Weight Training Tips for Women
Take one look on Facebook or Instagram and you will see that women’s fitness is evolving. Out go the hours of cardio and quick fix fad diets and in come women lifting weights with sustainable eating plans.
Strong not skinny is the desired look, and it's finally fashionable to have a butt and strong thighs.
Maybe, you’ve already thought about putting some weight training into your workout.
You may have even tried a few machines or picked up a barbell when you feel confident enough to squeeze in the free weights zone. But for some, this area still seems a little daunting.
It’s time to put that fear and uncertainty aside. Bring on that strong, determined and confident attitude, and let's lift, sisters!
The Benefits of Weight Training for Women...
- Weight lifting is extremely efficient for fat loss – strength training burns calories during and after a workout as we create after burn (known as EPOC - Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, in case you were wondering!)
- The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn day to day. A lean muscle mass means optimum calorie burn.
- Want MURVES? That fine balance between muscle and curves? Introduce strength training into your routine and you’ll start to see changes that you will love. You will tighten up everywhere and start to sculpt your body. Squat for a better butt!
- As we age, we start to lose bone and muscle mass and this increases risk of osteoporosis. Resistance training is an awesome way to combat this!
- Need to go let off steam? Go lift! – studies indicate that weightlifting improves mood and memory as well as cognitive functions. It’s the ultimate buzz!
Many women still think that they should avoid weight training because they are afraid of getting “big”. This is a common misconception but it’s so far from the truth.
Most women develop toned muscle definition and strength without the size through a great weight training programme. It takes time to find a lifting regime that works for you, but you'll certainly reap the benefits. Because pounding the treadmill for half an hour is so last season!
Weight Training Workouts for Beginners
Here are two simple weight-based exercises that you can try which are great for beginners and can be easily modified as you become more confident.
The Arm Curl
Arm curls are very versatile, in that you can use just about anything; barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, a heavy book, or a large bottle of water – basically anything that provides resistance to the muscle. Whatever you choose, don’t go too heavy – the aim is to sculpt and strengthen, not to go big.
Muscles worked: biceps (front of the upper arm), brachialis and brachioradialis (lower arm muscles).
Have your palms facing your thighs (complete with weight in each hand), stand with feet shoulder width apart and brace your core.
In a controlled movement, no jerking, lift one weight toward your shoulder, rotating your arm as you move the weight up from the elbow. When the weight reaches your shoulder, your palm should be facing you with your elbow pointing to the ground.
Lower the weight back to the start position and repeat with the other arm.
Try this 5 times (repetitions) per arm, 3 times (sets). If this is too easy then try 10 reps, or if it’s too hard try 2 sets.
The Weighted Squat
Chances are that you already incorporate the squat into your routine, but what about a weighted squat? This modification is great for those new to weight training and can help further strengthen some key areas of the body.
Muscles worked: erector spinae (a group of back muscles), gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, core muscles groups, arms and shoulders.
With a comfortable weight in each hand, held by the sides of the body with arms straight without locking the elbows, stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
Engage your core muscles as you bend at the hip. As you begin to bend, push your hips out and behind you. Your knees will start to move forward – this is perfectly normal but don’t allow your knees to move beyond your toes. Keep your core muscles contracted in order to maintain balance.
Lower yourself as much as you can, bringing your bottom in line with your thighs and knees if you can, before slowly coming back up to the start position.
Try to do 15 of these for 3 sets, counting to 3 on your way down and on your way up.
Just these two weight-based exercises are enough to get you on your weight training journey, and show you that strength training does not have to mean bodybuilding!
A great compound exercise (one that works a lot of muscles), bench presses can be carried out using dumbbells or a barbell. The muscles worked include triceps, shoulders, chest and back. It even helps to strengthen the lower body. It's important to get the technique just right though as there is potential for injury if they're not done properly.
Dumbbell Bench Press
Lift the dumbbells off the rack and sit down on the bench with the ends of the dumbbells resting on your thighs. When you're ready, lay back on the bench whilst using your thighs to help press the dumbbells up until your arms are fully extended.
Take a deep breath, squeeze your abs and press the soles of your feet into the ground before carefully lowering the dumbbells to the same height as your chest on the bench. Once there push them hard to the ceiling whilst taking a breath out. Once at the top, take another breath in and take a quick pause before repeating the movement. Be very careful when lowering the weights as there is a risk of injuring your shoulders if this exercise is not carried out properly.
Barbell Bench Press
Grip the bar as tight as possible about shoulder width (find what works best for you), squeeze your abs and press your feet into the ground to form a strong foundation on the bench. Once you are stable, lift the bar off the rack until it's over your face and your arms are locked.
Take a deep breath in and start to lower the bar to the middle of your chest. Once there, press your feet into the ground and push the bar hard off the chest (don't bounce it off your chest) whilst breathing out. At the top, pause for a split second and then repeat the movement. Ideally the lowering part of the exercise should take twice as long as the pressing part.
Tip: Use a spotter if you can to make you feel more confident with lifting heavier weights. You don’t want to get trapped with the bar on your chest.
