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Welcome to my detailed guide on weight training for women.
For many, leaving behind the safety of rail-based equipment and moving to free weights can seem like a daunting task.
But if you’re currently using a variety of cardio equipment and machines, weight training is the best way to jump to the next level.
It’s not as scary as you think. This is a journey that I have helped many people with over the past decade as a personal trainer.
In this guide, I will discuss the 12 best weight training exercises for women. These are the key moves you need to know if you want to tone up and build a lean, feminine physique.
We’ll also cover the benefits of weight training, common mistakes, programs, and professional tips to help make your training that much more effective.
Let’s dive in.
What is weight training?
Weight training is the utilization of resistance in the form of free weights, machines, or bands to stimulate muscle strength and growth.
By training with weights in a variety of different repetition ranges, we can improve muscular strength while increasing muscle size and endurance.
Things To Consider When Deciding on Weight Training
Weight training involves more than picking up the nearest weight, performing the movement, and hoping for the best.
There should be considerations to your current experience level, exercises, and rep ranges to help you get the most out of your training program.
Below is a list of factors that will influence how you approach your training.
Before you start your weight training program, it is essential that you understand your training goals.
While it can be fun to just get in a lift, a lack of clear direction can result in you losing interest and completely derailing your progress.
Defining real goals will give you the road map to your destination and help you make the steps necessary to achieve your desired results.
This will also help you understand the types of exercise to perform and the number of sets and reps you need to get the body you want.
Your current level of experience can also help you understand what exercise you should be performing and the amount of weight you should be using.
While this should not stop anyone from attempting these lifts, they will present a learning curve to those trying them for the first time.
The number of sets that you will be performing can play a large role in your training.
For many novices and newbie lifters, three sets will typically be enough to stimulate adaptations to muscle tissue.
However, for intermediate and advanced lifters, increasing to four-plus sets may be required to provide enough of a challenge to promote muscle growth.
Research indicates that increasing the number of sets and overall training volume can enhance muscle hypertrophy.
This can be done progressively in small increments for each exercise, allowing you to progressively overload your muscles with each session.
Repetition ranges are one of the most important considerations that should be made with your training.
Studies suggest that different repetition ranges can dictate the type of improvements we promote to our muscle tissue.
A rep range of one to five at 80%-100% of your one repetition maximum (1RM) is used to increase strength.
Sets of eight to 12 reps at 60%-80% (1RM) are used to promote muscle hypertrophy. Finally, sets of 15+ reps at 60% or less are used to improve muscle endurance.
Setting your rep ranges to suit your goals will help you obtain your desired results and ensure you’re getting the most out of each session.
What are the benefits of weight training for women?
Related: 12 Best HIIT Workouts For Women
Weight training is more than just about building muscle. It has the ability to transform our minds and our self-image.
Here is a list of different benefits of weight training for women that will give you that added motivation to strive for a stronger and fitter version of you.
Increase Bone Density
Weight training has been shown to help improve bone density, which can be incredibly beneficial for women as they age.
Studies show that regular resistance training can help to strengthen and preserve bone and muscle mass.
This can prove invaluable in the prevention of conditions such as osteoporosis, where bones become fragile and susceptible to breakage. More than 80% of Americans diagnosed with osteoporosis are women, so getting ahead of it with weights is well worth the effort.
Increased strength is one of the main benefits of weight training.
By increasing muscle mass and performing sets of one to five reps at 80%-100% of 1RM, the body will adapt by increasing strength.
This makes daily function and tasks such as lifting feel easier and less strenuous on the body.
Strength training for women is a great way to improve function and ability to perform basic movements.
This is invaluable for women who have kids they need to keep up with or jobs that require manual labor or repetitive movements.
Weight training for women is a great way to build a lean physique.
A study based on 10 weeks of exercise indicated an increased lean weight of 1.4kg, increased metabolic rate of 7%, and reduced fat weight by 1.8kg.
By performing regular weight training sessions, the body will not only increase muscle mass, but improve function and its ability to burn fat.
These are solid benefits for women who aren’t getting all the results they want from dieting or those that struggle with life’s hormonal fluctuations.
Common Weight Training Mistakes To Avoid
Now, before you jump head-first into your weight training program, let’s discuss the common mistakes found with weight training and the best ways to avoid them.
Not Following a Program
Not following a program and aimlessly working your way through random exercises, sets, and reps is a big mistake.
While you will still likely build lean muscle doing this, performing random exercises every session can make it difficult to focus and build proficiency in your lifts.
By following a program complete with a schedule, exercises, sets, and reps, you will be able to form a routine and view your progress.
This helps to track your progressive overload for each session and your progress across your training blocks.
And don’t worry – if you don’t know how to do this, we will cover this later in the article.
