Hop off the treadmill, grab a seat, and check this out: Cardio is not the most effective way to reduce body fat. Without strength training, your weight-loss efforts will simply produce a smaller version of you. Is that truly what you want? Or do you want to feel strong and look fit and athletic?
To help you cultivate your strength, WomensHealthMag.com and I have teamed up to present the 91-day #Gimme5Challenge.
Let’s break down the basics. And they’re simple enough: This is a 91-day challenge that involves only five strength-training exercises. Yep, five.
What’s the trick, you ask? There isn’t one! See, with just five moves, you can experience strength that you didn’t know you had. Five moves are all it takes to change your body, change your health, and change your self-assurance. I’ve chosen the most powerful and effective strength-training exercises so that you can maximize your time in the gym and inspire major strength.
The #Gimme5Challenge kicks off today, April 1!
Follow #Gimme5Challenge on Instagram and Twitter.
Every 30 days, I’ll give you new programming featuring three strength workouts per week. Each of the strength workouts will only include the five foundational strength-training moves of the challenge.
You can follow along for the first, second, or third part, or for all 91 days! Each portion will be an effective standalone program.
On the days you’re not doing a challenge workout, feel free to go for a run, take a cycling class, head to the yoga studio, whatever you feel like. There are no rules. The only goal of this challenge is to complete all three strength workouts each week!
I will be leading a team of four women (learn all about them here!) throughout the entire 91 days! They’ll be checking in, sharing their progress, and asking questions on Instagram and Twitter.
You can join in, too! I’ll be posting tips, answering your questions, and reviewing your videos. That’s right: Post your videos of each move and I’ll give you feedback on your technique. It’s like having me right next to you for guidance. I’m here to help you discover the amazing benefits of effective strength training.
Before You Jump In
My team will be posting “Before and After” pictures, as well as “Progress” pictures throughout the challenge. I cannot stress the value of this enough. You know that saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”? It’s really true. I encourage you to establish your own “Before” baseline so that you have something to measure your progress against and to take photos of yourself in the same outfit at regular intervals throughout the program. I know: You’re resistant. But trust me on this one; you’ll be so thankful you did.
Want to know the best part? We are going to put away the scale and stop using it as a measuring tool! In truth, most women want to be smaller, tighter, and leaner. A scale won’t measure that accurately. So get rid of that little bugger! I am smaller, tighter, and leaner than I was eight years ago, and yet I weigh six to eight pounds more.
A better way to assess change is to do circumference measurements. Check out the handy infographic below for tips on accurately and consistently keeping track of them. (Hot tip: Have a friend or family member take the measurements for accuracy.) First, write down your measurements when you get started with this challenge. Then, we’ll reassess every two weeks throughout the 91 days. In addition to this, I tell my clients that the best way to measure progress is to pull out your favorite skinny jeans and evaluate how they fit when you begin. Then, see how your body changes throughout the challenge.
Now, you’re ready to get going!
Here’s a printable, pin-able infographic of the five core #Gimme5Challenge moves. Below it, you’ll find how often you should be doing the exercises, as well as step-by-step instructions for each one.
#GIMME5CHALLENGE, PART 1: APRIL 1 TO APRIL 30
You’ll be doing straight sets. This means that you will complete one set of an exercise—say, the dumbbell front squat—rest for the designated time, and then complete a second set of the dumbbell front squat, and so on. For this month, you’ll complete five sets of all exercises with 30 seconds of rest in between all sets.
It’s important to allow rest time in between each workout. I often suggest the following weekly schedule for this kind of program:
Monday: Workout A
Wednesday: Workout B
Friday: Workout C
MOVE 1 Dumbbell Front Squat
Turn your toes open to 11:00 and 1:00 on an imaginary clock. Place both dumbbells up at your shoulders so that your palms face your ears and the ends of the dumbbells gently rest on your shoulders. Raise your arms until they are parallel to the floor. Stand with a long, tall spine, keeping your core braced strongly (imagine that someone is about to punch you in the tummy), and keep your chin parallel to the floor (A). Bend your knees, reach your hips back, and lower down until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor (B). Focus your bodyweight into your heels and press back up to the starting position. That’s one rep. Starting weight: five-pound dumbbells.
