Kick The Year Off With The Men’s Health 31-Day Summer Body Challenge
On a blue-sky summer day, there’s only one place worse than the office: the gym. So unshackle yourself from the squat rack and step outside. You’ll improve your fitness that much faster. Studies show that outdoor exercise often burns more kilojoules than indoor exercise, and it can also boost your mood.
With those benefits in mind, we asked top fitness coaches to develop a month-long training plan where every single rep, run or ride is done in fresh air, not in front of a flatscreen. For the next 30 days, set aside 15 to 60 minutes a day to complete these daily challenges.
Your 31 day challenge has 4 phases for you to get through:
Phase 1(Day 1 – 8) is for you to lay the groundwork
Phase 2 (Day 9 – 15): is all about building brute strength
Phase 3(Day 16 – 23): helps you forge all-day endurance
Phase 4 (Day 24 – 31) is when it’s time to expand your top end
We’ve also rated each daily challenge out of 5 for it’s difficulty so you know what you’re in for every day. But don’t worry, this challenge isn’t here to destroy you every day, it’s designed to be doable whilst destroying the festive flab.
If you do these daily challenges, you’ll strip off your T-shirt with confidence to reveal your accomplishment: a beach-ready body.
Day 1: Run Stands (5/5)
The drill your high school rugby coach used to whip your ass into shape still does the trick. Running up the seats torches kilojoules, improves endurance, and strengthens legs.
Related: This Guy Lost 34KG Thanks To A Rugby Ball
Sprint the ups and recover on the downs, says Drew Wartenburg, running coach. This enhances the cardio effect and is safer on your joints. Do 20 minutes of hard climbing and 30 minutes of relaxed descent for a workout lasting 50 minutes total.
Day 2: Bike to Work (3/5)
This is a great way to burn fat and put a smile on the face of the tree hugger next door. You can grind to work in a low gear and spin home in a high gear. In the higher gears, you’re pedalling more revolutions per minute, which taxes your aerobic system and builds robust lungs, says James Wilson, founder of MTB Strength Training Systems.
Related: How To Supercharge Your Cycling Endurance With Weights
Lower gears feel “heavier” and recruit more muscle; that’ll help you develop strong stems. If biking to work isn’t feasible, do the Day 19 workout instead.
Day 3: Pay for Your Emails (1/5)
Do a burpee for every email sent and received. If you’re a workaholic, this will cure you.
Related: Why Burpees Are the Most Badass Exercise
Day 4: Learn to Suffer (5/5)
Murph, a CrossFit workout, goes like this: First, strap on a 10kg weighted vest. Then run 2km. Now do 100 pull-ups, 200 pushups and 300 squats. Finish off with another 2km run.
Related: This Crossfit Routine Will Get You Lean During Lunch
PT Ben Bruno says a saner version for rookies is to ditch the weighted vest and divide everything by five: run 300 metres; do 20 pull-ups, 40 push-ups and 60 squats; run another 300m). Not totally gassed yet? Repeat it.
Day 5: Weight Your Chores (1/5)
You’re probably sore from yesterday, so sneak the work in today. Wear a weighted vest or backpack as you shop for groceries, walk the dog, vacuum the house, whatever.
Related: How To Relieve Muscle Soreness After A Workout
This allows you to recover and helps you grow injury-preventing muscle around your entire body so you can train hard without worrying in the coming weeks
Day 6: Use Your Body as a Barbell (3/5)
Head out to a local park or your backyard and do the “Your No-Gym, No Excuses Plan” workout over the next few pages.
Related: 4 Backyard Items You Can Use as Weights for Workouts
Day 7: Chop a Log (5/5)
Get fit and be productive: explosive training using compound moves increases your power and improves your endurance and body composition, reveals research from Ohio State.
Related: The Best Fat-Burning Exercise, According To Science
Go out and chop wood. You can achieve the same benefit with 5kg medicine ball slams. Do 30 seconds of chopping or slamming followed by 30 seconds of rest, for a total of 30 minutes.
