We’re not going to mince words: this workout isn’t for the faint of heart. You’re going to be pushing your body to all-new levels, thanks to a method called “pre-exhaust” — in plain terms, doing an easier version of an exercise right before its more advanced counterpart, with the goal of pushing you closer to the point of fatigue and therefore busting you through dead ends, strength-wise. But it also calls on the power of progression: each week you’ll add on a few more reps and sets, until the workout reaches a point where you have to increase the resistance you are using so you still feel the burn. Sound good? Then let’s do it.
Follow the exercises in the order below. Perform the prescribed amount of reps, sets, and rest for each exercise before moving to the next. Do the workout three to four times per week as part of an overall program that includes cardio and flexibility training, but be sure to leave at least 48 hours between workouts so that your muscles can fully recoup.
Week 1: Perform two sets of each pair of exercises: eight reps of the first move, followed immediately by five reps of the second. Rest for approximately 30 to 45 seconds, then repeat.
Week 2: Perform two sets of each pair of exercises: 10 reps of the first move, followed by seven reps of the second. Rest for approximately 30 to 45 seconds, then repeat.
Week 3: Perform three sets of each pair of exercises: 12 reps of the first move, followed by 10 reps of the second. Rest for approximately 45 to 60 seconds, then repeat.
Week 4: Perform three sets of each pair of exercises: 15 reps of the first move, followed by as many as you can do of the second. Rest for approximately 45 to 60 seconds, then repeat.
Space your feet shoulder-width apart, dumbbells in your hands on each side. Bend your knees and hips to lower your glutes until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Press through your heels to stand. When your reps are complete, lift the dumbbells in front of your shoulders and continue.
Tip: Try not to lean forward when you shift the dumbbells in front of your body; your weight should be in your heels.
Stand with your feet together, hands lightly on your hips. Step one leg forward and bend both knees to 90 degrees; your rear knee should be just above the floor. Complete all reps on one side, then hold a weight plate or two dumbbells overhead and finish before repeating with the other leg.
Tip: Keep your core strong to maintain a vertical torso, especially when holding weight overhead.
Face a flat bench about knee height. Put one foot on the step and extend your leg to raise your body; reverse before repeating on the same side. When your set is through, move to a slightly lower platform and do step-downs: stand near the edge as shown and bend one leg to lower the opposite heel to the ground. Repeat on the other side.
Tip: Stand near a wall or grab a partner for the step-downs — safety first!
Sit on the edge of a bench, feet planted on the ground. Bend your elbows and hold the weights so your upper arms are almost level with the floor. Extend both arms overhead at the same time, then reverse. Once you’re done, immediately start one-sided sets, doing all reps on one arm before working the other side.
Tip: Alternate which arm you start with for the one-armed presses.
Get on the floor in a push-up position with your hands just wider than your shoulders. Brace your core as you bend your arms, lowering your head toward the ground. Pause for one count, then extend back to the start. Finish your reps, then place your feet on a platform behind you and complete your set.
Tip: Don’t jut your head forward or drop your hips or chest as you descend — that’s cheating!
Put one knee and same-side hand on a bench; plant the other leg on the ground and hold a dumbbell in your free hand. Pull the weight up, leading with the elbow, until it is beside your ribcage. Reverse. Finish, then repeat on the other side. Next, stand, holding a dumbbell in each hand, and lean forward. With your palms facing forward, row the weights toward your navel.
Tip: Tuck your elbows in tight — they shouldn’t flare out to the sides.
Lie face up on a flat bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Raise your arms so your elbows are above your shoulders. Bend both arms to lower the weights to either side of your head; pause, then reverse. When your reps are through, complete your set by isolating one arm, then the other.
Tip: If you feel your elbows moving apart, forward, or back, support them by flexing your pecs.
Bring it down to the mat: lie face up, resting your arms at your sides. Lift your legs slightly from the mat to start, then raise them straight up until pointing to the ceiling. Slowly lower. When you are done your reps, move your arms so your elbows are beside your ears. Lift your arms and legs at the same time, crunching up and aiming to meet them in the centre.
Tip: Lower your legs an inch or two above the mat to amp up your abs.