Go from scrawny to studly

Buff up your entire body in 7 powerful moves.
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By Martica Heaner, Ph.D., M.A., M.Ed., for MSN Healthy Living

If years of being a couch potato have taken you from fit to flab, there comes a time when you want to be wimpy no more. The good news is that you can beef up with a few well-chosen strength moves—and it’s easier than you think.

The key to building more muscle bulk is not only to lift heavy weights, but to follow a myotrophic—or muscle-building—regimen, and stick to it. Our routine targets your entire body—arms, back, chest, shoulders, butt and thighs—in just seven moves. Follow the fitness formula of sets, reps and rests below, and in as soon as 12 weeks, you’ll be on your way to building some heavy-duty heft.

You’ll need weights and a stability ball. Choose a weight that's heavy enough to challenge your target muscles, but not so heavy that your joints feel strained. If you're new to weight training you may want to start with dumbbells that are eight to 12 pounds and gradually work up to using 12 to 20 or more pounds.

Warm up with one set of 12 reps without using weights, then perform three sets of eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise. Wait for one to two minutes in between each set of 12 reps. Do this workout three times a week with a rest day in between.

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Start: Start with your feet hip-width apart, toes facing forward. Hold your hands with weights near the outside of your thighs, palms facing each other. Squat low by pushing your hips back and leaning slightly forward with a straight back. Keep your knees from pushing forward by aligning them over your ankles. Shift your body weight to your heels.

Common error: Slumping the shoulders and bending at the lower back

Fit fix: Hold your chest high and keep your torso in a diagonal—rather than horizontal—line from your hips to your shoulders to your head.

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Finish: Squeeze your butt to raise your body to a standing position. At the same time, lift the weights by bending your elbows and curling your hands toward your shoulders, rotating the palms outwards to face your body. Keep your upper arms stable and close by your sides as you move the weights. Stand tall, look forward and tuck your chin into your neck so that your neck stays in line with your spine. Hold, then lower your arms and lower your body back into a squat. Then, repeat.

Safety tip: Avoid over-arching your back or swinging the weights as you stand up straight.

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Start: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a weight in each hand in front of your thighs, palms facing each other. Stand tall, press your shoulder blades flat to your back and tighten your abs without sucking them in.

Technique tip: Avoid sinking into your lower back as you stand. Soften your knees, raise your ribcage and shift your body weight slightly back to your heels, rather than your toes and thighs.

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Finish: Keeping your core muscles engaged, raise your right arm out to the side, stopping when it reaches shoulder levels. Raise your thumb slightly higher than the rest of your hand. Lengthen your neck and keep the shoulder low as your arm rises. Lower, then lift the left arm. Repeat, alternating sides.

Common error: Hunching sideways to hoist the weight 

Fit fix: Concentrate on tightening your core muscles to keep your spine upright and stable so that only your shoulder muscles contract to lift the weight.

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Start: Straddle a fitness step or bench then open your legs with your feet in a split position, right in front of left. Lean forward with a straight back and rest your left hand and left knee on the seat. Hold a weight in your right hand hanging by your side, palm facing your body. Bend your right elbow and pull it up to your ribcage. Hold the upper arms close to your body. 

Technique tip: Loosen your grip so that you are holding the weight lightly; keep all the tension in the back upper arm.

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Finish: Straighten your right arm behind you by straightening the elbow and moving the weight back so it stops just in back of your buttocks. Look down, not forward. Keep the upper arm stable and close to your torso as you bend the elbow and then extend your arm down to return the weight to starting position. Repeat, then switch arms. 

Safety tip: Avoid rounding your back as you lean forward.

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Start: Stand up straight and hold a weight in each hand, palms facing in. Bend your right arm and hold the weight in front of your elbow and hug your upper arm close to your side.

Technique tip: Tighten all your core muscles to keep your spine stable.

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Finish: Simultaneously, take a large step back with your right leg, landing on your right toe, heel lifted and lower into a lunge as your right hand punches forward, hand rising up to chest level directly in front of your shoulder. Hold, then pull your arm and leg back in at the same time as your return to the standing position. Repeat, then switch sides.

Safety tip: If your shoulders feel strained, use a lighter weight.

Common error: Keeping your feet too close as you lunge

Fit fix: If your front knee juts past your front foot, open your legs wider and shift your body weight back so you lower down, rather than push forward with your hips as you lunge.

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Start: Sit on a stability ball with a weight in each hand. Walk your feet forward on the floor as you lie back on the ball. Keep walking your feet away from the ball until your head, neck and shoulders are resting securely on top. Squeeze your butt and raise your hips so that your body forms a straight line from head to hips to knees. Extend both arms straight up above your chest, palms facing each other.

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