In recent years, more and more women have taken up weight lifting and strength training for women. And given the benefits of strength training for women, this isn’t surprising.
Some of the benefits of women incorporating strength training in their gym workout are an increase in metabolism and energy levels, an improved body composition, and even anti-ageing effects.
However, for many women in the UK, the strength and weight training sections of the gym can still seem intimidating. Especially since there are many common myths and misconceptions about women weight lifting, for example, women worry that lifting weights will result in them bulking up.
This guide will break down the many benefits of strength training for women, as well as provide a detailed list of workouts and example exercises for women to begin strength training either at home or in the gym.
- 1 What is strength training?
- 2 What are the benefits of strength training for women?
- 2.1 Strength training improves body composition and increases metabolism.
- 2.2 Strength training helps protect muscles from ageing.
- 2.3 Strength training reduces the risk of many diseases.
- 2.4 Strength training improves your mental health.
- 2.5 Strength training increases confidence.
- 2.6 Strength training improves balance and coordination.
- 2.7 Strength training is great for your hormones.
- 3 Will strength training make women ‘bulk up’?
- 4 Is weightlifting dangerous for women?
- 5 Strength training for women exercises
- 6 Strength training exercises for older women
- 7 5 strength training for women over 50 exercises
- 8 Women’s strength training: How to progress from beginner to intermediate
- 9 What are some do’s and don’ts of strength training?
- 10 3 Things ‘to do’ when strength training
- 11 3 Things ‘not to do’ when strength training
- 12 Summary
What is strength training?
According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, strength training – known also as resistance training or weight training – is a type of exercise that improves muscular strength by applying external resistance to a specific muscle or muscle group. This resistance can be applied in the form of free weights, weight machines at the gym, or even using your own body weight to challenge your muscles.
What are the benefits of strength training for women?
There are various benefits of strength training for women . Let’s explore what happens when women start to incorporate strength and resistance training into their workouts.
Strength training improves body composition and increases metabolism.
While many women believe that cardio is the quickest way to lose weight, strength training actually has an enormous effect on fat loss. Increasing your muscle mass by weight lifting increases your resting basal metabolic rate, meaning the number of calories you burn just by doing nothing shoots up.
In general, women tend to look leaner and more toned when they decrease fat and add muscle mass, so strength training can also improve your body composition without you even losing any weight.
Strength training helps protect muscles from ageing.
As we get older, we start to lose muscle mass. In fact, studies have shown that after you turn 30, you became at risk of losing between 3-8% of your muscle mass every decade. By prioritising strength training, women can maintain muscle mass and avoid age-related bone and muscle loss like sarcopenia and osteoporosis.
Strength training reduces the risk of many diseases.
As well as avoiding bone and muscle-related diseases like sarcopenia and osteoporosis, strength training for women also reduces the risks and symptoms of several other health problems. These include arthritis, back pain, diabetes and depression.
Strength training improves your mental health.
As previously mentioned, strength training for women and exercise have been proven to reduce the risk of depression. By adopting a strength training plan, the endorphins produced from lifting weights will significantly benefit your mental health.
Strength training increases confidence.
Mastering a new exercise like strength and resistance training will boost your confidence levels as you quickly progress through being able to lift different-sized weights. Very soon, you will become an expert in a new skill and even more competent in the gym than before.
Strength training improves balance and coordination.
Regular resistance training helps build your coordination and improves your balance. This is great for using yoga to support your fitness goals, or even for completing basic household tasks. Improving your balance is also important given you lose the muscle strength that allows you to balance when you get older.
Strength training is great for your hormones.
Lifting weights can give the small amount of testosterone in your body a natural boost. This has been linked with more energy, muscle gain, and even an increase in sexual desire.
Will strength training make women ‘bulk up’?
Many women are apprehensive about strength training and weight lifting because they think they will ‘bulk up’ on muscle. However, the reality is, bulking is a long and labour-intensive process that takes months or even years of persistent hard work, tracked calories, and a complex weight programme. Put simply, women won’t turn into professional bodybuilders overnight by starting to strength train at the gym.
Is weightlifting dangerous for women?
Another common myth about strength and resistance training is that it’s dangerous for women. However, weightlifting actually causes significantly fewer injuries per year than running. Like most other sports, strength training and weight lifting come with its own risks. That’s why women that are new to weightlifting might benefit from finding their own personal trainer to walk them through the first steps.
Strength training for women exercises
Beginning a strength training plan can be daunting for some women. That’s why we’ve put together some of the best strength training exercises for women that are new to lifting weights, and those that are returning after focusing on another part of their fitness journey.
