Strength training is a must, especially for women. Research continues to pile up showing that strength training is a powerful tool for heart health, bone strength and age-related weight gain. Strength training also benefits your hormones — including cortisol (a stress hormone), estrogen and testosterone (yes, ladies, you have testosterone too).
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It's the key to truly empowering your body, preventing injuries, boosting self-confidence and promoting a general sense of well-being.
To get started, here's a list of the five best exercises for women to build lean muscle and lose fat.
Move 1: Goblet Squat
The goblet squat emphasizes your glutes and hamstrings, while reducing the common issue of quadriceps dominance that women are prone to. And because it uses deep squat and upright torso position, this move is fantastic for building functional core strength too.
- Position your feet shoulder-width apart and turn your toes diagonally to the sides. 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, or as far as comfortable.
- Pause for two seconds at the bottom, then press into your heels and return to standing, moving slightly faster than your lowering speed.
Move 2: Lat Pulldown
In general, women should aim to do three times more pulling exercises (like lat pulldowns) than pushing ones (like push-ups), for upper-body muscle balance and function. This best exercise targets your latissimus dorsi muscles (aka lats) that wrap around your sides and middle back.
- 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.
- 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.
Move 3: Chest Fly
To keep your body balanced, it's critical to build upper-body strength. Two gold-standard chest exercises are the bench press and the chest fly. The dumbbell chest fly improves the pulling and pushing functions of your chest muscles, while the bench press focuses more on pushing.
- Lie on the floor with your feet flat and knees bent. Bring the dumbbells together in front of your chest with your shoulders anchored down and elbows unlocked.
- 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.
Move 4: Deadlift
This may very well be the absolute best exercise for women to get lean and strong. Similar to the leg press, the deadlift works all of the major muscles of your lower body. It's particularly great for women because it puts more emphasis on pulling movement of the the hamstrings and glutes, improving body mechanics and supporting your pelvis.
- 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 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.
Move 5: Overhead Press
Barbell exercises are great because they help to bring symmetry of movement between the right and left sides of your body. This move improves shoulder function while also demanding core stabilization.
- 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.
- Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: "Associations of Resistance Exercise with Cardiovascular Disease Morbidity and Mortality"
- Endocrinology and Metabolism: "Effects of Resistance Exercise on Bone Health"
- International Journal Of Obesity: "The effects of changing exercise levels on weight and age-related weight gain"
- Sports Medicine: "Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training"