Strength training is awesome.
It’s an activity that provides numerous, amazing benefits. And they only increase the longer you strength train.
But for women who are new to strength training it can be confusing, or maybe even intimidating. Don’t worry! This women’s beginner strength training guide will get you on the fast track so you can start strength training correctly, and safely, and begin reaping the wonderful results you deserve.
Below you’ll find seven important strength training notes and a sample strength training program along with exercise demonstrations. Please don’t skip any sections!
Women’s Beginner Strength Training Notes
Before you start the beginner strength training workouts you need to know a few important things first. Do NOT skip this section!
1. Use Exercises That Have a Low Learning Curve, but Provide the Greatest Benefits
Any new activity has an inevitable learning curve, but I like to make it as small as possible. That’s why you should (and will in the following workouts) use exercises that you can learn quickly. This way you can start working hard and correctly from the first day, and this means you’ll get stronger, build momentum, and increase your confidence from the beginning.
The second part of this is “but provide the greatest benefits,” and that’s important. A dumbbell curl has a very low learning curve, but it doesn’t provide the greatest results for your efforts. A better example would be to perform a goblet squat (you’ll see it momentarily) instead of a barbell back squat because most people can learn that exercise much quicker, but it still provides a great training effect for your lower body.
2. Don’t Get Too Sore
Some soreness is okay, and likely to occur. But you shouldn’t be crippling sore for days after your first few workouts. Some people go too hard too early, and the soreness is so bad they stop strength training because they don’t like that feeling. I don’t blame them! While it may be a little funny to say, “It was hard to get off the toilet!” you don’t want that to drag on for days. Make sure you don’t get too sore by starting out on the easy side; this will be explained in the workouts below.
3. Get Stronger!
Want to lose fat and keep it off and build a “toned” body? Fantastic! But to ensure that happens you need to improve your performance (i.e. get stronger) each time you repeat a workout.
That is your sole focus right now: getting stronger whenever possible. The first several weeks, and likely couple of months, of the program you should be able to perform more reps, more circuits, or add more weight every workout.
This is mandatory if you want to achieve results.
4. Be Proud of What Your Body Can DO!
Most people start strength training because they want to look better, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t go through your workouts thinking about the future when you’ll achieve noticeable, visual results for your effort.
Take the time to be proud of what your body can do, and don’t just focus on how it looks.
And when you put the focus on your performance, don’t be surprised when you realize you’re stronger than you thought and you shatter any previously help self-imposed limitations.
5. It’s NOT about Fatigue – It’s about Getting Better
Despite the grueling workouts you see all over TV and social media, you do not have to finish every workout exhausted. Fatigue and muscle soreness are not indicators of a successful workout, so don’t focus on those things. It’s about getting better – improving your performance and getting stronger when possible.
Every time you perform and repeat a workout, the goal is to do a little better than last time. Don’t strive to reach a high level of fatigue.
6. Don’t be Afraid to Move at Your Own Pace
You may learn the exercises quickly and increase your strength rapidly, or your new workout routine may be a bit intimidating and uncomfortable at first. However quickly you progress is fine, so work at your own pace. Don’t force yourself to do too much too soon, but don’t hold yourself back too much either. It’s not about getting to the finish line the quickest – it’s about going at a comfortable, consistent pace so you can maintain this activity for the rest of your life.
Health and fitness should be a life-long activity.
7. Don’t be Intimidated
If you work out at a crowded gym, venturing into the weight lifting area may be intimidating. There are a couple things you can do to make this transition easier. One, recruit a workout buddy. If you’re both in there together, it will be less intimidating and you can support and encourage each other. Two, if a workout partner isn’t an option, put your favorite music on your iPod and listen to it the entire time. This way you can “get in a zone” and won’t pay attention to what’s going on around you.
Either way, just get in there. You have as much right as anyone, so get in there and get to work. And remember the goal – you’re there to become a stronger, more awesome version of yourself. Forget about what others think and focus on becoming the best YOU possible.
Now that you know some important notes, it’s time to look at the workouts.
Women’s Beginner Strength Training Workouts
Here are the Workout Notes you need to read before performing each workout.
How much weight should you use? This is always a tricky question. At first, the most important thing is getting comfortable correctly performing each exercise. Once you’re comfortable with the movement, aim to use a challenging weight for each exercise and get stronger every workout (details on this below).
What are circuits and reps? The women’s beginner strength training workouts will be performed in circuit fashion. That means you’ll do each exercise, one after another and you’ll perform a total of 6-10 reps of each exercise, per circuit. For example, with Workout 1, you’ll perform 6 reps of goblet squats, then 6 reps of push-ups, then 6 reps of inverted rows. You’ll complete a total of 2-5 circuits (explained below).
Don’t get too sore. Begin by doing just two circuits for each workout the first week of the program. If you’re not too sore, then add an additional circuit each time you repeat the workout until you’re doing a total of five circuits.