Day 8: Bust Some Balls (1/5)
Moving quickly from side to side is key for better sports performance and injury prevention.
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After stretching, train for lateral mobility this way: shoot baskets but let the ball bounce only twice before you grab it. Go for 20 minutes.
Day 9: Go to 300 (3/5)
Push-ups, that is. “Perform 20 push-ups an hour throughout the day,” suggests Kalle Beck, a strongman coach.
Related: Do These Simple Drills to Stop Wrist Pain During Pushups and Front Squats
Target different areas of your body by varying your hand and body positions: do close hands and wide hands; elevate your hands or feet. If you can’t do 20 consecutive push-ups, cut the number in half and do 150 total
Day 10: Be a Letter Man (1/5)
Forge powerful, athletic legs by jumping letter patterns on the ground. On one leg, hop to each point to trace out the letter while facing a single direction – so you’re jumping forwards, backwards and side to side, says Bobby Maximus, strength coach at Gym Jones.
Related: Pro Boxer Kevin Lerena’s Core-to-Joint Warm-Up
Pick five letters that don’t have curves (A, M, A, Z, E), and jump out each letter with each leg.
Day 11: Carry a Log (3/5)
Head into nature for a hike. Somewhere along the trail, look for a hefty piece of fallen tree and carry it in front of you, overhead, or on your shoulders for at least a kilometre. You’ll burn fat and build muscle while also gaining functional strength for everyday life. “Holding something out in front of you works your core more and incorporates your hamstrings,” Beck says, because they have to prevent you from falling forward.
Related: How Hiking Can Make You Just As Strong As Those Dudes Pumping Iron
Plus, you’ll work your stability muscles – and shouldering the load rocks your obliques, which are crucial elements of a strong, stable core. PS: Don’t watch the log. Watch your step!
Day 12: Move Two Tons of Steel (5/5)
Grab a buddy and your car and head to a flat parking lot. Put the car in neutral and let your friend steer while you push, which will turn your legs into pistons.
Related: Use This Science-Backed Method To Carve The Core You've Always Wanted
Push about 15 metres every minute on the minute for a half hour. Make it harder: use a heavier vehicle or add time to your workout.
Day 13: Recover Better (1/5)
Stroll for 30 minutes – it increases bloodflow to your muscles, flushing soreness and speeding growth.
Related: This Is When It's Healthier To Take A Chilled Walk Than A Vigorous Run
Day 14: Enter the Pain Cave (3/5)
Zen out and build all-around strength in your own backyard with Bruno’s gruelling slow-burn workout. Isometric exercise, when you work a muscle without moving it, is a no-impact, surefire way to make that muscle grow.
Related: Bulk Up In Six Weeks
Hold a plank for a minute, a side plank for another on each side, a split squat with your rear knee an inch off the ground for 30 seconds (both sides), a push-up with your chest just off the ground for 30 seconds, and the “up” position of a pull-up for 30 seconds. That’s round 1. Do 2 more. Then shake it out.
Day 15: Climb a Rope (3/5)
Rope climbs smoke your grip, arms (especially forearms), core and legs. Hitch a rope to a tree or swing set and start developing functional strength. To do it, form a “step” with your feet by wrapping the rope under one foot and over the other.
Related: Your Secret To Massive Gains In The Gym? Rope Up!
Push off this step. Regrip the rope, create another step and go up. Climb for 10 minutes. (This time you can enjoy it, since the entire class isn’t watching.) Afraid of heights? Lean back with the rope at a 45-degree angle and pull yourself to a standing position, or just do 40 pull-ups and 40 squats.
Day 16: Pass the Lifeguard Test (1/5)
Build lifesaving fitness! Swim 300m continuously and then tread water for 2 minutes. Rest 2 minutes. Repeat once. (Do this with a real lifeguard on duty.)
