Get Stronger and Fitter in Four Weeks With These Progressively Tougher Exercise Moves

Way to go, goal-getters! You took the inspo from our month-long challenge to level up your strength and endurance. Here’s where your work pays off.

Are we there yet? Yes. We. Are. You’ve been taking incremental steps—and reps!—since starting this four-week fitness challenge in Week 1 and they’re about to add up to a sum that’s greater than its parts.

“Every week of this challenge, you’ve been building your endurance and strength safely and progressively,” says Erin Calderone, M.S., an associate professor of kinesiology at Glendale Community College in California who created this better-body blueprint. Check off all your workouts in this final week of training and, right on schedule, you’ll bank 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise and two sessions of muscle-strengthening. That was Calderone’s plan all along: You’ve just hit the weekly government recommendations for exercise.

Back at the starting line, you completed a pre-test to see how you fared with each of your three basic strength exercises. This gave you an idea as to where you stood with key fitness metrics, including your overall ability to balance (one-legged balance), your upper body strength (push-ups), and your core strength (forearm planks). You finished by doing a one-mile walk and recording your time and postworkout heart rate—both yardsticks of your cardio fitness. Dig up those results and have them handy, because at the end of this week you’ll retest yourself and measure your progress.

“I help all my clients keep track of their metrics,” says Greg Hasberry, owner of Elite Fitness & Figure training studio in Birmingham, AL, who has been your master motivator these past few weeks—and a kidney disease survivor for over a decade. “Every month or two, if they lose steam, we look over their fitness history together. That usually inspires them to continue with renewed interest.”

Try it—you just might inspire yourself to keep going, too.

Why Hasberry Still Helps to Fight Kidney Disease

Having been at the peak of fitness as a powerlifter, Hasberry got a crash course in what living with a chronic condition was like when he was blindsided by kidney disease. The years he spent on dialysis taught him what a battle it can be to do even the most simple workout when dealing with fatigue and regular medical treatments.

So, after receiving a life-saving kidney transplant seven years ago, Hasberry pledged to pay it forward. He and the friend who donated a kidney to him put out the call to raise funds for transplants. And Hasberry has continued sharing his experience with kidney disease to highlight the need for kidney donors and education surrounding the process.

“The founders of NowIncluded requested me as a panelist to help bring health and healthcare awareness to the Black community,” says Hasberry of working with the advocacy group that seeks to build “healthier communities of color” through greater access to information. He was happy to oblige and put a face on a sobering statistic about kidney disease.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, Black Americans are more than three times as likely to have kidney failure than white Americans. According to one study in the New England Journal of Medicine, a genetic variation more commonly found in Black Americans both accelerates kidney disease progression and increases the risk of kidney failure.

Hasberry himself only discovered that his out-of-the-blue kidney failure might have a genetic connection after his father was later diagnosed with kidney disease, too. By telling his story, he hopes to empower others with knowledge about the disease.

Week 4: Finish Strong and Mark Your Progress

Now, back to your training routine for Week 4’s final push. Check off the workouts below and you’re ready for the big reveal: Just how far your fitness level has come.

Week 4 Training Plan

Monday: Walk for 40 minutes.

Have you tried using technology to track your distance? If not, give it a go. “It’s fun to see just how far you can walk in your given time frame, and can be useful as a way to challenge yourself on future walks,” says Calderone, who recommends user-friendly apps such as MapMyWalk or Strava that rely on GPS to gauge distance.

Tuesday: Do your muscle-strengthening workout.

Give these strength moves your all this week. You’ll again perform three attempts for each exercise. As always, pay close attention to using proper form.

One-Legged Balance

Take the longest time you achieved last week and add three to five seconds to at least one (and hopefully, two) of your attempts this week. “Remember: The better your balance, the less likely you are to fall,” says Calderone.

Forearm Plank

Aim to add another five seconds to at least one of your attempts this week. “The stronger your core, the better your posture, and the less likely you are to experience back pain,” Calderone adds.

Push-Ups

Try to add one more rep to each of your three attempts this week, Calderone suggests. “Having good upper body strength is important for overall fitness and function.”

Wednesday: Walk for 35 minutes.

Play a game on this walk to help pass the time and make things interesting. Choose a point in the distance and speed up until you reach that point, then return to your regular pace. Repeat that several times during the walk and see how many “sprints” you can accumulate. Pushing your pace intermittently like this can help you increase your cardio capacity over time, Calderone explains.

Thursday: Repeat Tuesday’s strength workout.

Friday: Walk for 40 minutes.

Saturday: Walk 35 minutes.

This is your last walking workout before your retest—so it’s OK if you make it a leisurely one and save the powerwalking for Monday.

Sunday: Rest or stretch.

You can do both upper-body stretches and lower-body stretches from the American Council on Exercise. Or try these foam roller exercises for a different way to loosen up.

It’s Fitness Test Monday!

So, how much fitter did you get in four weeks? It’s time to find out. Today, you’ll be repeating the same test you did on Day 1 of Week 1, and will record your results for comparison. You’ll have one attempt at each of your strength moves, so give each one your complete focus and effort, says Calderone. Take several minutes in between moves to recover.

“See if you can enlist a friend or family member to time your one-legged balance and plank exercises for the most accurate results,” she suggests.

