The 30-Day Strength-Building Challenge for Beginners

Erik Taylor
by Erik Taylor
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The 30-Day Strength-Building Challenge for Beginners

We live in an interesting time; technology is always at our fingertips, as our smart phones are glued to our hands like Ari Gold from Entourage. The majority of today’s population sits in cubicles cranking out work, stands with poor posture, and sits with rolled shoulders while cruising social media or texting. And we wonder why people have back problems, musculoskeletal issues and general weakness. Life has gotten easier and exciting in many ways, but it has also made us lazy.

How can you prevent and reduce (or even eliminate) back pain, and build a foundation for increasing fitness? It’s very simple … get strong.

It’s OK if you’re a novice when it comes to strength training—the fact that you’re reading this, and considering whether you can complete this challenge puts you one step farther along than most because you are investing in yourself!

Let me simplify things for you. It first starts with a plan.

The Plan

The idea is to get stronger and more mobile through a program that uses a small exercise selection that’s progressive. You will need to work out at home or hit the gym two times a week. Completing your strength workouts two days per week allows for ample recovery time, and should fit into your schedule.

Oh but wait, it doesn’t have to stop there! You should spend time doing secondary workouts 1-2 days a week. For this, you will need to walk, jog or bike (or complete your favorite cardiovascular exercise), and also work on your body’s mobility. These secondary workouts can be as short as 10 minutes, and shouldn’t be any longer than an hour.

Each week the goal will be to make the efforts just a little bit harder: Add a little more weight, do a few more reps, or add minutes to your walk, jog or bike ride.

You will do all six strength exercises when you work out, so keep track of how much weight you lift or how many you reps you do. Remember, the goal is to add a little weight or increase the reps each week. Do not push through any pain, and always keep proper form even if you have to decrease the weight. You may experience some soreness since you’re challenging your body to do things it hasn’t done before, so make sure you give yourself 48-72 hours of recovery before you do another strength session.

I picked these exercises because they lay the proper foundation you need as a beginner to get stronger. In addition, squats and shoulder presses are two exercises that should always be part of your exercise program regardless of ability. During your cardio days, complete the mobility exercises after you complete your cardio, which is optional on some days, or after a 5-minute warm-up.

Things to Note

On strength-training days, warm up for 5-10 minutes before completing the prescribed exercises, and cool down for 5 minutes when you finish the session. It’s important to prepare your body for the demands of exercise with a warm-up; it’s also important to lower your heart rate back to a resting state when you finish your workout, so don’t skip these parts of the workout.

If you opt out of the easy cardio on the days suggested (day 12, for example), warm up for a few minutes before starting your mobility exercises.

Equipment you’ll need: Set of dumbbells with varying weights (for example: 3 lbs., 5 lbs., 8 lbs., 10 lbs)

Weights are recommended for the following strength exercises:

  1. Dumbbell (DB) Shoulder Press
  2. Single-leg Deadlift
  3. Squats—starting on day 15. To do so, hold dumbbells in both hands (bend your elbows and keep the weights stationary above your shoulders) during the squats.

Start with the heaviest weights you can handle while completing the recommended number of reps and sets with good form. If you can’t complete the number or reps and sets without sacrificing your form, grab lighter weights to finish the reps/sets. If you feel any sharp pains, stop immediately and rest. If pain persists, see your doctor.

Rest durations should be followed between each set of each exercise. For example, rest for 20-30 seconds between each of the three sets of birddogs you complete on day 1; rest for 30-60 seconds between each of the three sets of planks you do on day 1, and so on.

 

30-day strength training challenge training plan

How to Perform the Strength-Training Exercises

strength training challenge exercises

Two-leg Bridge

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and shoulder-width apart
  • Tighten your abs and lift your pelvis off the floor until your knees, hips and shoulder are in line
  • Return to starting position and repeat

Birddog

  • Get down on the floor on all fours
  • Slowly extend your right arm in front of you while extending your left leg straight behind you
  • Keep your hips and shoulders square and don’t arch your lower back
  • Return to starting position and repeat on the opposite side

Prone Plank

  • Lie face down on the floor, feet close together and forearms on the floor
  • Tighten your abs and lift your body up until it forms a straight line
  • Hold that position until the time is up, and lower yourself to the floor

Squats

  • Place your feet about shoulder-width apart
  • Push your butt back and down, making sure that your hip crease goes below parallel (just below your knees)
  • Make sure that you keep your knees out over your toes throughout the entire exercise
  • Return to a standing position and repeat

Tip: Look at the floor about 6 feet in front of you; this allows for better hip drive coming out of the bottom position.

