Karen Merrill's Basic Training - Explained

In the January issue of Outside magazine personal trainer and elite triathlete Karen Merrill put together a strength program that only requires a set of weights and an adjustable bench. Here we'll give you her program again with step-by-step instructions to every exercise.

NOTES: Complete three sets of 10-12 reps of every lifting exercise, starting with a light weight. Finish each day's session with five minutes of stretching.

MONDAY
Cardio: 30 minutes moderately hard. You want to break a sweat.

Strength: Chest & Back

1) Flat Bench Press (vary grip width on each set)
Lie back on a level bench with the top of your head in line with the edge of the bench. Place your feet flat on the floor. Grab the barbell with your hands equidistant apart. Press the bar up off the rack until your arms are almost extended. Slowly lower to your chest while you inhale. Exhale while pressing the bar back up. Repeat.

2) Incline Bench Press
Set an adjustable bench to a 45-degree angle. Lie back on the bench with the top of your head in line with the edge of the bench. Place your feet flat on the floor. Grab the barbell with your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart. Press the bar up off the rack until your arms are almost extended. Slowly lower to your chest while you inhale. Exhale while pressing the bar back up. Repeat.

3) Decline Bench Press (vary grip width on each set)
Set an adjustable bench to its max decline angle. Lie back on the bench with the top of your head in line with the edge of the bench. Place your feet flat on the floor. Grab the barbell with your hands equidistant apart. Press the bar up off the rack until your arms are almost extended. Slowly lower to your chest while you inhale. Exhale while pressing the bar back up. Repeat.

4) Staggered Stance Push-Ups
Lie face down with your hands positioned palms down and in line with your chest. Place a thick phone book or large dictionary under one hand. Push yourself up with your hands while keeping your legs, butt, back, and head in a straight line. Slowly lower yourself down as far as possible, then push yourself back up. Repeat until you complete 10 reps. Move the phone book or dictionary to the other hand and repeat. Complete four sets so that each hand is offset twice.

5) Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows
Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and stand parallel to a flat bench with your left leg closest to the bench. Bend your left leg and put the knee on the bench. Reach forward and place your left hand on the bench. Your back should now be parallel to the floor. Let the dumbbell in your right hand hang down toward the floor. Keeping your back straight, pull the dumbbell to your right rib cage then slowly release it back down. Complete 10-12 reps, then switch positions and complete 10-12 reps with your left hand to complete one set.

6) Bent-Over Barbell Rows
Grab a light barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend forward with a straight back until your back is almost parallel with the floor (lift your head and look up towards the ceiling - it'll help keep your back straight). Pull the barbell up to your chest and slowly lower it back down. Repeat.

7) Upright Dumbbell Rows
Stand erect and hold a light dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your body. Lift the dumbbells vertically to your clavicle just above your chest. Slowly lower them back down. Repeat.

8) Crunches
Lie back on the floor with your hands clasped behind your head and your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Lift your shoulders up off the floor as high as possible, then lower yourself back down. Repeat.

9) Crunches With Heels on Bench
Lie back on the floor with your hands clasped behind your head and your heels propped up on a bench. Your thighs should be perpendicular to the floor. Lift your shoulders up off the floor as high as possible, then lower yourself back down. Repeat.

TUESDAY

Strength: Legs

1) Bench Steps
Stand facing a flat bench. Step up onto it leading with your right leg. Step back down leading with your right leg. Repeat. On the next set lead with your left leg. Complete four sets so that each leg leads twice.

2) Walking Dumbbell Lunges
Holding light dumbbells in either hand. Step forward as far as you can and lunge down until the knee of your trailing leg touches the floor. Push yourself up and taking a giant step forward, lunge back down. To finish the set, repeat until you've taken 12 steps.

3) Squats
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and position a barbell across your back right below the neck. Stabilize it by grabbing the bar with both hands. Lift your head toward the ceiling as you slowly lower yourself into a squat while keeping your back straight. You want most of your weight to rest on your heels not your toes. Stop lowering yourself when your thighs are parallel to the floor. Push yourself back up to a standing position. Repeat.

4) Single-Leg Squats
Place the tip of one shoe on a flat bench behind you and squat down on your forward leg as far as you can while still able to maintain your balance. Push yourself back up and repeat until you complete 12 reps. Switch legs and complete 12 reps in order to finish one set.

5) Leg Curls
Position your upper body on a flat bench, facedown, knees on the floor, then clamp a dumbbell between your shoes and curl your lower legs toward your butt. Slowly lower the weight back to the ground. Repeat.

6) Bridging
With your legs straight, place your heels up on a bench, lie back on the floor, then squeeze your butt and back off the ground and hold for five to ten seconds. Repeat two times.

WEDNESDAY

Cardio: Start with ten minutes at moderate intensity, followed immediately by five minutes of bench steps (see Tuesday's program), then ten minutes of cardio at moderate intensity and finish with five minutes of bench steps.

Strength: Arms

1) Barbell Biceps Curls (vary grip with each set)
While standing grab a barbell underhanded so your palms face away from the body. Keeping your torso straight and your elbows tight by your side, curl the barbell up to your shoulders. Slowly lower it down to your thighs. Repeat.

