There's no need to be intimidated if you're new to the gym or exercise (though that's much easier said than done!), because ideally, you'll start out at a low intensity and volume, then gradually bump it up as your body adapts.
A beginning gym workout plan for women should include both cardio to burn calories and develop the cardiorespiratory system and strength training to build lean muscle and improve bone density.
In addition, you should aim to include regular bouts of static stretching after your workouts to improve and maintain your flexibility. So if you have no idea where to start, let us help! Here's an outline of a beginner gym workout plan. Use it to build your own!
Beginner Gym Workout Plan for Women
People just starting out should shoot for three cardio workouts and two strength-training sessions per week. So for example, you could schedule your week like this:
- Monday: cardio
- Tuesday: full-body strength training
- Wednesday: cardio
- Thursday: full-body strength training
- Friday: cardio
- Saturday: rest
- Sunday: rest
This gym workout plan allows time for your muscles to heal and recover between sessions. If you can't make it to the gym five days in a row, start out with just three days and combine your cardio and strength training in each session. Or stagger your rest days throughout the week.
At the end of each of your five weekly workouts, fit in a 10- to 15-minute static stretching routine (see below for more).
Read more: How to Start Working Out at the Gym
Beginner Cardio Workouts for Women
Doing cardio at the gym offers an array of different types of gym workout plans, so you can try them out and select the one you enjoy the most. Most facilities offer a wide variety of cardio machines including:
- Elliptical machines
- Stationary bikes
- Recumbent bikes
- Stair climbers
Women older than 40, who see natural decreases in bone density because of hormonal changes, would do best to incorporate the machines that involve being on their feet, such as the treadmill, elliptical machines and stair climbers, as they will help to promote bone growth.
Each cardio machine allows you to begin at a low intensity or speed. Begin with 15-minute workouts, gradually increasing the duration as your cardiorespiratory system develops. Or try one of these two cardio workout routines:
Beginner Cardio Workout #1
- Warm-up for 5 minutes at a moderate pace and low resistance.
- For the next 2 minutes, cycle at a slightly faster pace — this will be your "regular" pace.
- Speed up your pace for the next 2 minutes. Cycle at the fastest pace you can maintain. You can increase the resistance here if you want more of a challenge.
- Continue to alternate between 2 minutes at a fast pace and 2 minutes at a regular pace. Adjust the resistance between light and moderate if you want to push yourself during the intervals.
- At the 25-minute mark, go back to your warm-up pace and cool down for 5 minutes.
A low- to moderate-intensity interval workout on the stationary bike is a great place to begin if you haven't been doing much cardio. This 30-minute session alternates between regular-paced cycling and faster cycling. You can do this workout on any cardio machine simply by alternating your pace.
Beginner Cardio Workout #2
- Warm up at regular pace on a level treadmill for 3 minutes.
- For 2 minutes, increase the treadmill incline to 2 percent and walk at a slightly faster pace.
- Return to a level incline for 2 minutes to recover. Walk at a regular pace.
- Raise the incline to 4 percent and slightly increase your pace for 2 minutes.
- Lower the incline back to 2 and walk at a regular pace for two minutes.
- Increase the incline to 6 percent and speed up your pace.
- Return to a 2 percent incline at a regular pace.
- Increase the incline to 8 percent at a faster pace for 2 minutes.
- Return to a 2 percent incline — regular pace — for 2 minutes.
- Raise the incline to 6 percent — fast pace — for 2 minutes.
- Lower to 2 percent for a 2-minute recovery.
- Increase to 4 percent for 2 minutes at a fast pace.
- Return to 2 percent for 2 minutes of recovery.
- Return the treadmill to 0 percent and cool down for 3 minutes.
Hill walking is an amazing workout not only for your heart, but for your booty as well. Focusing on what stage you are in the "pyramid" helps distract you from the workout, and time flies by. You can also do this 30-minute workout on other machines by increasing the incline or resistance.
Beginner Strength Training for Women
Strength training is beneficial because it increases lean muscle, which in turn will speed up your metabolic rate and support a healthy body composition. In addition, it helps to build bone density. A full-body gym workout plan includes a wide variety of exercises like:
The American Council on Exercise recommends that gym routines for beginners include one set of eight to 12 reps of each exercise. Take your time and use a light weight until you're comfortable with the technique of each exercise. Once you've mastered the techniques, use a weight that will make the last two reps of an eight- to 12-rep set challenging.
Bring one of these two sample strength training workout routines to the gym with you to make things a bit easier as you get comfortable with building your own routine.
Full-Body Strength Training Workout #1
Do two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise, resting 30 seconds between each exercise and 60 seconds between each set.
- Push-ups (regular or modified)
- Squats (weighted or body-weight)
- Lat pulldowns
- Body-weight lunges
- Dumbbell rows
- Step ups (weighted or body-weight)
- Shoulder press
- Bicycle crunches
For the weighted exercises, choose a weight that makes it challenging to complete the last few reps of each set. Warm up beforehand for 5 to 10 minutes with some light cardio and dynamic stretching. And make sure you cool down with static stretching afterward.
Full-Body Strength Training Workout #2
Set an interval timer for 45 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest to move to the next exercise. At the end of the round rest for two minutes, then repeat the circuit.
- Wall sit
- Jumping jacks
- Triceps dips
- Dumbbell rows
- Glute bridges
- Mountain climbers
This 25-minute circuit workout includes 10 exercises — eight resistance exercises and two cardio exercises. It's a great way to keep your heart rate up and burn more calories while you're strength training. Move through the circuit doing one set of each exercise with little to no rest in between.
Read more: The Only 5 Exercises Women Need to Get Lean
Best Stretches for Women
Because of long hours that working women sit throughout the day, their hamstrings, glutes and lower back can become tight. Regular bouts of static stretching will make a significant impact on your flexibility, which in turn will reduce muscle tension, improve posture and reduce your risk of injury.
Performing stretching at the end of each gym workout is ideal because your muscles are already warm. Static stretching involves getting into a position where your muscles are elongated and then holding that position for 15 to 30 seconds.
The Best Stretches for Women
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- American Council on Exercise: ACE's Kick Start Workout: A Week-by-Week, 3-Month Exercise Program
- American Council on Exercise: Building Muscle for Women
- American Council on Exercise: Strength Training 101
- American Council on Exercise: Flexibility Benefits
- WomensHealth.gov: Osteoporosis Fact Sheet
- Musculoskeletal Disease: Aging and bone loss: new insights for the clinician
- ACE: 5 Chest Stretch Variations
- Yoga International: Seated Wide-Legged Forward Bend