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At the start of each new year, many of us set goals to change our diet and fitness routines in ways that will positively impact our health and physiques. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to lose a few pounds or get back into running, shifting your focus to building strength might have a bigger impact on your physique while simultaneously boosting your confidence, helping you achieve any other goals more quickly.
The skinny on strength
Why do all of us fitness pros get so excited about strength? It’s probably because feeling physically strong has such a huge payoff in every other aspect of life. “The stronger I feel physically, the stronger I feel in every aspect,” says Hannah Eden, fitness author and entrepreneur. “I feel more confident in who I am and the decisions I make. I feel positive and have a better attitude toward obstacles that come my way. Being a stronger person makes life a lot easier to navigate through physically and mentally.”
“Strength is the one thing on this earth you can’t buy,” says Amber Dodzweit Riposta, women’s circuit-training expert and creator of BuiltforHer.com. She explains that building strength only requires consistency, rest and fuel, and you don’t need a lot of heavy weights or fancy machines. “My go-to moves for building strength at home are push-ups, Bulgarian split squats or reverse lunges, and deadlifts,” Riposta says. “To me, it doesn’t get more badass than that.”
Perhaps the best part about working toward strength as a goal is that you can start from anywhere. “I didn’t grow up as someone who was very strong, so I appreciate my strength every single day,” says Krista Stryker, NSCA-certified personal trainer and author of The 12-Minute Athlete (S&S/Simon Element, 2020). “Building physical strength has allowed me to push myself out of my comfort level and do difficult things, inside and outside the gym.”
Virtually any goal you set can be enhanced by building strength. Use the following bodyweight workouts to start building real strength throughout your body, and make this year your strongest yet.
This workout begins with large, compound movements to target and strengthen every muscle in your legs before moving on to single-sided exercises, isolating specific muscle groups to keep you strong and balanced. This workout is designed to be done using only your bodyweight, but you can add dumbbells, kettlebells or resistance bands as you see fit.
Lower-body strength workout
|Walking Lunge||4||10-12 (per leg)|
|Single-Leg Deadlift||4||10-12 (per leg)|
|Standing Leg Extension:||4||10-12 (per leg)|
|Single-Leg Squat to Chair||4||8-10 (per leg)|
|Lying Glider Hamstring Curl||4||8-10|
|Single-Leg Bridge||4||10-12 (per leg)|
For the standing leg extension, balance on one foot as you lift your other leg up until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Holding that position, kick your free foot straight forward until your knee is fully extended and your leg is parallel to the floor. Hold this position for a beat, then bend your knee back to the starting position. Repeat for all remaining reps on that leg before switching to the other side.
The hardest part about strengthening the upper body using only bodyweight exercises is trying to train the front and the back equally. This is why you’ll need some kind of pull-up bar, TRX suspension system, squat rack or playground for this workout. If you’re not yet doing full pull-ups, put your toes on a box or a chair for assistance. You can use the same box/chair/bench for your dips.
Instead of trying to hit a prescribed number of reps, the goal of this workout is to max out on every exercise. That means performing as many reps as you can with good form before you reach muscle failure. This allows you to train at your level and add more reps as you build more strength. This approach means you might start with modified push-ups on your knees and progress to sets of 10 to 12 reps of full push-ups within a few short weeks.
Upper-body strength workout
|Pike Push-Up||4||max reps|
|Bodyweight Row (Australian pull-up)||4||max reps|
|Bench Dip||4||max reps|
|Chin-Up Hold||4||max reps|
Total-body and core strength
This collection of total-body exercises challenges muscles in the upper and lower body as well as your core strength, power and endurance. You can perform it for the prescribed sets and reps, or if you want an additional strength challenge, set a timer and try to complete as many reps as you can of each exercise for one minute before moving on to the next.
If you’ve never tried a reverse ab roll, all you need is a foam roller. Begin in an elbow plank with your shins on the roller. Keeping your core tight and your body straight, roll your body back, extending through your shoulders and bringing your nose toward the floor. Reverse the motion to roll forward, bringing your chest up through your arms. Repeat for the remaining repetitions.
Total-body strength workout
|Plié Squat With Calf Spike||3||10-12 (per side)|
|Reverse Ab Roll||3||8-10|
|Feet-Elevated Glute Bridge||3||10-12|
|Shoulder Tap||3||10-12 (per side)|
|Elbow Side Plank With Hip Touch||3||10-12 (per side)|