Since early August, Octavia Spencer has been sharing her fitness journey on Instagram—including this latest round of low-impact cardio at home. Her posts are candid, motivational, humorous—and anything but monotonous. From leg presses, ball slams, and step-ups to yoga, boxing, and planks, it’s clear the Oscar-winning actor relies on an impressive variety of exercises to reach her goals.
A recent example of Spencer’s varied approach is a 10-part (!) at-home circuit that she posted last week, tagging her trainer Jeanette Jenkins, founder of The Hollywood Trainer, who has also worked with Pink, Alicia Keys, Mindy Kaling, and Bebe Rexha, among others.
Jenkins shared a version of the workout as well, and if we weren’t impressed enough already, both Spencer and Jenkins included #4amclub in their captions, suggesting Spencer did this routine hours before the majority of us were even conscious. (Though a clock in the background of Spencer's video reads 6:10, Jenkins tells SELF that it is a piece of art and Spencer really was breaking a sweat at 4, hours before many of us are even conscious. Major props.)
You can check out the video via @missjeanettejenkins here:
Whether you do this circuit in the wee hours of the morning or not, the benefits are many—including cardio, strengthening, and balance.
“This is a great movement flow that includes balance work, cardio bursts and strength training,” Kristie Alicea, certified personal trainer and founding trainer of NYC-based HIIT studio Beast: Fitness Evolved, tells SELF. “It’s a pretty safe, well-rounded workout.”
It follows a HIIT-style format, alternating between cardio-centric moves and strength-training moves, while remaining low-impact Stephanie Mansour, Chicago-based certified personal trainer, tells SELF. It's a good option for beginners and those with limited mobility, she adds.
On a strengthening front, this circuit works your entire body, with extra emphasis on your core.
The circuit hits all of your major muscle groups—from your upper body to your butt to your legs—and in particular works your core, says Mansour. The moves target your lower back, the internal and external obliques (the muscles of the sides of your stomach), rectus abdominis (what you think of when you think abs), and transverse abdominis (the deepest ab muscle that wraps around your sides and spine).
The circuit also incorporates moves in all three planes of motion, which makes it very functional training.
There are three different planes of motion through which the body moves—the frontal plane, lateral plane, and transverse plane, explains Alicea. Because “life happens in all three planes of motion”—whether you’re reaching across your body to pick up a heavy object, lunging sideways to dodge a fast-moving vehicle, or simply walking down the street—it’s important to incorporate movements that train your body in all three planes. Doing so well help you move about your daily life more safely and efficiently, Alicea explains. It will also improve your proprioception, your body’s ability to sense where it is in space, she adds. This 10-part circuit will help you do just that.
You can easily modify these movements to fit your own fitness level and goals.
This circuit “has enough variables that you can withdraw or push forward as needed,” says Alicea. You can add bands and use heavier weights for more resistance—or you perform all of the moves with just your bodyweight. You can increase the time and/or intensity for each exercise—or you can dial it back. Keep reading for suggested modifications for each move.
Here’s how to do the 10-part circuit.
To perform the circuit as Jenkins recommends, you’ll need one set of light weights (around 5 pounds or less) and one set of medium weights (around 10 pounds or less). You’ll do each of the following moves for 30 to 45 seconds, and then repeat the entire sequence two or three times.
1. Plank With Alternating Knee Tuck
- Start in a plank with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, your elbows under your shoulders, and your core, glutes, and quads engaged.
- Lift your right leg, bend at the knee, and rotate your core to drive your knee in toward your left elbow.
- Bring your right knee back and straighten the leg to return to start.
- Repeat with your left leg, rotating your entire core to bring your left knee to your right elbow. Bring the knee back and straighten your leg to return to start.
- Continue, alternating legs, for 30 to 45 seconds.
Planks, in general, work your shoulders, back, legs, glutes, and core, says Alicea, and the cross-body motion of this particular plank variation will also work your internal and external obliques, says Mansour. Brace your core throughout the reps to maintain a straight back and protect your lower back.
To make the move more challenging, try bringing your knee further in towards your elbow, says Mansour, or quicken the pace of your knee tucks, says Alicea.
2. Downward-Facing Dog
- From a high plank, lift your butt and press your hips back.
- Spread your fingers wide. Work on straightening your legs and lowering your heels toward the floor.
- Relax your head between your arms, and direct your gaze through your legs or up toward your belly button.
- Hold for 30 to 45 seconds.
This yoga pose is an “active, restorative” movement, says Alicea. It will stretch your hamstrings and lower back while strengthening your shoulders and triceps. If you have limited shoulder mobility, angle your wrists out slightly to create more space in shoulders and neck, says Mansour.
3. Jogging in Place
- Stand up straight with your feet hip-distance apart and jog in place, squeezing your core and pumping your arms as you move.
- Continue for 30 to 45 seconds.
To make this cardio-centric move more low-impact, march in place, suggests Mansour. To increase the intensity, squeeze your core to pull your knees up high and into your chest, says Alicea. Whatever variation you choose, keep your chest lifted and your shoulders over your hips as you move, she adds.