There are two ways to complete the following bodyweight and weighted strength training exercises:
This sees women complete 10 repetitions of the exercises below, repeating as many times as they can within 10 minutes. Breaks can be taken when necessary, the goal is just to get through as many rounds as you can.
To complete a circuit workout of the below exercises, do each exercise for up to 12 reps. Aim for three to five sets of each exercise before moving on to the next. Repeat the circuit twice, taking a break in between.
Bodyweight strength training workout
- Sit on the edge of a chair or a bench and grip the edge next to your hips. Knees bent, place your feet on the floor in front of you and move your body so your hips and behind clear the chair’s edge.
- Lower your body until your elbows have a bend of 45 – 90 degrees, before pushing yourself back to start.
Body weight tempo squat
- Keeping your legs hip-width apart, drop into a squat position over 3 counts. Hold this position for 2 counts.
- Return to standing in 3 counts, making sure to squeeze your glutes as you go back up. Stop for another 2 counts before repeating.
- Begin with your feet hip-width apart. Step out with your right foot as wide as possible, keeping the left leg straight and dropping your hips down. Make sure your right knee is over your right foot.
- Push yourself back up to a standing position by “punching” your right heel into the floor.
Crabwalk and press-up
- Get into a high plank position with your core braced and back straight. Move sideways for 3 steps, like a crab.
- Do a push-up (on your knees, if you need to) then crab walk back to the starting position.
Stand up with bench
- Stand in front of a bench or step. Place your right foot on the step and push your body up until your right leg is straight.
- Return to start and repeat on your left side.
Weighted strength training workout
Rather than using your body weight for resistance, to complete a weighted strength training workout you will need an exterior weight like a dumbbell or kettlebell. It’s important to pick a weight that challenges you since the last rep should be difficult to finish.
Kettlebell goblet squat
- With your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, grab your dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it right under your chin.
- Bend your hips and knees to lower your body into a deep squat over 3 counts.
- At the bottom of your squat, pause for 2 seconds, then drive through your glutes and heels to return to the start position.
- Pick up your weight by squatting down, legs shoulder-width apart.
- Working from your legs, pull yourself back up to stand tall. Make sure your core is engaged and your back is straight.
- With a dumbbell in each hand, step backwards on one leg and lower into a lunge.
- Hold for 2 counts then return to the start position. Repeat on the other leg.
Dumbbell bench press
- Lie face up on a bench, and pick up a dumbbell in each hand. Put your arms straight up in front of you.
- Lower your weights until they reach the sides of your chest. Press them back up to the start position.
Dumbbell bent-over row
- Standing with your legs shoulder-width apart, pick up a dumbbell in each hand. Slightly bends your knees, before bending your body over at a 45-degree angle.
- On an exhale, pull the dumbbells up in the direction of the sides of your chest. Control how much your wrists are moving while lifting.
- Lower the weights back down to the starting position on the inhale.
Strength training exercises for older women
Regular strength and resistance training is great for women of all ages and fitness levels, especially given there is no right age to go to the gym. However, for older women over 40 and 50, weightlifting can actually have even more benefits than for younger people.
As mentioned previously, strength training exercises help to prevent the natural loss of muscle mass that comes with getting older. By incorporating resistance training into their fitness programme, older women can enjoy more than just a boost in their confidence and improvement in mental health.
5 strength training for women over 50 exercises
These exercises work every muscle group in your body and will give you a great total body workout. You can either complete these exercises as a 10-minute AMRAP workout (as many rounds as possible), or a circuit repeated two or three times. If you’re completing these exercises as a circuit, do each exercise for 12 reps before taking a break between circuits.
- Either using a light weight or just your bodyweight, get into a standing position with your feet hip-width distance apart.
- Sit backwards to get into a squat position, keeping your weight equally in both heels.
- At the bottom of your squat, pause, before coming back up to your start position.
Modified push up
- Start kneeling, extending your arms and putting your hands shoulder-width apart on the ground in front.
- Lower yourself to the ground, tightening your abs as you go.
- Straighten your arms and push yourself back up.
Forward lunge with bicep curl
- Begin with your feet hip-width distance apart. Using your right leg, take a large step forward and lower your back knee down to the floor. Keep both legs bent at a 90-degree angle at the bottom of the lunge.
- Bring your weights into your shoulders with a bicep curl.
- Push off from the front foot and return to the start position.
Shoulder overhead press
- Begin with your feet hip-width distance apart. Make a goal post position with your arms by bringing your elbows to the side.
- Holding your core in tight, press the dumbbells straight overhead until your arms are straight.
- Return to starting arm position in a slow and controlled manner.