How long should you rest between exercises/circuits? As much as needed, but no more. You’ll likely be able to move quickly, especially the first few weeks because you’ll be limited by your current strength levels, but they’ll increase quite fast!
Start out performing 6 reps for each exercise and stick with the same weight (or variation for bodyweight exercises) until you can perform 10 reps. Then once you can perform 10 reps for a total of 5 circuits, increase the weight or use a more challenging variation and start back at 6 reps and, over the course of a few workouts, work up to 10 reps. Keep repeating this cycle.
How often should you work out? Perform a total of three workouts per week on non-consecutive days. For example, let’s assume you want to work out on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays. You’ll rotate the two provided workouts; here’s how that would look over the course of two weeks:
- Monday – Workout 1
- Wednesday – Workout 2
- Friday – Workout 1
- Monday – Workout 2
- Wednesday – Workout 1
- Friday – Workout 2
Keep repeating that pattern for at least eight weeks, then you can move on to a new program.
What about cardio? Your main focus is to get stronger with the strength training workouts, but extra movement is always a good thing. Keep it simple and either go for a 15-30 minute walk on days you don’t strength train or, better yet, find ways to play more and participate in a fun, physical activity.
Record your workouts. Write down everything – the exercises, the weight used, the number of reps performed, and how many circuits you do. This way you’ll know exactly what you need to do the next time you repeat the workout to improve your performance.
On to the workouts! First you’ll see the workout, below it will be the number of circuits and reps for each exercise, and then finally you’ll see demonstrations for the exercises.
1a) Goblet squat to a box
1c) Inverted row
Reps per exercise: 6-10
Workout 1 Exercise Demonstrations:
Goblet squat to a box
This is one of my favorite beginner-friendly squatting exercises. Most people learn correct form right away and squatting to a box ensures you squat the same depth with every rep. The goal is to squat to a box so that your hips are a bit lower than your knees, but this may not happen right away. You can start higher and gradually work your way down. And don’t just plop down on the box – lower under control until your butt lightly touches the box, then squat back up.
I love push-ups, but some women may not be able to perform traditional push-ups from the start (but you WILL get there!). In that case I recommend performing hand-elevated push-ups (shown in the video) and gradually progress to using a lower surface.
It helps some people to think of these as “reverse push-ups”. It’s the same movement as a push-up but in the opposite direction. Just like with easier push-ups variations, you can make inverted rows easier by using a higher bar (or suspension trainer – that’s an affiliate link) and gradually lower it as you get stronger.
1a) RDL from a dead-stop (with dumbbells or a barbell)
1b) Standing one arm dumbbell press
1c) Assisted pull-up or Cable pull-down
Reps per exercise: 6-10
Workout 2 Exercise Demonstrations:
RDL from a dead-stop
This is one of my favorite exercises for teaching beginners how to use their hips. Begin by setting a barbell in a power rack or elevate it on mats/plates so the bar is just a couple inches below your knee caps. The bar should be over your mid-foot the entire time. Use your hips to pull the bar up (think about thrusting them forward) and then stick your butt back to lower back down; gently set the bar on the safety bars in the power rack (or on mats/plates) after each rep.
Standing one arm dumbbell press
This is my favorite exercise for teaching people to press overhead. I prefer to begin with the dumbbell variation (instead of a barbell) because trainees seem to learn this quicker and it’s easier on the shoulders. Keep your butt and stomach tight the entire time, keep your elbow slightly in front of your body in the bottom position (see photo) then press straight over head.
Assisted pull-up or Cable pull-down
If possible I recommend performing an assisted pull-up with resistance bands (click that link for demo videos), but if that’s not an option or you have a good amount of weight to lose, then start with a cable pull-down variation (shown below). The important things when doing pull-up or pull-down variations is that you keep your shoulders pulled down the entire time; they should never be in a shrugged position (think of what your shoulders do when you say “I don’t know.” They should never reach that point). Don’t let your shoulders touch your reach when your arms are extended (straight); keep your shoulders pulled down. As you pull yourself up to the bar (or the bar down if doing pull-downs), pull your shoulder blades down and together.
You now have the seven important notes, two beginner strength training workouts, and you know exactly what to do and how to progress.
Perform those workouts consistently and make sure you have a ton of fun along the way. Strive to improve your performance every workout, and don’t forget to be proud of what your body is capable of doing along the way. All too often we forget that part.
And since we didn’t discuss nutrition in this Women’s Beginner Strength Training Guide, I’ll refer you to the following articles. Just like strength training, nutrition should be simple too:
Where to go from Here?
After a couple of months with this routine, you can start using other exercises and even squat, deadlift, and press heavy barbells, if you’d like. You can find several different workout programs in the Lift Like a Girl store too. And if you want some help determining the right one for you, send me a message.
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