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Weight training it’s the scientifically proven best way to get stronger and build your dream physique (among other benefits), yet women who are new to fitness tend to shy away. This doesn’t come as a surprise to us when most weight rooms are filled with massive people tossing fully loaded barbells around. 

However, we’re ecstatic to see more and more women pick up strength training as their exercise of choice. If you’re still on the edge, this weight training for women guide will help you better understand the benefits, exercise ideas, free workouts, and how to get started on your weight training journey. 

What Is Weight Training? 

Weight training is any exercise that involves the use of external weights, or resistance, to strengthen the muscles. You can do weight training with free weights like dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell and weight plates, or odd objects like sandbags and tires. Wearing a weighted vest is also a form of weight training.

Some experts group resistance band training into the weight training category, too, since the resistance is external to your body. 

Note that weight training isn’t the same as strength training or resistance training, although the terms are often used interchangeably. Strength training and resistance training are synonymous, and they include weight training, but also bodyweight strength exercise, calisthenics (advanced bodyweight training), and plyometrics (explosive bodyweight training). 

Is Weight Training Different for Women Than Men?

Women, especially those new to fitness, often wonder if they should be training in a way that’s different from men. The answer is no, but you don’t have to take my word for it. 

Take it from one of the most respected and longstanding organizations in strength and conditioning, the National Association of Strength and Conditioning (NSCA):

“There is no sensible reason why resistance training programs need to be different from those of men,” the organization wrote in the book Essentials of Strength and Conditioning1, the official educational text for those pursuing a certification in strength and conditioning. 

Why? 

Well, because, “the physiological characteristics of muscle in the sexes are the same,” the NSCA wrote. 

What’s more, the NSCA writes, is “because the muscle groups involved in a particular sport or physical activity are obviously the same for men and women, resistance training programs should be designed to improve the performance of the muscles needed for successful sport performance and everyday activities, regardless of sex.”

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The only exceptions would be in pre- and postnatal periods of a woman’s life, when she may need to take certain precautions or modify her programming based on a doctor’s recommendations.

11 Reasons Why Women Should Lift Weights

Now you know what weight training is and that it’s exactly the same for women as it is for men in almost every case. So let’s look at why, exactly, weight training is important for women. 

“Lifting weights is perhaps one of the most important, holistic activities a woman can do for herself,” says Kate Meier, GGR head of content, competitive weightlifter, and certified personal trainer. “It offers improvements for the body, the soul, and the mind.”

Here are 11 benefits of strength training for women.

1. Increases Muscle Mass and Builds Strength

The most obvious (but far from the only) benefit of weight training is that it builds muscle and increases strength. Research2 shows that it increases lean mass, reduces body fat, and improves physical performance, among other things. One clinical study3 found that just six months of weight training can improve performance on various fitness tests among women, including one-rep max squat and bench press.

2. Improves Range of Motion

A meta-analysis of studies from 20214 revealed that strength training may be as effective as stretching in increasing range of motion, a measure of how well you can move your joints. Interestingly, another meta-analysis5 shows that weight training is more effective than bodyweight training at improving range of motion.

3. Increases Bone Density

Women are more at risk than men for osteoporosis, a degenerative bone disease that affects bone density. Luckily, osteoporosis is preventable and manageable to an extent—and weight training plays a huge role in that. Research6 tells us that strength training is “known to be highly beneficial for the preservation of bone mass.” 

4. Protects Joint Health

Likewise, weight training helps to maintain the integrity of your joints, according to a review of studies7 about the effects of resistance exercise on patients with knee osteoarthritis. In fact, one study8 found that weight-bearing exercises may have a protective effect on joints in those with rheumatoid arthritis.

5. May Improve Sleep Quality

Exercise in general is known to positively impact sleep quality, but newer research9 suggests that resistance training (as opposed to aerobic exercise) is helpful in its own right. In a self-reported survey of over 26,000 people10, researchers concluded that any frequency of resistance exercise was associated with fewer nights of poor or very poor sleep. However, very high-intensity resistance training (as in, reaching failure or near failure) may have the opposite effect11, but more research is needed to confirm that effect.