- Lie on the floor or a mat with your forearms flat on the ground, aligning your elbows directly below your shoulders. Separate your hands so they’re roughly the width of your elbows.
- Raise your body up off the floor by pressing down through your elbows and engaging your core. For the best plank position, pull your navel into your spine and squeeze your glutes.
Women’s strength training: How to progress from beginner to intermediate
Unlike other sports and exercises, strength training and weightlifting can be built up and developed over time. This makes it a great long-term exercise for women to incorporate into their fitness programme. Setting goals and milestones within strength training is a good way to track your progression.
For example, increasing the number of reps on bodyweight exercises, picking up heavier dumbbells to use, or slowly adding additional weights to a barbell.
Below are some suggested next steps for women looking to develop their strength training skills over time. For women that are new to strength training, these different steps will help them build up muscle and help their body also adapt to this new type of workout.
Level 1: Bodyweight exercises
Starting with a bodyweight workout is a great way to begin resistance training. Bodyweight exercises can help women improve their cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength.
Can you build muscle from bodyweight exercises?
Yes, you don’t always need to add exterior weights to build muscle. You can build muscle instead by just completing bodyweight exercises and doing the following things:
- Increasing your reps
- Decreasing your rest times
- Performing variations of exercises
- Training to failure (the last rep is difficult to complete)
Example bodyweight workout for beginners
- Bodyweight squats
- Walking lunges
- Jumping jacks
Level 2: Dumbbells
Adding dumbbells to your exercises is an easy way to increase the resistance and challenge your muscles further. There are many benefits to using dumbbells in strength training:
- Most gyms have dumbbells so you don’t need to buy any to take with you.
- Dumbbells are a simple way to add difficulty to a bodyweight movement, for example, you can hold dumbbells while doing lunges.
- It’s easy to track your progress with dumbbells. Once you find it easy to use 2.5kg in your exercises, you can move on to 5kg.
Example dumbbell workout
- Goblet squats
- Dumbbell rows
Level 3: Barbells
While dumbbells are great for adding additional weight to your strength training and challenging a particular muscle area, barbell training allows you to use every muscle in your body. For women that want to particularly progress in strength training, barbell training is the best way to build powerful, strong muscles in your glutes, legs, and core.
Example barbell workout
- Back squat
- Bench press
- Barbell row
- Overhead press
What are some do’s and don’ts of strength training?
As previously mentioned, resistance training can have a host of great health and fitness benefits if done correctly. However, if done incorrectly, weightlifting won’t give you these benefits, and you might also cause injury to yourself in the process.
3 Things ‘to do’ when strength training
Check your form
The better your form, the less likely you’ll be to hurt yourself – and the better your results, too. If you’re unsure whether you’re doing an exercise correctly, ask a personal trainer for help.
You might find yourself accidentally holding your breath while strength training. Instead, focus on exhaling as you lift your weight, and inhaling when you lower it again after.
The rest periods between reps help your muscles prepare for the next set to come. If you find you don’t need the whole 60 seconds of rest time, try increasing your weights and adding more resistance to your exercise.
As well as making sure to rest between reps, it’s also important to avoid exercising the same muscles two days in a row. Creating a strength training plan for the gym can help you focus on specific muscle groups while resting others. For example, on Mondays, you might train your legs, while on Tuesdays the focus might be on your arms, instead.
3 Things ‘not to do’ when strength training
Don’t lift too heavy
A single set of 12-15 reps using a good weight that challenges your muscles is just as effective as three sets of the same exercise. As you get stronger, you can gradually increase the amount of weight you’re using, but starting with a weight you can first comfortably lift helps prevent injury.
Don’t skip the warmup
Since cold muscles are more susceptible to injury than warm muscles, warming up with 5-10 minutes of aerobic activity before a weight-lifting session means you’re less likely to hurt yourself.
Don’t ignore pain
There’s a difference between challenging yourself with a heavier weight and causing yourself pain. If an exercise is painful to complete, stop immediately. You can always try it again in a few days, or with a lighter weight instead.
Strength and resistance training isn’t just for athletes and professional bodybuilders. In fact, strength training has a large number of benefits for women, like increasing metabolism and energy levels, improving mental health and confidence, and even maintaining muscle mass and bones from the effects of ageing.
Whether you’re new to the world of weightlifting or are thinking about re-adding strength training into your fitness programme, there are a variety of great exercises you can complete to add resistance to your workout – and challenge your body at the same time.
You may want to hire a personal trainer to support you with your strength training or you can study to become a personal trainer yourself, increase your own knowledge and help other women to achieve their own fitness goals!
Get in touch with our team to book your no obligation discovery call and chat about your new career as a personal trainer.