Fitness is a journey. But many times we’re led to believe it’s simply a means to an end, such as reaching a different pants size or smaller number on the scale. As we head into the busy holiday season and wrap up another year, it’s the perfect time to ease up on theses destination-type goals and instead celebrate little victories. How far have you come already? Do you have more balance? More strength?
Here are five must-do moves to include in your workouts this month (and as long as you want!) to help you recognize those smaller improvements, and set your sites on a stronger, happier, healthier life.
5 Telling Moves
Most of these movements probably look and sound familiar, but do me a favor and read the full descriptions and star-tracking recommendations before tackling them yourselves. I’ve added a few variations and modification options so you make sure to start safely, and progress regularly!
1. Floating Lunges (30 sec)
Begin with your feet together and then step one foot forward, being careful to keep your weight in the heel of your front foot as you lower down into the lunge. Push through the heel of the front foot to pass through the starting position and perform a reverse lunge. Ideally, your goal is to “float” from the front to the back lunge without stopping in the center, and allow the knee of the back leg to gently touch the floor with each lunge. Perform the floating lunge for 30 seconds, with the right leg leading, and count the number of times the knee touches the floor. Rest for 30 seconds and then repeat with the left leg. Watch the floating lunge here.
You earn a star for progress if you increase the number of repetitions completed during those 30 seconds or increase your range of motion (e.g. if you can’t touch the floor with your knee when you begin, and now you can, even for one rep) or level of difficulty (like adding the float part of the lunge, or making that balance challenge even harder with a knee lift between the front and back lunge). You win each way!
2. Push-Ups (30 sec)
Begin in a high push-up position on the floor. Bend your elbows to lower your chest toward the floor. Perform push-ups for 30 seconds and count each time your chest comes fist-distance away from the floor. If you are not quite ready for a push-up, find a Smith Machine and place the bar at chest height, allowing yourself to perform an elevated push-up. As you become stronger, lower the bar down a notch. Watch the classic push-up here.
You earn a star for progress if you increase the number of repetitions or your difficulty level (e.g. you progress from an elevated push-up to a floor push-up).
3. Squat Jumps (1 min)
Get started by having a seat on a sturdy chair or box with your feet a bit wider than hip distance. The “seat” should be high enough to allow your knees, when seated, to be at hip height or slightly below—and far enough in front of you to keep your weight in your heels as you rock up to standing position.
For each squat jump, push through your heels to explode up, leave the floor, and then gently land. During the landing, you will sit back and lightly touch the seat, hovering for a count of two. Then, repeat. Perform the jumps for 1 minute. Count each time your glutes successfully touch and hold the bottom position. Of course, if jumping is not an option for you yet, you may complete this test with an explosive squat to calf raise, or complete the squat by itself. Watch a classic squat jump (without the box) here.
You earn a star for progress if you increase the number of repetitions or your difficulty level (e.g. you progress from a standard squat to squat-to-calf-raise.)
4. Pull-Ups (1 min)
Pull-ups may be performed on an assisted pull-up machine, with a Smith Machine, or in a more traditional way with a pull-up bar. Begin with your arms a bit wider than shoulder distance. Bend your elbows to bring your chest toward the bar. If using the assisted pull-up machine, note the weight you use initially and gauge progress as you reduce the amount of weight. If using the Smith Machine, begin with the bar at chest height, walk your legs out so you are in a reverse plank. To progress, lower the bar. Watch a classic pull-up here, your ultimate goal.
You earn a star for progress if you increase the number of repetitions or your difficulty level (e.g. you lower the bar on the Smith Machine or decrease weight on the assisted pull-up machine).
5. Plank Hold (1 min)
Come to your forearms with your elbows in line with your shoulders. Extend your legs out behind you. See how long you can hold the plank without sinking through your midsection or raising your hips. If you’re not quite ready for a full plank, perform a knee plank. Watch a proper plank set-up here.
You earn a star for progress if you increase the length of the hold or your difficulty level (e.g. you’ve reached the max of one minute, so you add a 1-leg lift or you move from knee plank to a few seconds in full plank).
To really check progress, it’s essential to repeat the experience. If you perform and record your scores for the first time on a Tuesday, you should try the following Tuesday again. If you’d prefer to check your improvement more than once a week, that’s fine, too! Just ensure you space out your attempts equally and give yourself at least one day of rest in between attempts. Don’t forget to always do the exercises in the same order and at the same point in your overall workout. We suggest a short warm-up, followed by the “test” exercises while you’re fresh. Then, proceed with the rest of your workout.
If you’ve been working out a while, the next time you perform the exercises, think back to how these exercises felt when you first got started. Pat yourself on the back for how far you’ve come! And, as you continue to include the sequence in your rotation, know that you may reach a plateau (a week where your numbers don’t change). That’s OK! Look back at the progress from the week or month prior and remember, the stronger you get, the harder it will be to see significant improvements using the same test. It may be time to graduate to new challenges. Now, that’s something to celebrate!
Plot your progress.
We’ve created this Gold Star Moves progress check chart to make it a little more fun. You earn 1 gold star (or a check, if you don’t have any stars handy) for making it happen. (That’s right, just taking the time to check your progress and perform these exercises earns you credit.) Then, you can earn another gold star for making progress in any of the ways listed above.
This might take you back in time to when your chore chart hung with pride on the refrigerator. Take the same approach your parents did back in the day and turn those stars into rewards. Set your sites and attach gold star values to a few fun treats for motivation. Try to avoid rewarding yourself with food and instead schedule a date night, purchase a new pair of running shoes, give yourself time for a mani/pedi, or even a massage—you get the idea. You’ve earned it.