Strength training or weight lifting can be intimidating for many women but it’s one of the best forms for training for women. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to weight or strength training in women but the ever-changing tide of the fitness industry means more and more women are strength training, getting stronger, and feeling fitter.
Everyone starts somewhere when it comes to strength training, we have all been beginners so don’t let the fear of starting stop you from implementing such a beneficial form of training into your life.
Strength Training for Women
It’s no surprise that on average only 20% of women who train actually lift weights. We’ve all heard the stories that lifting heavy weights makes women bulky, or that it’s dangerous and your joints, but this all feeds into stereotypes that are holding back so many women from experiencing the benefits of resistance training. Luckily there is a change in the air with more women using resistance training and putting fear and uncertainty aside to find that they can live a healthier lifestyle and build a stronger body.
All training has its place in your program but strength training will not only help you reach your goals, but it could also help you reach them faster than performing cardio exercise alone.
Benefits of Weightlifting and Strength Training:
Whether you’re trying to cut fat, get stronger, or build tone and definition, strength training is for you. Are you still wondering if strength training is for you? Here are the top reasons for adding strength training into your gym workouts:
1. Improved fat loss
A heavy round of strength training leads to high consumption of oxygen in the hours to days after the training session. The body using more oxygen means that it requires more caloric expenditure and leads to a high and increased metabolic rate which means more calories burned which leads to greater fat loss.
2. More muscle, means more calories burnt
When you begin strength training, you start to build lean muscle mass which uses calories more efficiently. The everyday contractions of muscles contribute to how many calories you burn in a day. The more muscles the higher the rate of caloric burn. Once you then add in more movement during the day this then begins to increase even more, from hitting your 10k steps to adding in a few strength training sessions you’ll be hitting your goals in no time.
3. Stress relief
Exercise in general releases endorphins which make you feel good. It is also found that people who strength train regularly tend to manage stress better.
Strength and resistance training in general also shows an improvement in memory and cognitive function. So next time you’re looking for a little relief hit the weights.
4. Increased energy
Weight/strength training helps improve the overall quality of your sleep during the night which means you feel more rested when going into the next day. It also shows that after even a minimal strength session there is an increase in energy expenditure. So when you need a little lift why not hit the barbell and lift not only your mood but your energy levels.
5. Healthy heart and bones
Strength/weight training is a great way of reducing your risk of heart disease and those who strength train are less likely to have heart disease risk factors such as a large waist circumference, high triglycerides, elevated blood pressure, and elevated glucose levels.
Weight training can also improve cardiovascular health by lowering bad cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol, and in turn, this will help to lower blood pressure.
It is also a great way to help you as you age, which leads to a risk of losing both bone and muscle mass. It is especially helpful for postmenopausal women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis. Strength training is an excellent way to help combat the loss of bone mass, and it decreases the risk of osteoporosis.
6. Reduced risk of injury
When strength training it not only helps to strengthen your muscle and increase your bone density but reduces the risk of injury. Training helps build stronger connective tissues and tendons as well as stabilising joints.
It’s also key for helping in correcting bad posture, building better form in everyday activities and preventing back injuries.
Strength Training For Women
Ready to start training for you? Of course you are…
When you start training you need to decide how many times you want to dedicate to working out based on your lifestyle and goals. When it comes to any training you need to be consistent and committed in order to see results on average a good target is 3-5 times a week to allow enough recovery.
The best way to start incorporating strength training as a beginner is to split the body into upper and lower muscle groups and train them alternatively, making sure to hit both upper and lower twice a week, if you choose to only train 3 times then you can still manage this by incorporating both upper/lower into one session.
So here are two alternative options for you, based on strength training either 3 or 4 times per week:
3 times per week – 1 x full-body, 1 x upper body, 1 x upper body
4 times per week – 2 x lower body, 2 x upper body workouts
Once you decide on your training split, the next decision is to choose which exercises to include in the session. There are so many exercises to choose from but below are a selection of core movements to add into your program that will have you building strength and feeling fitter.
Weight training for your lower body means pretty much everything below the waist and can range from squats to deadlifts. There are so many different ways to train with weights that you'll never get bored with the same old routine. For some inspiration to get you started, here are some lower body favourites.
Example Exercise: Glute Bridge
Targeting: Glutes (butt muscles), calves, and hamstrings
How To - begin with just the barbell
- Roll a bar onto your hips while lying on your back with your knees bent. You might want to use a foam pad around the bar, and a mat on the floor for comfort.
- Place your feet flat on the floor with your heels close to your butt. If you feel your hamstrings working in the top position, then bring your feet slightly closer to your bum.
- Start with your feet shoulder-width and adjust from there. As everyone is built slightly differently, some people will feel it better with a wider stance, and some with a narrower one — trial and error is the best approach here. You may also want to try comparing how it feels with your toes pointing forwards, or out at 45 degrees.
- From here, tense your abs and squeeze your glutes. Now push as hard as you can through your heels and lift the bar up with your hips until your hips are fully extended and your shin is around vertical. Make sure you squeeze your glutes as hard as you can at the top, rather than using your lower back and over-arching.
- Do the reverse to slowly lower the bar back to the ground while staying in control.
