Heart Health and the Importance of Strength Training

You know that strength training can help you develop strong muscles and bones, but did you know that it can make your heart healthier too? Strength training or resistance training has been shown to lower resting heart rate and improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels. And circuit training specifically (which we will be doing), has been proven to lower resting blood pressure levels. Plus, the stronger your muscles, the less taxing it is on your heart when you do daily activities such as lifting heavy objects.

If you think about it, the heart itself is a muscle, so challenging it with strength training only makes sense!

Women sometimes worry that strength training will cause them to bulk up, but I can assure you that unless you are actively seeking to get huge in a body-building type of way (and plan to take tons of drugs supplements), you will be fine.

This week we will be replacing 3 cardio days with strength & flexibility days.



On your three cardio days, I want you to do this:

-5 minute warmup at an RPE of 3

15 minute workout at a moderate pace RPE 5-6

-5 minute cooldown at an RPE of 3

Your first strength workout is below. Before you get started though, here are a few tips to get the most out of your workouts.
-Warmups should be dynamic enough to get your heart rate up. Perform 15 repetitions of each.
-All core and strength exercises should be performed with 8-12 repetitions in a circuit format. That means, do all of the exercises in a row without taking a break. Rest for 2 minutes, then do them all again.
-Use slow and controlled movements during the strength exercises.
-Exhale during the hardest part of the movement, and inhale on the release. Don’t hold your breath!
-Use proper technique. Have someone watch you or perform exercises in front of a mirror until you are comfortable with the movements.
-All stretches should be held for 30-60 seconds. Don’t forget to breathe and relax into the stretch.
-Don’t bounce, and don’t hold your breath.

All of our circuit workouts are designed to be done without the need for a gym or even any equipment. We will use your own body weight to challenge your muscles. Every workout will follow the same pattern. We will begin with a dynamic warmup, then a few core exercises. Next comes the strength circuit. I encourage you to try going through it twice (you can add a third circuit if you feel up to it). We will finish up with static stretching. There will also be optional foam rolling exercises at the end for those of you who decided to purchase a foam roller.

Ready to get started? Here we go!

Dynamic Warmup

dynamic warmup arm circles
Make huge circles with your arms as fast as you can. Do 15 forward, then 15 backwards.

jumping jacks
Do 15 jumping jacks. Make them big, remember this is a dynamic warmup!

dynamic warmup frankenstein walk
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step forward with your right foot and kick your left foot as high as possible while reaching foward with your right hand to meet your left foot. Repeat with opposite leg and hand. Continue alternating legs for 15 repetitions.

bodyweight squats
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Pushing your hips back, lower your body into a sitting position. Keep your butt back and your head up. Make sure to keep your knees over your ankles. Don’t let your knees go forward past your toes. Pause at the bottom, then come up and repeat 15 times.

Core Exercises

iso abs core exercise
This exercise is designed to teach you how to use your core muscles correctly. Lying on your back with your legs bent and feet flat, place your hands over your bellybutton. Breathe normally, and as you exhale, bring your bellybutton towards your spine and hold it. Don’t allow any other part of your body to move. Release, inhale, then repeat on the exhale. Do 12 repetitions. Once you learn how to engage your core like this, you should be able to do so during every exercise that you perform. This will protect you from injury and give you better results. If I was standing with you while you were exercising, I would be reminding you to “pull your bellybutton in” during each exercise.

glute bridge core exercise
Lie face up with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart. With feet flat on the ground, raise your body off the ground. Push through the heels and hold at the top for one second. Lower back down slowly and repeat.

core exercise single leg stand
Standing tall, place hands on hips and look straight ahead. Lift one foot slightly off the ground and hold your balance. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch to other foot.

Strength Exercises

bodyweight squat
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Pushing your hips back, lower your body into a sitting position. Keep your butt back and your head up. Make sure to keep your knees over your ankles. Don’t let your knees go forward past your toes. Pause at the bottom, then come up and repeat.

push up progression

This photo shows a push up progression from easiest to hardest. Choose the position in which you can do at least 8 push ups, but it is difficult to do 12. Hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

how to lunge
Step left foot out in front of you and lower your body toward the ground to form a right angle as shown above. Your right knee should come within about an inch from the ground. Make sure to keep head and shoulders upright. Pause for one second, then push up to starting position and repeat. Do all reps on one side before switching legs.

tricep dips exercise
From a sitting position, place arms behind you with finger pointing forwards. Walk feet forward until your legs are extended as above. Lower body down towards the ground, then push up through your palms, squeezing your triceps. Repeat.

