If your entire fitness routine takes place on a piece of cardio equipment — and you aren't seeing results — it may be time to add some weights to your workout.
A three-day weight training plan is a great way to ease into a new routine, while still meeting the US Department of Health & Human Services physical activity guidelines for cardio and strength training. Holly Perkins, personal trainer and author of Lift to Get Lean, and Meghan Takacs, Performix House trainer and creator of the #RunWithMeg app, crafted the perfect three-day weight training routine for women.
Day One: HIIT Treadmill Run and Upper Body
Programmed by Takacs, the high-intensity interval training (HIIT) portion of this workout will prime your body for the strength training to follow. "HIIT runs are great for building speed and endurance, plus they make the time go by faster," she says. "Work on the prescribed effort with each interval, and try to land with a midfoot strike (not heel to toe), under your hips."
As for Perkins' strength-training exercises, she prioritizes hitting all the major upper-body muscles. "I like focusing on opposing muscle groups for pushing and pulling in the same workout when I need to have only one upper-body strength day per week," says Perkins. Perform each move for 10 to 12 repetitions, three to four rounds total.
20-Minute Treadmill Run
- Minutes 0-4: Jog at a light pace for three minutes, followed by walking for one minute.
- Minutes 4-13: Jog for one minute at 30 percent effort, followed by a two-minute run at 50 percent effort. Repeat this step three times.
- Minutes 13-14: Walk at a steady pace for one minute.
- Minutes: 14-20: Walk for one minute and sprint for one minute at 90 percent effort. Repeat this three times.
1. Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown
- Sit at the lat pulldown machine and adjust the seat as necessary. Begin with a comfortably challenging weight.
- Grab the bar with an underhand grip.
- On an exhale, pull the bar down to about chest height.
- As you bring the bar to your chest, think about squeezing your shoulder blades together, contracting your lats (the muscles along your mid-back).
- Inhale and bring the bar back up, extending your arms.
"This exercise is great for improving your pulling strength, which is important for upper body health," says Perkins. "Not to mention, it makes your back look awesome."
2. Dumbbell Chest Fly
- Lie flat on a bench with two dumbbells in hand. Begin with a light weight and progress as needed.
- Press the weights straight up in a neutral position, parallel to your body.
- With a slight bend in your arms, bring the dumbbells out to your sides until they reach about shoulder height.
- On an exhale, think about squeezing your armpits and chest to bring the weights back together, maintaining the bend in your arms.
Perkins says this move will sculpt your arms and improve your upper-body pressing strength.
3. Dumbbell Side Raise
- Start standing with two dumbbells in hand.
- On an exhale, raise your arms straight out, forming a "T" position.
- Think about contracting your shoulders and giving them a squeeze at the top of the "T."
- On an inhale, lower your arms back to your sides while maintaining the tension in your delts as much as possible.
Day Two: 10-Minute Incline Walk + Lower-Body Workout
Day two begins with an incline walk, followed by a lower-body strength workout. Lower-body workouts create the foundation that moves you around all day, powering your activities and sports, says Perkins. Perform each move for 10 to 12 repetitions, three to four rounds total.
10-Minute Incline Walk
- Minutes 0-2: Increase incline to 4.0
- Minutes 2-4: Increase incline to 6.0
- Minutes 4-6: Increase incline to 8.0
- Minutes 6-8: Increase incline to 10.0
- Minutes 8-10: Increase incline to 12.0
"I love doing an incline walk before lower-body strength work," says Takacs. "It helps you to warm-up the muscles in your legs and get your heart rate going."
1. Goblet Squat
- Begin with the feet slightly wider than hip-width distance apart.
- Holding a kettlebell or dumbbell at chest height, sit your hips back into a squat until your glutes are about parallel with the ground. Use your core to keep your chest up and out.
- Pressing through your heels, come back to standing.
Perkins prefers this squat variation to the traditional barbell back squat. "It's a much more natural movement pattern for women since we have wide, more turned open hips," she says.
2. Pulse Lunge
- Begin at standing and bring your right leg back straight several feet and bend the left knee to 90 degrees.
- Bend your right leg until the knee hovers above the ground before straightening it back out.
- Be careful not to let your left knee move beyond your toes.
Takacs recommends performing this exercise for 10 repetitions on each leg.
3. Dumbbell Deadlift
- Stand with your legs at about hip-distance apart and select two moderately challenging dumbbells.
- Hinge at your hips, shoot them back and bend slightly at the knees, keeping your back slightly arched.
- At the same time, slowly bring the dumbbells toward the ground, keeping them close to the body.
- Once the dumbbells are hovering slightly above the ground, reverse the motion back to standing.
Perkins says to be mindful of your back: It should be slightly arched, not flat.
Day Three: Total Body and Cardio
High-intensity interval training is a great way to mix strength and cardio all at once. "This day is great for improving your overall fitness," says Perkins. Repeat each move as many times as possible for 40 seconds, followed by rest for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat the moves for two or three rounds.
1. Air Squat
- With your feet slightly wider than hip-width distance apart, shoot your butt back and sit down into a squat.
- On an exhale, reverse the motion and return to standing.
2. Modified Plank
- Begin in push-up position with your hands on the ground, shoulder-distance apart.
- Line your hands and shoulders up and avoid sagging or hiking your hips.
- On an exhale bring your right knee forward toward your right arm, maintaining plank form.
- Bring your leg back and repeat on the left side. Continue alternating.
3. Side Lateral Jump
- Begin standing with a slight bend in the knees.
- Swing your arms back behind you and using the momentum from the swing, jump several feet to one side, keeping your legs together.
- Quickly rebound and repeat this motion jumping back. Jump back and forth with good form as quickly as possible.
4. Glute Bridge
- Lie down on the ground with your knees up, feet flat on the ground and arms at your sides.
- On an exhale, raise your hips up toward the ceiling, squeezing your glutes and pressing through your heels.
- Lower back down and repeat.
Upper and Lower Body Split
When you want to focus on each muscle group but still want to work both your upper and lower body in one strength-training session, choose an upper and lower body split.
In this type of training, you'd work the main muscles in your upper body, then the main muscle groups in your lower body. Example: Perform a few sets of shoulder presses, biceps curls and triceps extensions for your upper body, then follow with squats and lunges for your lower body.
Alternate exercises so you aren't doing the same exercises three times a week.
Targeting Specific Muscle Groups
Another way to divide your strength training into three separate training days is to have each training day target different muscle groups. For example, one day would be shoulders and biceps, the second would be legs and back and the third chest and triceps.
Dividing your strength-training routine like this allows you to target each section of your body more specifically. You can perform more exercises in each session on the desired muscle, so you really build it up.
Sets and Repetitions
The number of sets and repetitions depends on where you are at in your training. If you're new to strength training, start slow and work your way up. Begin with 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise for two to three sets. Choose a weight that allows you to complete the exercise with the proper form.
Once you become more familiar with strength training and the exercise, increase the amount of weight — that's how you get stronger.