Women’s Weight Training Program
This article focuses on a no-nonsense weight lifting routine specifically designed for the female weight lifter. And although this routine is designed for women, you will find it very similar to weight lifting routines used by men. Why is that you ask? Quite simply, a woman’s physiology is almost identical to that of a man’s physiology, with the exception of the reproductive system. However, the average female will not develop size and strength to the degree that the average male will due to genetic factors, more specifically, due to lower levels of growth and strength inducing hormones.
I would first like to address and dispel a common weight lifting misconception lurking in the minds of many women today. This is the belief that should they initiate a weight training program, their muscles will grow faster than spring flowers. Understand, a properly implemented weight lifting program will net appreciable muscle growth in a relatively short amount of time, however, considerable muscle growth making one appear overly muscle bound generally requires many years of discipline, focus and dedication.
Those of you women looking to “downsize” will be delighted to know that weight training will not only make you appear leaner, but will actually make you leaner. Let me explain. First, resistive weight lifting has a toning effect on the muscles. This toning effect is one of firming and tightening of the muscles.
This is seen with individuals who introduce abdominal exercises into their workout routines. They see decreases in their waist sizes even if their midsectional fat content remains the same. This is all thanks to the firming and tightening of the abdominal musculature. Second, weight lifting is an effective fat burning tool. A moderately intense weight training routine will moderately raise your heart rate and thus, provide you with a nice little cardiovascular workout that burns fat. This is especially true when you minimize your resting time between your sets to under 1 minute. And thirdly, since muscle requires extra calories just to have an existence in the body, the more muscles you have, the more total calories your body will need and subsequently burn at rest or play. So whether you’re looking to upgrade your muscles, get lean, or just become healthier, weight lifting can get you there.
The first thing we must develop is the infrastructure to our workout routine. By this I am simply referring to the number of repetitions, sets, and exercises we are to do. We must decide how many days per week to weight train and which body parts to train together. We must evaluate the need for any dietary changes to implement and incorporate into our weight training regimen in order to maximize our workout results. We must also address a few other important issues essential for optimal success in the gym.
The number of repetitions you perform for each exercise will differ depending upon your overall goals. For example, some women wishing to maximize their strength and muscle gains will perform as few as 4-6 repetitions per set. Wow, that’s pretty low! However, for those of you ladies seeking modest muscle growth and strength gains, but not seeking the Ms. Olympia title, keep your repetitions in the 8-12 range. For those ladies more concerned with “just” toning up, I suggest sticking in the 12-15 rep range.
Most experts suggest 3-4 sets per exercise as being optimum for the female weight lifter. But inquiring minds may ask… Just how did they decide on that number? Is it based on some scientific evidence? Maybe it’s in the bible? Actually, this is based on something better… personal experience from hundreds of elite female weight lifters over the past 2 decades. It seems that less than 3-4 sets per exercise is not quite sufficient to most effectively spur the muscles on to new levels. More than 3-4 sets can lead to excessive muscular strain which eventually leads to muscular burn out, and ultimately to muscular injury.
To determine the amount of weight you require to most effectively perform each exercise you will simply have to experiment. Let’s assume you wish to perform 8-12 reps for a given exercise. Start with a weight you feel that you can confidently and successfully perform 12 repetitions with. Then, gradually alter the amount of weight until you are able to perform 12 repetitions with the last 2 reps being demanding and somewhat difficult to perform. This will be your actual workout weight. Also, be certain to use the assistance of a spotter initially in case you misjudge the weight or your muscles have a power outage!
Your workout schedule will ultimately be determined by your own personal and occupational obligations. Most women find optimal results when working out each main body part once per week on a 3-4 day workout schedule. This allows adequate time to make up any missed workouts later on in the week. More importantly, it allows for adequate time for the muscles to properly and fully recuperate and excel. The actual days you chose for your workout regimen are not crucial. Keep in mind, with only 3-4 actual workout days in the week, it makes sense to not clump them all together. Also, as general rule of thumb, keep the order in which your body parts are worked out consistent. Meaning, if your last workout of the week consisted of the chest and biceps, keep your last workout of subsequent week chest and biceps.
