose a resistance level — and a variation — that allows you to perform the assigned number of sets and reps. For example, if you’re still mastering the rear-foot elevated split squat, you might substitute a static lunge (an easier version of the same move, described in month 1) in workouts with sets of 15 reps per leg but do the full version when you’re assigned just eight reps per leg.
The second time you perform a given workout, aim to use more weight or do a tougher version of the same exercise. If you finished all three sets of 12 reps of the barbell hip thrust in round 3, for example, try to perform the same number of reps of the same move with more weight the next time you’re assigned three sets of 12 reps, which will come up again in round 6 (a training log is a useful tool for keeping track of your progress).
Pay particular attention to performing each rep with perfect-for-you form: Lift the weight smoothly and powerfully, hold the top position for a one-count, slowly lower the weight with control, then pause in the stretched position.
Prior to each workout, complete the activation and mobility drills outlined in month 1. (For a refresher, visit our Strong, Fast & Fit Program.)
For this month, your workout schedule might look like this:
Choose any form of cardio you enjoy, indoors or outdoors. After a five-minute ramp-up, perform the activity for 20 to 30 minutes at a comfortable pace (6/10 on an effort scale). Cool down with light movement or by stretching for five minutes.
Perform your cardio activity of choice at an easy pace (4/10 on an effort scale) for five minutes. Then spend 90 seconds at a challenging pace (8/10) followed by 150 seconds (two and a half minutes) at a recovery pace (5/10). Repeat the four-minute work–rest cycle a total of six to eight times, depending on your energy level and time available.
- Place a box or bench beneath a chin-up station.
- Hang a heavy exercise resistance band over the bar, then pull the shorter loop through the longer one.
- Stand on the bench and place one foot through the loop.
- Grasp the bar with either an overhand or underhand grip and step off the bench, allowing your arms to straighten fully.
- Keeping your body still, slowly pull yourself upward until your chin clears the bar.
- Reverse the movement and repeat for reps.
Too hard? Use a thicker band.
Too easy? Use a thinner band — or no band at all.
Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat
- Stand about 2 feet in front of a low step or bench.
- Keeping your hips and shoulders square, step your left foot back and place the ball of your foot on the bench.
- Keeping your torso upright and your gaze forward, bend both legs until the crease of your right hip is below your right knee.
- Without pitching your torso forward, reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
- Complete all reps with your right foot forward before switching to your left.
Too hard? Do a static lunge (described in month 1) with or without weights.
Too easy? Hold a pair of dumbbells by your sides.
Reverse Lateral Raise
- Assume an athletic stance, holding two light dumbbells in front of your thighs.
- Bend forward at least 45 degrees, allowing the weights to hang down toward the floor in front of you.
- Keeping your torso still, slowly raise the dumbbells directly out to the sides as far as possible, keeping the dumbbell handles parallel to the floor and squeezing the backs of your shoulders at the top of the movement.
- Slowly reverse the movement and repeat.
- Assume an athletic stance, holding a heavy kettlebell in your right hand.
- Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, your shoulders level, and your chest up, slowly bend your knees and hinge forward at your hip joints, allowing the weight to hang straight down from your shoulder.
- Reverse the movement and repeat, completing all the reps with the kettlebell in your right hand before switching to the left.
- Place a pair of parallettes on the floor, handles parallel, about 6 inches wider than your shoulders.
- Assume a pushup position with your hands on the parallettes: feet slightly wider than shoulder width, balls of your feet on the floor, arms locked out, and body straight from your heels to the top of your head.
- Keeping your body straight and your head in a neutral position, simultaneously bend your arms and retract your shoulder blades until your chest is below the level of the parallettes — or as far as possible without losing good form.
- Reverse the movement, pushing back up to the starting position.
Too hard? Perform the move with your hands on two boxes or aerobic steps of equal height.
Too easy? Perform the move with your feet elevated.
Barbell Bench Press
- Place a barbell in the uprights of a bench-press station, load it with a medium-heavy weight, and lie back on the bench.
- Keeping your feet flat on the floor, grip the bar evenly about 6 inches wider than shoulder width on each side, and press it off the uprights.
- Slowly lower the bar until it makes contact with your chest, about halfway down your rib cage.
- Press the bar back to the starting position, pause, and repeat.
- Always use a spotter when bench-pressing heavy weights. (Learn more about the correct positioning for your back here.)
Tip: though it may look odd, an arched back can actually enhance your bench pressing performance. Learn more here.
Overhead Triceps Extension
- Stand upright holding a single dumbbell overhead, handle vertical, palms on the inside edge of the dumbbell’s top plate, thumbs and forefingers circling the handle.
