If you want to work at home, you can do this strengthening routine with a set of dumbbells and a firm bench, or even two wooden straight chairs. Do this nine exercise routine twice a week with at least 2 days between each workout.
In all movements for this routine, take 2-4 seconds in each direction of the move, exhaling where you’re doing the most work, and keeping control of movement. Move with full range of motion. Notice that moving more slowly makes the exercise harder. Since you’re trying to build muscle, it makes sense to make the muscle work hard rather than moving quickly.
Review the concepts in Getting Started With Strength Training. Before we get to the routine, it’s good to be reminded of common mistakes made by beginners.
- Poor form, such as a rounded back or unequal movement on the two sides of the body.
- Moving too quickly and bouncing or jerking with the movement.
- Shortening the full range of motion in order to make the movement easier.
- Doing isolation exercises rather than compound, multi-muscle exercises.
- Doing many, many reps and sets with very low weight. This does not build muscle, but women do it all the time.
Strength train 2 days a week with 2-3 days between each session
All you need for this workout is a set of removable plate dumbbells. You can get a good 40 lb. set at New York Barbell for a good price. If you add four 1 1/4 lb plates (also available at New York Barbell) to this basic set, you have all you need.
Do two sets of each exercise, same resistance in each set. The target number of reps is listed after each exercise. Always stop the first set when you’ve reached the target reps. When you can do more than the target number of reps in the second set, add resistance or weight rather than adding more and more reps.
Take about 30-60 seconds break between sets. Start with a resistance that will allow you to complete the target reps in the first set and about half the reps in the second set in good form. Then add a rep the next time or the following week. When you can do all or more than your target reps, add resistance. Keep records. This will help your motivation. If you’re pressed for time, do 1 set to muscle failure. If you’re fatigued or not feeling well, skip a workout.
5-10 minute warm up — dance, walk, or use aerobic equipment you have at home
1. Supported or Sit Back Squat — quadriceps, buttocks, and hamstrings
You can do this exercise holding a stable upright support. For example, stand facing the edge of an open door, about 4-6 inches from it, with your feet about 12 inches apart. Your toes are pointed out 45 degrees or a little less. Each hand is grasping one of the opposing doorknobs. Find a hand position that allows you to firmly grasp the doorknobs for the whole movement. Your back is firm and straight or slightly arched, your chest is raised up and out, and you are looking straight ahead. Inhale and slowly squat between your legs until the tops of your legs are parallel with floor, keeping your knees in line with your turned out toes and not moving your knees beyond the ends of your toes. Your shins are nearly perpendicular to the floor. (If you don’t have the flexibility or strength to move this deeply, move as low as is comfortable. In time and with practice, you will gain more flexibility and strength and be able to move your legs to a parallel position with the floor.) Your hands balance you, rather than supporting your weight. You sit back into the squat moving your buttocks toward the floor and between your outspread legs rather than folding your body on top of your legs. Exhale and slowly raise the body, keeping back fixed and upright and holding your balance with your arms and hands. Rise until your legs are nearly straight, but don’t lock the knees. Repeat.
Progress by wearing a backpack and adding small amounts of weight, a little more each week.
2. Toe Raise — calves
Begin by standing with both feet on the edge of a stair, only the front half of the foot on the step. Hold on to a railing or some other support. Lower heels below the level of the step. While exhaling, slowly raise heels until you’re tiptoe on your feet. While inhaling, lower heels to below step. Repeat. When you can easily do 2 sets, stand on one foot, toes and ball of your foot on a step. Lift the other foot and tuck it behind your calf. Rise as high as you can on one toe, keeping knee slightly bent. Pause at top and lower heel as far as you can without overstretching. Add a dumbbell in the same hand as the working foot to add difficulty.
3. Seated Overhead Press — shoulders, upper back, triceps
Sit straight with a dumbbell in each hand. Pull the dumbbells to parallel with your shoulders with palms facing each other. While exhaling, slowly push the dumbbells up in a straight line from your shoulders until your arms are fully extended. Your elbows are held out to the sides. Hold briefly without locking elbows and then slowly lower the weight to your shoulders. Repeat.
4. One-Arm Dumbbell Row — upper back, shoulders, biceps
Put bent L knee and L hand (with a slightly bent arm) on a firm bench or 2 wooden chairs pushed together. R foot is on the floor with leg straight at a comfortable distance from the bench with the toe pointed straight ahead. Don’t lock your knee. Dumbbell is in R hand with arm extended toward floor. The back is slightly arched and close to parallel with the floor and will remain stationary throughout the movement. Exhale and pull the dumbbell up toward your side, moving it as far up as you can without moving the back. Your elbow will move up and back, close to the body, and the lat muscles of your back will be doing most of the pulling. Inhale while lowering the dumbbell back toward the floor. Repeat on other side. Doing the exercise on each side is one set.