The length of each workout should run 45-60 minutes. This provides adequate time to perform a thorough warm up, and effectively train one larger and one smaller body part. Each body part should take 15-25 minutes depending on the number of exercises you perform. Never train a body part for longer than 30 minutes. The above suggestions allow for optimal recovery of the muscles which is so vital for success in the gym.
A proper warm up prior to any and every weight training routine is essential to prevent needless injuries. Your muscles are too “cold” for you to grab your usual workout weights right out of the gate. First, do a few sets of basic stretches for all the major muscle groups to be worked out. The stretches should be held statically for a minimum of 30 seconds… no bouncing ladies! The stretching should take about 5 minutes. Next, for each body part to be worked out, perform 2 sets of a light weight exercise. This can be the same exercise you plan to begin your workout with. The exercise should be performed with approximately 25% of your usual workout weight and should consist of 20-25 repetitions for both sets. This is like a trip to Starbucks, but for your muscles. Your muscles and other soft tissues are now primed and ready for business.
The number of exercises that should be executed per body part is mostly determined by the size of the muscle or muscle groups. Larger muscle groups like those in the thigh will generally respond most favorably to 3-4 exercises per workout. Smaller muscles and muscle groups like the biceps muscle will best respond with only 2 exercises.
Picking choice exercises to include in your weight training regimen is extremely important. I’m not a fan of exercises that look as those they were designed from the dance moves of “Saturday Night Fever” by someone who recently experienced a 70′s flashback. Women looking to gain muscular size and strength, or perhaps just tone their physique will receive maximal benefits from sticking to those very basic exercises that have been performed by female and male weight lifters for decades. The exercises contained in this month’s workout are the most effective basic fundamental exercises that maximally stress those muscle fibers in a relatively neutral and natural bodily position. Now on to our workout.
Dumbbell Flat Bench Presses – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
This is the best exercise for overall chest development. Start with the weights in line with the center of the chest. Push the weight upwards until the arms are fully extended. Keep the movements slow and controlled.
Dumbbell Incline Bench Presses – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
This is the superior upper chest exercise. Begin with the weights directly over the shoulders. Press the weight straight up until the arms are fully extended.
Flat Bench Dumbbell Flys – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
This exercise is exceptional for isolating the pec muscles. Start with the arms parallel to the floor and the elbows slightly bent. Concentrate on squeezing the pecs together as you end with the dumbbells together and the arms fully extended. Be sure to keep the palms facing each other throughout the entire exercise.
- Avoid arching the back with chest movements… if you find this difficult, place your feet on the end of the bench.
- Focus on squeezing the pec muscles as you push each weight
Dumbbell Standing Curls – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
Begin this exercise holding the dumbbell with the arms down by your thighs with your palms facing in. As you curl the weight you will rotate wrist so that the palms face up when your arm is fully flexed. Also, be sure to keep the upper arm by your side will curling the weight. There is often a tendency to move the arm forward as you lift the weight.
Dumbbell Preacher Curls – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
These curls are excellent for isolating the biceps and minimizing the stress to the low back. Perform one arm at a time. Start with the arm in near full extension and just curl girl!!! Fully extending the arm may be very tough on the elbow… so don’t fully extend.
- Keep the wrist in the neutral position at all times… do not allow it to extend back during the curls.
- Avoid throwing the weight up. Instead, lift only the weight your biceps can handle. Using momentum to swing like a monkey will lessen the demand on your biceps, increase chances of injury, and make you look like a monkey!
Wide/Close Grip Cable Pull - 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
This exercise is essential for the back. Begin with a shoulder width grip and the arms fully extended. As you pull the bar to the upper chest area concentrate on squeezing the shoulder blades back and together. Avoid swinging your upper body back while pulling the weight back.
Seated Cable Rows – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
Start with the your arms fully extended while in a seated position keeping your back straight. Pull the handle to the abdomen while you concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades together. Be sure to keep your back in the neutral position throughout the exercise and prevent bending forward as it will produce excessive amounts of stress to the lower back.
