Originally published on Sept. 1, 2018
Want to get strong, but don’t have time for a gym? Strength training is key for increasing flexibility, reducing injury risk and maintaining an overall healthy body. The best part is that it doesn’t have to take long. Here we’ll teach you a simple nine-minute-long strength training program that you can complete in your own home. All you need is a set of dumbbells (or another type of weight), a clock and the goal of building a stronger body.
Spend 9 Minutes With Your Weights
How to Do It
The following nine moves are strength training exercises that you may have seen before. Alone, they each work a set group of muscles, but strung together in one-minute intervals, these nine exercises become a complete, whole-body workout.
We’ve broken down the nine exercises into three sets of three. Before you begin each set, set a timer (or workout near a watch with a second hand.) If you are just starting to work out, do each exercise as hard as you can for one minute, followed by the next, until you complete the first set. Then, take a one minute break before moving on to set two, in which the exercises should also be performed for one minute each.
Ultimately, you’ll complete the whole workout, having completed nine minutes of training with three minutes of break in between.
Do this workout two to three times a week for maximum benefits.
How do I know if my weights are heavy enough? Check your form. This workout involves many repetitions of the same exercise and you will know you are using the correct weight if your form stays consistent between the first part of a repetition set and the end. For example, a row from plank should look the same on repetition number 10 as it does in repetition number two, even if the effort is much greater. If your form is wobbly by the end, drop down the weight amount until you’re able to find consistency. Don’t forget that working with weights is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Your body also provides resistance.
Set 1: Rows From Plank, Dumbbell Step-up and Upright Dumbbell Row
For beginners: Do each of the exercises in this set for one minute each, not stopping between exercises.
Rows From Plank
Planks work your core and glutes, but by adding a simple row to a plank, you add toning for your arms and back.
Be careful: Plank pose can be hard on your wrists.
Modify it: Place your knees on the floor as you do plank to reduce the weight resting on your wrists.
How to Do Rows From Plank
The exercise turns a simple plank into an upper body workout as well.
1. Start in a pushup position with weights in your hands, with your legs wider than hip-width to stabilize your body.
2. Keep your core tight and exhale. Lift your right elbow up to lift the weight.
3. Lower your right elbow to rest the weight on the ground.
4. Left your left elbow straight up to lift the weight.
5. Repeat, alternating sides.
Find a sturdy bench or step for this exercise, which will help tone your legs and lower back. It’s especially good for people with lower back problems.
Modify It: If you find this exercise too challenging, try it without the weights first.
Challenge Yourself: Challenge yourself by choosing a taller bench or step to do the exercise with.
How to Do a Dumbbell Step-Up
Tone your legs and lower back with this simple exercise.
1. Stand straight facing a sturdy bench or step with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your body.
2. Place your left foot on the bench, pressing your heel into its surface.
3. Push your body up until your left leg is straight and you’re standing on one leg. (Keep your right foot elevated.)
4. Lower your body until your right foot touches the floor.
5. Place your right foot on the bench, pressing your heel into its surface.
6. Push your body up until your right leg is straight and you’re standing on one leg. (Keep your left foot elevated.
7. Repeat, alternating legs.
Upright Dumbbell Row
This exercise works the muscles in your upper back and shoulders. Try it with dumbbells, kettlebells or even with two cans from your pantry.
Be careful: Don’t try to lift weights that are too heavy. Heavy weights increase your risk for shoulder and back injuries.
Modify it: If you are doing this exercise at the gym, try using a lightweight barbell.
How to Do an Upright Dumbbell Row
Work your upper back and shoulders with this simple exercise.
1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms held slightly away from your body.
2. Bend at your hips and knees and lower your torso until it’s nearly parallel to the floor, letting the dumbbells hang at arm’s length.
3. Pull the dumbbells, using your shoulder and back muscles up to the sides of your chest.
4. Pause and slowly lower the weights.
Set 2: Dumbbell Offset Reverse Lunge, Hammer Curl and Dumbbell Squat
Take a one minute break after the first set of exercises. Now you’re ready for set No. 2. Like in set No. 1, perform each exercise for one minute and then move onto the next for a total of three minutes of exercise.
Dumbbell Offset Reverse Lunge
This is a great exercise to work your legs and core. It also builds shoulder strength and improves balance.
Be careful: When doing the lunge, make sure your knee doesn’t bend and move past your toe.
How to Do a Dumbbell Offset Reverse Lunge
Improve your balance and build strength in your legs and core with this exercise.
1. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand, with your arm hanging next to your side.
2. Step back with your right foot and slowly lower your body until your front knee is bent 90 degrees.
3. Pause, and then push back up to the starting position with your legs.
4. Halfway through the allotted time, switch the dumbbells to your left hand, and complete the lunge using your left foot.
