When it comes to women weight lifting at the gym, the tide is turning.
For years, women were told the same thing over and over: “You should be thin, not muscular.”
Though health is important, healthy women can look many different ways. Depending on what body type you have, being muscular, thin, or overweight can look completely different.
It’s my belief that women shouldn’t fear looking “too muscular” or “manly” as a result of weight lifting! Women also shouldn’t train any differently than men when it comes to lifting weights. That’s why I’ve put together the best workouts for women here.
If you want to build muscle and get into better shape, keep reading and check out my blog for more great info.
The Differences Between Men And Women
Okay, maybe this sounds obvious but, men and women are different. Men are able to build more muscle due to their testosterone levels.
All women have testosterone levels within their bodies. That said, the difference between the levels in men and women is pretty large.
The testosterone found in men leads to the ability to gain larger amounts of muscle than women can with their lower levels of testosterone. But does not mean that women can’t get gains or should turn to steroids to see results.
Instead, women should get educated on the best ways to build muscle given their own body chemistry and take advantage of the best ways to build muscle.
Women shouldn’t feel nervous about looking too masculine or bulky with muscle exercise. Because of these different hormone levels, it’s very unlikely that a woman will bulk up to the same extent a man would.
Of course, everyone is different and some women may see more muscle than others. This can all depend on their body type and fat level! All in all, women shouldn’t worry about getting too bulky because they can expect more lean and toned bodies instead of larger, masculine ones.
Genetics play a huge role in the muscle building process and while some will gain it quite fast, others will have to struggle to put on size. Although usually everyone has their good and bad muscle groups that will develop well.
Why Women Should Want To Build Muscle
Studies have shown that women’s muscles can begin to deteriorate at a young age. As we know, not having a lot of muscle leads to weakness. In these cases, low muscle mass can make you more prone to injury when you do work out or if an accident, like a fall, happens.
For women, osteoporosis is a common side-effect of getting older. But building muscle is one way to prevent that from progressing.
There are many major health benefits that women can enjoy as a result of building muscle. Since we’re all needing more sleep these days, building muscle and getting in shape can help with getting a good night sleep. Better control of blood sugar levels is also a result of building muscles.
And, ladies, your heart will also thank you because some studies have shown that people with larger muscle mass and lower fat are less likely to develop heart problems!
The best ways to build muscle for women
So, now that we get why it’s so important for women to build muscle, let’s dive right in!
I’ve put together some of the best ways to build muscle if you’re a woman. While getting into these exercises be sure to take things slow and start with lower weights.
Set yourself up for success! Create realistic expectations for yourself (going to the gym 3 days a week instead of 6), and give yourself time to heal if you’re sore.
Diet is the foundation of our bodies. Here’s my recommendation: if you want to build muscle, you should be eating a surplus of calories. A small surplus is necessary to ‘feed’ those muscles and give your body more energy to heal after a workout. The old saying “you grow outside the gym, not inside” holds true. If you’re not giving your body the nutrients to build the muscle mass it will not do it.
Don’t go overboard and load up on tons of carbs and sweets. Instead, make sure you’re getting the right amount of protein and nutrients. There are tons of great apps that can help you track your daily calories, macros, and weight to keep your progress in check!
Create a schedule
Get a schedule going! Starting up at the gym can be tough, but make it a part of your weekly schedule. Write it down in your planner or set an alarm on your phone for certain days of the week. Stick with these plans and, before you know it, going to the gym will be just another normal part of your day.
The most important part is consistency. True tangible results are made in months and years, not in days and weeks. You have to get into the mindset that building those curves will take time and effort.
The other part of making a schedule, aside from getting to the gym, is planning out what you’ll do. You can consult a fitness coach at your gym but this is in my opinion way too expensive and they usually have not so good quality of information. The better option in my opinion is to learn by yourself from internet.
Target muscles all over your body since there’s no such thing as targeted weight loss. All the crunches in the world won’t get rid of your excess fat in your stomach if the rest of you isn’t getting toned at the same time.
Mix it up too if you feel the need to! Stick to your schedule but also know that there are tons of different exercises you can substitute for a given body part. You’re a recreational lifter, you do not have to focus just on squat, bench and deadlift like powerlifters do.
