Start here. You have a goal to finally take control of your body and either a) get in great shape for the first time in your life or b) get back in shape after taking an extended hiatus from the gym. You have the ability and you have the desire. Perhaps the only thing missing is a starting point.
Not anymore. Start here with this eight-week training program. In five challenging but doable workouts per week, you’ll address all key aspects of fitness: those that make you look, feel and perform better as well as improve your overall health.
You don’t need to load up a barbell with your one-rep max (or even your five-rep max) to get stronger. Challenging sets in the six to eight rep range will increase strength levels just fine. Beginners in particular have an advantage here, as strength accumulates quickly due to neurological adaptations that occur in the first few weeks of a program.
And why exactly is getting stronger important? Because strength is important for everything: It goes hand in hand with building muscle, which helps you burn fat to be leaner, fitter, healthier and more attractive; it will help in any athletic endeavor you choose, from pickup basketball to running a 5K; it will help you better perform everyday activities such as toting your kids around and doing yard work; and, oh yeah, being stronger feels good, so it may very well help your mood and emotional state. Need more reasons to be strong? Didn’t think so.
The M&P Starter’s program will satisfy the following areas:
Hypertrophy (muscle building)
The more muscle you have, the stronger you’ll be. You’ll also burn more body fat since muscle tissue is highly metabolic, meaning you’ll burn more fat at rest. The eight to 10 rep range, while helping increase strength, is also the sweet spot for hypertrophy.
The Starter’s Program doesn’t just consist of exercises that will make you bigger and stronger for the sake of being bigger and stronger, as is the custom with so many of the other programs you’ll find on newsstands this month. Exercises such as push presses, box jumps and ball slams, as well as bodyweight moves such as dips and pull-ups, provide tremendous carryover into both the athletic arena and the real world, improving your functional fitness and appearance.
Getting in great shape doesn’t require the knowledge or ingenuity of a multicredentialed training guru. Basic movements that all gym-goers are familiar with are the ones proven to elicit the best results. This program is built around free-weight, compound exercises and fundamental human movements such as squatting, pressing, rowing, jumping and running. When in doubt, keep it simple.
Increasing aerobic and anaerobic capacity and improving cardiovascular fitness is critical for optimizing health, performance, fat burning and even strength. This is accomplished in the Starter’s Program mainly through high-intensity interval training (Day 2) — the proven best method for maximizing fat burning and performance — and circuit training (Day 5). A weekly dose of steady-state cardio (Day 4), while not as potent for fat burning, will benefit stamina and endurance
This program keeps volume (total number of sets performed) in check for one reason: Too much of a good thing is not a good thing. Breaking down muscle tissue is necessary for increasing size and strength, but totally annihilating your body on a daily basis will prove counterproductive. Muscles won’t grow bigger and stronger after being broken down without sufficient recovery via ample rest. The Starter’s Program workouts will be challenging and taxing without making you feel totally broken all the time. Some muscle soreness is okay; being hardly able to walk for three days after a workout is overkill.
Trainers and strength coaches don’t always see eye to eye on all aspects of program design. But one thing they all agree on is the concept of progressive overload, which simply states that in order to see continued results, the body must be continually overloaded as it adapts to the training and gets stronger. Each workout in this program includes Progress Points that specify how and where to increase volume, intensity and load and/or vary exercise selection every two weeks.
Use this section to familiarize — or reacquaint — yourself with the terminology needed to navigate this eight-week program.
Alternating Sets: Similar to a superset (where you alternate sets of two exercises back and forth), only with rest after each exercise.
AMRAP/30 sec.: As many reps as possible in 30 seconds (pull-ups and dips on Day 5). Start a timer and begin the set, doing as many reps as you can in the timeframe and using short rest breaks as needed.
Rest: Denotes the amount of time to rest between sets, expressed in either minutes or seconds.
Superset: Two exercises performed back to back with no rest in between; rest only after completing the second exercise in the superset.
Warm-up: This portion of the workout is intended to be performed at a low intensity. Sets are to be done with light weight and not taken to failure. Where “light cardio” is listed, do your preferred activity (jogging, stationary bike, stair stepper, etc.).
M&P Starter’s Program
This starter split is a balance of smart work and rest.
Swing your arms back and then forward aggressively as you extend through the hips, knees and ankles to jump onto the box. Step (don’t jump) down from the box after each rep. Jumps should be as explosive off the floor as possible, landing softly on top of the box.
Focus on hinging at the hips and pushing your glutes back, keeping knee bend to a minimum. Keep your back flat throughout (don’t round your lower back) and your core tight as you reach the bottom of the swing. Avoid pulling with the shoulders; your explosive hip extension is what should drive the weight up.
Medicine Ball Slam
Stand holding a medicine ball with a solid, shoulder-width stance. Lift the ball over and slightly behind your head while coming up on your toes, then throw the ball down to the floor as explosively as possible. Transition to the next rep in one smooth motion, picking the ball up and getting it overhead as quickly as possible. Use a medicine ball that’s heavy enough to challenge your entire body (15-25 pounds is a good start) and that won’t bounce back up and hit you in the face (think leather over rubber).
Plate Overhead Walking Lunge
Hold a weight plate (25-45 pounds, hands grasping the sides) directly overhead with your arms fully extended while doing walking lunges. Don’t rush the reps; keep your lunges under control to maintain balance and core stability.
When it comes to mixing it up or making substitutions to your routine, pick from this M&P-approved list of simple, proven exercises.
Chest: Incline dumbbell press, incline bench press, chest dip
Back: Pull-up, dumbbell row, one-arm dumbbell row
Shoulders: Wide-grip upright row, seated dumbbell overhead press, seated barbell overhead press
Triceps: Triceps pressdown, lying triceps extension, dumbbell lying triceps extension
Biceps: Barbell curl, dumbbell hammer curl, barbell preacher curl
Legs: Step-up, Romanian deadlift, split squat
Abs: Reverse crunch, double crunch, decline crunch
For circuit training, try choosing movements that closely replicate the ones listed. Appropriate substitutions would include plyometric push-ups in place of ball slams, jumping lunges instead of jump squats and double crunches in place of sit-ups.