We’ve all done it: You start a workout regimen, excited about getting into shape. You aced the first one. On the second, you were feeling strong. Then, you miss a session in favor of a little extra sleep or time at the office. Next thing you know, every weeknight turns into a bottle of wine, a half of a roast chicken, a pint of ice cream and the decision to give it a better go next year. Like all routines, getting fit requires a commitment and a practice, things that many people try and fail at every year, most commonly in January.
One way to get around this problem? Don’t commit. Try a few different things. See what works for you. We’ve consulted with three qualified trainers with very different pedigrees to come up with repeatable, week-long workouts that will put you on the path to fitness. We recommend trying them for a month, and if you like them, doing further research to build out a year-long plan.
Kyle Railton, Coach at Tough Mudder, New York
Lake Tahoe-born Railton is a Level 1 Certified Trainer in CrossFit with additional certifications in Endurance, Olympic Lifting, Strongman and Kettlebell. He serves as Tough Mudder’s resident coach.
Dan Roberts, Strength and Conditioning Coach at @TeamDanRoberts, London
Roberts is a London-based CSCS who coaches pro athletes, actors and models in everything from personal training to yoga to martial arts.
Pavel Tsatsouline, Founder of StrongFirst, Southern California
Tsatsouline is a former physical trainer and drill instructor with the Spetsnaz, the Soviet special forces, and current civilian trainer and consultant with the US Marine Corps, US Department of Energy and elite units of US Marshals and SWAT teams.
Obstacle Course Readiness
Tackle a Tough Mudder
The Workout: running, push-ups, pull-ups and more
The Expert: Kyle Railton, a.k.a. “Coach Mud”
Best For: aspiring athletes, weekend warriors
Time Requirement: Less than 30 minutes per day
Gear Requirement: None
GP’s Take: A fun workout to do with a friend, with some deceptively hard elements (most people can’t do 10 pull-ups without training).
In Kyle’s Words: Tough Mudder’s training program outlines a full-body workout routine that mixes cardio, intervals, strength training, and core exercises — with team-oriented workouts throughout. Here’s my recommended seven-day start. (You can find the rest of the program here.)
A common misconception is that you need to be a six-pack-sporting, neckless gym rat to reach our finish line. Truth is, the only things you’ll need to reach the finish line are great teammates and a burning desire to do just that: finish.
To help you get Mudder-ready, regardless of your current fitness level, we’ve created this think-outside-the-gym, obstacle-specific training guide of exercises that can be executed anytime, anywhere. Just like obstacles on course, if you want to skip any of these exercises, go ahead and do so. We want you to look at training as your challenge. Using this guide as a complement to your current routine, start with multiple sets of manageable reps and increase reps as your strength, ability and confidence grows.
Day 1: Run for 400 meters, do 20 push-ups, and then rest for 5 minutes. Repeat.
Day 2: Bear crawl for 100 yards, sprint back to your start and rest for 1 minute. Repeat.
Day 3: Do 10 pull-ups, 15 air squats and 20 sit-ups. Repeat 5 times.
Day 4: Run a mile and write down your time. You’ll aim to better this time each week.
Day 5: Run 400 meters, do 20 push-ups, 50 mountain climbers and then rest for 5 minutes. Repeat.
Day 6: Sprint 100 yards, lunge 100 yards, bear crawl 100 yards, and jog 100 yards to recover. Repeat.
Day 7: Rest Day — let your body recover; stretch out your hamstrings, calves and back.
High Reps and Low Weight with a Barbell
How Models and Movie Stars Get Fit
The Workout: PHA Giant Barbell Set
The Expert: Dan Roberts
Best For: guys who want to look like actors
Time Requirement: 30-60 minutes
Gear Requirement: barbell and weights
GP’s Take: Agreeable with 1/4 bodyweight, pretty damn tough with 3/4.
In Dan’s Words: Alternating between upper and lower body gets the heart working extra hard. This simple, nasty, lactic acid-inducing drill is a real challenge. It builds muscle, burns fat and develops strength, endurance and mental toughness. The weights aren’t heavy enough to get you bulked up or to strain your back if your form isn’t perfect (but it should be).