single leg reach exercise
Stand on your left foot with your knee slightly bent. Bending at the hips, extend your right leg back behind you and your right arm towards the ground in front of you. Touch the ground with the fingers on your right hand and come back up to balance on your left leg. Do all repetitions on one side before switching legs.

cobra exercise
Lie face down with your hands directly under your shoulders. Legs should be straight out with toes pointed. Gently exhale, pull your bellybutton towards your spine and push your hips into the floor. With your shoulders pressed down and back, curl your chest away from the floor. Hold for 15-30 seconds, then gently lower yourself down, lengthening the spine. Repeat. (This exercise should not hurt your back! If it does, try not extending as far. If it still hurts, stop.)


shoulder stretch
From a seated position, extend your right arm across your body in a straight line. Reach your left arm up and pull gently back on your right arm, stretching the shoulder. Hold for 30-60 seconds then repeat with other arm.

overhead tricep stretch
From a seated position, bring your left arm backwards and your right arm overhead. Gently pull down and back on your left arm, stretching the tricep. Keep your posture nice and tall while doing this stretch. Hold for 30-60 seconds then repeat with other arm.

door chest stretch
Standing in a doorway, place hands on either side of the doorway at chest level. Take one step forward and allow the chest to stretch. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

lower back stretch
From a seated position, keep left leg out straight and cross right leg over. Twist your body so that your left arm is resting on the outside of your right leg. Hold for 30-60 seconds then repeat on opposite side.

kneeling hip flexor stretch progression
From a kneeling position, bring left leg out front with foot flat on the ground. Push body forward through the hips, stretching that right hip flexor. Hold for 30 seconds, then bring right arm straight up, slightly twisting body to the right and leaning to the left to go further into the stretch. Hold for 20 more seconds then repeat process on opposite side.

seated hamstring stretch
From a seated position, extend left leg out front and bring right foot towards left thigh. Reach forward with your left arm as far as possible while keeping leg straight. Hold for 30-60 seconds then repeat on opposite leg.

glute stretch
From a kneeling position, cross right leg in front of body while extending left leg back. Place hands on floor and sink into the stretch. You can extend even further into the stretch by walking hands out front and bringing chest towards the floor. Hold for 30-60 seconds then repeat on opposite side.

child's pose
From a kneeling position, bring your arms out in front of you, sink your hips back into your heels, and rest your chest on your knees. Sink into the pose and relax all of your muscles. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

Foam Roller (optional)

foam roller it band
Lie on your right side and place your right hip onto the foam roller. Place your hands on the floor for support. Cross your left leg over your right with foot flat on the floor. Roll from your hip towards your knee in small movements. If you come across a spot that is particularly painful, hold the position for 30 seconds before moving on. Repeat on opposite side.

foam rolling the piriformis
Sit on foam roller with it positioned under your right glute. Cross your right leg over your left and lean into the muscle. Roll back and forth in small movements while shifting your body slightly to roll all of the muscle. If you find a spot that is particularly painful, hold for 30 seconds before continuing. Repeat on opposite leg.

foam rolling the back
Lie faceup with foam roller under your upper back and feet flat on the floor. Roll from the top of your back to the middle of your back in small movements with your hips elevated off the floor. If you find a spot that is particularly painful, hold for 30 seconds before moving on. Be sure not to roll your lower back as this could cause injury.

And there you have it! Your first strength workout. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!

  • Nour Zibdeh, RD January 19, 2012 at 8:43 am

    I have been recently introduced to the foam roller by one of the instructors in my gym. I love it. I use it over my gluts and thighs because that’s where I tend to get nerve pain. Kind of self-massage, although I would always take a real massage!

  • Adrienne January 19, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    I love circuit training! Great examples!

  • eatingRD January 19, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Great series of strength training! I enjoy strength training in the form of reformer pilates. I love how it requires so much core work at the same time. Foam rolling is amazing! I try to do that after rides and before bed each night. Helps a lot.

  • janetha January 20, 2012 at 12:43 am

    You are so cute with all your moves! I love strength training. I wish I could only do that and never do cardio again! xo

  • Rob January 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    was thinking of skipping the gym and just doing some resistance band stuff at home tonight… will have to maybe work some of this in to it as well.

  • Stephanie January 20, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Look at you! So strong + inspiring! I always “forget” about strength training, but I know it’s important. Gotta work it in. Thanks for the motivation.

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