Change your body

You're ready to start the new year off right. After weeks of slacking off on your workouts, you've vowed to get into shape once and for all. You know the scenario -- you practically invented it. Every year, you promise to stop being a fitness flake. But by mid-February, your resolve has softened along with your abs and thighs.

How to get quick results that will last a lifetime

If there's one thing that faithful exercisers agree is the key to staying motivated, it's results. Looser clothes, tight abs, the hint of a biceps muscle -- what could possibly keep you more fired up for the gym?

The problem is, after a few weeks of working out, your progress always seems to taper off. You still notice changes, but they aren't as quick or dramatic -- and that's when your interest begins to dwindle. "You can plateau in as few as four to six weeks if you don't change your workout," says strength-training specialist Mark Cibrario, owner of The Trainer's Club in Northbrook, Ill.

To keep your new program from stalling, we asked Cibrario to design a total-body workout that'll change and grow with you. Beyond lifting heavier weights as you get stronger, you'll change your exercises -- another powerful (and sometimes better) way to keep your muscles and your mind stimulated.

Here's how it works: First, you build a foundation of strength, using eight supereffective exercises, progressively increasing weight lifted. After four to six weeks, as the plateau and boredom kick in, you switch to new, more advanced versions of the same moves. We also provide a third set of ultrachallenging moves to shoot for when you're ready to progress again.

"Once you master form and technique, you need to progressively increase your intensity to keep results coming," Cibrario says. One of the best ways to do that is by changing your exercise selection.

How hard you're willing to work is also a major factor in the kind of results you'll achieve. While your body will benefit from even the smallest effort, you'll need to continue challenging it by lifting more weight, upping your reps or trying new moves if you want to make progress. You may have to ask a little more from yourself than you have in the past, but it'll be worth it when you see the payoff: A body that's lean, strong and raring to hit the gym.

The plan

All the moves in this workout mimic movements used in daily life (squatting, lifting, bending). Since they require you to balance your body weight, your core muscles (abs and back) get called to action throughout the workout. (For more ab/back work, see "Great Abs Guaranteed.")

The basics: Do this workout 2-3 days a week with 1 day off in between. All levels: Do all "A" exercises in the order shown for 4-6 weeks. Once you master the A's, switch to "B" exercises. After 4-6 weeks more, progress to the "C" moves.

Warm-up: Begin each workout with 5 minutes of light aerobic activity on a cardio machine, preferably a cross trainer that works your upper and lower body simultaneously. Next, do the first 4 exercises (1 set each), without weights or using very light weights.

Sets/reps: If you're a beginner (you haven't worked out in at least 6 weeks), do 1-2 sets of 12-15 reps for each exercise. If you're intermediate (you've trained twice a week for 8 weeks or more), do 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps for each exercise. If you're advanced (you've trained 2-3 times weekly for at least 4 months), do 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps for each exercise. All levels: Rest 45-90 seconds between sets.

Stretching: Between each set of exercises, do active isolated stretches for the muscles just worked -- legs, buttocks, back, shoulders, chest, arms. To stretch actively, contract the muscle opposite the one you're trying to stretch (i.e., if trying to stretch your hamstrings, contract your quads). Hold to a point of mild tension for 10 seconds; release. Repeat 5-10 times for each muscle group.

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