- Kettlebell Swing
- Cable Pull-through
Squats and Single led variations
Example Exercise: Goblet Squat
- Hold the dumbbell with your palms facing up (hence the ‘goblet’ part of the name), with your feet around shoulder-width apart and your chest forward, shoulders back.
- Keeping a straight back, bend your knees and move your bum back and down, so your weight is on your heels. Aim to get your bum as close to the ground as possible. If you have a logo on your T-shirt, it should be parallel to the wall, not the floor (i.e. keep your chest facing forward).
- Tense your abs and push back up through your heels to your start position.
- Bulgarian/rear-foot-elevated split squat
- Reverse lunge
- Walking lunge
- High step/reverse lunge combo
As we mentioned before, strength training for women and men includes working the upper body as well as the lower body. There are also many workouts for training your upper body depending on which muscles you wish to target. The trick is to start with light weights until you've cracked the movement before building up to something heavier to really test your strength. Here are some exercises to help you.
Example Exercise: 1-Arm Row
- With any one-sided exercise, such as the 1-Arm Row, use your weaker side first. So if you’re right-handed, use your left hand first. We’ll use a right-handed person as the example here.
- Place your right knee on a bench, directly below your right hip, and your right hand directly below your right shoulder. Now place your left foot on the floor out away from the bench.
- Pick up a dumbbell with your left hand and pull your elbow up to the ceiling, keeping it close to your body, instead of ‘flaring’ it out to the side. Squeeze the muscle around your left shoulder blade, and then return the dumbbell back to the starting position (at arm’s length), while staying in control of the movement.
- Seated row
- Inverted row
- Bent-over row
Example Exercise: Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown
- This exercise is for a weights machine where you have a bar to pull down on while seated.
- Get a solid grip on the bar with your hands outside shoulder width and place your legs under the cushioned support with your feet flat on the floor.
- Keeping your body in an upright position pinching your shoulders together, pull the bar towards your sternum. Focus on getting your elbows down towards your hips and squeeze your lats. Return the bar to the starting position with your arms fully extended, while staying in control.
- Band-assisted pull-ups
Example Exercise: Incline Press-Up
Use either step, a bench, or a bar in a squat rack or Smith Machine. The higher the surface the easier the exercise, and the lower the surface the harder it’ll be.
- Line your sternum (breastbone) up with the edge of the surface, place your hands on it around shoulder-width apart, and walk your feet out until your body is in a straight line from your head to heels.
- Keeping your elbows tucked in towards your body at around 45 degrees (rather than flared out to the side), push through the heels of your hands until your arms are fully extended. Pause briefly at the top and return — while staying in control — to the start position.
- Dumbbell bench press
- Dumbbell flyes
Example exercise: Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Sit on a bench with the back completely upright, supporting your back, and place your feet just outside shoulder-width for stability.
- Starting with a dumbbell in each hand push straight up, directly above your shoulders. Pause briefly at the top and return — while staying in control — to the start position.
- Shoulder press machine
- Barbell shoulder press
Example exercises: Farmer’s Walks
- Pick up a relatively heavy dumbbell in each hand and stand tall.
- Hold the dumbbells with a tight grip and slightly out from your sides, so you’re not resting them against yourself (this takes some of the strain off your core), and walk. Put the dumbbells down at the end or at any point you feel like you might drop them (for example, if your grip starts to tire).
- Battle ropes
- Sled/prowler pulls/pushes
Building Core Strength
Example exercise: RKC Plank
- Get into position by lying on your front and then pushing up onto your elbows and balls of your feet. Next, squeeze your glutes (this will shorten your abdominals so they contract harder), and your thighs.
- Imagine pulling your elbows and toes together and hold like this for the most intense plank you’ve ever done. This is much more about how hard you squeeze rather than holding it for a long time — think of it as more of a sprint than a marathon.
TIP: Try not to fall flat on your face when finished!
- Pallof press
- Swiss ball ab rollout
One thing that comes into question alongside strength/weight training is can achieve some success without using supplements? The short answer is yes if you are fueling your body correctly with your current food intake, However they can definitely help you with your goals — especially when convenience is high on your priority list. When thinking about strength training for women, the one that’ll have the biggest effect on your goals will be whey protein. This is because protein is the building block for muscles, so if you want stronger and/or larger muscles you need to make sure you are fuelling them with the right nutrients to promote change. When strength training the demand for protein increases which means so does you need to consume it, therefore a lot of people choose to supplement with protein shakes or bars to help reach the optimal protein consumption.
For many women, the idea of supplements also plays into the stereotyping that weight training will make you bulky, especially those who choose to use protein as a supplement. This is however untrue as with the statement that lifting weights will bulk you, genetically women do not have enough testosterone to bulk in the way that men do and it doesn't matter how much protein you eat. Protein powder is simply a more convenient way of fueling your body pre or post-workout with essential fuel and building blocks it needs to train and be stronger.
Take Home Message
So, ladies, it's time to start lifting! No matter your goal, strength training will have you feeling strong, determined, and confident both inside and outside the gym.
Take your time to get comfortable with the weights and movements, and don’t be afraid of asking for help when it comes to form and technique. Your gym should have PT and floor staff that can help you out, or if it makes you feel more comfortable why not ask fellow women who might be training.
Let go of any fears or stereotyping and add in some resistance training because it can benefit you in all aspects of your life. Put yourself first and feel stronger, healthier, and more confident!
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