- Extend your arms fully overhead, squeezing your elbows toward your ears; keep them there throughout the movement. This is your starting position.
- Bend your arms fully, lowering the dumbbell behind your head until you feel a deep stretch in the backs of your arms.
- Reverse the movement, squeezing your triceps hard at the top, and repeat for reps.
Barbell Hip Thrust
- Sit on the floor and position your upper back against a flat bench.
- Roll a loaded barbell up your legs to the crease of your hips, and bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor. (Place a rolled-up yoga mat between your hips and the bar, if needed for comfort.)
- Hold the bar in place and press your hips into the air until they are fully extended. Your back should rest on the bench.
- Lower your hips and barbell back down, keeping your upper back pressed against the bench throughout the movement.
Alternatively, perform a Glute-Ham Raise:
- Climb into the glute-ham machine, placing the backs of your ankles against the foot pads and folding forward over the hip pad. Straighten your legs.
- Without overarching your lower back, slowly raise your upper body as far as possible, simultaneously bending your knees as much as possible.
- Squeeze your glutes as hard as you can at the top of the movement, taking care not to overarch your back, and hold for a two-count.
- Slowly reverse the movement, folding forward over the pad and straightening your knees.
Too easy? Perform the move holding a weight plate against your chest.
TRX 1.5 Row
- Standing a few feet behind the anchor point for a TRX (or equivalent), raise the handles to chest height, grasp the handles, and walk backward until the straps are taut.
- Keeping your arms extended, walk your feet forward slowly until your body forms about a 45-degree angle to the floor.
- Keeping your body straight from your head to your heels and your head in a neutral position relative to your spine, simultaneously bend your arms and pull your shoulder blades back, lifting your chest as high as you can toward the anchor point.
- Pause and slowly reverse the movement, lowering yourself halfway down.
- Pull yourself up fully again.
- Reverse the movement, lowering yourself to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Too hard? Start with your feet further forward.
Too easy? Start with your feet further back.
Banded Fractal Squat
- Place a small elastic band around your knees and assume an athletic stance with your feet parallel and slightly wider than shoulder width and your heels elevated on a pair of 5-pound plates.
- Keeping your chest high, your lower back in its natural arch, and your knees wide, slowly bend your knees and hips, sitting back until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Without letting your knees cave inward, slowly reverse the movement to stand three-quarters of the way back up.
- Lower yourself into the full squat position.
- Reverse the movement, slowly standing halfway back up.
- Lower yourself into the full squat position.
- Reverse the movement, slowly standing a quarter of the way back up.
- Lower yourself into the full squat position.
- Reverse the movement, standing fully upright. That’s one rep.
Too hard? Eliminate the fractal movements and perform a banded body-weight squat.
Too easy? Perform the move holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in the goblet position.
Hammer Curl to H Press
- Assume an athletic stance, holding two medium-weighted dumbbells by your sides and palms facing your thighs.
- Keeping your palms facing each other and your elbows close to your sides, slowly curl the weights to shoulder height.
- With your palms still turned toward each other, press the dumbbells directly overhead: your arms should be parallel — not tilted inward — at the top of the movement.
- Slowly reverse the movement, first lowering the dumbbells to shoulder height, then straightening your arms down to your sides. That’s one rep.
- Lie on your back with your arms extended toward the ceiling and your palms facing each other.
- Squeezing your thighs together, lift your feet off the floor and bend your legs and hip joints 90 degrees.
- Raise your head and shoulder blades a few inches off the floor and press your lower back firmly into the floor.
- Keeping your head and shoulders up and your elbows extended, slowly lower your arms toward the floor overhead. Your lower back should now be the only part of you that’s touching the floor.
- Slowly extend your left leg, about 6 inches from the floor, simultaneously pulling your right knee toward your chest as much as possible.
- Slowly reverse the position of your legs. That’s one rep.
Too hard? Perform the move with your arms extended down by your sides, a few inches off the floor.
Too easy? Perform the move lying on an incline bench.
Outside the Gym
Your body isn’t a machine, and you need more than just exercise to improve your fitness. This month, also work on these three goals:
- Sleep better. Try to average at least seven — and ideally seven and a half — hours of shuteye every 24 hours. For more sleep tips, visit “Reclaim Your Sleep Rhythm”.
- Connect. Interacting with your community is another underappreciated aspect of health and fitness. Make two dates with friends you haven’t seen in a while. Short on time? Knock off a cardio workout by taking a hike together.
- Get your nature on. Exposure to nature has measurable health benefits. If long walks in the park are not in the cards this month, get a few houseplants or a vase or two of flowers, and spend some time in a local green space. Learn more about the healing power of nature at “How Nature Boosts Your Health”.