The idea of weight training might sound intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. A properly designed beginner weight training program for women will take things slow and steady, building you a solid foundation for years to come.
Weightlifting Equipment for Beginners
When you do a treadmill or indoor cycling workout, you don't need to spend too much time learning the proper technique. These activities use fairly simple movements. The elliptical and stair climber machines are also easy to learn. Learning proper weight training techniques takes longer.
There are two categories of equipment in the weight room: machines and free weights. According to a July 2019 study published in Experimental Gerontology, both machines and free weights can help you build strength.
Cable machines are generally easier to master because the cables guide you through the movement. Free-weight exercises require more coordination, but they have more carryover to daily activities. It's harder to learn free-weight exercises, but they might be better in the long run since they employ functional movements.
To make the most of a beginner weight training program for women, consider hiring a trainer or other professional who can watch your form to make sure you're safe. One of the most common causes of injury in the weight room is bad technique, so that's the first thing you should address.
Differences in Gender
As a woman, your resistance training workout doesn't need to be different from a man's workout. In fact, you'll probably gain strength at the same rate as most males. A February 2016 study published in PeerJ compared men and women who lifted weights for 10 weeks to see which gender gained strength faster. The researchers found that there was no significant difference between men and women.
In April-June 2015, the United States Army Medical Department Journal published an article discussing gender differences in training recruits for combat. Its authors explain that while there are gender-specific differences in terms of athletic performance between men and women, some of the highest-performing women are more capable than some of the lowest-performing men.
Therefore, women should be given the same weight training program men have, and the difficulty should be scaled to the individual instead of the gender of the person completing the program.
Beginner Weight Training for Females
When designing a beginner weight training program for women, you have to decide which movements you're going to do, the number of sets and reps you'll perform, and the number of days per week you'll work out. Dividing your workouts by body part is helpful for advanced weightlifters who need to do more sets and reps per muscle to reach muscle fatigue.
For a beginner, though, total-body workouts are the best option. With a total-body workout, you won't spend too much time on any one muscle group, and you can limit your workouts to two to three sessions per week.
During your workout, you should do upper-body, lower-body and core movements to hit all your major muscles. One set of eight to 12 repetitions per exercise should be enough, but you can do two or three sets if you need more of a challenge.
1. Dumbbell Row
This upper body exercise works some of the major back muscles, such as your lats and trapezius.
- Standing parallel to a bench, put your right knee and right hand flat on the bench.
- With your left foot on the floor behind you, reach down and grab a dumbbell with your left hand.
- Keeping your back flat, lift the weight up until your left elbow is above your body.
- Don't twist your shoulders to lift the weight — just use your arm.
- At the top, the dumbbell can touch your ribs or chest. Then, lower the weight back down.
You can use a kettlebell on this exercise to make it easier to touch the ground between reps.
2. Goblet Squat
This exercise uses weight in the front to let you lean back into the squatting motion. It's beneficial if you're not used to the squatting motion. The goblet squat primarily works the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
- Use a kettlebell or dumbbell for this exercise.
- If you use a kettlebell, hold it by the sides of the handles. If you're using a dumbbell, hold it vertically with your palms under the bell.
- Keep the weight in front of your chest, with your elbows tucked down toward your rib cage.
- Squat down, keeping your feet flat on the floor.
- Try to keep your back flat as you squat down.
- Go down until your elbows touch the tops of your thighs, and then stand back up.
Beginners might find it easier to squat while holding weight than without because the weight acts as a counterbalance.
3. Dumbbell Bench Press
The pushup is a commonly used exercise for the chest, shoulder and triceps muscles. However, pushups are too difficult for many, particularly beginners. Instead, use the dumbbell bench press for your upper body muscles. You can use a barbell or set the bench at an incline or decline to change the movement.
- Hold two dumbbells and sit on a bench with the weights on your thighs.
- Lean back and lie down on the bench with your dumbbells on your chest.
- Press the dumbbells up toward the ceiling until your elbows are locked out.
- Then, lower the weight back down to your chest to complete one rep.
If you don't have any weights, push-ups are a comparable exercise.
4. The Lunge
The lunge is one of the basic movements included in the American Council on Exercise's Integrated Fitness Training Model. It requires more balance than the squat because your feet are moving and you have a narrow stance. This exercise works your legs independently, which helps even out imbalances in strength between your left and right sides.
- Hold one dumbbell in each hand with your arms relaxed by your sides.
- Step forward a few feet with your left leg and plant your foot flat on the floor.
- Drop your right knee down toward the floor.
- Stand up by bringing your right foot up in line with your left.
- Step forward with the right foot and drop your left knee down.
- Continue to walk forward, alternating legs each time.
Drop the dumbbells if you don't feel comfortable using weights with your lunges.
5. The Plank
After doing two upper body and two lower body exercises, your limbs should be tired. Now it's time to work your ab muscles. Planks may help prevent back pain and strengthen your core. They're also a simple and easy-to-learn exercise — perfect for beginners.
- Lie on your stomach on the floor.
- Plant your forearms under you, with your elbows directly under your shoulders.
- Lift your body up so that only your toes and forearms are on the floor.
- The rest of your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles.
- Hold this position as long as you can, making sure that your hips don't drop down toward the floor.
If planks are too easy, try doing a side plank to make things harder.
- Experimental Gerontology: "Effects of Free Weights and Machine Training on Muscular Strength in High-Functioning Older Adults."
- PeerJ: "Comparison of Upper Body Strength Gains Between Men and Women After 10 Weeks of Resistance Training."
- Research Gate: "The Role of Strength and Power During Performance of High Intensity Military Tasks Under Heavy Load Carriage."
- American Heart Association: "Strength and Resistance Training Exercise"
- ACE Fitness: "Goblet Squat"
- ACE Fitness: "Strength Training Workout for Beginners"
- ACE Fitness: "Total-Body Workout for Beginners"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Want a Stronger Core? Skip the Sit-Ups"