Best Strength Training for Women

When it comes to exercise for women, especially when weight loss is the goal, most people tend to choose cardio. Why? Because cardio has a reputation for being better for fitness and fat loss than anything else.

But the reality is that strength training can be equally beneficial.

So, what’s the best strength training method and exercises for women? That’s what we’re going to delve into in this article!

But, before we do that, it’s important to define what strength training is.

Strength training involves working out with weights. This could be freeweights, resistance training machines, kettlebells, resistance bands, or even bodyweight exercises. Strength training aims to develop all the muscles of the body while increasing functional strength and fitness.

In contrast, strength training is NOT bodybuilding, weightlifting, or powerlifting. Those are very specialist pursuits and should not be confused with strength training, which is much more generalized.

So, with that out of the way, let’s lift the lid on strength training for women!

Strength Training for Women


One of the main reasons that so many women are reticent to lift weights is that they don’t understand the benefits, and this is an issue that affects men too. After all, the benefits of cardio are well-known – it’s good for your heart and lungs and managing your weight.

The main benefits of strength training include:

Stronger bones – bones tend to weaken with age, in a process called osteopenia. If ignored, this can turn into osteoporosis, a medical condition characterized by brittle bones. Lifting weights increases activity in bone-building cells called osteoblasts. This slows and can even reverse bone loss. Osteopenia and osteoporosis are much more common in women than in men.

Increased functional strength – functional strength means being able to perform the tasks of the day more easily. Lifting and carrying your kids is an example of functional strength. Strength training builds the strength that will make many everyday activities easier.woman standing on one leg reading a book

Less back pain and better posture – back pain is often caused by muscle weakness combined with poor posture. Strength training addresses both of these problems, and that means you are less likely to become one of the 60% of adults who suffer from some form of recurring back pain.

Faster metabolism for easier weight loss – while you don’t need to build bigger muscles by lifting weights, doing so can be beneficial. Muscle is metabolically active tissue, which means it needs calories to sustain it. Adding just a few pounds of muscle to your frame will increase your metabolic rate, so you burn more calories every day, even while you sleep. Muscle makes losing weight easier.

Target your problem areas – cardio tends to work large areas of your body at the same time. With strength training, you can use exercises to target parts of your body with laser-like precision, working on any problem areas you might have. While you can’t spot-reduce fat, you can spot-tone, turning areas of weakness into areas of strength.

Healthier joints – lifting weights doesn’t just strengthen your muscles; it strengthens your joints too. Joint pain is a common problem that often gets worse with age. Strength training can help keep your joints healthy and free from pain.

Less stress and more confidence – after just a few months of strength training, you’ll not only notice your body start to change shape; you’ll also see your weights begin to increase. This is both rewarding and empowering. In addition, lifting weights is a great way to work off and beat stress. Strength training is good for your body and your mind! 

Should Women Lift Heavy Weights?

While you don’t need to be an Olympic weightlifter to experience the benefits of strength training for yourself, you do need to challenge your muscles with moderate to heavy weights. woman in the gym wearing glovesIf you don’t push your muscles close to failure, they won’t change.

For most exercisers, this means using weights that tire you out in 20 reps or less. If you can do 30, 40, or 50 reps before you start to fatigue, your weights are too light. Your workouts will also be longer than they need to be.

Instead, use weights that fatigue your muscles in less than 20 reps – anywhere from eight to 20 if fine. That way, you don’t have to waste your valuable time on rep after rep of easy exercise.

And don’t worry about building huge muscles by lifting heavy weights. Women don’t have the same amount of testosterone as men, and most men find it hard to build big muscles. Instead of building massive muscles, you’ll just and up looking toned and athletic, especially if you avoid following a bodybuilding routine meant for men.

Workouts Routines for Women

Most guys who lift weights follow a split routine where they train different muscles on different days. This is arguably the best approach for anyone who wants to build bigger muscles. But, for most women, this is not the best way to organize your workouts.

Instead, women should follow a full-body strength training program that works all of your major muscles each time you work out.

This approach is:

  • More time-efficient
  • Better for fat loss
  • Less likely to build bigger muscles
  • Only needs 2-3 workouts per week (instead of 4-6)
  • Ensures that all your muscles are trained equally

There are lots of workouts you can follow in fitness magazines, on websites, and you can also ask a gym instructor or personal trainer to write one for you too. But, to give you an idea of what a strength training for women workout program looks like, we’ve provided an example below.

