The 5 BEST Beginner Strength Training Exercises for Women (+ FREE WORKOUT)
Making strength training more accessible to women is what I live for. I really want every woman to have the opportunity to pursue her physical potential and enjoy the indescribable feeling of a strong, capable body and the independence it brings.
Besides that, I want women to choose the most effective means for transforming their physiques, which means placing a heavy (pun intended) premium on strength training.
Thankfully, more and more women are understanding how critical strength training is for them and the myriad of benefits it provides both physically and mentally. It’s becoming more of “the norm” to see women getting after it performing squats, sets of push ups and dragging heavy weighted sleds across turfs.
Unfortunately, many women still aren’t strength training properly, or really have no clue where to begin. The majority still views women lifting weights as this:
Although she looks like she’s having the time of her life, most women never lift heavy enough or utilize the most effective exercises to get enough of a training effect to truly transform their bodies.
Let’s be real. Lifting light weights or weight machines or trying to “spot reduce” while displaying the same facial expression as if Ryan Gosling just proposed to you – is not going to provide the results you are craving.
Using compound movements (exercises that recruit multiple muscles at once), like variations of squats, deadlifts, presses and rows will help you build a stronger, leaner body faster and more effectively than using weight machines or isolation exercises (like bicep curls, triceps kickbacks and chest flyes).
Attempting to isolate muscles and body parts will not give you nearly as much bang for you buck or jaw-dropping results like compound movements will.
Always seek “bang for you buck” in the gym.
So it’s time to roll up your sleeves, ladies and show yourself what you’re made of. Here are the best 5 movements to get you started on your strength journey.
What these do: Works your entire lower body, core and upper body depending on how you are loading them. Squatting is a basic, fundamental movement that has tons of real world carryover…and can build a great bum.
How to: Stand tall with your feet a little wider than shoulder width and toes pointed slightly out. Pin your elbows tightly to your sides, sit your butt back and down between your knees, keeping your chest tall. Push through the middle and heel of your foot to get back up and squeeze your glutes at the top.
Make sure your back stays neutral – no rounding of the upper or lower spine. Only squat as low as you can while maintaining good form. Proper depth for a squat is where your thighs are parallel with the ground or lower.
Start with 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
Fun fact: Holding the dumbbell (or kettlebell) in the front of your body will force your core muscles to engage, providing you with more stability, better form and better results.
What these do: Increases upper body strength in the upper back, traps, and biceps and challenges core stability.
How to: Start with your arms fully straightened, while pulling through your elbows squeeze your shoulder blades together until your elbows are right underneath your shoulders and then lower back down slowly.
Be sure to keep your ribs down, your glutes tight and not to let your elbow extends past your body and be careful not to imitate this movement by shrugging your elbows up towards your ears.
The more horizontal your body is, the more challenging these will be. You can use rings, a TRX or any suspension trainer or a bar for these.
Start with 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
Fun fact: These are a great way to work towards building a strong enough back to perform a chin up!
What these do: Make you one badass babe! No really, deadlifts are IT.
These are primarily a lower body exercise but they really tax your entire body and build a strong pair of hamstrings and glutes – which will make your run faster, jump higher and protect your knees, hips and lower back from injury. They will also have your core, upper back and grip working hard. Just as importantly, they teach you how to move through and load your hips, instead of your lower back to help you move better and resist injury in and out of the gym.
How to: Stand with the bells placed between your feet in line with your ankles and your toes turned slightly out. Hinge back through your hips while keeping a neutral spine. Once you grip the bells with a tight grip, engage your lat muscles by squeezing your armpits hard. Drive your mid-foot and heel through the floor, push your knees out and stand up. Squeeze your newly developed #deadliftglutes at the top.
Be careful not to squat down to the weight instead of hinging and avoid yanking the weights off the floor, you need to be lifting with your legs, not your arms.
Do these for 3 sets of 8-10.
4. Incline Push Ups
What these do: Push ups develop upper body strength through the chest, shoulders and triceps while challenging your core. Incline push ups help you progress towards doing a full set of push ups from the floor. I prefer using these over push ups done from the knees, as these recruit more muscle, require more stability and are overall more efficient.
How to: Grip the bar (or other elevation) with a very slightly wider than shoulder width grip and with the middle of your nips over the bar. Make sure you are up on your toes and lower yourself to the bar by pulling your shoulder blades together and actively “pulling” yourself to the bar. Exhale as you push yourself back up. The closer together your feet are, the more challenging your push ups will be.
Do these for 3 sets of 8.
Your elbows should be at a 30-45 degree angle from your body. This is super important! Also be sure to engage your core by bracing your abs to prevent your hips from sagging and your lower back from over-arching.
What these do: Send crunches running home crying because these are a better core exercise. Carries also improve strength and stability in your shoulders and hips to keep them healthy and well-functioning, develop upper back strength and challenge your grip. Grip is very important no matter what you are training for – strength, aesthetics or general health.
How to: Pick up some heavy weights, stand up tall with good posture and carry them for a distance. Make sure you have an absolute death grip on those weights, this will help you recruit more muscles and make your carry more effective.
Avoid leaning to either side, backwards or rounding forwards – if you find yourself doing these and can not correct it, lighten your weight until you can.
Perform carries for 3 sets of 15-20 yards.
Now that you’re equipped with 5 awesome movements to train, how much weight should you use?
Since you are just starting out, it’s best to start with just your body weight on the squats, split squats and deadlifts (practicing learning how to hinge at your hips).
Once you’ve nailed your form, it’s time to load ’em up heavy. If you’re going to do a set of eight reps of a movement, then find a weight that is heavy enough for you to complete no more than 9 or 10 reps TOPS with good form. If you finish your 8th rep, which should be fairly challenging, and you feel as if you could have performed 10+ reps with that weight, it’s time to go heavier!
If you don’t use a challenging enough load, you will not provide enough of a stimulus to your body to progress.
It’s also important to continuously increase your weight, or the amount of reps you perform with the same weight in order to be constantly progressing as you get stronger. As your body adapts to the demand of a certain weight or rep range, that demand becomes less demanding and you will need to challenge yourself more in order to continue getting results.
Putting It All Together
Here’s a sample workout to combine these 5 movements into an effective workout:
A1) Kettlebell deadlift: 3 x 8-10
A2) Incline push up: 3 x 8
B1) Goblet squat 3 x 8-10
B2) Inverted row 3 x 10
C) Farmer’s carry: 3-5 x 15 yards
Alternate A1 + A2, B1 + B2 resting 30 seconds between exercises and 60-90 seconds between sets. Always warm up properly before strength training.
Always keep your strength training simple. Spend your time wisely in the gym and focus on getting stronger with the above exercises and you will be well on your way to a strong, lean body and a whole new admiration for your body’s capabilities!
If you still feel like you need a little more guidance (I get it, this stuff can be pretty confusing!), or have any questions, send me an e-mail and let me know how I can help: Erika@HurstStrength.com