Every woman should strength train, to some capacity.
This empowering, efficient activity has been proven to provide myriad benefits — physically, mentally, and cognitively with more being researched and discovered thanks to the growing popularity of strength training.
Perform the beginner strength training program provided here and you’ll quickly become a believer in its numerous benefits. Whether you want to lose fat and tone up, see how strong you can become, or ensure you maintain independence with age, strength training deserves your time and effort, perhaps more than any other activity you could do.
To put you on the fast track to success, and to calm any hesitations you may have and answer common questions, let’s begin with seven important notes for beginner strength trainees.
Women’s Beginner Strength Training Notes
1. Begin with exercises with the lowest learning curve that provide the greatest benefits.
Any new activity has an inevitable learning curve — when it comes to strength training, I want to minimize it. That’s why strength training beginners should start with exercises that can be learned quickly, from the first workout. This means you’ll get stronger, build momentum, gain confidence, and seal in proper lifting technique right away.
The second portion of this first strength training note is exercises that provide the greatest benefits, and this is equally important. A dumbbell biceps curl, for example, has a small learning curve, but it won’t provide the greatest results for your effort. A better choice would be a cable pulldown using a palms-up grip — this exercise works your biceps and your back; this makes pulldowns a better choice than curls. Not only do they work a lot of muscle mass, but they have a much greater loading potential (i.e., you can get much stronger and progress quicker).
The purpose of begin with exercises with the lowest learning curve that provide the greatest benefits is more evident when you compare a goblet squat to a barbell back squat. Every person I’ve worked with can correctly, and confidently, perform the goblet squat from the first workout. Most people master this quicker than a barbell back squat, and that’s why it’s used in this beginner strength training guide.
2. Don’t get too sore.
Some muscle soreness is likely when you start strength training, but you shouldn’t be cripplingly holy-crap-I’m-stuck-on-the-toilet sore for several days afterward. It’s an unfortunate fact that women are often encouraged to seek out extreme soreness, like it’s a badge of honor or, worse, that it’s the only indicator of a successful workout. (This is merely one of many misconceptions of the mind-boggling bullshit of health and fitness.)
Many who get uncomfortably sore early on in their training program get discouraged — no one wants their daily activities to be impeded from yesterday’s workout. The solution is to avoid extreme muscle soreness by starting your program with just a couple sets for each exercise; this will be explained below.
3. Get stronger.
Want to lose fat and achieve a toned looking physique? Fantastic! To achieve those results you must improve your strength training performance every time you repeat a workout. As a beginner strength trainee, getting stronger must be your sole priority in the gym. For the first several months you should (a) perform more reps with the same weight, (b) increase the weight, and/or (c) perform more sets for each exercise.
4. Be proud of what your body can do.
Most women start strength training because they want to improve the appearance of their body to look better in, and out of, their clothes. But don’t make the mistake of obsessing over the “after” version of yourself.
Pay attention to the wonderful things your body can do and unleash the strength you possess.
Choose to look beyond the superficial level we’ve been led to believe is most important and find something more lasting, meaningful, and empowering. What good is a perky butt and toned shoulders if you don’t believe you’re worthy and incredible apart from the physical changes you achieve?
Focus on improving your performance — you’ll learn, quickly, you’re stronger than you realized. Use that knowledge to shatter self-imposed barriers in, and out of, the gym.
5. It’s not about fatigue — it’s about getting better.
Finishing every workout on the brink of vomiting or experiencing extreme fatigue and muscle soreness the following day is not an indicator of a successful workout. The only thing that matters and lets you know you had a “good” workout when you’re a beginner is improving your performance; i.e., getting stronger.
Every time you repeat a workout, do a little better than last time (perform more reps with the same weight, use more weight, perform an extra set). That is how you measure the value of a workout, and doing so will ensure you build the body and strength you’re after.
6. Move at your own pace.
You may learn proper exercise form and increase your strength rapidly. Or this strength training thing may be intimidating and mentally and physically uncomfortable at first. Move at your own pace. Don’t force yourself to do too much too soon, but don’t hold yourself back too much either. Strength training isn’t about reaching the finish line as quickly as possible only to burn out halfway there — it’s about moving at a consistent, challenging pace to ensure you get there, and go beyond.
Achieving the results you want is important, but so is making sure you build a lifestyle that will ensure you maintain them. Strength training should be a lifelong activity, and starting off right is crucial.
