I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions (too much pressure and January 1 feels like an arbitrary day to “restart”—but that’s just my opinion!). However, I am always up for a new challenge. If that involves fitness and leveling-up my overall health and wellness, definitely count me in.
I’ve learned that moving my body comes with a slew of physical benefits like reducing the risk of chronic illness and strengthening my muscles and joints, but it releases stress and consistently boosts my mood. I’ve always been a workout class enthusiast, but my motivation to get out the door on dark and cold winter days can be low. (You too?) When I had the opportunity to take on the Women’s Health 28-Day Workout Challenge (which can all be done from home with bodyweight and a set of dumbbells) before anyone else, it sounded like the perfect solution.
I committed to the 28 days of workouts, and I also set my own goals. First, I wanted to build my lower-body strength. After some lingering knee issuesI tend to avoid certain types of lower body work (looking at you, curtsy lunges), but I hoped this challenge would boost my confidence and allow me to work on mastering form and increase my leg strength.
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Second, I wanted to see if I could stay motivated while working out on my own. I tend to stick to live in-studio classes or virtual coaching, so I was curious if I could maintain my effort and drive with this new express training style. (Spoiler alert: I absolutely did.)
What is the 28-day workout challenge, exactly?
You’re in for 28 days of workouts that use bodyweight and a set of dumbbells to work the upper body, lower body, and core, as well as your cardio endurance. All workouts are 20 minutes and programmed to build muscle, alter body composition, and increase muscle definition, he says Ariel BelgraveCPT, founder of The LEAN Program fitness and nutrition coaching, and the programmer behind the challenge.
The plan consists of six work days, with each workout done once per week, and one rest day in the middle of the week. Six days a week seemed a little overwhelming at first. I told myself, “I can do anything for 20 minutes,” to push through it.
All workouts include a dynamic warm-up followed by a circuit of five exercises done at your own pace or AMRAP-style, meaning As Many Reps As Possible. In other words, you’re always competing against yourself during the short bursts of work.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the exercises are simple and easy to learn, so whether you’re a beginner or a fitness fanatic, this challenge is for you.
My 28-Day Workout Challenge Journey
Given that Belgrave’s workouts are nice and quick, they can be done any time of day that’s convenient for you. For me, I scheduled my sweat sesh after the workday and before dinner. On busier days, I knock out 20 minutes first thing in the morning. From day one to 28, here’s what I learned, the results I saw, and how I felt along the way.
20 minutes is plenty of time to feel the burn.
I know what you’re thinking: 20 minutes sounds like a breeze—how can I possibly gain muscle in such a condensed amount of time? I’m here to tell you that 20 minutes is plenty of time to Put! In! The! Work!
Because the challenge consists of bursts of work with limited rest, my heart rate was constantly elevated. After working for the designated 40 seconds, the 20 second rest between moves felt like it evaporated. Before I knew it, my recovery time was over, and I was back to knocking out reps. That said, it’s exactly how I wanted it. On days when I was tired or short on time, I maximized my workout. I know I made the most of my 20 minutes.
Plus, the program contains compound moves that work multiple muscle groups and joints at the same time. For me, the dumbbell full-body HIIT days were especially tough. Transitioning between moves that focus on cardio endurance while simultaneously torching my muscles was a definite burner, and I was fatigued by the end.
All in all, 20 minutes is longer than you think.
Consistency is key to staying motivated.
I typically attend studio classes in my fitness routine. I appreciate loud music and feed off the energy of other athletes around me, so I was skeptical if I could stay motivated working out on my own–but that was far from the truth. (Tip: The follow-along videos have music *and* Belgrave’s infectious and motivating energy.)
The challenge includes a different workout each day, so I never felt bored. In fact, I looked forward to the work ahead. Of course, the first week it took a second to get used to the movement patterns and familiarize myself with the fast-paced style. (I was always moving.) But, by week four I was ready to jump right into all the moves with spot-on form. I could focus on pushing myself to new levels, which kept the spark strong and muscles firing.
There’s also extra motivation doing an AMRAP sesh. It adds some unofficial (and non-stressful) competition. I liked working against myself, and I kept track of my reps and pushed myself to beat my own records each set. As early as week two I felt stronger and more confident in my abilities. Once week four rolled around, my strength and cardio gains were obvious. I was easily able to complete more reps than on week one.
The key to this challenge is consistency, which comes naturally thanks to Belgrave’s programming variety. I had clear evidence that I was making progress, so motivation was never an issue.
I have a new appreciation for curtsy lunges and lower-body workouts in general.
I have never been a huge fan of curtsy lunges, especially when navigating some knee pain. During the 28-days, I had multiple opportunities to focus on form and work on performing them with intention. Instead of rushing through reps, I zeroed in on keeping my front knee aligned with my front ankle, while keeping my core engaged and shoulders back. Thanks to my form and controlled movements, knee pain never joined the party.
Not to mention, I learned that curtsy lunges are key for working your glutes and inner thighs and I noticed that in combination with the other lower body work, my legs felt and looked stronger by the end of week four.
Rest days are important.
Rest days are necessary to repair muscle tissue, prevent injury, and improve performance, according to research. But let me tell you…it’s true. I learned the importance of recovery firsthand.
Even though the workouts were only 20 minutes, six days a week added up. I appreciated a day off to regroup. My body was particularly tired after the first week, since I was working on new moves I typically don’t do in my routine. The total off-day kept me feeling strong and ready for the days (and weeks) ahead.
My 28-Day Challenge Takeaways
“The small goals you complete each day make for big progress over time,” says Belgrave. And this was spot on. Committing to 20 minutes a day is the perfect recipe for consistency, and the motivation to level-up each week primed me for success.
I did notice physical changes by the end. My quads and inner thighs were stronger. My arms were slightly more sculpted, too.
The physical results after 28 days were nice perks, but what I appreciated most was the simplicity of this challenge. A fancy gym or stocked weight room isn’t necessary, and 20 minutes is more than enough to feel a burn and breathe a little (or a lot) heavily.
Bottom line? I recommend everyone strive to carve out 20 minutes of movement a day. And I’m so glad I committed to this express-style workout. I loved the structure and consistency, and you should give this challenge a go whatever your starting point.
Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based writer and graduate student at Northwestern Medill. She’s a mass consumer of social media and cares about women’s rights, holistic wellness, and non-stigmatizing reproductive care. As a former collegiate pole vaulter, she has a love for all things fitness and is currently obsessed with Peloton Tread workouts and hot yoga.