The optimal workout includes cardio, strength training, and flexibility exercises. But you don't have to start all at once -- instead, the Whole Body Action Plan lets you build up your exercise routine in small steps over four weeks.
During Week 1, devote half an hour a day to gentle exercise -- yoga, stretching, or leisurely walking -- to rev up your circulation. You'll also use this week to assess your fitness so you can chart your improvement at the end of the month.
If you're a fitness beginner, use Week 2 to size up your schedule and pinpoint pockets of time you'll be able to devote to working out. Aim for 30 minutes of walking each day this week, even if it means squeezing in three 10-minute workouts: in the morning, on your lunch break, and at the end of the workday.
If you're more advanced, amp up your workout during Week 2. Choose from one of the cardio options below, then incorporate intervals of intense activity followed by periods of lighter movement. Try alternating three-minute bursts of walking and jogging, for instance, or switching between three-minute intervals of tough pedaling and leisurely cycling on your bike.
(Calorie burn is based on a 140-pound person exercising for 30 minutes)
Walking: 127 calories
Jogging: 223 calories
Cycling: 159 calories
Swimming: 191 calories
Hiking: 191 calories
Climbing stairs: 191 calories
Rowing: 223 calories
Step aerobics: 191 calories
Dancing: 175 calories
Jumping rope: 255 calories
Elliptical trainer: 175 calories
Snowshoeing: 235 calories
Cross-country skiing: 255 calories
In-line skating: 223 calories
To estimate your calorie burn during other physical activities, use our interactive calculator.
Next you'll introduce strength training to your Action Plan workout, adding a short routine two days during Week 3: Select eight moves from the list below, and aim to do 8 to 10 reps of each, making sure to work arms, chest, core, and legs. (Warm up with at least 10 minutes of cardio first.)
Choose eight moves from below and strive for 8 to 10 reps of each; the last rep should be tough but not so difficult that you can't maintain good form. If you can't do at least eight reps, the weights are too heavy. If you can do more, you're probably not challenging yourself enough.
- Lie chest-down and place your hands at your shoulders, your palms flat. Keep your legs straight and parallel to each other, your toes tucked under your feet.
- Engaging your upper back and shoulders, straighten your arms and lift your body weight off the floor.
- Slowly lower your chest back down.
- Grasping a weight in each hand, bend your elbows as you lift your arms toward your shoulders.
- Lower back down.
- Grasp two hand weights and rest them at your sides.
- Lift both extended arms up to the sides with palms down, stopping at shoulder height.
- Lower down to your starting position.
- Grasp a dumbbell in each hand, using an overhand grip.
- Raise your arms straight in front of you.
- Lower down to your starting position.
- Grasping a dumbbell with both hands, extend your arms directly over your head (elbows placed on each side of your head).
- Drop your hands behind your head at a 90-degree angle, then raise your arms over your head to extend back up to the original position.
- Lie back on a balance ball with your hips up, dumbbells in hands, and arms at a 90-degree angle.
- Position the dumbbells to the sides of your upper chest, elbows under the dumbbells.
- Press dumbbells up (with elbows turned out) until your arms are extended.
- Lower weight to the sides of your upper chest.
- Grasp two dumbbells and lie face-up on a balance ball.
- Support dumbbells above your chest with your arms fixed in a slightly bent position. Rotate shoulders so your elbows are to the sides.
- Lower dumbbells to the sides until your chest muscles are stretched and your elbows are fixed.
- Raise the dumbbells, bringing them together in a hugging motion until the weights are nearly together.
Horizontal wood chop
- Stand with your feet about four feet apart.
- Holding one weight with both hands, extend your arms at shoulder height in front of you.
- Twist your torso to the right while your hips and feet stay facing front.
- Repeat the motion on the other side.
- Lying chest-down, place your elbows on the floor (directly under your shoulders) and lift your knees off the ground.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Lying on your back, put your hands behind your head and keep your feet planted firmly on the floor.
- Lift your chest up and lower back down to starting position.
(Variations: Try weighted crunches, ab crunches on a balance ball, or standing crunches)
- Stand with one weight in both hands and knees slightly bent, your back straight and core engaged.
- Keeping your arms extended, lower your weight down until your upper body is at a 90-degree angle with the floor.