  1. Squats
  2. Romanian deadlifts
  3. Dumbbell bench press
  4. Cable face pulls
  5. Shoulder press machine
  6. Lat pulldowns
  7. Triceps kickbacks
  8. Biceps curls
  9. Planks
  10. Cable wood chops

Do 2-4 sets of 12-20 reps of each exercise to work your entire body in the same training session. This workout should take 40-60 minutes. Spend a few minutes warming up before and stretching after to avoid injury and minimize post-exercise muscle soreness. Hit the weights 2-3 times a week on non-consecutive days, such as Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

12 Popular Strength Training Exercises

When it comes to strength training for women, some exercises are better than others. Here are 12 of the best exercises for your strength training workouts, some of which were featured in the workout above.

1. Squats

Working your hips and thighs, squats are one of the best lower body exercises you can do. Make sure you include this exercise in every leg workout you perform.

How to do it:

  1. Rest and hold a barbell across your upper back. Step out, so your feet are around shoulder-width apart. Turn your toes slightly outward.Dumbbell squat
  2. Push your hips back, bend your legs, and squat down until your thighs are about parallel to the floor. Do not round your lower back.
  3. Stand back up and repeat.
  4. You can also do this exercise with dumbbells in your hands and your arms by your sides or while holding a kettlebell in front of your chest.

2. Romanian Deadlifts

This exercise targets your posterior chain, which is the collective term for the muscles on the back of your body, including your butt and lower back. It’s not actually from Romania, but that’s the name that most people use for this exercise, which is also known as stiff-legged deadlifts.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a barbell in front of your thighs. You can also use dumbbells. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly, and then keep them rigid for the duration of your set.
  2. Push your backside backward, hinge forward at the hips, and lower the weight down the front of your legs. Do not round your lower back.
  3. Stand up straight and repeat.

3. Hip Thrusts

This exercise targets your butt and hamstrings, but it’s also easy on your lower back. You can do it without weights, but it’s a whole lot more effective if you add a barbell into the mix.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet on the floor. Lay a barbell across the fold of your hips and hold it in place.
  2. Push your feet into the floor and drive your hips up toward the ceiling. At the top of the movement, your knees, hips, and shoulders should form a straight line.
  3. Lower your butt back to the floor and repeat.
  4. Too easy? Try doing this exercise with one leg at a time!

4. Lunges

Lunges are an excellent alternative to squats. Also, because they work one leg at a time, they’re a useful balance and mobility exercise. Use a barbell or dumbbells as preferred.

woman lunging outside

How to do it:

  1. Rest and hold a barbell across your upper back or hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms by your sides. Stand with your feet together.
  2. Take a big step forward, bend your legs, and lower your back knee down to just above the floor. Your front shin should be vertical. Keep your upper body upright or slightly leaning forward. Do not round your lower back.
  3. Push off your front leg and return to the starting position.
  4. Do your next rep with the other leg out in front.
  5. Alternate legs for the duration of your set.
  6. You can also do this exercise by stepping backward instead or forward.

5. Dumbbell Bench Press

This classic freeweight exercise works your chest, shoulders, and triceps. It’s basically the gym version of push-ups.

How to do it:

  1. With a dumbbell in each hand, lie on an exercise bench with your feet flat on the floor. Hold the weights over your chest, palms facing down your body.
  2. Bend your arms and lower the weights out and down to your shoulders.
  3. Press them back up and together to meet over your chest.
  4. This exercise can also be done on an incline bench or a decline bench to target your upper or lower chest accordingly.

6. Cable Crossovers

This is a chest isolation exercise. That means it only involves one joint – your shoulders. It’s a nice alternative to the dumbbell bench press, especially if you prefer to work out while standing up.

How to do it:

  1. Stand in the middle of a cable crossover machine with a handle in each hand. Use the high pulleys.
  2. Adopt a staggered stance for balance and step forward slightly to stretch your arms outward.
  3. Keeping your elbows slightly bent but rigid, draw your arms forward and down so your hands meet in front of your hips.
  4. Open your arms and repeat.

7. Lat Pulldowns

This exercise works your lats, which is short for latissimus dorsi. woman doing a lat pulldownThese are the muscles on the side of your upper back. In addition, it also involves your biceps and the muscles between your shoulder blades.

