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Get stronger in 28 days with our trainer-approved fitness challenge

Zoe Weiner

Zoe WeinerJanuary 1, 2020

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Photo: W+G Creative

The new year—and in this case, the new decade—is the perfect time to start fresh in your fitness routine. But according to research from the running and cycling app Strava, January 19th has been dubbed “quitter’s day,” because that’s the day people are most likely to give up on their fitness-related New Year’s resolutions.

It makes sense. What might have seemed manageable when you had all of that January 1st energy can feel impossible two weeks later once the reality of dragging yourself to the gym in the cold kicks in. But fear not: We’ve got a program that will help you stick to those fitness resolutions not only for the entire month of January, but for the rest of 2020 and beyond.

It takes 28 days to form a habit, and this four-week plan sets you up to do exactly that by giving you simple challenges that work with whatever exercise style (and schedule) you prefer. The goal isn’t to lose weight or to work out more, but rather to help you get excited about movement and mix things up a bit. To start things off, you’ll take a fitness test that will establish your baseline so you can set your goals. Then, each day will present a new activity in the strength, cardio, or recovery departments to help you reach them.

The program officially starts on January 5th, which should give you a few days to get everything you’ll need in order. In the meantime, sign up for our weekly newsletter* (using the box below) to get each week’s tasks delivered to your inbox, sync the challenges to your calendar, and be sure to subscribe to Well+Good’s YouTube channel to follow along with our weekly workouts. Happy new year and best of luck—you’ve got this.

Keep reading for the full 28-day fitness challenge:

fitness challenge ideas calendar
Graphic: W+G Creative

Day 1: Take a fitness test and set your goals

When it comes to starting any new fitness routine, the most important thing to do is figure out where, exactly, you’re starting from. The best way to do this, according to Le Sweat founder Charlee Atkins, is to put yourself through a fitness test. She suggests clocking and recording the below bodyweight exercises:

  • How long does it take you to run a mile?
  • How many squats can you do in one minute?
  • How many pushups can you do in one minute?
  • How long can you hold a plank?

Write these down, and use your results to inform your goals. Do you want to shorten your mile time? Add in more squat reps? Hold your plank for longer? It’s up to you.

Day 2: Get moving with Trainer of the Month Club

Whether you’re a runner or yogi, an early bird or evening workout warrior, you’ve likely got your preferred sweat style and schedule. But each Monday, we’d love for you to try the week’s new Trainer of the Month Club (TOTMC) workout, led by Body by Simone founder Simone de la Rue. Just once a week, we’ll all do the same workout together (oh hi, accountability buddies!)—plus, trying new fitness styles is the easiest way to push past an exercise plateau. “Variability is one of the most important things you can incorporate into your training routine. By implementing different kinds of workouts and types of activity into your schedule, you can improve both performance and recovery,” Jeff Brannigan, the program director of Stretch*d, previously told Well+Good.

New workouts drop every Monday, and you can find them all over on our YouTube channel. This week’s session will work your abs and back using nothing more than a resistance band. Repeat each move for 10 reps, and cycle through the series three times.

  1. Seated cable row
  2. Wide seated row
  3. Roll up, roll down abs
  4. Plank with resistance leg raise

Day 3: Devote 30 minutes to your favorite workout

Let today serve as a reminder that working out is never supposed to feel like a punishment—it’s supposed to be fun. “My biggest recommendation is to start the new year with something that you know—so if you’re a runner, if you’re an indoor cyclist, if you’re a gym-goer, start there, because if you start with something [intimidating], that’s a quick way to turn yourself off from working out completely,” says Atkins. Choose a workout you really love, whether that’s a sweaty bootcamp or some Beyoncé-inspired dance cardio, and give your brain and body a chance to enjoy.

Day 4: Take a rest day

Today, just rest, no other “tasks” required. Rest days are just as important as work days, because in order to get stronger, your body needs time to recover. “If you’re truly working out to your maximum capacity, then your body needs to heal itself,” says Atkins. “And building muscle requires breaking down tissue and allowing it to rebuild to make you stronger.” Take today fully off so that you’ll feel even stronger when you hit the gym tomorrow.

Day 5: Master one new full-body move

Who doesn’t love a more-for-your-money move? Full-body moves like squat presses, panther planks, plyo-fly pushups, and inchworms will have you working multiple muscles at the same time so that you can make the most out of your time at the gym. Choose one move to master during your strength training today, or put them together into a full workout that really will leave you burning from head to toe.

Day 6: Try some low-intensity cardio

You don’t have to log dozens of miles in order to reap the benefits of a cardio workout—nor should you necessarily go super hard every time you hit the gym. “It’s just as important to have steady-pace runs and low-impact workouts as it is to have those higher-threshold workouts,” Aaptiv trainer Meghan Takacs previously told Well+Good. “Low-intensity stuff breaks up the training at a certain threshold that brings your body back down to a normal level of operation, so that when you go to do the high-intensity, you’re not burned out.”