Related: Cameron van der Burgh's Swim Tips
This will get your heart pumping without any pounding on your joints. No pool? Go out for a 30-minute walk
Day 17: Do the Ultimate Triathlon Workout (5/5)
Triathletes swear by this gruelling workout for its cardio and speed benefits.
Related: Master The Triathlon In 5 Easy Steps
Bike around a track for 10 minutes – 5 minutes easy, 4 minutes gaining speed, 1 minute hauling ass. Then run hard around it for 2 laps (800 meters). Do this 6 times. No bike? Swap in a variety of body-weight moves – push-ups, lunges, squats, planks, jumps
Day 18: Discover Tower Sprints (3/5)
Training on sand is low risk, high reward: the sand moves under you, which delivers a challenge, and it cushions each step.
Related: This Man Built A Gym Out Of Rubbish He Found On The Beach
Sprint from one lifeguard tower to another. Jog to the next. Repeat the pattern for 15 to 20 minutes. No beach? Sprint between mailboxes, trees, or street signs and aim for 30 to 45 seconds of speed.
Day 19: Water Down Your Walk (1/5)
Fill a pair of 5-litre buckets with water. Every minute on the minute for 10 minutes, walk with them for about 30m.
Related: The Killer Leg Day Workout You Can Do Anywhere, No Weights Required
This muscle-forging farmer’s walk variation presents a killer core challenge because you have to stabilise the sloshing water.
Day 20: Run Negative Splits (3/5)
Do this workout at sunrise to beat the heat, boost your mood and burn fat before breakfast. Warm up; then run away from your house for 15 minutes.
Related: Sprinter Akani Simbine's Training Schedule Might Surprise You
Now turn around and try to run back faster. This technique is called negative splits. “It trains you to run faster when you’re tired,” Wartenburg says.
Day 21: Run a Dick (5/5)
Streets are essentially long penis shapes, says Claire Wyckoff of the popular blog RunningDrawing. She posts phallic doodles that she makes while jogging with the runtracking and mapping app Nike+.
Related: The 5 Best Fitness Apps To Help You Get In Shape
Download the app, start the runtracking function, and run in the shape of a dick (and balls if you’re feeling frisky). “You’ll be motivated to complete your artwork, even if that means going around one more corner or charging straight up a steep hill,” says Wyckoff. The longer your dick, the better.
Day 22: Hit the Trail (3/5)
Mountain biking sends your heart rate on a roller-coaster ride because you encounter hills; plus, you also have to engage your core to go up and over obstacles like rocks and downed trees.
Related: A Race to the Finish: How to Tackle Stage Racing with Manuel Fumic
In fact, this total body challenge burns about 2 700 kJ an hour. Ride for 30 to 60 minutes. No bike? Run.
Day 23: Ditch the Cart (1/5)
You’ve been training hard. Here’s an easy way to carve your core: hand baskets only at the supermarket.
Related: 20 Simple Steps To Forge The Willpower You Need To Lose Weight & Get Fit
It simulates the suitcase carry and targets your obliques. Equally important for your abs: don’t fill that basket with junk food.
Day 24: Rule the Jungle Gym (3/5)
School’s out for summer. So run to the jungle gym and tackle this full-body-blasting, push-uppull-up countdown, courtesy of Bruno. Do 7 pull-ups on the monkey bars and 14 push-ups on the ground; then do 6 pull-ups/ 12 push-ups, 5 pull-ups/10 pushups, and so on. Continue down the ladder with a pull-up-to-push-up ratio of 1:2 until you hit 1 pull-up/ 2 push-ups.
Related: 9 Ways to Shred Your Core Using Only a Pullup Bar
Can’t start with 7 pull- -ups? Start with however many you can do, maintaining the same 1:2 ratio. Too easy? Work your way back up the ladder.
Day 25: Get High (3/5)
Hill sprints are more of a cardio challenge, but they don’t put as much heavy impact and banging on your legs as flat-land sprints do, Wartenburg says.