No Equipment? Grab a Can!
If you can't make it to the gym because of real life getting in the way and you don't have space for weights at home then have a dig around your cupboard for some cans to use for a workout (yes, cans!).
Some of us may have stockpiled a little too much during lockdown and still have lots of cans taking up space in the cupboard, so there's plenty of choice. If those canned goods aren't on your menu this week then put them to good use with a dumbbell workout. No gym kit required!
Grab a pair of cans, and enjoy a little resistance training at home. Aim for two can-based training sessions a week to help tone and tighten your arms. Perform 8-10 reps of each of the exercises below, and repeat for at least 3 sets each. Remember to engage your core and breathe fully throughout for the best effect and to minimise the risk of injury..
Start with your hands at shoulder height, palms and weights (well, cans!) facing outward and your elbows by your sides.
Raise your arms above your head until fully extended. Gently lower back down to shoulder height.
Start with your feet hip-width apart and your hands in front of your chest, clutching your cans.
Lower down into a squat, getting your butt as parallel as possible to the floor. Make sure your knees are in line with your toes and that your chest stays up. Looking forward will help to maintain your balance. As you come back up, push both arms up above your head, then gently return to your start position.
Hold one can in each hand above your head and gently lower your hands towards the back of your neck.
Keep your elbows tucked in tight on either side of your head and your back nice and straight. Then raise your hands back up above your head.
Bent Over Dumbbell Rows
Start with your knees slightly bent, and lean over, forwards from your waist. Keep your head up, your back straight and allow your arms to hang in front of you, palms and cans facing forward.
Lift your arms up to your sides, elbows tucked in tightly, and squeeze your back muscles. Gently lower your arms back down. Ready for more? Check out our online workouts over on YouTube!
Weight Training Tips
Be confident when walking into the gym
Walk into the weights section with confidence (sometimes easier said than done we know). No-one will likely be paying attention to you as they will be too focused on their own workout or as is often the case these days, on their phone. If you have some questions or need some help, feel free to ask a member of staff or even another gym-goer as they are often very happy to help. If you're just starting out we would recommend booking at least a couple of personal training sessions to help you get the technique just right, and even just to help you with finding out where all the equipment is.
Our fitness buzzwords and gym slang article will also keep you up to speed with the fitness latest terms so you can distinguish your AMRAP’s from your Doms and Tabata workouts.
Start with light weights
Don't be tempted to lift too much straight away (particularly if you're unsure what weight you should be lifting). Experienced lifters often start light as a warm up to get them comfortable with the exercise on the day and perfect the form (which should be your goal as well). A 60 seconds break at least is also recommended (which can increase as you start to lift heavier weights during your working sets).
Keeping a gym diary
This is one of the most useful and often overlooked tips when lifting weights or going to the gym. It can be in the form of notes or an app on your phone or even a pen and paper if you prefer. Keeping track of all the exercises and reps and sets in each of your weight training workouts helps with motivation and progression by reminding you of what you did the last time you went to the gym. Without it, it can be easy to just do the same as you did the last time which then often leads to boredom.
Is it safe to strength train during pregnancy?
The answer to this is generally yes, as it will help strengthen your body for carrying that extra weight during pregnancy as well as preparing the body for the requirements of labour. There is also evidence that suggests that strength training during pregnancy leads to a reduced risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and the general aches and pains of pregnancy.
This is if you are already a regular gym goer. If you are a beginner, it may not be the right time to start a new gym programme, particularly a demanding one. In both instances it's worth contacting your GP or midwife to find out what is possible for you.
Consistency is key
The aim is to build a healthy on-going weight lifting habit. So even if you're only working out a couple of times a week to begin with and you're not staying for long, that's absolutely fine. If you focus on compound exercises (those that work several muscle groups at once) then you'll get more bang for your buck. Just don't put yourself under too much pressure if you don't see the biggest improvements right away.
It's worth noting that your diet, sleeping patterns and your overall lifestyle will also impact any progress made.
Will lifting weights make you look really bulky right away?
No. It's really hard for women to build muscle due to lower testosterone levels. Those that you see with big muscles will have spent a huge amount of time in the gym and on their diet, generally dedicating their lives to their strength / bodybuilding training.
What often happens is that you'll start to build a small amount of muscle which will help with creating the sought after 'toned' look as well as the burning of more calories throughout the day, as muscle burns more energy than fat.
Women's Weight Training Classes
Attending a strength based class is a great way to learn the ropes when it comes to weight training. Here are a few to try out:
Les Mills BodyPump
BodyPump features a combination of scientifically-backed moves, motivating instructors and great music. Using a variety of weights and plenty of repetition you'll shape, tone and strengthen the body.
Les Mills GRIT Strength
GRIT Strength is a 30-minute high-intensity fitness class, that helps you to burn fat and target all major muscle groups through a combination of barbells, weight plates and body weight exercises.
Les Mills Barre
Combining classic ballet positions with high repetitions of slight movements using very light weights, Barre can improve posture and help shape your body.
Book your spot at these strength based classes or try at home On Demand via the Village Gym app.