Treat today’s low-intensity day as a way to help to build the foundations of your fitness routine. And it doesn’t have to be boring! Go for a walk, do a slow-burn elliptical program, or use the rower at a half-time pace for 45 minutes to an hour.

Day 7: Identify your own unique barriers

A great way to stay on track is to determine what hurdles could arise to deter you from working out, and coming up with an action plan to get over them. Use this rest day to do exactly that. If you struggle to get up early, set an alarm. If you never feel motivated, enlist a friend to keep you accountable. Atkins also suggests focusing on one specific thing every week in your training, whether it’s form, strength, or speed, so you don’t get burnt out or bored with the overall process.

Day 8: Spend an extra 5 minutes on your cardio cool-down

If you’re one of those people who sprints out of the studio before the stretch, consider hanging around. Cooling down is just as important to a successful workout as warming up, and skipping it could mean you’re sacrificing some of the benefits from your workout. “You need to downgrade—especially if you’re coming from high-intensity or a strenuous workout,” Maillard Howell, owner of CrossFit Prospect Heights and founder of the The Beta Way, told Well+Good earlier this year.

During high-octane workouts, your body kicks into fight-or-flight mode, and if you don’t give it a chance to transition back to an even keel, it will stay that way. “All the brain knows from millions of years of programing is that when you’re breathing heavily, it triggers responses. Your heart rate keeps going, your sight is very acute, your hearing is very acute. You kick into survival mode. That mode isn’t very sustainable or healthy to remain in,” Howell said. The good news? These seven exercises will make cooling down a breeze.

Day 9: Slay arm day with TOTMC

Grab a resistance band and give your arms the TOTMC treatment. Repeat each move for 10 reps, and cycle through the series three times.

  1. Biceps curl to shoulder press
  2. Chest squeeze
  3. Lateral arm raise
  4. Triceps

Day 10: Hold yourself accountable

Skipping your workout is all too easy—especially in January, when it’s dark outside and all you want to do is curl up with a blanket and light a Bath and Bodyworks candle. To keep yourself on track for the rest of the month, Atkins believes in the power of writing things down. “Even though we’re in a digital age, there’s something still very satisfactory about crossing something off of your list,” she says. Put together a physical calendar today (a rest day!) and commit to giving yourself a gold star every time you finish a workout.

Day 11: Focus on your core today

Your core is integral to every move you make, both in the gym and out in the world, so it’s important to spend some time focusing on using those muscles and building strength. “Your core isn’t just there for you to look good—it’s the centerpiece of your body and what holds your kinetic chain together,” says Nike Master Trainer Traci Copeland. “Without core strength, your body has a hard time using proper movement patterns.” To get started, try this 15-minute at-home ab workout.

Day 12: Try 3 new equipment-free cardio moves

You don’t need any sort of fancy equipment or miles and miles of open sidewalk to get a legit cardio workout in. Moves like jumping jacks, burpees, and high-knees will help get your heart-rate pumping in the 6-by-2-foot space of your yoga mat. And making sure to regularly incorporate cardio into your strength training program helps you get the most benefits (like increased muscle mass and improved aerobic capacity) from each modality. For a few of our favorites worth trying (and how to do ’em on your own), check out this list.

Day 13: Check in with yourself

Congratulations, you’re halfway through the month! To check in on your progress, Atkins recommends repeating the same fitness test you did on Day 1 to see how far you’ve come and if there are any areas you’d like to improve on.

Day 14: Optimize your foam-rolling routine

Trainers love foam rolling muscles before and after workouts to prevent soreness and promote recovery. But when you have a busy schedule, it can be tempting to skip out on foam rolling in favor of hitting the shower and moving on to the next thing on your cal. On today’s rest day, take a good 10 minutes just to target your sorest spots with a foam roller or other object (lacrosse or massage balls can be great for this, too). Not sure about your technique? Here’s how to foam roll the major muscle groups, and here’s the type of foam rolling you should do after every workout. 

Day 15: Level up on weights

Halfway into the month you should already feel yourself getting stronger, which means it’s time to kick things up a notch. A good rule of thumb for figuring out how much weight you should be using, says Atkins, is to grab a dumbbell and do 10 reps. If the last three are challenging, you’ve got it right, but if you feel like you could easily do reps 11, 12, and 13, grab something heavier. But the most important thing (which any trainer will agree with!) is to focus on form, not the dumbbells you’re holding or the number of reps you can do. If you’re not able to do a move properly with added weight, drop ’em and focus on bodyweight exercises.