6. Supports Mental Health

Exercise as a whole has positive impacts on mental health12, such as reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. According to some research13, resistance training alone may result in a “significant reduction in depressive symptoms.” It has also been shown to decrease anxiety14.

7. Reduces Injury Risk

In athletes, strength training is known to be one of the best injury preventatives15. But it’s not just athletes who can benefit: In daily life, you’re less likely to suffer a back injury when picking up a heavy box if your core, hamstrings, and back muscles are strong. 

8. Increases Confidence

We all want to feel more confident, right? I have good news: In one 10-week study16, middle-aged and senior women participated in twice-weekly strength training sessions. They came away from the study with improved “perceived physical appearance, body self-concept, and social physique anxiety,” along with a more positive attitude about exercising.

“I have taught weight lifting to women as young as pre-teens and as seasoned as their mid-70s, and I have seen dramatic increases in confidence across the board,” Kate says. “They tell me they feel stronger in their daily activities, they tell me they feel safer, they tell me they feel empowered.”

9. Prepares You for Pregnancy 

“Pregnancy, labor and birth, and the postpartum period take a huge toll on your body, so strengthening it beforehand will only set you up for success,” says Nicole Davis, GGR editor and pre/postnatal fitness expert. “Focusing particularly on areas like the core and pelvic floor, and the entire posterior chain, will help your body better meet the demands of motherhood. Plus, if you’re in the habit of strength training prior to birth, you’ll be more likely to continue afterwards.”

Not only that, but lifting weights while pregnant also reduces your risk of pregnancy-related complications17, like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Some research even suggests that weight training while pregnant can help with the baby’s development18

10. Supports Weight Loss Goals 

People, particularly women, tend to fall under the impression that cardio exercise is the one and only way to lose weight. I’m happy to report that that’s not true—at all. Weight training not only burns calories every session just like cardio, but the long-term benefits for weight management are profound: Resistance training changes your body composition in a positive manner. By amassing more muscle tissue, you increase your resting metabolic rate19, or how many calories your body burns just by existing.

11. Can Improve Quality of Life

After reading all of those benefits of strength training, we probably don’t need to tell you that weight training can improve your quality of life. But we’ll prove it anyway. Several studies, like this one in the journal Quality of Life Research20, have linked resistance exercise to a better quality of life, which encompasses factors like energy levels, mood, happiness scores, sleep quality, pain levels, and more.

How to Start Weight Training

Starting a resistance training plan can be scary. Here are some tips on how to get going.

Work With a Coach

Our No. 1 recommendation for getting started with weight training is to work with a coach, at least until you feel comfortable and safe lifting on your own. A qualified trainer is the best defense against common injuries in beginners. While hiring a personal trainer is an expense, you’ll be a better lifter and have greater long-term success because of it.

Try Group Classes

Alternatively, you could try working out in a group at a local gym. While such classes can feel intimidating at first, you’ll soon realize they’re a safe space for exercise, a vessel for community, and somewhere you have access to a qualified instructor who can answer any questions and help with technique

Workout From Home

On the flip side, many women may feel more comfortable starting strength training at home. Home workouts can be just as effective as gym workouts at increasing total body strength, provided you have access to some basic equipment such as a pair of dumbbells. 

RELATED: Best Dumbbell Exercises

Choose an Appropriate Weight Training Plan

A thorough, targeted workout plan is key to success with weight training. What I mean by that is one that will result in increased muscle strength by incorporating progressive overload—the process of continually increasing the challenge on your muscles over time. A good workout program also mitigates the risk of injury by including rest days and recovery protocols.

Start Simple (and Light)

barbell high pull

There’s no need to go full-out bodybuilder mode the first time you hit the weight room (or ever, actually). Beginners will enjoy “newbie gains,” or the ability to quickly build lean muscle in a short amount of time with relatively low loads. The steam does slow down after a while, but you can still make gains with moderate volume and weights. 

