The Only 5 Exercises Women Need to Get Lean
Last Updated: Jun 30, 2017
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Young woman exercising with dumbbells
Strength training is a must when it comes to your fitness routine, especially for women. Research continues to pile up showing that strength training is a powerful tool in the management of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and age-related weight gain. Strength training also benefits your hormones -- including cortisol (stress hormone), estrogen and testosterone (yes, ladies, you have testosterone too). It’s the key to truly changing your body, preventing injuries, boosting self-confidence and promoting a general sense of well-being. To start, here’s a list of the five moves that are absolutely essential for every body, especially women. All of these are based on a handful of foundational movement patterns. Read on to see five moves that will strengthen the muscles that govern nearly every move you make.
Happy Woman With Arms Raised Crouching On Weight Scale
The goblet squat is considered a pushing leg move that emphasizes the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and core. This exercise also improves hip and ankle mobility in a low-risk move. It puts more emphasis on the posterior chain muscles, reducing the common issue of quadriceps dominance that women are prone to. This move develops the strength needed to support the complex nature of other versions of the traditional squat, deadlifts or walking lunges. And because of the deep squat and position of the torso, this move is fantastic for building functional core mechanics. HOW TO DO IT: Position your feet shoulder-width apart and turn your toes to 11 and 1 o’clock. Brace your core to maintain a natural curve in your lower back. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at your chest with your elbows pointing down. Bend your knees and slowly lower your hips, keeping the weight in contact with your upper chest at all times. Lower down until your hips are below your knees. Pause for two seconds at the bottom, then press into your heels and return to standing, moving slightly faster than your lowering speed.
Related: 17 Exercises to Shape and Tone Your Booty
Senior woman walking on a treadmill
RESISTANCE-BAND LAT PULLDOWN
Women should aim to do three times more pulling exercises than pushing ones (like push-ups), since women are prone to be weakest in the upper body. Your latissimus dorsi muscles (“lats”) run from your upper arms to your spine and down to your pelvis. The resistance-band lat pulldown is ideal for women because it directly targets this muscle, promotes the pulling mechanics of the arm and hand grip, teaches the shoulders to anchor toward the hips and takes pressure off the shoulders. HOW TO DO IT: Anchor a resistance band around something secure or use a door attachment between the door and door frame. Kneel on the floor facing the band and position yourself so that your arms are straight and there is a little bit of tension on the band. Your arms should be at about a 45-degree angle to the floor. Squeeze your butt to lock your pelvis directly under you and lift upward with a long, tall spine. Draw your shoulder blades back and down toward your hips. Then pull with your upper-back muscles, bend your elbows and pull the handles toward your upper chest. Pause for two seconds with the handles next to your upper chest. Release to the starting position, moving slower than during the pull phase.
Related: Check out Holly's book, Lift to Get Lean, for more info and workouts!
Senior woman exercising with a hula hoop
DUMBBELL CHEST FLY
To keep the body balanced, it’s critical to keep the upper body strong with strength training. Two gold-standard moves for strengthening the upper body are the bench press and the chest fly. The dumbbell chest fly builds upper-body strength without any increase in muscle size. This move improves the pulling and pushing functions of the chest muscles, while the bench press focuses more on pushing. It also strengthens the mechanics of the arms as they relate to the chest and improves shoulder function. A secondary benefit of this move is that it strengthens the biceps and makes the upper chest and neckline look strong and toned. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on the floor with your feet flat and knees bent. Anchor your core by contracting your abs. Bring the dumbbells together in front of your chest with your shoulders anchored down and elbows unlocked. To begin, slowly open your arms until the dumbbells are directly out from your shoulders, without changing the angle at your elbow. Pause for two seconds. Contract the muscles of your chest to bring the dumbbells back together, moving more quickly than during the first phase.
Related: The Ultimate Workout for Sexy, Sculpted Arms
The deadlift might be the most complicated movement of them all -- and it has major benefits. Similar to the leg press, it addresses all of the major muscles of your lower body. It trumps most other moves, though, because it not only improves the posterior-chain muscles and strengthens your “pulling” muscles, but it also incorporates nearly every muscle above your waist. It’s particularly great for women because it puts more emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes as compared to other lower-body pushing moves. By strengthening these two major muscle groups, you increase basal metabolic rate, improve all mechanics and bring more support to the pelvis. HOW TO DO IT: Start standing with feet rooted into the floor and feet hip-width apart. Bend at the waist and grab a barbell (or a pair of dumbbells). Using mainly your legs (and without locking your knees), lift the barbell or dumbbells up as you contract your glutes and hamstrings to stand up. Lower the weight back to the floor slowly and with control. Pause for two seconds at the bottom and then repeat.
BARBELL OVERHEAD PRESS
Barbell moves are great because they help to bring symmetry of movement between the right and left sides of the body. This move primarily targets the deltoid muscles that are responsible for upward and outward pushing with the upper body. Shoulder and neck issues have become nearly an epidemic, and this move improves shoulder function while also demanding core stabilization. It’s a fantastic move to improve core stability in the standing position. HOW TO DO IT: Stand up straight with feet hip-width apart and hold a barbell with both hands at chest level, palms facing out. Without arching your back, use your shoulder and upper-back muscles to raise the bar overhead. Pause for two seconds without locking your elbows. Lower the bar back down to your chest with control and repeat.
Related: 10 Compound Moves for Greater Pump in Less Time
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Do you strength train on a regular basis? Have you incorporated any of these moves into your workouts? What changes have you noticed in your body, posture or overall health and mental state? How often do you do a strength training workout? What other exercises do you rely on to build strength and tone up? Share your thoughts, suggestions and questions in the comments section below.
Related: 9 Essential Strength Benchmarks for Women
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