You can also make it fun by doing extra things you like outside of the gym. Swimming, biking, hiking, and playing frisbee can all count towards your workout!
The best training frequency is to hit every muscle group 2-3 times per week. This way you will gain all the protein synthesis you need in order to grow at an optimal rate. Good workout splits that support this are full-body 2-3 times per week or upper-lower 4 times a week or push-pull 4 times a week.
To get into some of the best ways to build muscle- ladies, get some squats in! You can start by just doing them with your body weight to get your form perfect.
Move on to completing your sets of squats with the bar (usually 45 lbs) and go from there. Remember, you shouldn’t overload yourself with weights! Slow and steady wins the race, so listen to your body and you’ll get better results.
Squats target your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and back so this complex workout should be a staple!
If you have any knee or back problems that prevent you from doing the basic barbell back squat, there is a ton of different exercises that will suit you just as well as the regular squat. You can check my article HERE that has quite a few options listed.
Deadlifts are another great workout to build muscle and gain strength on your posterior chain. You will begin by practicing your form to prevent back injuries and stick to lower weights until you can perform a deadlift with the right motions.
This great workout targets your lower body as well as your upper body. It’s a full body workout to kick your body into shape!
While the deadlift is a truly great exercise, you must dial in the perfect form to keep yourself injury free. The last thing you want to happen is to break your back. I’ll give you more pointers soon for this one!
Chin-Ups / Rows / Cable-Rows
These exercises are mandatory for maintaining healthy posture. A big mistake for beginner lifters is to keep focusing on the front part of your body and it’s no wonder because you rarely see your own back on the mirror.
But if you do not spend at least the same amount of time doing these movements as your all presses, you are bound to experience muscle imbalances that will ultimately lead to injury.
And like I mentioned before, doing these exercises with a correct form, scapula retracted and pulling with your upper back muscles, you will strengthen and correct your natural posture which will make you look much better.
Also if you’re not strong enough to do chin-ups you can use rubber bands to assist to get started. For chin-ups I have an article that goes in depth to them HERE.
I have an article on how to build upper body strength that goes in a bit more detail how to structure your back workouts HERE.
All these exercises can be done with barbells or dumbbells
Shoulder Presses / Bench Presses
For women, even though lower body is priority #1 you should not neglect training your upper body. As the posterior chain of your upper body is more important than the front, it is still crucial that you build your shoulders, pecs and triceps to get a complete physique.
Training your pressing muscles with correct form (scapula retracted & tight lower back and abs & driving from your feet) you will strengthen the tendons and ligaments that will prevent your from having injuries.
Shoulder presses and Bench presses are pretty foundational exercises that workout your chest, back, arms, and shoulders- making it a great workout to get in to target everything.
Direct Lower Back & Abs
While the trend lately has been going towards minimalist programs that have you doing just a couple of multi-joint exercises, I found this to be quite injury prone programming.
In my opinion doing just the heavy basic movements such as squats, deadlifts, presses and rows is not enough to keep your lower back and whole core strong.
For some people that are genetically gifted it can work but I rather play it safe and include direct lower back and ab work to every routine I do.
So for the end of the workout I will do reverse hyper-extensions and standing ab crunches. The reverse hyper-extensions work like magic for your lower back. The sad thing is that most gyms do not have the reverse hyper machine so you have to improvise and make your own.
I’ve made it from 30″ crossfit box and slapped 2 45lbs plates on the edge of it and to the same movement with it. Also as I progressed I added a chain in my ankles and additional weight as I got stronger.
But the main point is, do alteast one direct lower back and ab workout for each training session you do. Do not neglect it or you might regret it later!
Because our heart is our most important muscle, don’t forget to get some cardio in. Doesn’t really matter which type of cardio. The best cardio is something that you enjoy doing.
If you like long cardio sessions on a treadmill do them. If you enjoy sprinting for intervals, do them. While High Intensity Interval Training such as sprinting has been found to burn more fat than steady state cardio, 8-10 reps of a short sprint at top speed can build more muscle than those hours on the treadmill.
And that about sums it up for now! Take these tips to heart, and enjoy your time at the gym!