- From standing position, sink your weight into your heels as you press down into your legs.
- Pushing into the floor, return to an upright position.
- Stand with your feet approximately three feet apart.
- Lower your right knee and raise it back up.
- Repeat and switch sides.
- Drop down into a push-up position, with your hands directly in alignment with your shoulders.
- Lifting your left foot off the ground, bring your left knee into your chest.
- Switch feet and repeat.
Round out your workout regimen with a stretching routine in Week 4 and beyond: At the end of each exercise session, take a few minutes to work toward increasing your flexibility in each major muscle group, using the moves below as a guide. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds, breathing deeply and slowly throughout each move.
Moving forward, shoot for at least 30 continuous minutes of exercise at least five days a week, gradually increasing the duration and/or intensity. If you're trying to lose weight, train for about an hour four to six times a week -- but make sure to take one day off each week to rest, replenish, and stave off fatigue.
- Separate your legs about 4 feet apart, your back leg turned in slightly, your front leg bent in a right angle with the floor. Make sure your knee is in line with your ankle.
- Raise your arms above your head and sink into your front, bent leg.
- From Warrior I, open your arms, allowing your chest to turn away from the forward, bent leg.
- Keeping your buttocks under your hips, sink into your legs.
- From Warrior II, straighten your front leg.
- Standing with your legs about 3 to 4 feet apart, keep your left foot pointed forward as the right foot faces out toward the side.
- Keeping your knees slightly bent and your core strong, extend both arms out to each side and then slowly lower the right arm down toward your knee, chin, or ankle.
- Raise your left arm toward the ceiling.
- Gaze toward your left hand unless you feel a strain in your neck. If you do feel a strain in your neck, look down at your right hand. From here you can reach the left arm over your head to get a little more stretch in your rib cage. Repeat to the other side.
- Try to hold the pose for at least 15 seconds, and strive for 90 seconds.
- Extend your right foot in front of you while keeping your left knee
- Lean forward and place your palms just above your knees.
- Flex your right foot, extending as far as you can.
- Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, then repeat with the other foot.
- Stand upright, with shoulders back and down and core engaged.
- Bring the heel of your right foot up toward your hamstrings/glutes and hold with the same arm.
- Stand on a stair or on the edge of a step.
- Move one foot toward the edge of the stair, so that only your toes are touching the edge.
- Lower your heel toward the ground until you feel a good stretch in your calf.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat with your other leg.
Seated pike stretch
- Sit on your yoga mat with your legs extended in front of you and your big toes together.
- Reach your arms as high as you can up toward the ceiling and then slowly lower your chest down to your quads and grab onto your toes. If needed, grab a towel to place on the bottom of your feet and grab the towel instead of your toes.
- Take deep breaths and release your body into your hamstrings.
Single leg pike
- From seated pike position, bend one leg toward the other, so foot meets straight leg at an angle.
- Gently bend forward toward the foot of your straight leg.
- Sit on the floor or your yoga mat and place feet together, forming a triangle with your legs, letting your muscles release.
- Lying on your back, extend one leg, resting it on the floor.
- Pull the other knee into your chest.
Seated dancer stretch
- Sit on your mat with your legs extended out to each side.
- From here, reach high to the ceiling and then slowly lower your torso down and place your hands on the floor.
- Get onto your hands and knees, setting your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders.
- Spread your fingers and push into your legs. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor.
- Lift your sit bones toward the ceiling and gently straighten your knees without locking them.
- Keep your arms firm and press your shoulder blades down your back.
- Lie on the floor, stretching your legs back, the tops of your feet on the floor.
- Bend your elbows and spread your palms on the floor besides your waist so that your forearms are relatively perpendicular to the floor.
- Straighten your arms and lift your chest so that your belly button comes off the floor.
- Lift the weight off your thighs as you look up toward the ceiling.
- Sit on your yoga mat in a comfortable cross-legged position, your hands resting in your lap and your shoulders down and back.
- Keeping your core firm and your eyes closed, sit at peace for at least a minute.
Exercises adapted from "Are You Ready! Take Charge, Lose Weight, Get in Shape, and Change Your Life Forever" (Broadway; 2008) by Bob Harper.
Get more Action Plan tools and join the community.