Related: Gold Medal Physique: Get An Olympic Sprinter's Build
So pick a hill and go for time or distance; 10 seconds or 100m is a good place to start. Don’t sprint to complete exhaustion. Recover as you walk downhill, and do as many sprints as you can while maintaining speed and form.
Day 26: Stick It to Your Neighbour (5/5)
Sign up for Strava and become the fastest guy in your hood. The free app lets you compare your GPS-tracked runs and rides with anybody who’s used Strava on the same routes.
Related: This Guy Will Show You How To Fix Your Running Routine
Check out your local KOMs (kings of the mountain) and CRs (course records) – the fastest times on specific routes either cycling or running, respectively. Choose a running or cycling route that’ll take 30 to 60 minutes. Start your battle to win the throne.
Day 27: Unleash the Power of Different Strokes (1/5)
Beach-ready bodies are built in the water. So head to your local pool and try this 1 000m workout, which tones your muscles and burns a hell of a lot of fat.
Related: You Don't Need An Olympic Swimming Pool To Build A V-Shaped Body
Warm up for 200m (roughly eight lengths of a normal-size pool). Freestyle (front crawl) for four relaxing lengths; then backstroke four relaxing lengths. Do that three times. Now swim freestyle as fast as you can for two lengths, rest 30 seconds, and backstroke as fast as you can for two lengths. Do a slow cooldown for four lengths. In addition to shedding your spare tyre, you’ll also recover from yesterday’s workout and boost your cardio fitness in a low-impact way.
Day 28: Bag a Boulder (3/5)
Bouldering delivers the benefits of traditional rock climbing – killer lats, biceps, forearms, and calves – but without the need for fancy ropes and hardware or elaborate knot knowledge. Find a bouldering spot in your area.
Related: Do These 19 Exercises And You’ll Carve A Rock-Hard Six-Pack
Warm up with some squats and push-ups and a 30-second hang; then climb for about 20 minutes. You’ll build strength and stamina. Stick to the less difficult routes, or invest in a crash pad to cushion your falls (R120, mountainmailorder.co.za). No bouldering spots around? Sorry: do 20 pull-ups, 30 push-ups and 40 squats instead.
Day 29: Train Like John Glenn (5/5)
Astronauts on NASA’s Project Mercury in 1959 had to take the Harvard Step Test, a brutal highintensity leg workout. Stand in front of a 20-inch step or a park bench. Watch the clock as you step up in a second, down in a second. Repeat, this time on the other leg. Keep going, alternating legs, for 5 minutes at a pace of 30 stepups per minute. Then count your pulse for 1 minute after you’re done (pulse 1), 2 minutes after (pulse 2), and 3 minutes after (pulse 3). Add the three pulse rates and divide 30 000 by that number.
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So if your pulses were 150, 130, and 110, your equation would be 30 000 ÷ (150+130+110) = about 77. A man in excellent shape should get 90 or above; above average is 80 to 90. Less than 64 means you’ve got work to do, spaceman.
Day 30: Take the Skipping-Burpee Ladder Test (3/5)
Go outside and do this CrossFit– inspired full-body sweat storm: 10 burpees/50 skipping-rope jumps, 9 burpees/50 skippingrope jumps, and so on... all the way down to 1 burpee/50 skippingrope jumps.
Related: Skipped Gym Again? Here's How You Get Back On Track
Try to finish the whole thing in 10 minutes. If you’re feeling especially masochistic, repeat.
Day 31: Lunge to Hell (5/5)
Lunges target your quads and glutes and train you to step forward with strength and stability – the key to success in all sports. “One of my favourite workouts is to lunge around the track,” says Maximus. Each lunge is about a metre, so once around the track is 400 lunges.
Related: The Drill That Instantly Improves Your Squats and Lunges
Do that to start. Don’t have a track? Lunge around the block or across your garden. Just don’t commit the cardinal sins of letting gravity do all the work as you lower yourself, or pushing off your leg with your hands. “Expect to be sore a few days after,” Maximus says. Don’t worry – you’ll be chilling with your shirt off on the beach.