I didn’t always used to be this way. I ran track and cross country in college, and had mandatory strength-training sessions several times a week (on top of daily three-hour practices). After college, I took up Pilates and yoga on top of my regular runs, and even had a six-pack at one point. And then came babies.
RELATED: The WH 30 Day Push Up Challenge
I eventually got to the point where I was happy to get any exercise in, so I’ve kind of fallen into a rut. In my mind, I’m still the semi-strong person I was pre-kids, but the reality is…I’m not. I also had a baby nine months ago, and it's been on my mind that I needed to shake things up on the fitness front.
So, when I was asked to test out the Women's Health 30-Day Fitness Challenge,I was game. I needed a strength training butt-kicking, and the challenge gave me four different workouts to do a week. There was one for upper body, one for lower body, one for core, and another for total-body, in addition to cross-training of my choice. Here’s the breakdown:
Each workout takes about 20 minutes to do and, here’s the best part: I could do it at home. With three young kids, it’s hard for me to find time to do anything other than run, where I can throw them all into a stroller and just go. I don't even belong to a gym, because #notime. But having set workouts that I could do at my place when the little ones went to bed seemed doable. So, I went for it.
It quickly became clear to me that, while I’m in great shape for running, I totally suck at everything else. Each workout for this week had four phases: a warm-up, two circuits, and either a cool down or group of core exercises.
I’m not going to lie: I got cocky when I saw the warm-up for the first lower-body workout involved doing things like hip circles and side leg lifts for 30 seconds, but I was surprised that I actually got my heart rate up doing them. The pencil jumps in that workout also left me watching the clock to see when they’d be over.
As I suspected they might be, the upper-body and abs workouts were the hardest for me. And I quickly learned that tricep dips are ridiculously hard. I wanted to go all-in, but I kinda-sorta-totally cheated and tapped out early on those (I literally couldn't do anymore!).
Plank jacks were hard and left me out of breath, but in a good way.
I felt pretty good with the total-body workout, except when I had to do pushup holds (which required me to do an actual pushup). I haven’t done a legit pushup since…ever. So that was a little tricky.
There were no weights this week since I focused on the bodyweight workouts, as the plan recommends—those came later.
By week two, I had a good understanding that this whole thing wasn’t going to be easy. Some muscle groups that I hadn’t used in ages felt sore—but I liked it. I felt like I was actually making some progress.
This week was basically a repeat of week one when it came to exercises. Tricep dips were still tough AF, but I did notice that I was able to make it through a full 45-second set this time around.
At the same time, the novelty of doing the exercises started to wear off, so I started listening to The Ben and Ashley I Almost Famous Podcast as a way to pass the time, catch up on my Bachelor news, and not obsess over the clock. I definitely found it was easier to get through everything that way.
Time to do the dumbbell workouts! TBH, by the end of week two, I was ready for this. I felt like I was getting comfortable with a lot of the exercises and it seemed like it was time to step things up a bit.
Although I was doing new workouts, I felt like the transition was pretty seamless. I went through the lower-body weighted workout with no problem.
The upper-body weighted workout was a different story, though. Once again, I got cocky. Given that I used to bench press 70kg when I was in college, I figured I could handle 7kg weights for the glute bridge chest press with no problem. Yeah, no. My husband had a good laugh when I couldn’t even lift my arms off the ground for that one. So, I scaled down to 2.5kg weights, which were much more manageable.
The Arnold presses sounded simple and seemed easy at the time, but my arms were definitely sore from them the next day.
I noticed at this point that my body didn’t look like it was changing, but I definitely felt stronger.
We moved to a new house during this time, and I felt like I could lift boxes a lot more easily than I could before.
This was it! I wanted to push myself to end on a high note, and I felt like I pulled it off.
I started adding weights to exercises that didn’t call for them, like Arnold presses and lateral squats, just to try to make things a little tougher. And I finally managed to pull off the glute bridge chest press with 6kg weights—and get through two sets of 45 seconds with them.
While the leg workouts were more doable for me throughout the challenge, the upper-body and core workouts also started to feel easier to the point where I borrowed a heavier set of weights. I wasn’t quite ready to use 9kg weights for the glute bridge chest press, but I felt fine using them for the sumo deadlifts.
Most of the exercises called for 45-second reps, but during the final week, I increased the time to a minute. It was only 15 seconds, but I found that it pushed me a little more.
I’m really, really glad I did this. I knew I was in a fitness rut, but it was a real wakeup call to see how much I was neglecting muscle groups that I don’t use to run or lift my baby.
I don’t think the appearance of my body changed a ton during the challenge, but to be fair, I did it during the holidays when I tend to bake (and, you know, eat) a lot more than usual. Still, I ended feeling a lot stronger than I did at the beginning. And, while I still might not be amazing at doing pushups, I at least feel like I can do five or so without embarrassing myself.
I’m going to hold onto the exercises from the challenge and try to do them at least a few times a week, in addition to my regular runs—especially the tricep dips. I’m not done with them yet.
It was hard to make time for the challenge between work, holiday stuff, a move, and the kids, and, honestly, there were a few times where I had to use my 7kg baby as a weight to help keep her occupied and happy when she wouldn’t go to bed on time.
But I found that I looked forward to having some set time where I focused on myself and knew that I was getting stronger in the process. I like this new path that I’m on, and I want to keep pushing forward.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.