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Women and Weightlifting: Should You Strength Train?

Holly Smith

By: Holly Smith, M.D. - Osteopathic Medicine, B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer,

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

women and weightlifting

Cardio is NOT the only route to take. Women and weightlifting should go hand-in-hand — because strength training isn't just for bodybuilders!

As women age, lean body mass decreases, something known as sarcopenia.

Studies have shown that this appears to be more from muscle disuse rather than just aging alone, and can begin as early as age 30!

However, research has shown that regular weight lifting can help women maintain and build lean body mass and avoid this age-related drop in muscle mass and strength.

Building strength isn’t about having “big” muscles. A lot of women out there ignore weightlifting due to the fear of looking “bulky.”

However, this doesn’t naturally occur in women who engage in weight lifting programs.

Since women have lower testosterone than men, lifting weights is not going to give women the same muscle hypertrophy as men.

What weightlifting will do is boost your metabolism and give you a toned, strong, and healthy physique.

Plus, there are numerous other benefits of weightlifting.

Having more lean muscle mass will increase your metabolism, meaning that your body will be more efficient at burning calories throughout the day.

Clinical studies have also shown that increased lean body mass burns more calories at rest than fat mass.

This leads to increased weight loss and improved health.

In addition, strength training has been associated with a decreased risk of other chronic diseases like osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes.

Having stronger muscles means not only will you look great and be healthier overall, but you will also be able to do everyday activities more easily.

You will be able to complete tasks that require lifting, reaching, pushing, or pulling much more easily when you have a higher level of fitness and strength.

And as a busy mom, this is definitely a plus!

Ready to learn more about women and weightlifting? Keep reading!

Just getting started? Check out these beginner strength training workouts for women!

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Incorporating Full-Body Workouts

If you want to get the most out of your weightlifting workouts, women also focus on full-body workouts.

This way you can work on each major muscle group in a single workout session instead of isolating your muscle groups to one day a week.

For example, instead of spending one workout day focused on your back or chest, you can also exercise your upper body, core, and lower body with full-body workouts.

A study from The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that increasing the frequency of training each muscle group can lead to bigger strength gains as compared to isolating body parts and only targeting them once a week.

For moms new to weightlifting, the first step is figuring out how often to train a week.

A review of the scientific evidence has found that to optimize muscle growth, resistance training should occur at least twice a week, and possibly three times weekly.

For women just beginning a new strength training program, you should start with two days and work yourself up from there to make sure you are getting enough rest between sessions.

What Are the Best Strength Exercises for Women?

The best weightlifting exercises for women are moves that are safe and easy to perform, but extremely efficient at targeting all of your muscle groups.

This way you will get the most out of every workout without overtraining and risking injury.

Women also need to focus on proper form from the start so that they can move on to more advanced moves as their fitness progresses.

Your workout routine should target the major muscles in your back, arms, shoulders, legs, and core.

This could be spread out during the week, or combined in full-body exercises and workouts.

Strength is important for everyday activities and reduces the risk of injury.

Having increased lean muscle mass raises your metabolism and helps you burn fat.

Plus who doesn’t want to show off a strong, chiseled physique?

But if you’re a beginner to weight lifting, the biggest problem is figuring out how to get started.

You may even wonder if you are too old or inexperienced to start lifting weights.

But just because you’re new to lifting weights doesn’t mean that you can’t start building muscle now to be in the best shape of your life.

What you need is a comprehensive muscle building plan for beginners.

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Differences in Weight Training Between Men and Women

Studies have shown that during strength training, women tend to convert more muscle to type 1 muscle fibers, while men tend to convert their muscles to type 2a fibers.

Type 1 muscle fibers are also known as the “slow-twitch” muscle fibers.

Type 1 muscle fibers are more efficient over long periods of time, while type 2 muscle fibers are better for short bursts of speed.

This means that women tend to be more resistant to fatigue during exercise and have better endurance and recovery.

So what does this mean for women setting up a weightlifting program?

Since women’s muscle fibers are more resistant to fatigue, they tend to do better with higher reps.

In addition to doing well with higher reps, women also do well with slower tempo lifting compared to explosive bursts.