Your challenge is to complete it, and once you can, go five kilograms (11 pounds) heavier and try again. Don’t forget to eat like a skinny yoga teacher on Instagram, i.e., a clean diet with nutrient-dense foods and not much sugar, and live less like a rockstar, with less drinking, smoking and late nights. Be as active as you can be, and your body will be leaner and stronger within seven days.
20 reps Romanian dead lifts
20 reps overhead press
20 reps bent over row
20 reps back squats
20 reps close-grip press-ups with hands on bar
20 reps ab rollout
20 reps sumo squats
20 reps front squats to overhead press
Repeat: 3 to 4 times per week
Pro tip: Only count reps that are at least 80 perfect form. No rest between sets. Beginners should start with 1/4 bodyweight, fit people 1/2 bodyweight, heroes 3/4 bodyweight.
The Kettlebell Workout
Ripped like a Russian Strongman
The Workout: kettlebell swings and one-arm military presses
The Expert: Pavel Tsatsouline
Best For: anyone who wants to be very strong and train at home
Time Requirement: 30-60 minutes
Gear Requirement: 53-pound kettlebell (start with something lighter if you can’t get it off the ground)
GP’s Take: We started with 26 pounds.
In Pavel’s Words: The first exercise is the two-arm kettlebell swing. It will build the muscles of your posterior chain, make them powerful and enduring, while making fat go out of business. The swing protocol by Edward Rocco, a member of the StrongFirst.com forum, is of the “glycolytic power” type I described in my interview. The recommended starting weight for a typical guy “who works out” is 53 pounds. Your eventual goal is to double that weight. When you can show a 106-pound kettlebell who is the boss, you will feel invincible.
Do sets of crisp and maximally powerful 25 reps. Clench your cheeks and brace your abs hard on the top of each rep to make the kettlebell float. There is a big difference between swinging a kettlebell and doing hard-style kettlebell swings! The force plate revealed that our most skilled instructors generated 10 G of acceleration — effectively making a 50-pound kettlebell weigh 500 pounds. This all-out power is the key to your success.
Monday: 25 reps x 3 sets, 3 minutes rest between each
Wednesday: 25 reps x 4 sets, 3 minutes rest between each
Friday: 25 reps x 5 sets, 3 minutes rest between each
Pro Tip: Rest actively. Walk around, shake the tension out of your muscles, do breathing exercises. And do not touch your phone. Yes, you know I am talking to you.
The second exercise is the one-arm military press with a kettlebell you can strictly press about eight to 10 times if you went all out. Cleaning a kettlebell is an involved skill, so you may cheat curl it with both hands, using a pistol grip, one hand cupping the other. Let go with the backup hand before pressing.
In successive sets do two, three, five reps. Then start over at two again. This format is called “ladders” and it has been used with great success by generations of Soviet weightlifters, military special operators, and other serious hombres who put premium on strength.
Monday: 2 ladders of 2, 3 and 5 reps
Wednesday: 2 ladders of 2, 3 and 5 reps
Friday: 2 ladders of 2, 3 and 5 reps
Pro Tip: Do the specified number of reps with one arm, park the kettlebell, shake off the tension, then match the numbers with the other arm. Unlike in the swing protocol, there is no need to time your rest periods; go for your next set when you feel ready.
The first week do two ladders of two, three, five on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, right after swings. Starting with week two, keep pressing three times a week but alternate between heavy and light days. On light days stay with two sets of two-three-five. On heavy days gradually increase the number of ladders to five. Note that the top “rungs” of each ladder should be hard but nowhere near an all-out effort.
For best results, vary where you place the presses in your training session. One day do them before the swings, another day after, a third do half of the press plan before and the other half after.
When you can do two-three-five five times with ease, test your pressing strength and go up to a heavier kettlebell. Your long-term goal is to press a kettlebell close to half your bodyweight for a single rep. If you redline your swing power and keep your whole body tight in presses, you will not need any other exercises.