4. Back Flye
- Grab light weights—Jenkins recommends 5 pounds, but go lighter or heavier as needed.
- Stand with your feet hip-distance apart (or stagger your stance, as Spencer demonstrates) and bend your knees slightly.
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand and bend your elbows to 90 degrees.
- Keep your back flat as you hinge forward at your hips and squeeze your core. This is the starting position.
- From here, lift your arms up and out to the sides, keeping your elbows slightly bent and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Slowly lower the weight back down to start.
- Continue for 30 to 45 seconds.
“This is a great exercise for building posture,” says Alicea. “It pulls your shoulders back, lifts your chest, and helps the muscles in your upper back stay long.”
Make sure you don’t lift the weights up past your shoulders, says Mansour, and keep your shoulders pulled down (i.e. don’t hunch them up to your ears). Also, keep your elbows soft and long, like you are "hugging a big beach ball,” says Alicea.
5. Modified Sumo Squat With Alternating Cross Punch
- Start with your feet wider than your hips, about shoulder-width apart, with your toes turned out 45 degrees.
- Press your hips and butt back to lower into a squat, pausing about halfway down for a modified squat.
- From here, squeeze your core, ball your fists and bend your elbows to bring them to chin level.
- Without breaking your squat, quickly punch your right arm our and across your body and then bring it back to chin level.
- Do the same with your left arm.
- Continue alternating punches for 30 to 45 seconds.
This boxing-inspired move works your shoulders, upper arms, legs, and core—in particular your internal and external obliques, says Mansour. It’s also a low-impact way to raise your heart rate, Alicea adds.
As you perform the reps, make sure to keep your shoulders directly over your hips and your chest lifted. Pull your elbows into your body to engage your back, says Alicea.
6. Cross Torso Knee Repeat
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart.
- Raise both arms above your head and angle them slightly to the right. This is the starting position.
- Lift your left leg up, bend at the knee and and drive it up and across your body as you bring your arms down and across your body to meet it.
- Lower your leg down and lift your arms back up to return to start.
- Continue for 30 to 45 seconds. Switch legs and repeat for 30 to 45 seconds.
This move is like a vertical version of the planks with alternating knee tucks, says Alicea. It’s great for balance and stability, she says, and primarily targets your inner and external obliques, adds Mansour.
7. Lateral Step
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your knees slightly bent and your arms at your sides.
- Lift your right foot and take a big step to your right side. As soon as your right foot hits the ground, lift your left foot and step it toward your right foot.
- When your left foot touches the ground, lift your right knee foot again and take another step to the right.
- Take five steps like this to the right, and then take five steps to your left, with your left leg leading.
- Continue the sequence for 30 to 45 seconds.
These steps help stabilize the tendons and joints that surround your ankles and knees, says Mansour. It also works your inner thighs, adds Alicea. If you want to up the challenge, try stepping at a faster pace, suggests Mansour. You could also add a band around your calves or quads, hold dumbbells, or turn your steps into lateral squats, says Alicea.
8. Bicep Curl
- Grab light to medium weights—between 5 and 10 pounds, suggests Jenkins, though as mentioned above, go lighter or heavier if needed.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand and palms facing forward. This is the starting position.
- Bend your elbows, bringing the weights to your shoulders.
- Lower the weight back down to return to start.
- Continue for 30 to 45 seconds.
Keep your elbows hugged into your sides throughout the reps, says Mansour. As you lower the weights, make sure you fully extend your arms, says Alicea. This will ensure you are working your biceps at full contraction.
9. Standing Oblique Crunch
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your right arm extended straight out to the side and your left arm raised above your head and angled slightly to the right. Slightly bend both knees.
- Simultaneously lift your left knee and drive it up as you bend your left elbow and lower your left arm towards your knee. Your torso will be bending up and over to your left.
- Bring your left foot back to standing as you extend your left arm up and over to the right again.
- Repeat for 30 to 45 seconds, and then switch sides for another 30 to 45 seconds.
This move is great for balance and stability, says Alicea. You can amp up the intensity by holding a set of light dumbbells, she suggests. Alternatively, while Spencer is cranking through the reps at a rather quick pace, you can slow things down if you’d rather get more strengthening benefits and less cardio, says Mansour.
10. Triceps Kickback
- Grab your light to medium weights again and place one in each hand with your palms facing each other.
- Keeping your head lifted and a straight back, bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at your hips.
- Your upper arms should be close to your sides and your forearms should be pointed towards the floor. There should be a 90-degree angle formed between your forearm and upper arm. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your upper arms stationary and your elbows , lift the weights until your arms are fully extended behind you.
- Pause for a moment once fully extended and then lower the weights back down to start.
- Continue for 30 to 45 seconds.
This move, as the name suggests, targets the triceps. Keep your spine straight and long throughout the reps by rolling your shoulders back, says Alicea. You can make the move more challenging by hinging forward more at your hips so that your chest is parallel (or nearly parallel) to the ground, she adds. Jenkins suggests doing the entire circuit two to three times.