In case you haven't heard, strong is the new sexy. And there's no better time than summer to show off newly toned arms, abs, and legs. “Building strength can be a super-fun training program to take on while strengthening your joints and bones,” says Ippolita Di Paola, a personal trainer and coach at EPIC Hybrid Training in New York City. “Plus, muscle definition is sexy, it increases your metabolic rate, and it’s really empowering to discover new things you can accomplish when you’re feeling strong.” (For moves you can use to sculpt sexy mucles, pick up Lift to Get Lean by Holly Perkins.)
The catch: Patience is key, as it can take about four to six weeks to start seeing gains. Your workouts won’t always be high-intensity, either, so don’t freak out if you walk away from a session not drenched in sweat. Instead, Di Paola says you’ll be working muscle groups to total fatigue. So as long as you’re feeling the burn—and maybe a little wobbly when you walk out—then you’re on the right path.
Sunday: Lower-Body Heavy Lifting
It's the start of the week, so time to go big or go home. “Focus on big muscle movements, like squats and deadlifts, where you do a low number of reps—no more than five in a set—at a weight really close to your one-rep max,” says Di Paola. “Rest for at least 90 seconds in between to allow your muscles to fully recover (returning to a state known as homeostasis) before you go again.”
Not sure what your one-rep max is? After you warm up, choose an exercise and grab a spotting partner for safety. Grab a weight you can comfortably eke out five reps with, says Di Paola. After you complete the reps and rest, start adding weight in small increments (no more than five pounds at a time). Follow the same process until you reach a weight where you cannot complete more than one rep without sacrificing good form. Say hello to your one-rep max.
Monday: Upper-Body Heavy Lifting
It’s the same strategy as Sunday, but go for moves like overhead presses, rows, and chest presses to target all your main upper bod muscle groups, says Di Paola. You want to work your upper bod on a separate day because “if you were to combine those, you’d basically fatigue a lot faster and you wouldn’t have an accurate assessment of your one rep max or how powerfully you can perform,” she explains. No matter what exercise you’re bustin’ out, focus on core and shoulder stabilization throughout (think about keeping ‘em tight) to maintain good, strong form.
Tuesday: Restorative Mobility
Zero in on alignment, posture, and balance today (we like these moves). Want to multitask? Do ‘em while catching up on The Bachelorette.
Wednesday: Core Interval Training
Your core is made up of more than just those abs muscles—it actually reaches from your pelvic floor all the way up through your spine in all three planes of motion, says Di Paola. And it’s important to focus on it, as it powers basically every movement you perform. Strengthen your core with interval training, which you needs at this point in the week to help keep that body guessing. “You’ve basically helped build muscle on those heavy lifting days, and now it’s time to stoke the metabolic fire,” she explains. Mixing in stabilization moves like planks, pikes, and knee-tucks can help prevent a plateau.
Thursday: Total-Body Interval Training
Rather than going for all upper or lower body toners, include an even mix of explosive movements (think kettlebell swings and box jumps), and make sure to utilize both pushing and pulling motions to help prevent muscle imbalances, says Di Paola. (For example, a chest press is a push movement while a row is a pull.) Add in plenty of single-leg balance exercises (like a Bulgarian split squat), single-arm coordination (like a one-arm clean), and cross-lateral movements (like a wood chop), too. “You need balance and coordination to get through everyday life, and these types of movements help develop those things,” she says.
Friday: Total Body Power Lifting
Power lifting helps increase your one-rep max by building on the foundation that you developed on your heavy lifting days, says Di Paola. “Adding in explosive movements like cleans, snatches, and kettlebell swings adds another layer to your strength routine,” she explains. Just be sure to allow plenty of rest in between sets (90 to 120 seconds), as you want to work a low number of reps and totally fatigue the muscle.
You made it to the end of a successful week! Treat yo'self, but still get in some activity, even if it’s just a light walk around the neighborhood or a restorative yoga flow. “You don’t want to go completely sedentary on rest days,” says Di Paola. “They should really be called active rest days because getting in some type of movement, rather than bingeing Netflix all day, will help flush out residual fatigue and complement the hard work you’ve done all week.”