Single-leg Deadlift

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them by your side
  • Pull your shoulder blades back and tighten up your abs
  • Stand on your right foot and hinge over your waist, lowering the weights towards the floor
  • Your left leg needs to go up and back behind you
  • Make sure to keep your shoulders back so your back stays in alignment through the movement
  • Focus your eyes on a point in front of you to help you stay balanced
  • Return to the starting position and repeat

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and place them on your shoulders
  • Tighten your abs
  • Press your arms up in a vertical path until your elbows lock out
  • Lower the weights back to your shoulders and repeat

How to Perform the Mobility Exercises

Quad Stretch

  • Place your left knee down on the floor and put your foot up against a bench or chair
  • Squeeze your butt and drive your hips towards the floor
  • Hold the stretch, which you will feel in your quad, for 1-2 minutes on each leg

Low Back

  • Lie down on your back and form a T with your arms
  • Keep your shoulders down on the floor
  • Lift your knees up and lower them away from your left arm
  • Hold the stretch for 1-2 minutes

Pigeon

  • Get down on all fours
  • Bring your right foot underneath you and bend forward—go as far as you feel comfortable
  • Reach out in front of you with your hands
  • Hold the stretch for 1-2 minutes

Chest

  • Grab on to a rod or broom stick
  • Pull the stick behind your head; only go as far as you can comfortably hold this stretch
  • Hold the stretch for 1-2 minutes

Looking for more fitness challenges? Check out our other plans:

The 28-Day Squat Challenge
The 30-Day Walking Challenge
The 28-Day Run-Yoga-Meditation Challenge
The 30-Day Plank Challenge
The 30-Day High Intensity Interval Training Challenge

Infographics designed by Tierra Wilson

About the Author

Erik Taylor
Erik Taylor

Erik is a NASM-certified trainer who works with clients online to build their fitness and nutrition plans. He works with people at all levels, from first-time exercisers to weekend warriors and endurance athletes. Erik lives in one of the beach cities of Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters. Connect with Erik on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat (eriktaylorsfit) and Taylorsfitness.com.

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27 responses to “The 30-Day Strength-Building Challenge for Beginners”

  1. Avatar gwendt01 says:

    Hi Erik,
    Very good article. Very good for beginners. My trainer started me out exactly like this and I use this routine after long periods that I can’t train properly. Hopefully more people that are interested in starting workouts will read this and benefit.

  2. Avatar ron says:

    Hey! I’m not training for climbing Mt.Everest, I an 81 year old with osteoarthritis and some coronary artery disease. Anything for us? A short walk is about all I do.

    • Avatar gwendt01 says:

      Ron,
      First see your doctor. Light cardio may help your heart more than strength training. More, longer walks or maybe bike riding.
      That being said I am 62 and started training 4 years ago. My trainer started me out exactly this way After 2 years I could press my body weight and ran a half marathon. anything is possible

  3. Avatar SeattleKatie says:

    Erik, could you advise on the weights you would recommend for a 5’1″ girl who is beginning (which weight amounts for each week)? I have a set of 5 pound dumbbells but would need to purchase the other sizes for my home gym.

  4. Avatar Nancy Sawyer says:

    My concern with this challenge as well as the yoga, meditate, run/walk challenge is that many of these exercises are not beginner exercises. I almost stopped doing the yoga because the video that i followed had many poses that, to me, were painful. Like Ron I have various physical issues ( bad knees) and so squats are not an option….How about a challenge for those of us who want a challenge but for true beginners with physical issues. . i don’t know how to modify these exercises and it would be helpful if this was explained.

