Notes From a Hired Pen

Losing 25 pounds this summer: my strength training routine

DC half


Enough of you guys asked, so here it is: the strength training program I used this summer when I lost 25 pounds.

A couple of caveats:

1. I am not a fitness professional. Proceed at your own risk. I created these workouts by going to the weight room and telling myself I was allowed to leave 20 minutes later. The workouts are a combination of moves I’d learned in a boot camp, read Oxygen and Runner’s World magazines, watched other people, and learned through some tips from trainers at the gym. I got it down to 15 minutes per session by the fall.

2. Some people approach the weight room like a field of poison ivy, but I really like it. I think some, especially women, are intimidated by the weight room. Don’t be. Just do your thing and don’t let any of the big guys (who are usually normal guys and more than happy to share the floor with women) scare you.

3. I’m only including what weights I use as a reference. I didn’t start there in April, but figured out my first weight level by, well, picking up some weights and giving it a go. I’m about ready to take some of these moves on with heavier weights, but I’m about to change up my routine because I’m marathon training again, which will require different gym workouts.

4. This is not a magic bullet. I also paired this with a more whole food focused eating: more protein (including full fat dairy and non-lean meats) and not as many carbs. I cut out a lot of processed foods, too. That’s probably another post, but for references, check out The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz and Unprocessed by Megan Kimble. Also: If you’re approaching the new year with any kind of food resolution, my advice is this: go slow, and make changes in steps. If you try to change absolutely everything at once, you could be one of the 92% of people who don’t keep your resolution (one example: I cut back on booze by first no longer keeping beer or wine in my house. That made doing an alcohol free August much easier). I’ll be changing my diet again to fuel marathon training, but at some point I’ll write out what I did over the summer when I was much more focused on building muscle.

5. I’m sure a lot of people will find fault with one part or all parts of this, but that’s not why I’m sharing. I don’t really want to hear that I’m doing the wrong kinds of things on this day, or that I should be able to lift a lot more with that exercise. That’s not the point. I’m sharing it because it worked, and because people asked to know what I did.

6. To track progress, I weighed myself every Wednesday morning and wrote down my weight in a notebook that stays in my office. I also did measurements until my tape broke. The weight loss was erratic — in some weeks, I lost nothing; in others, four ponds in that week. I still track my weight. That’s how I know I put some of it back on during the holidays (which I knew would happen and I’m totally fine with because: cookies). I thought buying a scale would make me a bit fanatical about my diet and workouts, but it’s more of a meter reading. It’s good to know where I’m at, especially since I want to stay lean through marathon training.

7. I’m only linking to one exercise because most are standard; others are on machines that will tell you what to do. I encourage you to look through the American Council on Exercise’s strength training library to see how these moves are done, especially the deadlift. That last thing you want is to hurt yourself in trying to get stronger.


General outline: Monday and Wednesday, Workout 1; Tuesday and Thursday, Workout 2. On most days, I’d also do some sort of cardio, including one day a week of 400 meter repeats on the track. Saturdays I did a stadium stairs workout. I also sometimes did ab workouts at home independent of what I did in the gym. They were simple, usually some version of crunches (20 reps, three sets).

Workout 1

Block 1, done twice

Chin up on selectorized chin and dip machine, 120 pound offset, 20 reps

Dip on selectorized chin and dip machine, 120 pound offset, 20 reps


Block 2, done twice

Standing dumbbell chest fly, 20 pounds each arm, 20 reps

Standing dumbbell military press, 10 pounds each arm, 10 reps

Single arm overhead extension, 10 pounds each arm, 10 reps each arm (one arm at a time)


Block 3, done twice

Lat pulldown on machine, 70 pounds, 10 reps

Low row on machine, 60 pounds, 10 reps


Block 4, done twice

Rear upright row, EZ curl bar + 10 pounds, 20 reps

Barbell curl, EZ curl bar + 10 pounds, 20 reps


Block 5, done twice

Tricep dip, unweighted, 20 reps


Workout 2

Block 1, done twice

Stability ball pass through, 8 reps (I started with three, got up to eight, then added the next two to make it more difficult. I’m linking to this one because it’s not a standard move, and seeing it helps)

Side planks, 20 pulses each side

Regular plank, 30 seconds


Block 2, done twice

Standing side crunch, 45 pounds through one weight plate, 20 reps each side


Block 3, done once

Walking lunges, 40 pounds through two 20 pound dumbbells, 30 steps in each direction


Block 4, done twice

Sumo squat, 55 pounds through one dumbbell, 20 reps


Block 5, done twice

Deadlift, 60 pounds through fixed weight barbell, 10 reps


Block 6, done twice

Calf raises, unweighted, 50 reps


That’s it. Not very technical, probably not trainer approved, but it’s something I put together that worked very well for me. Good luck, don’t be scare of the weight room, and lift safely!


2 Responses to “Losing 25 pounds this summer: my strength training routine”

  1. Kate says:

    Jen, thanks for this. I’ve been really inspired by your writing and your weight loss. Loved your book! Any chance you could also write a blog about the changes you made to your eating? It would help me a lot!

Leave a Reply