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New to strength training? Ease into it with this 31-day plan

Learn the basics and start building muscle mass with this one-month plan for beginners.

Are you up for a 31-day challenge? Join us on the START Today Facebook group for daily tips and motivation, to connect with others following the plan, and to get real-time advice from trainer Stephanie Mansour!

Many people assume the main reason to incorporate strength training into their routine is to tone the body.

While strength training increases muscle mass that can lead to tighter, toned muscles, it’s far from the only benefit.

Strength training exercises also improve bone density and increase flexibility in the joints. Building strength in your muscles also helps improve balance, speed up the metabolism, and burn calories. Muscle mass also decreases naturally with age, so as you get older incorporating strength training workouts into your regimen is a good idea.

Some of my clients blame strength training for causing injuries — and when done improperly or with too weights that are too heavy, strength training can definitely cause pain in the body. But strength training has been largely associated with preventing injury. That’s why I designed this beginner’s strength training routine with little to no impact (no jumps or weird body positions!) to help you ease into it properly.

A 31-day strength-training plan for beginners

TODAY Illustration

These exercises can be performed with just your own body weight. Focusing on form and being mindful of every move will help you perform these exercises properly and prevent injury, not only while exercising but while performing everyday activities, too. Loading the dishwasher, going up stairs, bending down to pick up a child, and even putting groceries away or doing laundry will become easier to do!

Each exercise will be performed 10 times, and then repeated for a total of three rounds. For example, on upper body days, you’ll do every exercise 10 times, and then once you’ve finished one round, you’ll complete two more rounds.

If you don’t have dumbbells for the upper body exercises, you can grab water bottles or soup cans. I recommend starting with 3-pound dumbbells, unless you’ve used weights before and feel comfortable with 5-pound weights. For upper body and core, start with 10 repetitions. Then, to make things more challenging after a couple of weeks, increase to 15 repetitions.

For lower body, I’ve provided two options: The ultra beginner and the beginner. Start with the ultra beginner version for a couple of weeks, and then try the beginner version. Or, if any of the beginner exercises don’t feel right for your knees, simply continue on with the ultra beginner routine.

In addition to the strength training workout routine, we’ll also add in 20-minute walks to help with cardiovascular shape and mobility.

Download a printable calendar here.

Day 1: Upper Body

Day 2: Walk

Day 3: Lower Body

Day 4: Walk

Day 5: Core

Day 6: Walk

Day 7: Upper Body & Lower Body

Day 8: Walk

Day 9: Core

Day 10: Walk

Day 11: Upper Body & Lower Body

Day 12: Walk

Day 13: Upper Body & Core

Day 14: Walk

Day 15: Lower Body & Core

Day 16: Walk

Day 17: Upper Body & Lower Body & Core

Day 18: Walk

Day 19: Walk

Day 20: Upper Body & Lower Body & Core

Day 21: Walk

Day 22: Walk

Day 23: Upper Body & Lower Body & Core

Day 24: Walk

Day 25: Upper Body & Lower Body & Core

Day 26: Walk

Day 27: Walk

Day 28: Upper Body & Lower Body & Core

Day 29: Walk

Day 30: Upper Body & Lower Body & Core

Day 31: Walk

Upper body routine

Bicep curl

Grab your dumbbells and start with your arms hanging by your sides. Hug your elbows in towards the side of your body, and then curl the weights up towards your shoulders. Slowly lower them back down. Keep pressing the elbows in towards your side, and be careful not to let your arms swing. If your arms are swinging, you may be using too heavy of weights.

Overhead press

Stand with your feet as wide as the shoulders and hold one dumbbell in each hand. Bring the dumbbells up to a goal post position at shoulder height. Press the weights up towards the ceiling, so that they are slightly in front of your head (just enough so you can see the weights with your eyes without looking up with your neck). Relax the neck and keep your shoulders down away from the ears. Bring the weights back to the goal post position.

Tricep kickbacks

Holding a weight in each hand, hinge forward at the hips with a flat back. Hug your elbows in toward your sides, and kick the weight toward the back of the room by moving the arm below the elbow only. Feel the back of your arm tighten as you press the arm back, and then release it back to the starting position.

Hug a tree

Hold the weights out to your sides at shoulder height, parallel to the floor. Relax the shoulders down, and then pull the arms toward the front of you as if you’re hugging a tree. Keep the elbows level with your arms — don’t let them dip down — and be conscious of the shoulders starting to raise up. If this happens, it means the weight is too heavy or you’re too fatigued, so you can either perform less reps or decrease the weights.

Lower body routine

Standing leg lifts (ultra beginner)

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Point your right foot in front of you and squeeze the quad. Lift the leg up almost as high as your hip, and then lower it down. Repeat 10 times and then switch to the left leg.

Standing side leg raises (ultra beginner)

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and step the right foot to the right so that your toe is resting on the ground and your weight is in the left foot. Point the foot and engage the quad. Lift the leg up as high as the hip, and lower it down. Repeat 10 times, and then switch to the left leg.

Modified squat (ultra beginner)

Holding onto a counter, chair or table with one hand for balance, step the feet out as wide as the shoulders. Sit your glutes back and then bend your knees to lower into a half squat. Keep the knees over the toes and pull the abs in. Press down through the heels to stand back up.

Side Lunge (beginner)

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and then step your right foot a few feet to the right as you bend the right knee. Keep the left leg straight, and sink back into your right glute. Press down through the right heel to come up to the starting position. Repeat 10 times and then switch sides.

Stationary lunge (beginner)

Stand with your feet as wide as your hips and your hands on your hips. Step your left foot back a few feet. This is your starting position. Bend the right knee so that it is over the right ankle, and bend your left knee so that the knee reaches down towards the ground. Look in the mirror and make sure your spine stays straight up and down and that you’re not leaning forward. Press down through the front heel to come up to the starting position. Repeat this 10 times then switch sides.

Squat (beginner)

Begin standing with your feet as wide as the shoulders. Then press your glutes back as you bend your knees pretending that you’re sitting back into a chair. Press down through the heels to come up.

Calf Raises (all levels)

Stand with your feet as wide as your hips. Come up onto the toes to lift the heels off of the ground. Then lower the heels down. Repeat 10 times.

Core routine

Crunch

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor a few inches in front of your butt. Place your hands behind your head with the elbows open wide. Pull your naval in and gently press your low back into the ground. Curl up with your head, neck and chest and pretend that you’re holding an egg between your chin and your chest and you don’t want to crack it! From here, curl up as high as you can lifting the shoulder blades off of the ground. Exhale as you come up, and inhale as you lower down.

Glute bridge

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Keeping your heels on the ground, lift your hips up and squeeze your glutes. Pull your naval in towards your spine, and slowly lower down one vertebra at a time.

Bicycle abs

From the crunch position, bring your knees up into a table-top position. Curl up with your head, neck and chest. Then bring your left knee in as you extend your right leg straight out on a diagonal. Curl your right elbow toward your left knee, and then switch to curl the left elbow towards the right knee as you switch the legs.

Double leg lift

Start lying down on your back with your arms flat by your sides and your legs extended. Lift the legs up together, hugging the inner thighs in, and point the feet up toward the ceiling. This is the starting position. Slowly lower the legs down a few feet (or as far as you can without letting the back pop off of the ground). Pull the naval in toward the spine to prevent your back from arching. Use the abs to pull your legs back to the starting position.

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