Strong, Fast, and Fit: Build Your Base (Month 1)

By Andrew Heffernan |

Psychologists call it decision fatigue: Faced with too many options, we lose the ability to make choices at all. Starting a new fitness routine can quickly trigger this feeling of paralysis. Should I lift weights? Am I supposed to do cardio? Cycle, run, swim, row? What about plyometrics, Gyrotonic exercises, kettlebells, yoga, Pilates? So many choices, so little time and energy.

Most fitness novices fall into the same trap. “They do too much, too fast,” says Troy Jacobson, senior national director of Endurance Sports Training at Life Time. Brimming with enthusiasm, newbies often burn out quickly — or give up before they really even get going.

In the beginning, your goal should be simple: “To prepare your body to accept higher workloads in a safe and productive manner,” says Jacobson, who designs programs for just-off-the-couchers and aspiring Ironman champions alike. And “beginning” can mean exercising for the first time in your life, returning to fitness after a hiatus, embarking on a new sport, or training to reach a personal record.

Preparing your body means doing more, slowly. You’ll get better, lay the groundwork for tougher workouts ahead, and avoid injury and burnout — a common result of jumping into a new program too fast and too hard.

This 28-day workout plan is the first in a half-year program, designed by Jacobson, that will roll out in the next five issues of Experience Life. Each monthlong regimen includes a three-week ramp-up in intensity followed by a week of recovery, each month building on the one before.

“The whole program is based on a progression that leverages the concept of nonlinear periodization,” says Jacobson. That means varying your workouts subtly over the course of each week while building slowly, month by month, toward the long-term goal of greater vitality and fitness. (For more details on periodization and the program, see “Strong, Fast, and Fit: Your 2017 Action Plan“.)

Month 1 Overview

For the next month, your workout schedule will look like this:

  1. Find your zone. Determine your work zones by figuring out your anaerobic threshold (for a DIY method, see “How to Calculate Your Anaerobic Threshold“) or by undergoing an individualized metabolic test (available at better health clubs). You can also use the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale, a subjective-effort scale consisting of five zones, as defined here:

The Workouts

For both strength workouts, perform three rounds of Circuit 1, then perform three rounds of Circuit 2. Rest 15 seconds between exercises and one minute between rounds. Perform only as many good-form reps as possible in the time allotted.

Strength Workout A

A. Pushups: 20 secondsB. Prisoner : 20 secondsC. Plank: 20 seconds

A. Leg Lifts: 20 secondsB. Seated Dumbbell Overhead Presses: 20 secondsC. Static Lunges (left leg forward): 20 secondsD. Static Lunges (right leg forward): 20 seconds

Strength Workout B

A. Pushups: 30 secondsB. Prisoner Squats: 30 secondsC. : 30 seconds

A. Leg Lifts: 30 secondsB. Self-Assisted Pull-ups: 30 secondsC. Static Lunges (left leg forward): 30 secondsD. Static Lunges (right leg forward): 30 seconds

Cardio Workout A

Perform a cardiovascular exercise you enjoy — running, brisk walking, cycling, swimming, rowing, or other — at a steady state for 20 to 30 minutes.

Cardio Workout B

Perform a cardiovascular exercise you enjoy at a steady state for 25 to 35 minutes.

Cardio Workout C

Warm up for 10 minutes on a cardiovascular-exercise machine you enjoy, slowly elevating your intensity until you reach zone 3 or 4. Then, perform a one-minute sprint interval in zone 4. Rest for one minute. Repeat this work–rest cycle at least five times. When you’re finished, cool down for 10 minutes.

Month 1 Exercises


  1. Hold this position without moving for the prescribed time period.

Prisoner Squat

  1. If the movement feels awkward, try it with your heels elevated on 5-pound plates.

Static Lunge

  1. Complete all reps with your right foot forward before switching to your left.


  1. Too tough? Perform the exercise with your hands elevated on a box, table, or bench.

Self-Assisted Pull-Up

  1. Hold the top position for a one-count, then slowly lower yourself back down to the bench, bending your legs slightly until your arms extend fully. Repeat for the prescribed time period.

Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press

  1. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position and repeat.

Leg Lift

  1. Return to the starting position and alternate legs for the duration of the set.

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