Hyper-Extensions – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
This is an excellent exercise to work your lower back. Begin by placing the backs of your ankles underneath the roller pad, placing your hips on the padded base, and placing your hands to the side of the head. Your starting position will begin with your body flexed down towards the floor approximately 60 degrees. Complete the movement by extending your lower back until your upper body is parallel to the floor. You should not attempt to “hyper”extend as the name of this exercise implies and do not perform this exercise to the point of fatigue.
Caution: Individuals with a history of lower back problems are encouraged to check with their chiropractic physician prior to performing this type of exercise.
Standing Cable Pushdowns – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
While being one of the most effective triceps exercises, it is also one of the most popular. Begin with both arms to the side with the wrists pointing down. Push the bar down towards the floor until your elbows are fully extended. Be sure that your upper arm remains by your side during the entire movement.
Seated Machine Pushdowns – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
This is also an extremely effective triceps exercise. If the machine is not present in your gym, perform machine assisted dips on the assisted pull up machine. Start with your elbows flexed and with your arms extended back. Push the handles straight down so your elbows are fully extended by your side.
Dumbbell Seated Presses – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
This is the primary shoulder exercise. Make sure to perform this exercise on a bench with an extended back to avoid extending your back too far. Begin with the weights at the shoulder level and elbows pointing down and off to the side. Slowly press the weight straight up over your head until your elbows and arms fully lock out.
Dumbbell Side Laterals – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
Start with both palms facing your side. Lift the weights out to the side up to about the shoulder level, keeping the elbows slightly bent throughout the entire motion. Also, as you lift the weight keep your thumbs facing slightly down towards the floor.
Standing Dumbbell Shrugs – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
This exercise is actually for the trapezius muscles. With both arms to the side and palms facing to the sides of your legs, concentrate on lifting your shoulders straight up. Keep your elbows straight and avoid bending as bending does not work the traps.
Squats or Leg Presses – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
Either of the above exercises maximally works the entire upper leg. You may perform either one or periodically switch between the 2 exercises. For squats, get beneath the bar and lift it off the rack. Step back and place feet slightly wider than shoulder width. As you go down into the squat keep your head looking forward and your back straight. Go down slowly until your upper legs are parallel to the floor and then press back up. Be sure not to lean forward and point your butt too far out as this creates a hazardous amount of stress to the lower back. For the leg press, place both feet on the platform approximately shoulder width apart with the back flush against the support pad. Begin the exercise with the knees approximately 6 inches in front of the chest. Push both legs outward until both knees are almost fully extended then slowly repeat the process.
Machine Leg Extensions – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
This exercise isolates the quadriceps muscles on the front of the thigh. In the seated position, place the tops of both feet underneath both roller pads. The machine should be adjusted so that the back of the knees touch the front of the seat and so that the seat touches your lower back. Raise both feet until the lower legs are fully extended, pause briefly and repeat.
Machine Leg Curls – 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
This exercise isolates the hamstring muscles on the back of the thigh. Begin lying face down with the backs of your ankles underneath the roller pads. Adjust your body so that your knee caps are just off the end of the bench. Curl you legs backwards, attempting to touch your heels to your buttocks. Pause briefly when the roller pad is near the buttocks and repeat. Avoid raising your hips off the bench while performing this exercise.
Standing Calf Raises - 3-4 sets 8-12/12-15 reps
This is the basic calf exercise performed by almost all weight lifters. Stand on the balls of your feet while placing your hands on the available handles and maintaining a straight back. Raise your heels as high as possible, pause and squeeze those calves, then repeat.
Experimenting with other exercises is fine and there are a number of other exceptional exercises available. Just be sure to choose exercises that effectively work the muscle while you maintain a safe and natural bodily position. Also, periodic weight increase are a must. This will spark new growth and size increases into those muscles and keep them from getting lazy. The idea is to gradually subject the muscles to slightly heavier weights over a period of time. And given adequate time to rest and regenerate, the muscles will be forced to grow and strengthen. You may also wish to periodically switch from dumbbell exercises to barbell exercises. This seemingly benign adjustment in your workout regimen generally results in remarkable muscular gains.