Progressively Overload

Any good personal trainer will tell you that progressive overload is the No. 1 most important aspect of a weight training plan for those who want to get stronger. Progressive overload just means introducing new challenges to your muscles over time by altering the exercises, reps, sets, rest, tempos, or loads (weight) in your training plan.

Stay Consistent

The hardest part about weight training is remaining consistent. The key is to make weight training a habit—something you do without even thinking about it. When it becomes part of your life, that’s when the most profound benefits take place. 

“I always tell my clients that the hardest thing to do is just get to the gym,” Kate says. “Once you’re there, you’ll do the work. But you have to show up. The people who show up are the ones who get the results they want.”

Best Weight Training Exercises for Women

Unsure what exercises to begin with? Here is a list of some of the most effective strength exercises for all muscle groups. Don’t worry if you can’t perform some of them right away: There are modifications to make them more accessible. For instance, you can use a pull-up assist band to increase your strength until you can do a pull-up on your own.

Chest Exercises

incline barbell bench

Shoulder Exercises

Kettlebell press
  • Standing overhead press
  • Kettlebell overhead press
  • Lateral raises

Arm Exercises

incline bicep curl
  • Biceps curls
  • Triceps extensions

Back Exercises

pull up

Core Exercises

bear crawl
  • Planks
  • Bear crawls
  • Dead bugs

Leg Exercises

Glute Exercises

banded glute bridge demo gif
  • Glute bridges
  • Hip thrusts 
  • Banded hip abduction

Full-body Weight Training Workout for Women to Try

For this full-body workout, you only need a pair of dumbbells. It’s a series of supersets, which means you’ll perform two exercises in succession and then rest. 

Superset 1 (2-3 sets): Goblet squats and bent-over rows 

  • 12 reps: goblet squats (holding one dumbbell in both hands in front of your chest)
  • Followed immediately by 12 reps: bent-over rows 
  • Rest 1 minute after the rows

Superset 2 (2-3 sets): Suitcase lunges and overhead press

  • 12 reps (6 each side): suitcase lunges (holding one dumbbell in each hand by your sides)
  • Followed immediately by 12 reps: overhead press (perform while standing)
  • Rest 1 minute after the presses

Superset 3 (2-3 sets): Chest press and glute bridges 

  • 12 reps: dumbbell chest press 
  • Followed immediately by 12 reps: glute bridges (holding one dumbbell against your hips) 
  • Rest 1 minute after the bridges

Between each superset, rest 2 to 3 minutes. 

Though this is a muscle-building workout, it will certainly fire up your cardiovascular system, too, due to the higher-volume repetitions. 

Trainer tip: It may be helpful to have two pairs of dumbbells, one light and one heavier, using the heavier weights for the lower-body exercises. 

Bodyweight Strength Training Workout for Women to Try

No weights on hand? No problem. You can build strength without weight lifting. Try this bodyweight strength workout, which also utilizes the superset format. 

Superset 1 (2-3 sets): Push-ups and squats

  • 5 reps: standard push-ups (or 10 modified push-ups) 
  • Immediately followed by 10 reps: squat with a 3-second descent and 1-second pause at the bottom
  • Rest 45 seconds between sets 

Superset 2 (2-3 sets): Planks and lunges

  • 30-second plank
  • Immediately followed by: 16 reps (8 each leg) reverse lunges with a 1-second pause at the bottom of each rep 
  • Rest 45 seconds between sets

Superset 3 (2-3 sets): Close-grip push-ups and glute bridge holds

  • 5 reps: close-grip push-ups (targeting the triceps) or 10 modified 
  • Immediately followed by: 30-second glute bridge hold 
  • Rest 45 seconds between sets 

Between each superset, rest 2 to 3 minutes. 

This, too, may feel high-intensity like a cardio workout, but make no mistake: it will build muscle in your quads, hamstrings, chest, and more.

Common Weight Training Mistakes

Weight training has many complexities, but luckily, most mistakes are avoidable when you’re equipped with the right knowledge. Below, learn about common weight training mistakes and how to avoid them.

