Resistance Training for Women – Your Ultimate Guide

Resistance training for women, also known as strength training and weight training, is not just about being able to deadlift hundreds of pounds of weights and growing muscle mass. Resistance training is an effective strategy to build lean and strong muscles, maintain your desired physique, and/or lose weight. 

Resistance Training for Women  - Your Ultimate Guide

What is Resistance/Strength Training?

Resistance training can be defined in two ways:

  1. Any exercise that uses weight – whether you use your own body weight or equipment – to push your muscles past their normal capacity so that they are forced to build new and stronger muscle tissue. 
  2. Progressively exerting more effort by either lifting a heavier weight or increasing repetition so that the muscles are in a constant state of rebuilding themselves to adapt and become stronger. 

Resistance Training for Women – Why Should You Do It?

Here’s a quick rundown of why you should include resistance training in your workout routine. 

  • If you’re trying to lose weight, cardio exercises can only take you so far. Eventually, your weight loss will hit a plateau. Switching to resistance training will rev up your metabolism once again because working and maintaining the muscles burns more calories; in fact, your body continues to burn calories for hours after you’ve completed your weight training – even while you’re doing nothing. 
  • Strength training also strengthens your bones, ligaments, and tendons, which means you’ll lower your risk for injury and age-related muscle and bone loss. You’ll also have better posture and reduced back and hip pain. 
  • You can target specific muscle groups to tone and sculpt, depending on how you wish to shape your physique. 
  • Life is easier when you’re stronger. You’ll also live longer. 

Resistance Training for Women – Where Should You Start?

Resistance Training for Women  - Your Ultimate Guide

Bodyweight training is best for beginners – you will simply use your own weight to perform resistance exercises. A classic example is doing push-ups. You can do bodyweight training practically anywhere and anytime. Using your own bodyweight is also the more natural way to work and strengthen your muscles and bones, so you’ll adjust to it more easily.   

If you’re new to push-ups, start with knee push-ups, then move on to regular push-ups, and then to elevated push-ups. You’ll know when to increase the level of difficulty once you find it easy to complete a whole set. You should be struggling to finish the last 2 or 3 reps in each set. 

Here is a sample bodyweight training for beginners. During the first week, complete three sets for each before moving on to the next exercise. Rest for 30 seconds in between sets. During the second week, increase the repetitions by 3 for each exercise and set, and rest for 15 seconds in between sets. On your third week, complete one set of each exercise with 15 reps and no rest in between exercises. After completing all the exercises, rest for one minute, and do the second set for each exercise one after the other, again with no rest. Rest for one minute, and repeat the circuit for a third time. 

  • 20 Squats
  • 10 Push-ups
  • 10 Walking lunges (each leg)
  • 10 Dumbbell rows (use a milk jug or other weight)
  • 15-second Plank
  • 30 Jumping jacks

Resistance Training Using Dumbbells

You can go to the gym or invest in your own dumbbells so you can still perform your strength training at home. Dumbbells can be used on their own, or added to some bodyweight exercises to increase the level of difficulty. For example, you can do lunges while holding dumbbells at your sides. Dumbbells also add a stabilization challenge to your workout. Start with a weight you’re comfortable with, perhaps a 5-lb or 10-lb pair of dumbbells; move on to 15 pounders when the weights you’re using become manageable. 

Resistance Training for Women  - Your Ultimate Guide

You can opt to do the same weekly routine described for the bodyweight exercises above when you perform this leveled-up resistance training routine with dumbbells added to the mix. 

  • 10 goblet squats
  • 10 push-ups
  • 10 dumbbell rows per side

Increase the difficulty level of your dumbbells workout with this new routine:

  • 10 Goblet squats using a 45-lb dumbbell 
  • 10 Romanian deadlifts using 20-lb dumbbells 
  • 10 Knee or regular push-ups
  • 10 Dumbbell rows using a 20-lb dumbbell

If you can complete this last routine, then you’re ready to start resistance training using barbells.

Resistance Training Using Barbells

Barbells are not just for those who want to build bulky muscles. You can simply use low weights and do higher reps if your goal is just toning and strengthening. In fact, you don’t even need to use any barbell weights at all; just using the bar is enough. 

Resistance Training for Women  - Your Ultimate Guide

Do the following barbell routines on alternating days:

Routine A – 3 sets each

  • 10 Barbell squats
  • 10 Push-ups
  • 10 Bodyweight rows

Routine B – 3 sets each

  • 5 Barbell Romanian deadlifts
  • 10 Push-ups
  • 10 Dumbbell rows per arm

It’s important to remember to always have proper form, especially when you’re using equipment for resistance training. Having proper form will prevent injury. 

Resistance Training for Women – Final Thoughts

Here are a few more reminders to make your resistance training safe and effective. 

  • When unsure of how heavy you should lift, the general rule of thumb is you should be able to complete a set with still enough energy left to complete all three; if it feels like your arms just “died” after doing a set, or even before completing all the reps, then you’re lifting too heavy. 
  • If you’re just beginning, focus more on learning the proper form and correct movement. While you’re still learning, it’s okay to lift light. Once you’ve mastered the movement and have perfect form, you can start focusing on lifting heavier weights. 
  • When beginning your barbell training, use just the bar, with no added weights. A standard bar already weighs 45 pounds. 
  • When doing barbell workouts, only add the minimum amount of weight every week. You should finish each workout feeling that you can do more, instead of feeling like collapsing because you overdid it.  

Whether you just want to lose weight and tone your body, or you want to build muscle, take things slowly and steadily. And whenever you feel unsure of what you’re doing, it’s always best to consult a fitness coach/expert. 

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