To get that bikini body, you'll need to do three things in combination: a cardio workout, strength training routines and stretching exercises.

Got your date book handy? Mark the date eight weeks from tomorrow. You might write, "Put on that new bikini and celebrate!" or maybe, "I DID IT!"

Why the celebration? Because by that time you will have finished our newest, smartest, body-shaping routine. Not only will the bikini workout help you lose fat (if you need to) and tone up, it's also geared to get your bikini body outside and into your hiking boots, cycling shorts or bathing suit.

This program focuses on the three essentials of fitness: cardiovascular fitness, resistance exercise and flexibility. You know the drill:

  • a cardio workout strengthens your heart and burns calories
  • strength training routines increase muscle, boosts metabolism and changes your shape
  • stretching exercises reduce your risk of injury and help keep your muscles supple and joints stable

But now there's more. Combine all three elements and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Do all three types of exercises and the results will come faster than ever before. Shape's free workout routines can show you how.

We'll explain the cardiovascular fitness portion of this workout later, but first we're going to take you through a stretch-and-strengthen program designed by exercise physiologist Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., director of fitness research at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass.

Westcott's research has shown that stretching exercises can boost strength. In two 10-week studies of 76 untrained men and women, the subjects who included stretching in their strength training routines gained an average of 19 percent more strength than the subjects who simply lifted weights.

"Stretching seems to make muscles more responsive to strength-building stimulus," says Westcott. Although you could stretch after your workout for the same results, the routine that Westcott designed for Shape alternates the stretching and strength training within the workout. This way, you won't be tempted to blow off your stretch routine at the end.

So, pencils ready? Start scheduling those workout routines!

Keep reading for more free workout routines to help you get that bikini body you've always wanted.[header = Bikini workout plan: try these free workout routines at Shape online today.]

Now that you understand the big picture about your new bikini workout, here are the details of your three-part free workout routines.

The Bikini Workout Plan

Whether you are a beginning exerciser or an expert, do the following eight exercises in the order shown. Take 6 counts to perform the strength training routines (reps): 2 slow counts to lift the weight and 4 counts to lower it, using enough weight to fatigue your muscles in 12 reps. You'll only do one set of strength training routines and then you'll perform the stretching exercises.

Using the machine as a prop, hold each of the stretching exercises to a point of mild tension for 20 seconds without bouncing. After stretching, move quickly to the next machine. By the time you've adjusted the machine and selected the weight, your body will have rested enough.

To progress over the 8 weeks, beginning and intermediate exercisers should increase the weight load by about 5 percent at every third workout.

Frequency of Workout Routines

Do this workout 2 or 3 times per week. Research suggests that performing this routine 3 times a week yields results about 10 percent better than a twice-a-week routine.

Workout routines: warm-up and cool-down

Begin and end your strength/stretching exercises with 5-10 minutes of low-intensity cardio exercise on the machine of your choice. If you want to do the main cardio portion of your exercise plan before your weight training, that's fine, too.

Abdominal exercises in your bikini workout

Include ab exercises, either on an ab machine or on the floor, at the end of every workout. Do 1 set of 12 reps if you're on a plate- or stack-loaded ab machine. Do 20-25 reps if you're performing crunches on the floor. Afterward, stretch your abs by lying on the floor on your back with arms and legs extended and reach out as far as you can.

Then, celebrate your new bikini body!