7. Don’t be intimidated.
If you work out in a crowded gym, venturing to the free weight area may be intimidating. To make this easier you can recruit a friend to work out with you and you two can support and encourage each other. If you work out solo, load your favorite music onto your phone and listen to it while you train so you can focus on why you’re there and what you’re doing, and drown out everything else around you. You’ll still have to deal with the stench of stale sweat and cheap cologne, but at least you won’t have to hear men grunting as they flex in the mirror.
Recommended article: How to Banish the Fear of Lifting Weights
Get in the weight room as soon as you can. Take the first step and complete the first workout. Once you build momentum, returning will be easier and fun.
The Women’s Beginner Strength Training Program
Read these notes carefully before you perform the workouts.
How much weight should you use? I can’t answer that, specifically. The first thing you must do is learn how to correctly perform each exercise. Once you’re confident with the movement, use a challenging weight for every exercise, and get stronger every time you repeat the workout (more on this below). What does a “challenging weight” mean? You should have to focus and work fairly hard using an appropriate weight for the provided rep range. Stated another way: If you can easily perform 10 or more reps with a weight or variation when the goal is to perform challenging sets of 5-8 reps, it’s too easy. Use warm-up sets to find the correct weight.
How should I warm up for each exercise? Begin with a weight (or variation for bodyweight exercises) that allows you to perform 10 easy reps. Then add a little weight and perform 5-8 reps. You can perform a third set of 3-5 reps, with a heavier weight, if needed. Use the warm-up sets to find the proper weight/variation to use for the work sets. The goal of the warm-up sets is to hone proper technique and prepare you for the main workout.
Exercises will be performed as straight sets or supersets. A straight set simply means to perform all sets of an exercise on its own, and is labeled with a number. For example with Workout 1:
1) Goblet squat
Perform all sets for that exercise before moving on to the rest of the workout.
A superset pairs two exercises together — perform a set of each in alternating fashion. Supersets are labeled with a number plus letter. For example with Workout 1:
2b) Inverted row
Perform a set of push-ups, rest as needed, then perform a set of inverted rows. Rest as needed and repeat for the designated number of sets.
Don’t get too sore. If you are brand new to strength training, perform just two sets for each exercise the first week. If you don’t get too sore, perform an additional set each time you repeat the workout. You can perform up to five total sets for each exercise.
How long should you rest between sets and exercises? As long as needed, but no more. For exercises that use straight sets, rest 60-90 seconds between sets. For superset exercises, rest 30-60 seconds between exercises.
Start with 5 reps for each exercise and use the same weight until you can perform 8 reps for every set. Once you can perform 4-5 sets of 8 reps with the same weight/variation for all sets, it’s time to add weight (to free weight exercises) or use a more challenging variation (for bodyweight exercises). Then return to 5 reps with the heavier weight/harder variation, and repeat.
Perform three workouts per week on nonconsecutive days. The women’s beginner strength training program includes two workouts that you’ll alternate. Here’s a great way to set up your weekly strength training schedule:
- Monday — Workout 1
- Wednesday — Workout 2
- Friday — Workout 1
- Monday — Workout 2
- Wednesday — Workout 1
- Friday — Workout 2
Keep repeating for approximately eight weeks, and then move on to another program.
What about cardio? Get stronger. That is what matters most when it comes to transforming your body. Extra movement is always a good thing, so you can aim for at least 30 minutes of light to moderate movement every day, or just on non-lifting days. You can do traditional cardio activities if you prefer (i.e., cardio machines), but I recommend doing something fun you actually enjoy.
Record your workouts. Write down everything in a training journal or your favorite app. Keep track of the weight used and sets and reps performed. This way, when you repeat the workout, you know exactly what you must do to improve your performance.
The Beginner Strength Training Workouts
Below are the two beginner strength training workouts you’ll alternate. Video demonstrations will be provided below each workout.
1) Goblet squat
2b) Inverted row
- Sets: 2-5
- Reps: 5-8
Demonstration Videos for Workout 1
Note: a suspension trainer may also be used for push-ups and inverted rows instead of a barbell in a power rack.
1) Romanian deadlift
2a) Standing dumbbell press
2b) Assisted pull-up or Cable pulldown
- Sets: 2-5
- Reps: 5-8
Demonstration Videos for Workout 2
Standing dumbbell press
Cable pulldown (with palms-up grip)
What Should You Do Next?
First, perform this beginner strength training program consistently for at least eight weeks. Then you can move on to using mostly barbell variations – barbell squat, deadlift, standing press and bench press, barbell row — to continue getting stronger.
Or if you prefer maximum variety, frequent change in workouts, and love working out just three times per week, consider The Beautiful Badass Lab.