    • Avatar gwendt01 says:

      Nancy,
      These exercises are very much fo beginners. Start with no weights and add the small dumbbell weights as you progress. if you can’t perform the exercise for a full number of reps work up to it. Form is everything. Keep you back arched. Use you abs. For the Plank start on your knees then work up to being on your toes then work up to up to the plank on your hands.
      My best advice is to find a good trainer that does start you out like this and advances you slowly. If a trainer starts you out with weights – find another trainer.

  5. Avatar G8r.Ray says:

    Why are there no replies to the great questions raised by the commenters? Some of those question comments are about two weeks old? Even a link to another article or a promised future article would be helpful.

  6. Avatar Shawn Merrill says:

    When I clicked on the link for the 5-minute warm-up, I get a message stating the page cannot be found

  7. Avatar FSUNole says:

    Might be a silly question but I am extremely new. What does 3 x 5 reps? Does this mean 3lbs with 5 reps, 3 reps with 5lbs, or something else entirely?

  8. Avatar Cindy Kelly says:

    Is it possible to get a .pdf of “How to Perform the Strength-Training Exercises”? When I try to copy/paste it, the image is very distorted. I’d like to have a print out of the visuals on the exercises so I can refer to it while doing the challenge.

    • Avatar Brooklynn says:

      If you have an iphone, you can screenshot the pictures on this article by pressing the top button and the home button, or by pressing your finger on the picture until an option bar pops up and you can save the image that way. This is how I do it because I use my phone for music while I work out anyway, and you can just refer to it in your photo album whenever you need to. Hope this helps

  9. Avatar Lisa says:

    Hi
    another newbie question here…..what does cardio 20 mins….10 mins mobility mean. I see some mobility exercises above but they read more like stretching exercises. ….we loved the strength training so far but need some guidance on the cardio part

    Thanks in advance for any help

    • Avatar Linda Taylor says:

      Hi Lisa, the article recommends that you do 20 minutes of cardio ie. Walking, jumping jacks, riding a bike or going on cardio equipment at you gym some run even.
      As for the mobility section that is stretching, so log it as yoga.

  10. Avatar kalokagathia says:

    Why on earth would you make your “printable document” with a dark background??

  11. Avatar Ronald Touchet says:

    My Goal is to actually gain about 20 pounds, since I am a bit underweight. I know this could easily be done with cheese balls, soda and making the only place i press my butt my armchair. Along with a 3000 calorie diet of balanced nutrition, I am determined to get into a good exercise routine. I’ve already gained about five pounds and have been doing a routine of my own devising for about three weeks. I find this one to feel much nicer. Thank you for this. I do wonder if you have a specific warm up and cool down recommendations for this?

  12. Avatar Julie says:

    I was trying to log these exercises into MFP, but most of them didn’t show up. Did anyone else work through this and know what to enter? How do I know about calorie burn, etc.

    • Avatar Presto0705 says:

      Julie, I have the same question. Did anyone answer you?

    • Avatar maceelaine says:

      Agreed! I find it very funny that it’s an MFP article but no one put it in the MFP exercise database.

    • Avatar Linda Taylor says:

      Hi Julie, I log the mobility workouts as yoga. The cardio depending on what I do (walk, run, jumping jacks). I believe they added planking. I select weight training for the workout. I am sorry that I did not read this comments sooner. I hope this helps. I am starting this in September my self.

  13. Avatar Charlie Hogsett says:

    Why such dark ink? This document uses about 500 pages of ink to print 6 pages.

  14. Avatar Linda Taylor says:

    I am starting this challenge in September, who’s with me? Find me on MFP if you want to team up.

  15. Avatar Cis says:

    Is there a printable version of the “How to Perform the Strength-Training Exercises?”

  16. Avatar Danielle says:

    Any suggestions for how to progress this routine once you’ve finished the challenge? Would it be beneficial to simply repeat the same routine?

  17. Avatar Ana McDonald says:

    How long do we hold the position in the beginning? For example, in the bird dog (Day 1, Exercise 1), how many seconds should I hold it? Is there a magic number or should I just do it for as long as possible?

  18. Avatar Danny Simion says:

    I like this! Seems doable and not at all intimidating. I shall try!

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