Look, getting in shape is hard work. It requires time, commitment and perseverance… but it doesn’t need to overwhelm your life, especially when you’re just getting back into the swing of things. Instead of diving into a two-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week program you know you’ll just quit once you end up too sore to roll out of bed, why not ease your way in?
That’s why I put together this simple 30-day fitness challenge. Even exercise physiologists with master’s degrees in exercise science (yes, I’m talking about me) sometimes fall off the fitness wagon and need to ease their way back into an active life. If you want a simple start, you won’t do better than this challenge. It’s just one exercise a day, every day, for 30 days. You can even accomplish the suggested sets and time as you see fit. For instance, if three minutes of jumping jacks is too much to do at once, break it into six, 30-second segments. The point is to prioritize and complete each daily challenge, setting yourself up to build the baseline strength and confidence you can apply to a more stringent program.
Of course, you should always speak with your doctor before starting any exercise program, so schedule an appointment before you get started.
Just like you used to do in PE class, start with your feet together, your arms at your sides. Hop both feet out laterally as you swing your arms out to the side and over your head. Immediately hop your feet back to center as you swing your arms back to your sides. If you have knee, hip or back pain, try stepping the exercise out by tapping one foot out laterally each time you swing your arms over your head, alternating which foot you tap to the side.
Form is important when it comes to squats, so if it’s been a while since you’ve done a few, you might want to set a chair behind you as a prop to help promote good form.
To do air squats, sometimes called body-weight squats, stand with your feet roughly shoulder distance apart, your toes angled slightly outward. Keep your weight centered over your heels (not the balls of your feet or your toes), then initiate the squat by pressing your hips back as if you were about to sit down in a chair. As you press your hips back, begin bending your knees to lower your glutes toward the floor. Keep your abs contracted, and look forward to prevent your chest from tipping toward your thighs. When your knees are bent to roughly a 90-degree angle (or, if you’re using a chair as a prop, when your glutes tap the chair lightly), press through your heels, and reverse the movement to return to standing.
Start on your hands and knees on the floor, your feet lifted, ankles crossed. Position yourself so your palms are slightly wider than shoulder distance apart and your body forms a straight line from your knees to your forehead. Bend your elbows, and lower your chest toward the floor, allowing your elbows to angle backward slightly, forming a 45-degree angle between your upper arm and your body. When your chest is about 3 inches from the ground, press through your palms, and extend your arms to return to the starting position. Make sure you don’t crane your neck or drop your head between your arms as you perform each pushup
You can perform the plank in a modified (knees on the floor) or full plank position. To perform the full plank, start with your forearms and knees on the floor so your elbows are positioned directly under your shoulders. Contract your core — the muscles spanning between your hips and your shoulders — and step your feet behind you so your body is fully extended, forming a straight line from heels to head. Make sure your hips don’t sway toward the floor or jut up toward the ceiling. Hold the position steady for the time allotted.
To modify the plank, simply perform the same exercise but with your knees on the floor. It’s best to try the modified position on your first few tries, then move to a full plank when you feel ready.
Stand tall, your feet hip distance apart, your knees slightly bent and your core engaged. Shift your weight to the left, and draw your right knee as high as you can in front of your body as you swing your left arm forward, right arm back. Place your right foot back on the ground, shift your weight to the right, and draw your left knee as high as you can in front of you, this time swinging your right arm forward, your left arm back. Continue this alternate-leg marching movement for the duration of the exercise.
Stand with your feet hip distance apart, your knees slightly bent and your core engaged. You can place your hands on your hips or allow your arms to swing freely. Take a wide step forward with your right foot, and plant your right heel on the ground, allowing your left heel to come off the ground. Keeping your torso tall and centered between your feet, bend both knees, and lower your back knee toward the ground. Just before it touches down, press through your front heel, and return to standing. As you do so, lift your left foot from the floor, and swing your left leg forward into another lunge. Continue walking forward, alternating the lead leg as you perform the recommended number of lunges.
Make sure to keep your front knee behind your toes (your weight focused in the heel of your front foot) as you perform each lunge.
Sit on the front edge of a sturdy chair, your knees bent and feet together, and grip the front of the chair with both hands, just to either side of your hips. Press through your palms to lift your glutes from the chair so you’re supported by your hands and feet. Keeping your core engaged, bend both elbows, and begin lowering your glutes toward the ground, just in front of the chair. When your elbows form roughly 90-degree angles, press through your palms to extend your arms, and return to the starting position.