MOVE 2 Dumbbell Deadlift
Stand shoulder-width distance apart with your toes turned open just slightly, and place two dumbbells at your feet so that the ends of each dumbbell are just in front of your toes. Stand tall, brace your core, and let your arms hang. Bend your knees, reach your hips back, and lower down until you’re able to grab the dumbbells; be sure to keep your chest up and hips down in the bottommost position (A). Drive into your heels and stand up, leading with your chest; imagine that you have a rope attached to your chest and it is pulling you upward (B). That’s one rep. Repeat the lowering movement as if you intend to place the dumbbells back where they began, but instead, continue holding them for the whole set. Starting weight: 10- to 15-pound dumbbells.
MOVE 3 Bent-Over Row
Stand with your feet directly under your hips. Hold the dumbbells so that your arms are straight and the dumbbells are in front of your thighs, palms facing your legs. Brace your core strongly, bend your knees slightly, and then bend forward at your hips until the dumbbells are directly in front of your knees (A). Pull your shoulder blades back and toward each other, bend your arms, and pull the dumbbells back (B). Pause for a moment, then release your arms back to the starting position with the dumbbells in front of your knees. That’s one rep. Repeat the arm movement from here, maintaining the forward angle of your torso. Starting weight: Eight- to 10-pound dumbbells.
MOVE 4 Dumbbell Chest Press
Lie faceup on a standard exercise bench or on the floor. Begin with your arms straight and perpendicular to the ground and the dumbbells directly over your chest, with the ends of the dumbbells touching; release your shoulders so that they move down your body, away from your ears (A). Bend your arms and let your elbows move outward in line with the middle of your chest. Lower the dumbbells until they are just above your chest (B). Pause for a moment here before pushing back up, bringing the dumbbells together at the starting position. That’s one rep. Starting weight: 10-pound dumbbells.
MOVE 5 Dumbbell Overhead Press
Stand with your feet directly under your hips. Brace your core and stand with a long, tall spine. Pull the dumbbells up to your shoulders so that your palms face your ears (A). Press the dumbbells directly up, so that they end directly over your shoulders. Try to keep your shoulder blades pulled down, away from your ears, and down toward your hips (B). Bend your arms, lower the dumbbells, and return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Starting weight: Five- to eight-pound dumbbells.
And just a few last things…
My Secret Weapon
This is the major game changer: In order to make sure you challenge yourself to make strength improvements, you must ask your muscles to perform just a bit more work than they are used to. Therefore, choose weight loads that are easy enough that you demonstrate perfect technique for 10 of the 12 reps in each set. The weight load that you choose should be heavy enough that the last two reps of every set should become just a wee bit sloppy—that’s right, I give you permission to lose the perfect technique for those last two reps. In fact, the last two reps of every set need to look sloppy in order to inspire new muscle changes. Got it? Of course! And if not, that’s why we’re in this together! Just reach out to your new #Gimme5Challenge buddies on Insta and Twitter and we’ll help you out!
Most Common Question of All Time
It’s “When do I know to increase the weight loads?” Answer: It’s simple! Once the last two reps of any set get easy and you’re demonstrating perfect technique, that’s your signal to increase the weight load on your next set or next workout!
Stay tuned for next month, when I will give you new programming! We’ll stick with the same five exercises, of course, but I’ll mix things up and give you a new protocol. Keepin’ it fresh over here! Are you ready to join us? Let’s do this. Gimme 5 and GET STRONG!
Holly Perkins is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, founder of Women’s Strength Nation, and author of Lift to Get Lean.
More from Women’s Health:
The 5-Move Workout That Tones Your Entire Body
The Short-on-Time, High-on-Intensity Circuit Workout
10 Strength Moves That Are Better Together