Doing Too Much, Too Fast

When beginners start exercising, they may be quick to become addicted to the health benefits that follow. It’s intoxicating, after all, to see yourself getting stronger, faster, and more powerful. But take care not to overdo it in the beginning. Adequately space out your workouts and schedule in rest days to avoid extreme soreness and overuse injuries.

Lifting Too Heavy

Likewise, make it a point to perfect your weight training technique and form before going too heavy. Not only will good technique help you avoid injuries, but it will set you up for a long and successful weight training career.

Skipping Rest Days

The phrase “listen to your body” may be overused, but it’s sound advice. By ignoring your body’s requests for rest—like intense or prolonged soreness, headaches, or extreme fatigue mentally and physically—you increase your risk for injury and overtraining syndrome.

Overworking the Same Muscle Groups

Many women have a tendency to overwork their lower bodies and core muscles while neglecting their upper bodies, thanks to societal beauty standards that just don’t go away. We say give society the middle finger and work your arms, back, and shoulders just as much! In actuality, though, it’s important to work all of your muscle groups to ensure an even distribution of strength and to give each group a chance to rest and avoid injury. 

Weight Training for Women: Final Thoughts 

Weight training is one of the best things a woman can do for her physical and mental health. The benefits are boundless, and truly, there’s no feeling like seeing yourself become stronger and noticing the results play out in day-to-day life. 

To recap: 

  • Weight training is any form of exercise that involves external weight to strengthen the muscles
  • Strength training encompasses weight training plus calisthenics, plyometrics, and general bodyweight training
  • Women can weight train in the same way that men can
  • Women can and will reap many benefits from weight training, including stronger bones and joints, more energy, and improved mood
  • Weight training doesn’t have to be complicated; some of the most basic exercises are the most effective
Kate working out in a gym

Weight Training for Women: Q&A

Still have questions? We have answers. Here are some final FAQs about weight training for women.

Will weight training make me “bulky”?

No, weight training will not make you “bulky” unless you’re intentionally eating more calories than you burn, prioritizing protein intake, timing carbohydrates, and continually overloading your muscles. It’s very difficult to “bulk up” and it’s definitely not something that happens unintentionally.

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How many days a week should a woman weight train?

Ideal frequency of training depends a lot on a person’s current fitness level and goals, not to mention schedule. A good place to start is three sessions per week for 30 to 45 minutes each.

Is weight training good for women?

To this we answer a resounding yes! Weight training is one of the best things a woman can do for herself. Weight training brings tons of health benefits to the table and can support women in all aspects of life.

Should women lift weights?

Yes, it’s a great idea for women to lift weights in order to support their bones, joints, mental health, muscular strength, and much more.

Can weight training help with weight loss?

Definitely. Weight training burns calories during each session  and over time, it builds lean body mass, which in turn can increase your resting metabolic rate (AKA how many calories you burn at rest).

Can I get stronger without lifting weights?  

Most people can get stronger in one way or another without lifting weights. Beginners especially can gain a lot of strength just by doing bodyweight strength exercises, such as squats, lunges, push-ups, and pull-ups. Eventually, to keep getting stronger, you’ll need to introduce some external resistance—but that can be resistance bands and not necessarily free weights.

What else should I include in my weekly workout routine other than weight training?

Aside from weight training, it’s a good idea to incorporate some cardio exercise. It can be simple: A 30-minute walk each day will do wonders for your overall health. Additionally, remember to drink plenty of water, eat nutrient-dense foods, establish a regular sleep schedule, and manage stress to avoid burnout in and out of the gym.