2) Reverse-Grip Barbell Biceps Barbell Curls
While standing, grab a barbell overhanded so your palms face the body. Keeping your torso straight and your elbows tight by your side, curl the barbell up to your shoulders. Slowly lower it down to your thighs. Repeat.

3) Hammer Dumbbell Curls
While standing grab a dumbbell in each hand and hold them as if you were holding a hammer. Curl the right dumbbell up to your shoulder and slowly lower it back down with the same motion you'd use to pound a nail with a hammer. Now lift the left arm in the same motion to complete one rep. Alternate lifting right and left dumbbells throughout the set.

4) Triceps Dumbbell Kickbacks
Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and stand parallel to a flat bench with your left leg closest to the bench. Bend the left leg and put the knee on the bench. Reach forward and place your left hand on the bench. Your back should now be parallel to the floor. Bring your right elbow to your rib cage so that your upper arm is in line with your flat back. Let the dumbbell in your right hand hang down toward the floor. Lift the dumbbell backwards until your arm straightens then slowly lower it back down. Complete 12 times, then reverse positions and complete 12 times with your left arm to finish one rep.

5) Triceps Barbell Extensions
Lie back on a flat bench, feet flat on the floor. Grab a barbell with hands 10-12 inches apart and press it upwards until your arms are nearly extended. Bend from the elbows and lower the barbell toward your face. When your forearms become parallel to the floor, press the barbell back up until your arms are straight. Repeat.

6) Bench Dips
Sit on the edge of a bench with your legs straight out in front of you, feet together. Grab the edge of the bench with your fingers facing forward and push your butt off the bench. Pull your elbows toward each other as you slowly lower yourself down until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Push yourself back up. Repeat.

7) Reverse Crunches
Lie back on the floor with your hands along your sides, palms pressing into the floor. You legs should be bent and your feet should be on the floor. Curl your knees to your chin then slowly lower your feet back to the floor. Repeat.

8) Bicycle Crunches
Lie back on the floor with your hands clasped behind your head. Lift your right knee towards your chin as you simultaneously lift your shoulders off the floor and twist your left elbow to your knee. Your right leg should be extended and held off the floor. Extend your right leg as you now bring your left leg to your chin and twist your right elbow to your left knee. Repeat the cycle.

9) Dumbbell Side Crunches
While standing, hold a dumbbell in your right hand, then lean to your left and return upright. Repeat then switch the dumbbell to your left hand and lean to your right to complete one set.

THURSDAY

Cardio: Five-minute warm-up, then 30-second sprint and 90-second recovery at moderate intensity. Repeat the spring/recovery cycle for 25 minutes.

Strength: Calves

1) Seated Toe Raises
Place a weighted barbell across your thighs while seated on the edge of a bench. Raise your feet and legs up onto your toes, then lower back down. Repeat

2) Single-Leg Toe Raises
Hold a dumbbell in one hand, then balance on the same-side foot while extending up onto your toes. Lower yourself back down. Repeat. Switch to sides and repeat in order to complete one set.

FRIDAY

Cardio: Five-minute warm-up, then 30 seconds of increased resistance followed by 90 seconds at the original resistance. Repeat the 30/90 cycle for 20 minutes, then cool down for five minutes.

Strength: Shoulders

1) Overhead Barbell Press
Sitting upright on a bench, feet flat on the floor, grab a barbell with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Press the barbell overhead until your arms are extended, then slowly lower the bar to your clavicle just below your chin. Repeat.

2) Alternating Overhead Press
Sitting upright on a bench, feet flat on the floor, hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height. Press the right dumbbell overhead then slowly lower it down. Press the left dumbbell overhead then slowly lower it down. This completes one rep.

3) Lateral dumbbell Raises
While standing, hold a light dumbbell in each hand, palms facing each other. Raise both arms straight out from your sides until they're parallel to the floor and you're making a cross with your body. Slowly lower your arms to your sides. Repeat.

4) Upright Barbell Rows
Grab the center of a barbell with both hands, thumbs should almost touch each other. Stand tall then lift the barbell straight up towards your chin as high as you can. Slowly lower the bar back down. Repeat.

5) Front Dumbbell Raises
While standing, hold a light dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your body. Raise your right arm straight out in front of you until it's parallel to the floor. Slowly lower it back down. Repeat with the left arm to complete one rep.

6) Bent-Over Lateral Raises
Sit on the edge of a bench with your feet flat on the floor, knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Hold a light dumbbell in each hand. Bend forward and rest your chest on top of your thighs. Bring the dumbbells together underneath your legs. Now raise your arms out to the sides, squeezing your shoulder blades together, until your arms are parallel to the floor. Slowly lower them back down. Repeat.

7) Bicycle Crunches
Lie back on the floor with your hands clasped behind your head. Lift your right knee towards your chin as you simultaneously lift your shoulders off the floor and twist your left elbow to your knee. Your right leg should be extended and held off the floor. Extend your right leg as you now bring your left leg to your chin and twist your right elbow to your left knee. Repeat the cycle.

8) Oblique Knee Lifts
Sit on the edge of a bench, keeping knees together, then bring one knee toward the opposite shoulder. Alternate each knee with each lift.

9) Bent-Leg Pike Crunches
Sit on the edge of a bench. Curl your knees and chest toward each other simultaneously. Lower yourself back down and repeat, but never let your feet touch the floor or your shoulders touch the bench throughout the set.

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