Most women avoid weight training, because they think it will make them look bulky and unfeminine. But actually, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if you want to get that lean, toned, curvy, sexy body that will turn heads everywhere you go, you’ve really got to lift some weights.
And not just the little pink dumbbells – they won’t do anything for you at all. You need to train hard and heavy – almost identical to how a man would train really.
Women don’t have anywhere near the amount of testosterone needed to build big muscles, and all those women you see posing on stage in bodybuilding competitions are taking huge doses of steroids and other growth promoting drugs. It’s simply impossible for a woman to look that way naturally.
In fact, it’s extremely hard for most men to build a large amount of muscle naturally. If it was easy, there’d be a lot more 250lb muscular guys walking around.
So don’t worry about getting big and bulky, and looking like a man. It won’t happen. You will build some muscle of course, but you need that to get the shapely, toned body you’re after. So exactly how should a woman train to get the best results, and in what ways will this differ from how a man should train? In this article, I’ll answer those questions, and I’ll also give you a great workout routine that you can get started with straight away.
Women Should Do Full Body Workouts
When they are just starting out, men make the best gains by doing full body workouts, but after a while, they usually do better if they switch to an upper/lower split routine. Women, however, should stick with the full body workouts.
The reason for this is that women recover faster than men, so they can continue to train their entire body on a more frequent basis. Also, most split systems are largely a waste of time for the ladies. What girl do you know that wants to spend 45 minutes pumping up her arms and shoulders?
A full body workout will help a woman to build muscle, gain strength and burn fat better than any type of split routine.
Women Should Lift Heavy Weights
There’s no point using light weights for high reps to “tone” your muscles. It won’t work. Muscle “tone” comes as a result of building firm, hard muscles, and burning off the fat that covers them. And you’ll do that much more effectively by lifting heavy.
The rep range you use should be slightly higher than what a man would use, however. This is because women can usually do more reps with a given percentage of their one rep max than men can. Anything between 6 and 15 reps per set will work well, but for the most part it’s best to stick to the 8–12 rep range.
Women Should Do Big Compound Exercises
Following on from the last point about lifting heavy, that also means doing the big exercises. Smaller exercises, like curls and pressdowns, might be of some value to the guys, especially when they are past the beginner stage, but they are a waste of time for females.
Big compound exercises work the most muscle tissue when you perform them, and they also allow you to use more weight, which gives a stronger growth stimulus. I’m talking about exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, rows, pulldowns etc.
Women Need Progressive Overload
It’s no use doing the same workouts, with the same weights, week after week. That will get you nowhere. You need to continually challenge your body if you want to make progress. And the best way to do that is to increase the weights you are using on your exercises as often as possible.
When you do something new, your body adapts to it, so that it is prepared for it next time. But if you keep doing the same thing, no further adaptation occurs, and you will eventually stagnate. But if you keep increasing your weights, you will keep getting stronger, and your body will gradually take on the shape that you desire.
You won’t be able to continue to increase your weights indefinitely, of course. But do so whenever you can.
Women Should Do More Volume
Because women are generally weaker than men, and, therefore, use lighter training loads, they recover faster, and can tolerate a slightly higher training volume. That means you can benefit from doing more sets per exercise than would be optimal for a man.
Women Need Less Rest Between Sets
Again, because you recover faster, you don’t need to rest as long between sets as men do. For instance, after a heavy set of squats, most men will need at least three minutes before they’ll be able to repeat the effort. A woman, on the other hand, will usually be ready to go again in as little as a minute.
That’s why it doesn’t always work for guys and girls to train together. Either the man has to cut his loads right back, or the girl gets bored waiting to do her next set.
An Effective Women’s Weight Training Program
So here’s a great weight training program for women that you can get started with right now. It involves training three days per week (on non-consecutive days), doing just three exercises per workout – a lower body exercise, an upper body push and an upper body pull. That’s all you really need to give your entire body a good workout.
You can add in one or two more exercises later on, when you are more advanced, if you wish. But in the early stages, doing anything extra will produce little, if anything, in the way of additional benefits.
You will, however, do a different workout on each of your three training days. This will aid your recovery between workouts, and it will also help to give a more balanced and pleasing look to your figure over time.
The workouts are as follows:
- Squats 4 x 8–10
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 4 x 10–12
- Cable Row 4 x 10–12
- Sumo Deadlift 3 x 6–8
- Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press 4 x 10–12
- Neutral Grip Pulldown 4 x 10–12
- Leg Press 4 x 10–12
- Bench Press 4 x 8–10
- Dumbbell Bent-Over Row 4 x 8–10
4 x 8–10 = 4 sets of 8–10 reps
The sets and reps listed are your working sets, i.e. those you will do with your top weight. Do two warm-up sets with lighter weights before you do these.
Start off by doing each exercise with a fairly light weight, so you can practice your technique, and do the top end of the specified rep range (10 or 12 in most cases) for each of your sets. Then, add a little weight to each exercise every week, until it becomes a struggle to do this number of reps on all your sets. At that point, reduce the number of reps to the lower end of the rep range, and simply aim to increase your rep count each workout. Then, again, when you reach the top end of the rep range for all your sets, increase the weight next time.
At some point, however, you will reach a plateau (defined as failing to make any progress on an exercise for three workouts in a row). When that happens, you can either change the exercise for a slightly different one, or you can simply reduce the weight you are using by about 15%, and then build back up again as before.
It’s important to ensure you do all your exercises with proper technique, and through a full range of motion. Half movements equal half benefits. And, apart from that, if you do incomplete movements you will develop tight muscles and muscle imbalances, which could lead to injury further down the line.
To get the look you want, you’ll also need to eat the right diet. It’s just not true that if you work out, you can eat whatever you want. So make sure you eat mostly natural, whole foods, with very little processed, refined or sugary foods. You’ll need plenty of protein (from meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese and whey protein), a decent amount of complex carbohydrates, some healthy fats (from oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and extra virgin olive oil), and a good amount of fruit and vegetables each day.
Your calorie intake will depend on whether your main aim is to build yourself up or trim yourself down. If you want to gain weight, you’ll need a calorie surplus, but if your focus is on fat loss, you’ll need a calorie deficit.
Weight training really is the best thing that women (or men) can do to get in shape, and stay that way for life. So follow the advice given here, and you’ll soon be able to get a lean, curvy, sexy body. But if you want a complete muscle building, fat burning workout program and diet plan that’s specifically designed for women check out Bikini Body Workouts 60 Day Transformation System by Jen Ferruggia.
Photo credit: -J. Nilsson Photography,CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr (with permission)