One of the most motivating things you can experience during weight loss, strength training or any type of goal-oriented work is when you can measure how far you've come. Sure, you can measure your progress in pounds lost or gained, inches here and there, even photos. If you're using strength training as part of your weekly routine (you know it's good for you!), then use this post and downloadable PDF as a guide to tracking your progress.
The printable tracker includes very basic strength exercises that you should be rotating through each week. Bodyweight exercises should be incorporated whenever possible, but resistance training via weights is where you can really gauge your transformation.
The schedule: You should be strength training approximately three times a week for 20 to 45 minutes. Don't worry about getting bulky! Using resistance will help you burn fat and build muscle instead. It takes women a lot more time and with purposeful effort to get the bulk look, so it's time to become friends with the barbell and free weights. Follow up your strength training sessions with light cardio or solid stretching of the muscle groups you just worked. You don't need to split the workouts into "leg day" and "upper body work" — feel free to work what you want! Utilize supersets, compound moves and upper-lower body patterns.
>> See more: Supersets for a Sexy Silhouette
Back Squat: Using weight on the posterior side of the body to resist the upward motion of the squat. This works the legs and core. Inhale and squat down, keeping the knees behind the toes and weight in your heels. Chest stays lifted. Hold your breath for the first few inches as you come out of the squat, then exhale fully to complete the rise. You can have several reps of lighter weights or one to two reps of your toughest weight. Check out the proper form here.
Front Squat: Just like the back squat, you're focusing on the legs. This time, the resistance is out front. You'll need to have the elbows pointing forward (front rack) as much as you can. When using dumbbells, you might not be able to achieve a full front rack position, but if you're using a barbell, really try to get those triceps parallel with the floor and elbows point straight ahead. With weight on the front, you'll want to lean forward – don't. Your front squat weight will likely be lower than your back squat. Check out the dumbbell front squat here.
Squat Clean: Naturally, the squat clean is a big, powerful move. It comes in different flavors, like a clean and press, hang clean, using a barbell or a kettlebell. Below, you'll see the clean (and press) with a kettlebell. The steps are always the same, whether you start from the ground or from a "hang" position, with the weight above your knees. Throw the hips forward as you pull the weight up toward the chest. The elbows will go up then swing underneath to point forward (also known as front rack). Catch the weight with soft knees or in a full squat. This is a total body move! See the kettlebell clean here or watch the squat clean demo here.
Push Press: Hello, shoulders. This exercise can be performed with dumbbells, a barbell or kettlebells. You begin with the weight at your shoulders and soften your knees. Then dip down (not a squat) to get some momentum for pushing the weights up. When you bring them back to the shoulders, make sure you're bending the knees. This way, you won't jam weight onto locked knee joints. See more on the move here.
Deadlift: This exercise targets the hamstrings and butt. By default, it strengthens the back muscles. Shown below is the Romanian deadlift, or abbreviated version of the move. The weights come to or just past the knees instead of going to the floor. This is a great place to begin and can be done with any type of resistance equipment, including bands. The hips hinge and fall behind the heels, making the back flat or slightly arched, never rounded. The weights stay super close to the body, dragging them up and down the legs. At the top of the movement, finish by pushing your hips forward to completely unhinge. See Real Mom Model Holly show you more in her Tone Every Zone workout here.
Chest Fly: Speaking of back muscles, this fly exercise is key for good posture. Using dumbbells, stand tall with the feet under your hips, then bend the knees and lean forward. Keep the back flat or slightly arched. Dumbbells come together in front of you, then you open out to the sides, keeping a bend in the elbows. Squeeze the shoulder blades together. You can lie down on a bench, ball or mat and do these in reverse or lay your belly over a bench or ball. Start with light weights (1 to 2 pounds) and try to work your way to double digits! See it on the stability ball here.
Kettlebell Swing: The swing is a lower body exercise that requires upper body control. Skinny Mom founder, Brooke Griffin, shows you exactly how to complete the swing below. Keeping the chest lifted, let the bell pass between the legs. Throw your hips forward to move the bell back up, stopping at shoulder height. You can also try the full swing, which will bring the bell up overhead. The important part here is to not squat or bend the knees until the bell passes through the legs. Any sooner, you'll be dropping the chest and doing more work than you need to! Check out the swing here.
Pull-Up: Don't be intimidated by the pull-up bar. This bodyweight exercise is something you can work your way up to doing. Pictured below, you'll see an overhand grip (pronated), which is more difficult than an underhand grip (supinated). On the printable tracker, it will clue you in "O" for overhand and "U" for underhand. This works the core, lats and triceps – muscles women have to work on more than others to get the same kind of strength. You can strengthen the lats with planks and Pilates work. Pull-ups can be assisted by using bands (wrap a band around the bar and slide a foot in to spring you upward). Keep track of your progression, challenging yourself to move to the next step once you can complete eight to 10 reps of the previous step. Check out a suggested progression here.
Pushup: This exercise is excellent for gauging body strength and coordination. It requires the arms, chest, upper back and core to fully engage. Keep your feet together and shoulders over the wrists. Lower the chest as must as you can, noting where this limitation exists for you. When measuring your pushup strength, you need to think about two things: form and flow. The second you break perfect form or the first rep that slows you down, that's your max. Test until you max out, or use a 10-second, 30-second, 60-second time period. Check out more on the pushup technique here.
>> Read more: Stop Doing Pushups on Your Knees
Plank: This exercise will measure your core stamina. You have to have proper form, first and foremost. Shoulders are stacked over the wrists, feet are together with the heels pushing backward. You have a solid, straight line from the top of the head through the chest, hips, thighs, knees and heels. Push away from the ground and let your shoulder blades round out. This will help you engage the lats and put less stress on the shoulders. Time yourself here. Breathe! See more on the plank here.
Burpee: The exercise you love to hate is a big fat burner! The burpee is performed by squatting down to place your hands in front of you, jumping out into a squat, jumping back up to the squat position and jumping vertically into the air on repeat. This works your legs (huge blood-flow hogs), your core and your shoulders. Test yourself on speed and form by counting how many reps you can achieve in 60 seconds, or how many you can complete before you look like a deflated worm. Go ahead and test it now using the Skinny Minute video below!