If you've been away from fitness for a while, it can be pretty intimidating trying to get back into the swing of it. Sometimes, doing exercises on your own will beef up your strength and your confidence simultaneously. The moves below are mostly strength-based, but there's plenty of opportunity for cardio depending on speed, intensity and weight used. Try them and see how you feel, and don't be too hard on yourself! The first step might be the hardest, but it's also the most rewarding.
Downward to Upward Dog: Start with your feet on the edge of the mat, hip-width apart. Bend your knees a little as your roll the spine down until your hands hit the mat. Walk it out to a plank then pull your hips up and back to get into downward dog. Shift forward, letting the hips drop as your head and chest open up into upward facing dog. Hold each position for as long as you want; this does not need to be a fast movement.
Benefit: The smoother the transition between the two, the strong your core and spinal support muscles get. It's a strength and stretch move that will provide suspension training for the abs, too.
Forward Stepping Lunges: Begin with your hands on your hips or to the side for balance and the feet at hip-width distance. Step one foot in front of you just far enough that when you lunge, the knee stays behind the toes. Your back leg is also bending. Your goal is to have both knees at 90 degrees. Only go as low as you can with control. Exhale as your push out of it, then switch legs. Try the backward stepping lunge, too.
Benefit: This moves works the glutes and quads as your brace the core to balance yourself. Working those leg muscles requires a lot of work, which means it will burn calories and strengthen them at the same time.
Squat Jacks: The feet should be about a foot apart. Jump them out to the side almost like you’re jumping into a plie. As you jump them out, swing the arms up to the side of your head like you would for a jumping jack. Then return the feet back to the starting point. If it’s too difficult to do several reps, make your range of motion smaller.
Benefit: This move will pump up your cardio no matter what pace you use. The quick switch from the jumps will target the fast twitch muscle fibers that are the force behind your agility level.
Tricep Extensions: Using a dumbbell or any kind of handheld weight (soup can, water bottle), grasp it in both hands and raise it above your head. Squeeze your head between your arms right where your ears are. Keeping your upper arms close to your head, bend your elbows as the weight goes behind your hand. Raise it back up to complete one rep. Be sure not to arch the back. You’ll need to tuck your tailbone in a bit to brace to the core. These can be done sitting or standing with good posture. Try it on the stability ball for more abdominal engagement.
Benefit: These extensions will isolate the triceps that are often weaker than the biceps despite having one more muscle in the group. Stronger triceps lead to better pushups, more solid planks and better control on pulling and swinging exercises.
Sumo Deadlift High Pull: Perform this one with a kettlebell (like Skinny Mom founder and CEO Brooke does here), dumbbell or with a close grip on a barbell (tips of thumbs able to touch). Point the toes outward about 45 degrees and drop the hips low. Keep the weight in the center and as close to the line of your body as possible. Pull the weight up, elbows go out to the side as you drive out of the squat. You’ll end with the weight at your chest, elbows to the sides at shoulder height and legs straight. Keep your chest lifted and back slightly arched.
Benefit: Talk about a full-body movement! The squat will build those lean muscle fibers in the legs while the pull targets the upper back and triceps. Being aware of your alignment here will help you practice good posture.
Tempo Squats: The tempo squat is just a squat at a certain pace: Go down for two counts, hold for two counts and come up quickly. You can make this tempo whatever you want. For the squat, get the feet just outside the shoulders and hinge at your hips first. Your hips lead this movement. Send them back and down so that your knees stay behind the toes. Getting the hips to knee level is ideal. Arms can go out in front of you, across your chest or overhead for more of a challenge. Try this 30-day squat challenge now!
Benefit: Doing single-paced squats can be monotonous, so pick an upbeat song and squat to the beat. These will help you train isometrically as well as dynamically, incorporating both fast and slow twitch fibers for max results.