Day 16: Power up leg day with TOTMC

Literally kick those legs into gear with this at-home workout from de la Rue. Grab a resistance band, do 10 reps of each move, and repeat the series three times.

  1. Parallel kick back
  2. Leg pulse
  3. Abductor kick
  4. Abductor pulse

Day 17: Add more motion to your day-to-day activities

Building your fitness isn’t solely something that happens in the gym—it’s something you can work on all day long, even on rest days. “Be mindful of your movements throughout the day,” says Atkins. Take note of how you’re doing things like getting out of bed, sitting in your chair, carrying groceries, walking up stairs, and standing in line—then, find ways to make the movement more engaged, purposeful, or strenuous. This could mean doing squats while brushing your teeth, high-kneeing your way up stairs or escalators, or activating your core while sitting at your desk or washing the dishes.

Day 18: Incorporate breathing exercises

Proper breathing is critical for getting the most out of your workout, but most of us never really learn how to do it the right way.“The best way to breathe during exercises is to inhale on the ‘down phase’ and exhale during the ‘exertion phase,’ or the hardest part of the exercise,” says Atkins. She says this will help you safely maintain core pressure and protect your spine. Between sets, use measured and mindful breathing to bring your heart rate down before you exert yourself in the next round of exercises.

Day 19: Target your weakest muscle group

We often avoid working our weaker muscles in favor of what we’re good at (and because they’re hard), but that’s not the best way to play it—the only way to help those muscles get stronger is to give them a little extra TLC. “The whole goal of training is to create balance within the body,” says Atkins. “If you’re doing the exact same exercises, then that means you’re going to get the exact same results.” Whether you tend to avoid working your arms, legs, glutes, or core, grab those (light) weights, and get moving. Bone up on your technique while working these groups with our The Right Way video series.

Day 20: Do 20-30 minutes of stairs

No one enjoys walking up stairs, but this type of workout offers so many benefits that it’s worth doing at least once this month. According to Copeland, stair climbing is a great lower body workout that strengthens your glutes and quads while also building endurance. To keep things from getting boring, try one of these expert-approved stairmaster workouts.

Day 21: Spend 10 minutes just on stretching today

Use your rest day today to get stretchy strong with this quick yoga routine. It’ll help loosen up your entire body and—bonus—can be done entirely in your bed.

Day 22: Add some strength intervals into your cardio workouts

Strength and cardio don’t have to be mutually exclusive—today, try a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout to get them both at the same time. Or split them up over the course of the same workout, starting with weights and finishing off with a cardio burst.

Day 23: Work your entire bod with TOTMC

For De la Rue’s final workout of the month, you’ll need a box and your trusty old resistance band to work your full body. Repeat each move for 10 reps and cycle through the series three times.

  1. Walkout to shoulder tap
  2. Mountain climbers
  3. Squat jump
  4. Step up with knee

Day 24: Try a completely different recovery technique

Stretching and foam rolling are great, but use today’s recovery routine as an excuse to spoil yourself. Experiment with a different kind of recovery technique, like massage or hydrotherapy, to make your muscles seriously happy.

Day 25: Get out of your comfort zone

We’re in the home stretch! To avoid getting bored or burnt out, mix things up with your fitness routine today, whether that’s by adding in a few new moves, extending your usual workout for a few extra minutes, or signing up for a fitness class you’ve never tried before. Integrating different modalities into a single routine ensures that you’re working your body in different ways, hitting a range of muscle groups, and diversifying your movement patterns. Just be sure you’re not going too far outside of your comfort zone without the guidance of a trainer to avoid getting hurt, Atkins says.

Day 26: Go for a run

Even if you’re “not a runner,” go for a jog today—whether that means hitting the pavement, the treadmill, or the elliptical. There are benefits associated with running even five minutes, but pros say the sweet spot is right around the half-hour mark. “Running for 30 minutes gives you a considerable amount of benefits, including making your body more efficient, increasing blood flow to help with active recovery, and developing your heart and lungs. You get a lot of bang for your buck in 30 minutes,” Mary Johnson, a 3:06 marathoner, coach, and founder of Lift, Run, Perform, told Well+Good recently.

Day 27: Spend 10 minutes on recovery yoga today

Yoga does a body good, and 10 minutes of recovery-friendly moves will work wonders on your muscles. Try this stretchy stability series, which will loosen up your legs and melt away tension from head to toe.

Day 28: Retake your fitness test

Congratulations! You made it! After a month of hard work, you’ve reached the end of the challenge. Put yourself through your fitness test one last time, and congratulate yourself on just how far you’ve come.

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Curious about trying out our other Renew Year plans? You’re just 28 days from healthier food habits and financial wellness.

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