Pushup-Position Hammer Curl
Looking for toned arms? Look no further. This exercise works your arms and core at the same time.
Be careful: As you progress, increase the amount of weight you hold in each hand, but don’t speed up your pace.
Modify it: If this is too challenging to do in a full push up position, try dropping your knees to the floor. That will reduce the weight resting on your upper body.
How to Do a Pushup-Position Hammer Curl
Work your core and arms in one exercise.
1. Hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands and assume a pushup position with your palms facing each other. Keep your legs hip-width apart for stability.
2. Tighten your core and glutes.
3. Without moving your upper arm, curl the weight in your right hand up toward your right shoulder.
4. Lower the weight.
5. Without moving your upper arm, curl the weight in your left hand up toward your left shoulder.
6. Repeat, alternating sides.
Dumbbell Squat to Alternating Shoulder Press and Twist
By twisting as you complete this exercise, your shoulder muscles can be targeted from various angles. This exercise also tones your triceps.
Be careful: Keep your core tight and back upright throughout this exercise.
How to Do a Dumbbell Squat to Alternating Shoulder Press and Twist
Build strong, toned shoulders with this exercise.
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold dumbbell in each hand, next to your shoulders, palms facing in.
2. Push your hips back, bend your knees and squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
3. Push back up with your legs, pivoting on your left foot and rotating your torso to the right as you press the dumbbell in your left hand above your shoulder.
4. Lower the weight and rotate back to center.
5. Push your hips back, bend your knees and squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor again.
6. Push back up with your legs, pivoting on your right food and rotating your torso to the left as you press the dumbbell in your right hand above your shoulder.
7. Repeat, alternating sides.
Set 3: Low Side-to-Side Lunge, Dumbbell Russian Twist and the Person Maker
Good news! You’re almost done. Take a one-minute break after the second set. Then start the third set, again performing each exercise for one minute each.
Low Side-To-Side Lunge
Build strength and flexibility in your hips and legs with this exercise. It can also improve balance.
Be careful: Be sure to push your hips back as you lower down and engage your core to keep your upper body vertical.
Modify it: Find this exercise too challenging with a weight? Leave it on the ground for this exercise.
How to Do a Low Side-to-Side Lunge
Improve your balance with this exercise.
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, facing straight ahead. Hold a dumbbell in your hand in front of your chest.
2. Shift your weight to your right leg and lower your body, bending your right knee and pushing your butt back. Keep your left foot flat on the floor and your left leg straight.
3. Without raising yourself all the way to standing, shift your weight to your left side.
4. Alternate back and forth between sides.
Dumbbell Russian Twist
Much of your strength comes from your core. This exercise will strengthen all sides of it.
Modify it: Feel free to do this exercise without holding a weight if it’s too challenging.
Challenge yourself: Once your core is strong enough, try to complete this exercise by holding your legs higher off the floor.
How to Do a Dumbbell Russian Twist
Strengthen your abs and core in one smooth motion.
1. Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you, holding a dumbbell in front of your chest with both hands.
2. Lean your torso back slightly and raise your feet off the floor.
3. Without moving your torso, rotate the weight to your left and then to your right, quickly.
The Person Maker
You may know this exercise as the “man maker,” but both women and men can benefit from this all-in-one exercise. By combining a push up with a barbell press, you will work every major muscle group in your body and get your heart pumping.
Be careful: Move slowly at first through this exercise. It takes a bit of coordination. Speed up as you get comfortable with it.
How to Do the Person Maker
Sometimes known as the man maker, this exercise works every major muscle group in your body.
1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, standing.
2. Bend your knees and place the weights on the floor
3. Jump with your feet out into a pushup position.
4. Jump back into the squat and stand up, thrusting your arms upwards into an overhead press.
5. Lower your arms back down to place the weight on the floor once again.
6. Kick out legs into pushup position and repeat.
Want a Complete Workout With Cardio?
Add some cardiovascular exercise before your strength training for a complete exercise routine.
Add a Warm-Up
If you want to turn this strength training workout into a full-body workout, begin with three minutes each of the following exercises for an additional nine minutes of cardiovascular exercise. They will add a dose of heart-pumping cardio into your routine, and get your body ready for the weight-bearing exercises.
You are most likely already familiar with these foundational exercises, and for good reason: They are great for a boost of heart-pounding, lung-expanding cardiovascular exercise. Best of all, you can do them all in a pretty small space.
After you cycle through these three exercises, take a one-minute rest before moving on to the strength training workout.
Be careful: If you have knee or ankle pain, focus on your form, not your speed. Always try to land on the front of your foot, with your knees bent, to be sure that your muscles, and not your joints, are bearing the brunt of these exercises.
