Resistance training is a great way for any women to build strength and tone muscles. Resistance training for women has a bad reputation as something only men can do. Many women have the false notion that lifting weights will make them look too bulky. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, resistance training has shown to be more effective than cardio when it comes to burning calories and mobilizing fat tissue. It is worth noting that women over 25 years old who do not strength train lose up to 1/2 pound of muscle each year. This can lead to very poor looking body composition and make you appear flabby and generally unhealthy. So women — you may want to think twice before walking past those dumbbells to get to the elliptical machine. Resistance training has great health benefits for everyone. So pick a few days out of the week with 48hrs of rest between to lift heavy weight and high intensity. When I say heavy weight, I mean the last rep of each exercise should be fairly difficult to complete.
Here are a few of the most effective resistance training exercises for women:
1. Barbell Squats
Squats are a great compound exercise that will build strength and tone muscles in your legs, butt, abdominals, and back. By incorporating squats into your workout routine, you will reap the benefits of training multiple parts of your body with just one exercise. Doing squats regularly can greatly improve your body composition. It is important to have proper form while performing a squat. Start with a light weight you can handle, and have a gym trainer or someone knowledgeable watch your form and make corrections. You should also watch this video to get a good idea of what proper squat form is (You can practice this at home with a broom).
How many reps/sets should I do?
For squats, there has been some benefits shown by sticking in a higher rep range. I would recommend doing 2-3 sets in the 10-12 rep range for squats. You many even consider looking into 1-2 sets of 15 rep breathing squats if you are feeling tough!
If you are only interested in increasing strength, stay in the 3-5 rep range.
2. Barbell Flat Bench Press
The barbell bench press has a long history of being one of the most effective upper body exercises. There are many important upper body muscles involved with the barbell bench press. The primary muscle that is targeted is the chest — followed by shoulders and triceps. In order to target the pectorals most effectively, you need to have proper form. There are a few technical aspect to the bench that will require you to pay close attention to.
Watch a couple of Mark Rippetoe videos to learn how to properly do the bench press:
Remember to start out with a light weight when working on your bench press form. I would recommend only using the bar to work on your form.
If you are training only for the purpose of increasing your strength, you can stay in the 3-5 rep range. If you would like to gain some size and muscle mass on your chest, I would recommend the 6-12 rep range for the bench press. Higher reps will also help with muscle endurance. In order to determine how much weight you should be lifting, note the difficulty level of your last rep in each set. You should have some struggle to finish the last rep on your set. If you perform the rep too easily, increase the weight.
Try doing 2-3 sets of the bench press.
Machine-Based Resistance Training Exercises For Women
While the free weight resistance exercises above are most effective, you can still get a great workout using machines. It is much more effective to just put the pin in the weight stack and be ready to go. However, machine weights have more limitations than free weights. They tend to be more isolated exercises that target specific muscle groups. The free weight exercises like squats, and bench press are much more compounded. That being said, many people women may feel more comfortable doing machine based exercises.
Here are a few machine resistance training workouts that are great!
1. Leg Press
The leg press is a great way to workout your quads, hamstrings, and butt. You can easily perform the leg press without any assistance and it is pretty easy to have proper form.
You can change the positioning of your feet on the leg press depending on what muscles you want to target. If your feet are positioned higher up on the leg press platform, you will target more of your hamstrings, and glutes. Lowering your feet positioning will target more of the quads. You legs will have the most power in the middle because your are using all of these muscles.
Recommended sets/reps: 3 sets of 6-8 repetitions
As you can see above, leg curls target your hamstrings, butt, calves, and even some supporting back muscles. This is a very effective resistance exercise for women. The image above is showing a lying leg curl. Your gym may also have a seated version which also works well.
Recommended Rep Range: 3 sets of 6-12
Machine Chest Exercises
There are many different machines that target the chest muscles,a nd make great resistance training exercises for women:
- Chest Press
- Cable Crossovers
- Pec Deck
You can choose which one you are most comfortable with. Many of these machines come down to personal preference.
Recommend Sets/Reps: 3 Sets of 6-8 reps
Machine Back Exercises
Working out your back is important to help build strength and improve posture. A weak back can also lead to an increases risk of injuring your back.
There are many different machines and exercises that target the back muscle. I will go over a few of the most effective ones.
Lat Pull Downs
Lat pull downs target your Latissimus dorsi muscle It also targets your biceps to some degree. When performing this exercise, avoid swinging back and keep fairly strict form. You should keep your head pointing upwards, and imagine squeezing a pencil between your back as you pull the weight down to the top of your chest. Try to avoid caving the chest.
Recommended Rep Range: 3 sets 6-8 reps
Seated Cable Rows
Seated cable rows is a great exercise for the upper back region. Keep your back straight and head looking forward. You will pull the weight towards your abdominal region by squeezing your back. This is performed much like you would rowing a boat. Your biceps will also be feeling this one!
Recommended sets/reps: 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Hyper extensions (Back extensions)
Hyper-extensions will help strengthen your lower back muscles. Strengthening these muscles is important for improving your posture. You can do this exercise without weights> However, if you find that to be too easy, you should add weight by grabbing a hold of a dumbbell or barbell plate. This will ensure that you are using enough weight to make the exercise most effective.
Recommended reps/sets: 2-3 sets of 6-12 reps
What if I do not have access to a gym?
If you do not have access to a gym, there are some great workouts you can do with kettle bells at home: Kettle bell workouts
You can also perform some bodyweight exercises like pushups and pull ups.