Exercise is so much more than a means to score a "toned body". This 3-week challenge is designed to make you feel energized, capable, and strong.

By the editors of FITNESS, Photographs by Dorit Thies
November 04, 2019
FatCamera/Getty Images

Don't be sucked into a workout that promises (only) a "toned body" by the end of it. There's a more important (and attainable) reason to exercise: It makes you feel great. "Good mental health is just as important as good physical health, and exercise is crucial to getting both," says trainer Jeanette Jenkins, author of The Hollywood Trainer Weight-Loss Plan: 21 Days to Make Healthy Living a Lifetime Habit. The 21-day plan she created below celebrates all the good stuff that comes with exercise: more energy, better health, and the motivation to keep coming back for more. So while this routine might get you closer to physical goals, it can also bring about invisible changes. (Related: The Anti-Running Treadmill Workout for Total-Body Toning)

This 21-day plan is designed for all fitness levels, so just choose the exercise and cardio variations that are right for you. Trying to make exercise a lifelong habit? Use these three weeks as a jumping-off point. If you're already in your own workout groove, there are plenty of challenges here to boost your results. (Related: This 30-Minute Total-Body Workout Tones from Head to Toe)

How it works: Jenkins' program consists of four primary workouts: three strength circuits and a cardio routine. Each circuit focuses on a different set of muscle groups; do each circuit on the days indicated four times through or six times if you're feeling advanced. The cardio days are designed to blast calories and improve your aerobic fitness. For the best results, follow the order for each day and week below.

You'll need: A set of light (3- to 5-pound) and medium (8- to 10-pound) dumbbells

Your 21-Day "Toned Body" Workout Plan

Day 1: Cardio + Stretch

Day 2: Circuits A and C

Day 3: Cardio + Stretch

Day 4: Circuits B and C

Day 5: Circuit A + Stretch

Day 6: Circuits B and C

Day 7: Rest

Repeat this same schedule for weeks two and three.

Circuit A: Chest, Triceps, and Butt

Dorit Thies

1. Push-Up/Plank Combo

Targets shoulders, triceps, chest, abs

A. Begin in a modified push-up position, hands on ground slightly wider than shoulders and knees down. Keep a straight line from the top of head through feet, abs tight.

B. Bend elbows 90 degrees, then push back up to start.

Repeat for 20 to 25 reps.

C. After final rep, lift knees off ground into high plank position. Keeping abs tight and back straight, hold for 30 seconds.

Scale Up: Do full push-ups; hold plank 60 seconds.

Dorit Thies

2. Chest Fly

Targets shoulders, chest

A. Lie face up on the ground with knees bent, holding heavier dumbbells with arms extended, palms facing each other.

B. Slowly open arms out to sides, keeping elbows slightly bent; stop when weights are about an inch above the ground.

C. Push weights back to return to starting position.

Do 15 reps.

D. Immediately pick up the lighter set of weights and do 10 more reps.

Scale Up: Do 25 reps with the 8- to 10-pound weights.

Dorit Thies

3. Reverse Lunge

Targets glutes, hamstrings, quads

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding lighter set of dumbbells with arms at sides, palms in.

B. Lunge right foot backward, lowering right knee toward ground; bend left knee 90 degrees, keeping it aligned over ankle.

C. Return to start, driving body weight through your left heel; bring right knee to hip level.

Do 15 reps. Switch sides; Repeat.

Scale Up: Hold heavier dumbbells and/or do 25 reps per side.

Dorit Thies

4. Squat/Chair Pose

Targets glutes, hamstrings, quads

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding lighter dumbbells on shoulders.

B. Squat down, pushing butt backward. Keep body weight over heels.

C. Push through heels to return to start, squeezing glutes.

Do 20 to 25 reps.

D. After last rep, drop weights and bring feet together. Resume squat position, keeping knees behind toes and extending arms in front at chest level; hold for 30 seconds.

Scale Up: Use heavier dumbbells and hold chair pose for 60 seconds.

Circuit B: Back, Biceps, and Thighs

Dorit Thies

1. Plié Squat

Targets glutes, quads, inner thighs

A. Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with toes turned out, holding lighter dumbbells vertically in front of thighs.

B. Keeping abs tight and torso tall, bend knees 90 degrees. Keep knees aligned between second and third toes and weight in heels.

C. Press back to start, squeezing glutes.

Do 15 reps.

Scale Up: Use heavier weights and/or do 25 reps.

Dorit Thies

2. Biceps Curl

Targets biceps

A. Stand tall with feet together, knees slightly bent. Hold a heavy dumbbell in each hand with palms facing up.

B. Slowly curl the weights toward shoulders, contracting biceps.

C. Slowly lower the weights to start and repeat.

Do 15 reps.

D. Immediately pick up the lighter set of weights and repeat. Do 10 more reps.

Scale Up: Do 25 reps with the heavier weights.

Dorit Thies

3. Inner/Outer Leg Lift

Targets glutes, outer and inner thighs

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms extended at shoulder height, palms down.