5. Wall Press — triceps, chest
Stand about 2 or 2 ½ feet back from a wall or closed door. Lean toward the wall, keeping whole body from ankles to head in a straight line. Position your hands at shoulder height on the wall with fingers spread and pointing toward the ceiling. Arms are straight without locking elbows. Tighten abdomen.
Slowly bend your elbows while inhaling and lower your body toward the wall, keeping your body in a straight line. Get nose and elbows as close as possible to wall, pause, and slowly push back up to starting position while exhaling. (If your wrists are uncomfortable, put hands a little higher on wall or don’t go as deep.)
To progress in this exercise:
1. Stand a little farther from the wall, about 3 feet and repeat the sequence until you can do 2 sets of 10.
2. Place your hands on the edge of high counter.
3. Place your hands lower on something like a sturdy desk. Always keep the body ram-rod straight and don’t bend at the waist. (Bending at the waist won’t hurt you, but will lower the resistance.)
To progress more, do pushups from the knee:
Lie face down on a pad or rug with hands out to the sides, between the shoulders and breasts. Fingers point forward and elbows are bent and pointing up. Keep knees on floor and slowly push your chest up while exhaling. Your elbows will be straight, but not locked, your shoulders above your hands, and your body in a straight line from head to knees with only a slight bend at the hips. Inhale while slowly returning to starting position.
6. Upward Row— deltoid, trapezius, bicep, and forearm
Stand with dumbbells in each hand resting on fronts of thighs with hands facing thighs. While exhaling, slowly pull dumbbells up along body until they are just below shoulders. At end of movement, elbows are at shoulder height and point out to sides. Forearms are parallel to floor. Shoulder blades are pulled together. Lower while exhaling.
7. Stiff-leg Deadlift — back erectors, hamstrings, glutes
Be cautious with this exercise because you’re working the low back erectors, a delicate place for many. Begin with a small amount of resistance and move only to a depth that is comfortable. Practice the movement without any weight in your hands until you feel comfortable. How deeply you go depends on your flexibility and the strength of your back and abdominal muscles.
Stand with feet shoulder width apart and toes straight ahead facing the seat of a chair. The chair seat is your marker for how far to bend forward. If your back is strong, use a lower marker such as a footstool, stack of books, or a step. Hold a light dumbbell in each hand. Keep your shoulder blades pulled together throughout the movement and keep your head up with your neck in line with your firm back. Bend your knees slightly and lower your body just a few inches. This bent-knee position is held throughout the exercise. Your hips are a hinge in this movement, while your upper body and lower body stay quite still. Inhale while you slowly flex forward from the hip. The dumbbells are in contact with the front of the legs throughout the movement. Don’t let the back round. Let the dumbbells move down your body with your shoulder blades pulled firmly together until the dumbbells reach the height of the chair seat, bench, or stairs. Only bend as deeply as you can without rounding or softening your back. Slowly rise, exhaling, opening (unhinging) your hips, keeping your back arched and firm, and raising your upper body to the starting position. Repeat.
8. Side Bend — oblique abdominals
While standing, spread the feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, feet pointed straight ahead, the back strong and flat (as usual!). Hold a dumbbell in the R hand and let it hang naturally at the side of the leg, palm facing the thigh. Without moving the hips from side to side and keeping the body in a flat plane, let the dumbbell drop toward the floor. Don’t bend forward to get more range of motion, but stop when the waist doesn’t bend any farther in the side direction. If your low back feels uncomfortable, first make sure you aren’t bending forward at the waist. If it is still uncomfortable, shorten your range of motion and use less weight. Exhale while slowly straightening the body to slightly beyond upright. Then slowly lower the weight back toward the floor while inhaling. Repeat.
9. Sit back for abs—rectus abdominals: Sit on the floor with your knees bent, your feet slightly spread and flat on the floor. Tuck your feet under a piece of low furniture or have someone hold them flat to stabilize your body. Hold your back strong and straight, your neck in line with your spine, and hold your arms straight in front of you. Lean back slowly with a straight back, pivoting from the hips and feeling for the place just before you begin to shake. Go as far back as you can while staying in control and pause there for a count of 2. Slowly move back to an upright position and rest a few seconds. Work up to repeating 10 times.
When you can do 2 sets of 10, focus on holding the move for 3 seconds at a time and work up to holding it 5 seconds at a time. Then increase intensity by moving back farther, always feeling for that place where you are pushing yourself a little but are in control of the movement. Finally, increase intensity by crossing your hands over your chest and placing a hand on each shoulder.
Cool down: 5 minutes of walking, dancing, or stretching will do the trick.