July 6, 2014 at 10:10 AM ET
Ah, summer! That means family picnics, weddings, vacations and fun in the sun. But it also means bathing suits, shorts, and strapless dresses! If you’ve been less active than you’d hoped to be during the cold winter months, you may notice a little muscle loss or weight gain. Don’t let that get you down! I’ve come up with a simple 6-week plan for you to shed the winter weight and look (and feel) fabulous. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of summer left. But you’ll have to start now!
The best thing about it is that you can do it outside or in the comfort of your own home. No gym necessary!
Weeks 1 & 2: Keep it basic
Start with 5 simple body weight exercises that will strengthen your major muscle groups. Do 12 repetitions of each exercise and repeat for 3 to 4 sets. Rest for about one minute in between sets in order to keep your heart rate slightly elevated.
In addition to the 3 to 4 days of body weight exercises (resistance training) you should also incorporate 1 to 2 days of moderate cardiovascular exercise. Go for a bike ride, take a walk, or go swimming. Make sure you are working hard enough to elevate your heart rate. Rule of thumb: You should be able to talk but not sing.
Frequency: Perform this routine 3 to 4 days a week.
Weeks 3 & 4: Increase intensity and combine muscle groups
Now that your body has adjusted to exercise again, start to increase your intensity. Remember that the greater your muscle mass, the more calories you will burn at rest. Do 2 to 3 sets of 12 repetitions of the following.
Suggested exercises: In order to work more muscle groups, start mixing and matching different exercises from week one to make combo moves. For example, grab two dumbbells and hold them at your shoulders. Then bend down into a normal squat. As you return to standing, push the dumbbells overhead into a shoulder press.
Other suggested combinations: Lunge with bicep curl, chest press on a stability ball, bent-over row with tricep extension, plank/push-up, and back bridge.
For those who still need cardiovascular exercise, add 1 to 2 days of interval training. You can pick any mode of cardio training (bike, run, walk, etc.). Perform 1 minute at a comfortable level or intensity, and then perform 1 minute at a high intensity. Switch between comfortable and high levels for no more than 20 minutes. Make sure you do a 3 to 5 minute warm-up and cool down.
Frequency: Perform four days of resistance training, increasing the intensity of the exercises by adding some hand weights when appropriate.
Weeks 5 & 6: Circuit training
For the final two weeks, really try to increase your intensity. You can do that by practicing circuit training.
Suggested exercises: Choose 6 to 8 resistance exercises from weeks 1 through 4, being sure to include an exercise for each major muscle group. Perform one exercise for 30 to 60 seconds, being careful to maintain proper form throughout the exercise. This is not about how fast you can perform each exercise. Once you are done with your first strength exercise, move straight into a 1-minute cardio burst by either jumping rope, jogging in place, doing jumping jacks or any cardio exercise that you enjoy. After a minute of cardio, immediately move back into your next strength exercise. After you complete all of your resistance and cardio intervals, take a break and repeat if desired.
Frequency: Practice this routine 3 to 4 days a week.
In addition to following this 6-week plan for getting in shape, make sure you find activities that you enjoy doing during the summer months. Join a volleyball league, go for walks on the beach, garden, take the kids swimming, start a neighborhood baseball game. These fun activities are just as important as “exercise” for staying in shape. Just get out and be active in any way you can!
Melissa Hendricks, is the Manager of the Cleveland Clinic Fitness Centers. Read more of her fitness advice on ClevelandClinicWellness.com.