B. Lift left leg to side, squeezing outer thigh and glutes then lower it to return to start. Continue: Lift and lower.

Do 15 reps.

C. Without touching floor, bring left leg in front of body, rotating inner thigh to face forward. Press left heel forward. Continue: Lift and lower.

Do 15 more reps. Switch sides; repeats sequence on opposite leg.

Scale Up: Do 50 total reps per leg.

Dorit Thies

4. Back Fly

Targets upper back, shoulders

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, right leg about 3 feet behind left. Hold heavier dumbbells with palms facing each other. Bend forward from waist, extending arms toward ground diagonally just in front of left knee.

B. Slowly open arms straight out to sides to shoulder level, contracting upper back muscles. Slowly lower weights and repeat.

Do 15 reps.

C. Immediately pick up the lighter set of weights and do 10 more reps.

Scale Up: Do 25 reps with the heavier weights.

Circuit C: Core

Dorit Thies

1. Roll-Up

Targets deep (transverse) and "six-pack" (rectus) abdominals

A. Lie face up with knees bent, arms extended next to ears, palms facing up.

B. Reach arms straight while contracting abs and lift head, neck, and shoulders off the ground. Keep spine rounded, moving as smoothly as possible.

C. After rolling up all the way, pull abs in tight and roll back down one vertebra at a time.

Do 8 reps.

Scale Up: Keep legs straight.

Dorit Thies

2. Side Reach

Targets obliques, deep (transverse) abdominals

A. Lie on right side with legs stacked, right arm on ground and left arm on top of left leg.

B. Keeping abs pulled in, reach left hand down as if trying to touch ankle, feeling the contraction along side.

C. Slowly lower back down, using obliques and abs to provide resistance.

Do 8 reps; switch sides and repeat.

Scale Up: Lift your legs slightly as you reach toward ankles.

Dorit Thies

3. Boat Pose

Targets deep (transverse) and "six-pack" (rectus) abdominals

A. Sit with knees bent, feet hip-width apart. Place hands under thighs, inhaling deeply.

B. Exhale, lifting feet off the ground (keep knees bent) and pulling abs in tight.

C. Lean back slightly, balancing on tailbone, and open arms wide out to sides. Hold for 8 breaths, return to start, and repeat.

Do 3 reps.

Scale Up: Straighten legs to creat a 45 degrees to the ground.

Calorie-Blasting Cardio Workout

These treadmill workouts are designed to blast 300 to 500+ calories in 40 to 50 minutes, so they'll have you feeling spent in the best way. Plus, they help burn fat, so all that strength training you're doing can manifest the toned body results you're after.

Choose from one of three levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and pick either a high-impact run or a low-impact speed walk on an incline. Don't have access to a treadmill? Do the same program outside on flat or hilly terrain (depending on which impact-level you choose). Follow your cardio workout with 5 to 10 minutes of stretching for your shoulders, chest, hips, glutes, and legs. (Related: The Ultimate Treadmill Interval Workout for Every Fitness Level)

Level 1

Follow these minute-by-minute running interval workouts for a treadmill session that won't bore you to death.

  • 0:00-5:00: Warm-up, 3.5 mph, 0% incline
  • 5:00-7:00: Speed-walk, 4.0 mph, 0% incline
  • 7:00-9:00: Jog-run (5.2-6.0 mph, 0% incline) or speed-walk (3.8 mph, 6% incline)
  • 9:00-33:00: Repeat minutes 5:00-9:00 six more times, alternating 2 minutes of walking with 2 minutes of running or walking on an incline
  • 33:00-38:00: Cool down, 3.5 mph, 0% incline

Level 2

  • 0:00-5:00: Warm-up, 3.5 mph, 0% incline
  • 5:00-7:00: Speed-walk, 4.0 mph, 0% incline
  • 7:00-22:00: Jog-run (5.2-6.0 mph, 0% incline) or speed-walk (3.8 mph, 6% incline)
  • 9:00-39:00: Repeat minutes 5:00-22:00, alternating 2 minutes of walking with 15 minutes of running or walking on an incline
  • 39:00-45:00: Cool down, 3.5 mph, 0% incline

Level 3

  • 0:00-5:00: Warm-up, 3.5 mph, 0% incline
  • 5:00-10:00: Jog-run (5.2-6-0 mph, 0% incline) or speed-walk (3.8 mph, 6% incline)
  • 10:00-12:00: Sprint (6.0-7.0 mph, 0% incline) or speed-walk (3.8 mph, 10% incline)
  • 12:00-47:00: Repeat minutes 5:00-12:00 5 more times, alternating 5 minutes of running or walking on an incline
  • 47:00-52:00: Cool down, 3.5 mph, 0% incline

Adapted from The Hollywood Trainer Weight-Loss Plan by Jeanette Jenkins with permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of the Penguin Group USA. Copyright 2007 by Jeanette Jenkins.

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