References

  1. Haff G, Triplett NT. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 4th ed. (National Strength and Conditioning Association NSCA, ed.). Champaign, US: Human Kinetics; 2021. 
  2. Westcott, Wayne L. PhD. Resistance Training is Medicine: Effects of Strength Training on Health. Current Sports Medicine Reports 11(4):p 209-216, July/August 2012. | DOI: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8 
  3. Kraemer WJ, Mazzetti SA, Nindl BC, et al. Effect of resistance training on women’s strength/power and occupational performances. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001;33(6):1011-1025. doi:10.1097/00005768-200106000-00022
  4. Afonso J, Ramirez-Campillo R, Moscão J, et al. Strength Training versus Stretching for Improving Range of Motion: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Healthcare (Basel). 2021;9(4):427. Published 2021 Apr 7. doi:10.3390/healthcare9040427
  5. Alizadeh S, Daneshjoo A, Zahiri A, et al. Resistance Training Induces Improvements in Range of Motion: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2023;53(3):707-722. doi:10.1007/s40279-022-01804-x
  6. Hong AR, Kim SW. Effects of Resistance Exercise on Bone Health. Endocrinol Metab (Seoul). 2018;33(4):435-444. doi:10.3803/EnM.2018.33.4.435
  7. Zeng CY, Zhang ZR, Tang ZM, Hua FZ. Benefits and Mechanisms of Exercise Training for Knee Osteoarthritis. Front Physiol. 2021;12:794062. Published 2021 Dec 16. doi:10.3389/fphys.2021.794062
  8. de Jong Z, Munneke M, Zwinderman AH, et al. Long term high intensity exercise and damage of small joints in rheumatoid arthritis. Ann Rheum Dis. 2004;63(11):1399-1405. doi:10.1136/ard.2003.015826
  9. Kovacevic A, Mavros Y, Heisz JJ, Fiatarone Singh MA. The effect of resistance exercise on sleep: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Sleep Med Rev. 2018;39:52-68. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2017.07.002
  10. Bennie JA, Tittlbach S. Muscle-strengthening exercise and sleep quality among a nationally representative sample of 23,635 German adults. Prev Med Rep. 2020;20:101250. Published 2020 Nov 25. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2020.101250
  11. Ramos-Campo DJ, Martínez-Aranda LM, AndreuCaravaca L, Ávila-Gandía V, Rubio-Arias JÁ. Effects of resistance training intensity on sleep quality and strength recovery in trained men: a randomized cross-over study. Biol Sport. 2021;38(1):81-88. doi:10.5114/biolsport.2020.97677
  12. Smith PJ, Merwin RM. The Role of Exercise in Management of Mental Health Disorders: An Integrative Review. Annu Rev Med. 2021;72:45-62. doi:10.1146/annurev-med-060619-022943
  13. Gordon BR, McDowell CP, Hallgren M, Meyer JD, Lyons M, Herring MP. Association of Efficacy of Resistance Exercise Training With Depressive Symptoms: Meta-analysis and Meta-regression Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018;75(6):566-576. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.0572
  14. Strickland JC, Smith MA. The anxiolytic effects of resistance exercise. Front Psychol. 2014;5:753. Published 2014 Jul 10. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00753
  15. Lauersen JB, Andersen TE, Andersen LB. Strength training as superior, dose-dependent and safe prevention of acute and overuse sports injuries: a systematic review, qualitative analysis and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2018;52(24):1557-1563. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2018-099078
  16. Seguin RA, Eldridge G, Lynch W, Paul LC. Strength Training Improves Body Image and Physical Activity Behaviors Among Midlife and Older Rural Women. J Ext. 2013;51(4):4FEA2.
  17. Schoenfeld, Brad MSc, CSCS. Resistance Training During Pregnancy: Safe and Effective Program Design. Strength and Conditioning Journal 33(5):p 67-75, October 2011. | DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e31822ec2d8 
  18. Moyer C, Reoyo OR, May L. The Influence of Prenatal Exercise on Offspring Health: A Review. Clin Med Insights Womens Health. 2016;9:37-42. Published 2016 Oct 17. doi:10.4137/CMWH.S34670
  19. Aristizabal JC, Freidenreich DJ, Volk BM, et al. Effect of resistance training on resting metabolic rate and its estimation by a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry metabolic map. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015;69(7):831-836. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2014.216
  20. Kekäläinen T, Kokko K, Sipilä S, Walker S. Effects of a 9-month resistance training intervention on quality of life, sense of coherence, and depressive symptoms in older adults: randomized controlled trial. Qual Life Res. 2018;27(2):455-465. doi:10.1007/s11136-017-1733-z

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