Modify it: Well-cushioned sneakers can also help alleviate the strain of jumping jacks on your joints.
How to Do a Jumping Jack
A basic, cardiovascular exercise that can be done in limited space.
1. Stand upright with your legs together, arms at your sides.
2. Bend your knees slightly, and jump into the air.
3. As you jump, spread your legs to be about shoulder-width apart. Stretch your arms out and over your head.
4. Jump back to starting position.
How to Do Pogo Hops
A controlled, modified jump for cardiovascular health.
1. Stand tall with your feet slightly spread, about hip-width apart.
2. Raise your heels so you are standing on the balls of your feet.
3. Quickly bounce up and down on the balls of your feet. Don’t let your heels touch the ground.
How to Do Reverse Lunges
Compared with a basic lunge, this exercise places less stress on the knees while still toning your entire leg.
1. Stand upright, with your hands at your hips.
2. Take a large step backward with your left foot.
3. Lower your hips so that your right thigh (front leg) becomes parallel to the floor with your right knee positioned directly over your ankle. Your left knee should be bent at a 90-degree angle and pointing toward the floor with your left heel lifted.
4. Return to standing by pressing your right heel into the floor and bringing your left leg forward to complete one rep.
5. Alternate legs, and step back with right leg.
Challenge Yourself: Try this exercise with your hands over your head.
How to Progress
This workout can be adapted to your changing fitness level.
The best part of the 9-Minute Strength Training Workout is that as you improve, you don’t need to start a whole new exercise routine to keep challenging yourself. You will, however, have to add more time to your workout to keep building your strength and cardiovascular health.
The Intermediate and Advanced Workout
Once the 9-Minute Muscle-Building Workout starts to feel a little bit easy, start to increase the amount of time you do each exercise. Keep resting one minute between each set and you can tack on a 20- to 30-minute cardio warm up as well.
Why This Workout Works
There’s a science behind this exercise routine.
This workout combines interval training, which has been scientifically proven to be most efficient in improving your health, with weight-bearing exercises to strengthen your muscles. The result? A full-body workout that will strengthen your heart, lungs and muscles without a trip to the gym or a single piece of equipment.
It’s based on the principles of high intensity interval training — known as H.I.I.T. — which uses short bursts of strenuous exercise to make a big impact on the body. If moderate exercise — like a 20-minute jog — is good for your heart, lungs and metabolism, H.I.I.T. packs the benefits of that workout and more into a few minutes. It may sound too good to be true, but learning this exercise technique and adapting it to your life can mean saving hours at the gym.
What You Need
You most likely already have all you need for this workout in your closet.
Shoes: A pair of comfortable sneakers will do. In a pinch, you can also do this workout barefoot on a non-slippery surface.
Timer: You can use a stopwatch, the timer on your phone, or a clock with a secondhand to time yourself.
Clothes: Keep your clothes loose and breathable.
Space: Any 6-foot by 3-foot area will do.
Weights: Two small barbells is probably the most useful thing to have. You can also use kettlebells for this workout. Or, go to your pantry and grab some easy-to-hold cans or bottles — they work in a pinch, too.
Get a Boost From Music
Creating a workout playlist of high-energy tunes you love will not make your workout feel easier, but it may cause you to exercise harder without even realizing it. Best of all, you need only one or two great tunes to get you through this workout. If you are willing to try something a bit different, make your own music as you exercise. Sing, hum, clap your hands, whatever you can do to jam along to your playlist. It may give you an extra boost to finish strong.
Sound Like a Pro
Functional strength: Exercises designed to strengthen multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Instead of a single muscle exercise, such as a bicep curl, functional strength exercises, such as a push up, strengthen all of the muscles in the shoulder simultaneously. When you move normally, muscles work together, so it just makes more logical sense to exercise them together as well.
Isometric strengthening: Muscle strengthening exercises in which the muscle length does not change, such as a plank.
Isokinetic strengthening: Muscle strengthening exercises that involve muscle lengthening and shortening, such as lunges and squats.
Plyometric strengthening: This is the most effective means of muscle strengthening. It involves rapid muscle elongation and contraction cycles, such as adding a jump to a squat to make it into a plyometric jump squat.
High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T): An exercise method that includes a series of short bursts of intense exercise. Increasingly, the benefits of H.I.I.T. are being recognized as equal to or sometimes even more effective than longer bouts of exercise.
About the Authors
Jordan D. Metzl, M.D. is a sports medicine physician at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. He is the author of five books, including “Dr. Jordan Metzl’s Workout Prescription.”
Karen Barrow is a senior staff editor for Smarter Living at The New York Times.
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