Your eight-week shape-up plan

Follow this expert guide to getting fit in eight weeks.

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Running can increase your overall energy and stamina, but getting motivated can be tough if you don't know where or how to start. We tapped marathoner, triple Ironman champ and author of The Athlete's Way Christopher Bergland to create the following eight-week plan designed to get even the laziest ass in gear.

Week one


Set goals, choose routes and get gear
Time commitment:
20 minutes of cardio a day, for three days

Start by setting a clear-cut objective for yourself, like finishing a 5K race or losing those pesky last five pounds. "Always make sure that the goal is challenging, but doable," Bergland advises. "If you're just starting out, aim for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes of easy jogging (a pace at which you can hold a conversation without getting out of breath) every other day this week." To monitor your progress, create a training log on MyMapRun.com.

Week two


Build aerobic base and reinforce routine
Time commitment:
20 minutes of cardio a day, for five days

Focus on continuing to build your aerobic base by upping your schedule to five runs per week. "Because consistency increases your chances of sticking with your routine, plan to run at the same time on each workout day," Bergland recommends.

Week three


Introduce resistance training
Time commitment:
20 minutes of cardio a day, for five days; plus 15 minutes of strength training a day, for three days

Introduce a quick full-body weight-lifting circuit into your routine in order to improve muscle tone and increase bone density. Focus on form and use light weights (start with 3 to 10 pounds, depending on your size) to avoid injury. After your runs, do one to three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions of exercises for each major muscle group, three times a week.

Week four


Add flexibility work
Time commitment:
20 minutes of cardio per day, for five days; plus 15 minutes of strength training and ten minutes of stretching, for three days

It's time to enhance your workout with some flexibility exercises or yoga. A move that targets your quads: Use your left hand to lift your left foot and pull your heel toward your butt. (You'll feel the stretch on the front of your thigh.) Another good one: Stretch your calves by using a wall or stairs and lifting your toes against the surface while keeping your heel down and leaning into the maneuver. If you aren't accustomed to stretching or yoga poses, start very slowly and don't push too hard. "Gaining flexibility is a gradual process, and if you try to rush the process you will get injured," cautions Bergland.

Week five


Tackle interval of hill training
Time commitment:
20 minutes of cardio, for four days; and 20 minutes of intervals for one day; plus 15 minutes of strength training and ten minutes of stretching, for three days

Now that you've established an aerobic base, kick things up a notch by supplementing your usual cardio with interval training. "Intervals are short bursts of increased exertion followed by a recovery period that you repeat a specific number of times," Bergland explains. "They're key to breaking out of a plateau and increasing your fitness level." Begin with four three-minute bursts followed by two-minute recovery on one of your workout days this week.

Week six


Do a race-pace "tempo" test
Time commitment:
20 minutes of cardio, for four days, and 20 minutes of cardio for one day going as hard and fast as you can; plus 15 minutes of strength training and ten minutes of stretching, for three days

Whether or not your eight-week jump-start program will conclude with an actual race, use this week to see how fast you can cover a specific amount of distance. One day this week, push yourself as hard as you can for 20 minutes. Take note of the distance you cover and use this as a benchmark to monitor your level of fitness.

Week seven


Endurance training: go long and slow
Time commitment:
20 minutes of cardio for four days and 40 minutes of cardio for one day, plus 15 minutes of strength training and 10 minutes of stretching for ten minutes for three days

You know that training log you've dutifully been keeping since the first week? Take another look and determine what your longest distance is to date. One day this week, aim to surpass that distance. "There is no pressure to go fast—just focus on being slow and steady and not giving up when it gets tough," says Bergland. "Make the routine your own, and establish rituals so that you don't launch into an internal debate every time you want to work out." You can also use tricks like packing your gym bag in advance or laying out your clothes the night before. Maybe even plan a reward for yourself—like a fun activity—that you can look forward to as you exercise.

Week eight


Realize goal. Recommit to lifestyle changes.
Time commitment:
20 minutes of cardio for five days, plus 15 minutes of strenth-training and ten minutes of stretching for three days

Congratulations! You did it! Now comes the hard part: Sticking with it. From here on out, adapt your runs to increase the challenge level (such as upping the distance or length of time you run), but listen to your body and don't bite off more than you can chew.

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