The Women’s Beginner Strength Training Guide to Lift Like a Girl & Look Absolutely Awesome


I’ve dedicated an article specifically to beginner trainees in the past with 11 Beginner Strength Training Tips for Women, but today, I’m going beyond the tips and I’m giving you detailed information on how you should design your strength training program.

In addition, I’m going to provide you with a strength training template you can used based on equipment availability; whether you train at home with just your bodyweight and dumbbells, or if you have access to a barbell set and power-rack — I’m going to show you how to get the most results from your training program.

Please watch this video to get everything you need to achieve the best results possible from your strength training.  If you don’t have a chance to watch the video right now, I encourage you to do so whenever you have a few minutes to spare. I explain all of the topics from the video below, but please watch that as soon as you can as I share important beginner trainee information.

(I have no idea why the video is stretched. If you click the link and watch it on my YouTube channel, it looks better. Sorry about that).

The Women’s Beginner Guide to Lift Like a Girl & Look Absolutely Awesome

Here’s the breakdown of the previous video so you can see everything at once.

Beginner Strength Training Basics

  • –Focus on a few, basic, compound exercises
  • –Use acceptable exercise alternatives, if necessary
  • –Learn and use proper form from the very beginning
  • –Focus on getting stronger
  • –Do not be intimidated!
  • –Start immediately and be consistent

The Best Beginner Training Template

  • –Total body workouts: three training days per week on non-consecutive days

The Best Beginner Exercises

I’ll provide a barbell/dumbbell/bodyweight variation for each movement

  • –Squat (barbell squat to a box/goblet squat/single leg squat)
  • –Deadlift (rack pull/DB deadlift/skater squat or glute bridge)
  • –Vertical push (standing BB overhead press/DB overhead press/modified handstand push-up)
  • –Vertical pull (chin-up/cable machine)
  • –Horizontal push (BB bench press/DB bench press/push-up)
  • –Horizontal pull (bent over BB row/DB row/inverted row)

Sample Beginner Training Template

Plug in the exercises into each spot below; this is based on equipment availability and training preferences.

Training Day 1

1) Squat variation 4×5-8

2a) Horizontal push 4×5-8

2b) Horizontal pull 4×5-8

3) Back extensions 3×10

Training Day 2

1) Deadlift variation 4×5

2a) Vertical push 4×5-8

2b) Vertical pull 4×5-8

3) Back extensions 3×10

Sample Beginner Training Program

The following is a sample beginner training program I would highly recommend to a beginner trainee. It consists of bodyweight and barbell exercises. If you don’t want to choose your exercises and prefer instead being told what to do, then here you go.

Training Day 1

1) Squat to a box 4×5-8

2a) Push-up 4×5-8

2b) Inverted row 4×5-8

3) Back extensions 3×10

Training Day 2

1) Rack pull (a couple inches below the knee) 4×5

2a) Standing BB overhead press 4×5-8

2b) Neutral grip chin-up 4×5-8

3) Back extensions 3×10

Beginner Program Notes

  • –Train three days per week on non-consecutive days (choose days you know are most convenient for you)
  • –Alternate Training Day 1 and Training Day 2
  • –Perform squats and deadlifts as straight sets, and superset the upper body exercises
  • –Start by performing 4×5 for each exercise and stick with the same weight until you perform 4×8; then increase the weight by 5-10 pounds and start back with 4×5 reps. (Exceptions include back extensions and deadlifts)
  • –Your work weight should be challenging, but you should maintain proper form on every rep
  • –Strive to improve your performance each training session by performing more reps or increasing the weight
  • –Use the same weight for each work set

What about Cardio?

Focus, first and foremost, on improving your performance with your strength training workouts.

You can include some cardio such as brisk walking, if you choose. Be sure to check out the Lift Like a Girl Guide for more information on the types of cardio you can do and how to include them in your training program.

The Two Most Common Beginner Mistakes

Over analyzing everything: the most important thing is that you train hard, use proper form on every exercise, improve your performance, and workout consistently. Don’t waste time and energy focusing on minute details that won’t have much of an impact on your results. For example, don’t worry about something like “back squats vs front squats” or something similar. Focus on the big picture, and that is laid out for you above.

Training for soreness and fatigue: soreness and utter exhaustion is not an indicator of a successful workout. Train for improved performance because that is the indicator of a successful training session. Your goal with each training session is to do a little better than last time. Your goal is not to train to total fatigue and nausea. In fact, you should finish most of your workouts feeling stronger and more energized.

Get the Complete Lift Like a Girl Guide

This is just the beginning of your Lift Like a Girl journey. You also need to Eat Like a Girl and Think Like a Girl. Discover how to do that and more in the complete Lift Like a Girl Guide.

With the Lift Like a Girl Guide you’ll get the following information:

  • Information for intermediate and advanced trainees
  • Information for the more mature and beat-up lifters
  • The three types of cardio and which ones you should do for the best results (if any)
  • You’ll get all the tools you need to design customized training programs based on your training experience level, personal goals, equipment, and preferences.
  • Eat Like a Girl — eating habits that fit YOUR personality, lifestyle, and preferences
  • Think Like a Girl — this is “mental strength training” and one of the many topics I cover is not punishing yourself with working out and nutrition

CLICK HERE to check out the Lift Like a Girl Guide.


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  • “I freaking LOVE this info! I'm determined to be a Beautiful Badass!” -Tina V
  • Jilliganis

    Thank you so much for developing this! I’ve been trying to get my girls interested in weight training, but have felt like I’m just nagging them to keep me company in the weight room. Then my jr high kiddo comes home from school with stars in her eyes because she could beat the boys at pull-ups and bench presses just cause she’s been doing what her mom does. This beginner’s program might just be the ticket to motivate her to keep up and continue to best those boys!

    • Nia Shanks

      Awesome! Keep me updated!

  • minsk

    Nia, what is the difference between the LLaG guide and the beautiful bad ass guide? I can’t make a choice.

  • ultimateposeur

    Excellent work getting the word out that women need to lift just as much as men do. Just have a slight problem though with the inclusion of back extensions in the beginners’ program. Have a feeling that it may result in overworked lower backs.

    I know ideally it shouldn’t but given that this program is targeted at beginners and knowing that without proper coaching they would round their backs and actively use their lower back muscles while squatting/deadlifting at the gym, I’d lay off the extensions till they get their form right. (and even then, I’d be a bit hesitant to include them.)

  • Sabina

    Hi Nia- Are the back extensions performed each workout just back extensions on the floor? Thank You!

  • Brandi

    I’m starting on my third week! I feel like I am definitely progressing, but have a couple questions. Any suggestions for kettlebell work? Do push presses or thrusters or wall ball shots have any place in this program? Would you count jerks in with vertical pushes?

  • Jen

    Ok I am lost – It’s like your speaking a different language…. If I don’t know what these dead-lift is how am I supposed to understand this? Push / pull what??? talk about making a newbie feel worse!

  • Mandi

    I don’t even know what these excercises look like or how to do them. I was really excited and now I feel like an idiot. Maybe you should make a video that’s not just a PowerPoint but an actual guide.

  • Mangodoll

    Am I reading this right – 4×5 = reps x sets? 4 reps, 5 sets?

    • CT

      You have it backwards– 4×5 is 4 sets of 5 reps in this program