So when doing your exercises really focus on both the concentric and eccentric phases of lifting.

Not only will this improve your strength gains, but it will allow you to focus on proper form and avoid injury.

The Ultimate Full Body Weightlifting Program for Women

These exercises use a combination of machines, free weights, and bodyweight exercises to really challenge your muscles.

These moves will build muscular strength and endurance without giving you that “bulky” masculine look.

Dumbbell Squats

Squats are the ultimate lower body exercise.

This movement targets the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves to build strong legs.

Starting with dumbbells instead of using a barbell will help you master the movement while minimizing your risk of injury.

You can also start with just your body weight and then move up to using dumbbells.

  • While holding a dumbbell in each hand, lower into a squat, making sure your knees don’t track past your toes.
  • Go down as far as comfortable, until your thighs are about parallel to the floor.
  • Perform three sets of 10-12 reps.

Dumbbell or Barbell Bench Press

The bench press is one of the best upper body exercises for beginners and long time weightlifters.

This move works your chest, arms, shoulders, and core.

You can use either dumbbells or a barbell with plates to perform this move.

  • Lie back on a flat bench.
  • Using a medium width grip, hold the dumbbells or barbell straight over you with your arms locked.
  • Breathe in and begin moving the weights down slowly to your middle chest.
  • Pause briefly and then push back up to the starting position as you breathe out.
  • Lock your arms and squeeze your chest in the contracted position at the top of the motion.
  • Perform three sets of 10-12 reps.

You should always use a spotter when performing bench presses to avoid injury if you can’t push the weight back to the starting position.

Bicep Curls

If you have dumbbells available, bicep curls are a great way to shape your arms.

You can also use resistance bands if you don’t have a set of dumbbells.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a tube resistance band under your feet so that you can grab the handles at both ends.
  • Grab the dumbbells or handles of resistance bands with an underhand grip, then curl the band to about chin height with your arms bent into a curl and elbows pointing to the floor.
  • Bring your arms back down to the starting position slowly and controlled.
  • Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

Overhead Press

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand at the front of your shoulders.
  • Press the weights directly overhead until your arms are straight, then lower it to the start.
  • That’s one rep.
  • Perform three sets of 8-10 reps.

Lat Pull Downs

  • Grab a pull-down bar with your palms facing forward at about shoulder width.
  • Bring your torso back around 30 degrees or so while creating a curvature on your lower back and sticking your chest out.
  • Pull the bar down until it touches your upper chest by drawing the shoulders and the upper arms down and back.
  • Your upper body should remain still and only your arms should be moving.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together for a brief pause, then slowly raise the bar back to the starting position.
  • Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

Women and Weightlifting: Final Thoughts

For the beginner, start with a weight that you can complete the desired number of reps, with the last two reps being very challenging.

If you start a set and realize that the weight is too heavy, stop and use a lighter weight.

On the other hand, if you finish your reps and find the last two to be very easy, pick a heavier weight on your next set.

Be sure to record the amount of weight you use and the number of reps and sets for each session. This will allow you to track your progress.

A lot of women avoid lifting weights for fear of looking too masculine.

But the truth is that weightlifting will get you a toned, lean physique while building lean muscle, increasing your fat metabolism, and aiding with weight loss.

If you aren’t sure where to start, these exercises are a great place to begin.

These moves will target all of your major muscle groups. Plus, they are safe and easy to perform, so if you are just starting out you can really focus on good form to avoid injury.

So don’t be scared or intimidated when it comes to lifting weights!

Not only are there amazing health benefits of strength training, but weightlifting will have you feeling great and rocking a toned physique all at the same time.

Holly Smith
Holly Smith

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

Holly is an osteopathic physician, runner, triathlete, and fitness and nutrition enthusiast.

She is board certified in nephrology and internal medicine, has a bachelors degree in dietetics and is a certified personal trainer with NASM-PES certification.

Holly has completed four full ironmans, twelve marathons, countless half ironmans, olympic distance triathlons, half marathons and numerous other road races.

Holly joined the Fit Father Project in May 2019 as a regular writer, contributing articles on health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition.

She has also recently qualified for the 2020 World Championships for Ironman 70.3, in New Zealand!

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*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on women and weightlifting.

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