The Strength Circuit
The Strength Circuit
Do this twice a week on nonconsecutive days. Do each strength move for 1 minute, then follow with 60 seconds of moderate-intensity cardio: squat, jump rope, do push-ups, jog in place, do lunges, and so on.
Choose a Level
You'll want to move to harder levels as the eight-week program progresses. Find a starting point; for example, Level 1. The key here is to do moves 1 through 5 — plus all three core exercises — once through, then repeat, making sure you're using heavy enough weights to challenge your muscles where appropriate. Whichever weight you pick up (5, 8, or 10 pounds; switch up anytime), it should be enough to exhaust your muscles after 12 to 15 reps.
Time It Takes
Do the series through twice (total time: 30 to 35 minutes).
Blast More Fat
Two or three days a week, do one of the cardio workouts (see "Pick Your Favorite Cardio"). Try varying your intensity level with each session.
What You'll Need
A set of 5-, 8-, and 10-pound dumbbells.
1. Squat Progression
Targets glutes, quads, calves
Level 1: Squat with Dumbbells
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms by your sides, feet hip-width apart.
- Slowly bend knees and squat down as if sitting in a chair, keeping weight over heels and knees behind toes. Pause, then return to starting position, squeezing glutes. Repeat.
Level 2: Add a Jump
- As you return to the start position, jump 2 to 3 inches off the floor, landing in a squat with knees bent.
Level 3: Add a Pause
- As you lower into a squat, hold at the bottom for 2 seconds before jumping up; repeat pause with each rep.
Level 1: Incline Push-Up to Push-Up Plank (not shown)
- Place hands on a low surface such as a windowsill or bench, with toes on the floor and body in a straight line (place knees on ground if this is too hard).
- Bend elbows 90 degrees, keeping abs tight and head in line with spine; straighten arms and push back to start. Repeat for 30 seconds.
- Then hold the full-push-up start position (plank) for 30 seconds.
Level 2: Ground Push-Up
- Repeat the exercise in Level 1, but on the ground, positioning palms on ground below shoulders, legs extended and body in a straight line.
- Do full push-ups for 30 seconds; hold plank for 30 seconds.
Level 3: Ground Push-Up to Alternating Leg Plank
- Do full push-ups on the ground for 30 seconds as in Level 2.
- Then hold plank position for 15 seconds, lifting left leg a few inches; keep abs engaged and hips level.
- Switch legs and hold for another 15 seconds.
3. Lunge Progression
Targets glutes, hamstrings, quads (shoulders, biceps, Levels 2 and 3)
Level 1: Stationary Lunge
- Stand holding dumbbells with arms at sides.
- Lunge forward with right foot, bending both knees 90 degrees; keep right knee aligned over ankle and left heel lifted.
- Straighten legs, keeping feet in place. Repeat lunges for 30 seconds.
- Switch sides and repeat.
Level 2: Alternating Lunge (not shown)
- Repeat Level 1, but begin with elbows bent at shoulder height and weights facing forward; alternate legs with each rep. Continue for 60 seconds.
Level 3: Lunge with Biceps Curl (not shown)
- Begin as in Level 1 with weights at your sides.
- Lunge forward with right leg, bending both knees 90 degrees.
- Push up through the heel of your right foot as you raise your left knee toward your chest.
- From here, curl weights toward bustline, keeping left knee lifted.
- Lower dumbbells to your side and lower left leg; repeat lunge-and-curl combo for 30 seconds.
- Switch legs and repeat for another 30 seconds.
4. Shoulder-Press Progression
Targets shoulders, upper back
Level 1: Overhead Dumbbell Press
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells with elbows bent 90 degrees at chest or shoulder height.
- Slowly press weights together overhead. Pause, then slowly lower to start. Repeat.
Level 2: Overhead Dumbbell Press/Upright Row
- Do the overhead press in Level 1 for 30 seconds. Then lower arms to sides, turning palms to face your body.
- Leading with elbows, pull shoulder blades together and slowly bend elbows, raising hands to chest level. Pause for 1 count and lower. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Level 3: Overhead Press/Lateral Raise (not shown)
- Do the overhead press in Level 1 for 30 seconds. Then lower arms to sides, palms facing each other.
- Slowly lift arms out to shoulder height, keeping elbows slightly bent. Pause for 1 count and lower; repeat for 30 seconds. (Note: You might need to use less weight here.)
5. Hip-Lift Progression
Targets glutes, hamstrings
Level 1: Hip Lift
- Lie faceup on ground, knees bent, arms at sides.
- Lift hips toward sky, squeezing glutes and hamstrings at the top. Lower and repeat.
Level 2: Alternating Hip Lift
- Do the hip lift in Level 1, but at the top of the movement lift right foot from the ground, extending right leg so thighs are parallel. Hold for 5 seconds; keep hips even by pushing strongly through left leg.
- Bring right foot back to ground and lower hips. Repeat for 30 seconds; switch legs.
Level 3: Single-Leg Hip Lift
- Do the alternating leg lift in Level 2 without lowering leg on each rep; repeat for 30 seconds on each side.
6. Core Series (do all three!)
Targets abs, lower back
Note: Do each move below for 60 seconds, or as long as you can maintain proper form.
- Lie faceup on ground, legs extended toward sky.
- Reach fingers toward toes as you crunch up, lifting head, neck and shoulders off floor.
- Lie faceup, knees bent over hips. Place fingertips behind ears with elbows bent.
- Gazing up, extend left leg 45 degrees while bringing left side of the chest toward bent right knee.
- Switch legs and repeat, straightening right leg, bringing right side of the chest toward bent left knee. Continue, alternating sides, for 1 minute.
- Lie facedown, elbows aligned under shoulders.
- Lift hips, balancing on forearms and toes. Hold for 60 seconds, keeping abs engaged, hips lifted and head in line with spine.
Pick Your Favorite Cardio
Adding at least a couple of calorie-burning workouts a week will get you leaner, faster. Since you'll likely stick with something you love, pick whatever you want — running, swimming, skating, dancing — as long as it gets your heart rate up. Be sure to vary your intensity levels by choosing from the different workout programs each week.
Slow and steady (60 minutes)
Warm up for 10 minutes, then go for another 50 at a moderate pace — you should be able to chat with a friend, but you may need to stop once or twice to get a drink of water.
Too hard? Cut the workout to 40 minutes. Go at an easy to moderate level for the first 3 weeks, then gradually work up to 60 minutes.
Hard and fast (30 minutes)
Warm up for 10 minutes, then increase your pace until you're working at a high intensity level — you couldn't carry on a full conversation if you tried. Try to maintain this pace for 15 minutes, then cool down for the final 5.
Too hard? Cut the fast part to 10 minutes, or do 30 minutes of moderately high-intensity exercise, working up to high.
Intervals (45 minutes)
Warm up for 10 minutes, then alternate 1 minute of high-intensity speed bursts (you're breathless) with 2 minutes of moderate-intensity recovery periods (you can speak with a little huff and puff). Do 10 of these speed intervals, then cool down for the final 5 minutes.
Too hard? Do fewer intervals and give yourself a longer recovery time.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, June 2007.