How to do it:

  1. Grip and hold the bar with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Sit down on the seat, so your feet are flat on the floor, and your arms are above your head. Lean back very slightly.
  2. Bend your arms and pull the bar down to the top of your chest. Keep your wrists straight and your shoulders down and back.
  3. Extend your arms and repeat.

8. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

There is no prize for guessing which muscles this exercise works! You can do it seated or standing as preferred, but most people find sitting down more comfortable.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and raise them to shoulder-height. Rotate your hands, so your palms are facing forward.
  2. Press the weights up to arms’ length, so they come together above your head.
  3. Lower the back to your shoulders and repeat.
  4. You can also do this exercise using an alternating arm action.

9. Triceps Pushdowns

This exercise targets the muscles on the back of your upper arms – the triceps. Most pushing exercises involve the triceps, but it’s often useful to target them more precisely.

How to do it:

  1. Stand in front of a high cable machine. Attach a straight bar to the pulley. Grab the handle with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Pull your upper arms down and into your sides.
  2. Keeping your torso still and upright, straighten your arms and push the bar down to the top of your thighs.
  3. Bend your arms and repeat.
  4. You can also do this exercise using a rope or V-shaped handle, as well as an underhand or reverse grip.

10. Dumbbell Biceps Curls

As the name of this exercise suggests, it works your biceps using dumbbells! You can do this exercise seated or standing as preferred.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms by your sides. Your hands should be turned inwards.
  2. Bend your elbows and curl the weights up, keeping your upper arms close to your sides. As your elbows approach 90-degrees, rotate your wrists, so your palms face up. Lift the weights all the way up to your shoulders.
  3. Reverse the motion, as well as the twist, and lower the weights back to your sides.
  4. You can also do this exercise using an alternating arm action.

11. Cable Crunches

For anyone but an absolute beginner, regular floor crunches are just too easy. This exercise provides a good way to overload your abs with more than just the weight of your head and shoulders.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a rope handle to an overhead pulley. Kneel down on the floor and pull the handle down, so your hands are in front of your shoulders.
  2. Flex your abs and curl your shoulders down toward your hips.
  3. Sit up straight and then repeat.

12. 45-degree Back Extensions

This exercise works your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. If you want a stronger posterior chain, this is the exercise you should do.

How to do it:

  1. Climb aboard the back-extension machine, so your hips are against the pad. Your feet should be flat on the footplate. Adjust the height of the pad until you are comfortable.
  2. Bend your knees slightly, and then keep them right.
  3. With your hands behind your back, across your chest, or behind your head, lean forward from your hips and lower your head down toward the floor. Do not round your lower back.
  4. Lift yourself back up and repeat.

Recommended Supplements

Exercise is only part of what you need to do to get stronger and fitter. You need to eat right too. Part of a healthy diet may also include supplements. You don’t need to take a lot of supplements to get results from your workouts, but a couple that can help are pre-workouts and protein powders.

Pre-workouts give you the energy to exercise even on those days you aren’t feeling it.powher preworkout next to box They contain a range of energizing ingredients, including caffeine, to provide you with the energy you need to power through your next gym session. Most also buffer fatigue so you can work out harder and for longer. There are stim-free pre-workouts for users who prefer not to consume too much caffeine. We highly recommend Powher pre workout, read our Powher review here.

Protein powder provides an easy way to increase your intake of this critical nutrient. Your body needs protein for muscle repair and growth. Most exercisers should consume two grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight, or about one gram per pound.ideallean tub

If you don’t, you run the risk of undermining your progress. There are several different types of protein powder available, including whey, plant-based, and collagen, all of which can be useful.

We highly recommend IdealLean as the best protein powder for women.

Bottom Line

A lot of women are nervous about starting strength training. They mistakenly believe that they’ll build big, masculine-looking muscles the soon after doing their first squat or bench press.

Most men will be quick to tell you that building muscle just isn’t that easy!

Instead, women who strength train can use weights to build the body they’ve always wanted; toned, lean, and athletic. In addition, lifting weights will make you stronger, and that will make many of your daily tasks easier and less tiring. Better bone health too? You bet.

Best of all, regular strength training is an excellent way to lose weight and keep it off.

All things considered, strength training could be the best workout around, not just for men but for women too!

Visit the Fitness Equipment Reviews homepage for more detailed training guides & reviews.


Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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