After you’ve completed your strength moves—in the order listed below—you’ll repeat your one-mile walk using the same course you first used during your pre-test. Make sure you’ve got all the tools you need to clock your time and review your heart rate as soon as you finish. For example, if you are using an activity tracker watch with a built-in heart rate monitor such as a Fitbit, start your timer as soon as you begin your walk. Immediately upon finishing, note both the time and your heart rate.

One-Legged Balance

Hold as long as you can, then log how long you last.

Forearm Plank

Hold as long as you can, and be sure to record your time.

Push-Ups

Perform as many as you can in a row, resting no longer than three seconds in between reps. Don’t forget to note how many you do.

Walk One Mile

At the end of your route, immediately review your time and take your heart rate.

Gauge Your Fitness Results

Compare the results of your pre-test against those of your retest—how did you do? You can use the metrics below as a guideline but the true measure of becoming fitter is simply seeing improvement. Hopefully you’re thrilled with your progress (no matter where you land on these charts)—that’s what this challenge has been all about.

One-Legged Balance

Per the normative standards, 45 seconds was the average best-try for people ages 18 to 39; the best effort was 43 seconds for ages 40 to 49; about 42 seconds for ages 50 to 59; about 33 seconds for ages 60 to 69; roughly 22 seconds for ages 70 to 79; and some 10 seconds for ages 80 and above.

Forearm Plank

Holding anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds is a solid effort, per Harvard Health Medicine.

Push-Ups

Per the Presidential Youth Fitness Program for ages 17 and up, doing seven push-ups for females and 18 push-ups for males meets the standards.

One-Mile Walk

Clocking between 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate after a brisk walk is considered a healthy range. (Your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age, per the American Heart Association.)

If you’re not satisfied with one or more of your results, think back on your journey and see where you might have gone off course. Remember: Life happens. Perhaps you got busy with family or work obligations, or maybe some of the symptoms of your chronic condition got in the way. “Everyone’s fitness journey is unique, and everyone’s body and life situation is going to be different,” says Calderone. “It takes time for to adapt to exercise, and some people take longer than others to adjust, so keep going and be patient.”

Tips to Keep the Fitness Coming

You can continue with this very training plan, repeating your Week 4 workouts to meet your recommended exercise each week. You can also incorporate some of Calderone’s suggestions below to continue leveling up your fitness.

Advanced One-Legged Balance

Now that you’ve become proficient at balancing on your dominant leg, try doing the move on the opposite leg—or simply close your eyes. “Taking away visual cues challenges your internal proprioceptors [sensory neurons in your muscles and tendons] to control your posture, and makes it harder to balance,” explains Calderone. “You can also move your non-working limbs and attempt to stay balanced: Lift your leg to the front, back, and side, or bring your arms slowly overhead or out to the side.”

You can also do little things to improve your balance throughout the day. “For example, doing step-ups on a curb or stair will work on your balance while strengthening the leg muscles, especially if you try not to hold onto a railing,” Calderone says.

Even Tougher Planks

Progressing this move is as simple as holding it for longer periods of time, or increasing its level of difficulty: If you were doing planks on your knees, for example, try them balancing on your toes with your legs fully extended. “You won’t be able to hold the more advanced version nearly as long, but don’t worry—just as you did before, you will build strength and stamina over time,” Calderone says.

Push-Ups 2.0

Keep adding one or to reps to your total each week until you’re able to do 15 continuous reps. Already there or beyond? It’s time to level up your version: If you were doing them against the kitchen counter, try moving them to the floor. If you were doing them on your knees, do them on your toes. If you were already doing them on your toes, play with the tempo: Take three seconds to lower to the bottom, then quickly press back up to the top.

One-Mile Walk With Hills

“Find a walking route with hills to increase the intensity and challenge your body in new ways,” says Calderone. “Your heart rate will increase, which helps improve cardiovascular fitness and stamina.”

Uphill walking also increases the work done by the muscles in your posterior chain—meaning, your glutes, hamstrings, and calves, Calderone adds. Walking uphill or up a flight of stairs also can boost your calorie burn by as much as 20%, which is good news if you’re looking to lose weight.

Dream Big and Chase Your Goals

No matter if you choose to repeat this challenge or move on to something else, setting goals is a good way to stay motivated and on track.

“The best goals are those that are specific and meaningful to you, so if you’re looking for the next thing to ignite your competitive spirit, choose an activity that you truly enjoy,” Calderone advises. “For example, if you’ve always wanted to try pickleball, swap one of your scheduled walk days for a pickleball lesson.”

Hasberry agrees. “I always tell my clients to pick realistic, achievable goals, and that helps keep them motivated,” he says. “I also set goals for myself to stay motivated and give myself a purpose.” Besides aiming for a bodyweight to keep himself in fighting form, this kidney disease survivor and advocate is also dreaming big. “I want to compete in some jiu-jitsu events and hopefully, one day, become a teacher myself,” he says.

Need ideas? Check back in with HealthCentral for our next Dream Big challenge, or sample any one of our past monthly goal plans!

Lara McGlashan

Meet Our Writer

Lara McGlashan

Lara McGlashan has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and writer in the health and fitness space. She is the former brand director and editor-in-chief for Oxygen magazine, and currently serves as the

https://www.healthcentral.com/article/ream-big-fitter-in-four-weeks-week-4