Not Seeking Professional Advice
Going in alone and figuring it out isn’t just detrimental to your training. It can be unsafe if your technique is not correct, leading to injury.
Seeking the assistance from a staff member or qualified friend can give you a huge step up with your training.
Many lifts in the gym, especially large compound lifts such as squats and deadlifts, have technical nuances that come from years of experience.
Learning these from experienced individuals can help you make that jump dramatically, improving your lifts.
And if you ever feel like you don’t want to bother anyone, don’t worry. Us trainers love spewing out knowledge about different exercises around the gym.
So, you will likely be giving one of us an ego boost letting us talk about different pointers and techniques.
Poor nutrition is one of the biggest things that slows down a lifter’s progress. Whether you are looking to lose weight or gain muscle, nutrition is key.
Let’s just say that this is a battle you will never win.
Not only is this bad for your waistline, it can impact your performance and your results.
To get the most out of your training, you should eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods and stick to your daily calorie intake goals.
To find out your daily calorie intake, try our advanced macro and calorie calculator for free.
Add your age, gender, height, weight and activity level to find out your exact daily intake.
Once you receive your recommended calories, input into a nutrition tracking.
This will allow you to assess your daily intake and track your food, helping you reach your daily targets and fitness goals.
Not Enough Protein
When we train with weights, the body needs protein to aid in recovery and build lean muscle.
If we don’t hit these daily requirements, we deprive our body of the nutrients required to adapt.
Research recommends a protein intake of 1.6-2.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight is required to build muscle.
How To Start Weight Training for Women
To start weight training, visit your local gym and ask for an instructor to write a program. These consultations should come with your membership and cover your goals, training splits, sets, and reps.
This is a great way to try different exercises, machines, and equipment, while learning about how to program your own workouts.
At-Home Weight Training for Women
If you can’t go to the gym due to time or geography, don’t be too discouraged. You don’t need a weight bench or expensive machines. Dumbbells, resistance bands, and even bodyweight all count as weight training.
You can still perform a variety of different movements including, squats, lunges, deadlifts, push-ups, rows and curls. In fact, several of the exercises I share here can be performed at home with minimal equipment.
These exercises, combined with a little creativity, can be enough to provide you with an endless amount of workouts to increase lean muscle mass.
12 Best Weight Training Exercises for Women
Okay, now let’s get into the good stuff. Here are the best weight training exercises for women, complete with equipment requirements, instructions, and tips to help you get the most out of every rep.
1. Barbell Hip Thrust
The barbell hip thrust is an incredible exercise for building glute strength and developing hip hinge awareness.
By including this in your programming you can improve performance of many other lifts that involve the hips, making it a must for any workout.
- Weight Plate
How To Perform the Barbell Hip Thrust
- Sit down on the floor beside the bench, with your shoulder blades resting on the edge.
- Roll the barbell over your hips so that it rests on your pelvic bone.
- Place feet on the floor shoulder-width apart with knees bent.
- Start by lifting your hips up off the floor until they are parallel with the floor.
- Lower back down to the starting position. Repeat.
- Increases glute muscle mass
- Increases glute strength
- When performing the movement, focus on lifting the hips rather than pushing down with your legs. This will improve your glute contraction.
- Perform the barbell hip thrust before lower body workouts. This will activate the glutes and improve performance for all your upcoming lifts.
2. Back Squat
The king of all lower body exercises, the back squat is amazing for building strong, lean, powerful legs.
Targeting the quadriceps and glutes while engaging the abs makes it an excellent full-body exercise.
- Squat Rack
- Weight Plates
How To Perform Back Squats
- Set the barbell up on the squat rack at collarbone height.
- Step under the barbell and position the bar across the belly of the upper trap.
- Push up with your legs to unrack the barbell.
- Take two steps back away from the rack.
- Begin by leading back with the hips and lowering down into a squat.
- Lower until your hips and knees are bent at 90 degrees.
- Push up to the starting position and repeat.
- Builds mass
- Increases lower body strength
- Prior to each rep, inhale and tense your core. This will help it remain rigid for the entire repetition.
- Begin each rep by leading back with your hips. Your knees will bend automatically as a result, creating the perfect squat mechanic.
3. Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is an excellent exercise to introduce weight to your squats.
By performing the movement with a dumbbell or kettlebell, you gradually increase resistance, allowing you to build up strength.
How To Perform Goblet Squats
- Position the weight under your chin in the front rack position.
- Place feet shoulder-width apart.
- Begin by unhinging at the hips and lowering yourself toward the floor.
- Lower until your hips are parallel with the floor.
- Then, push back up to the starting position and start all over for the desired number of reps.
- Great way to introduce weight to squats
- Increases lower body muscle mass
- Focus on breathing, inhaling and tensing the core before lowering and exhaling as you push yourself back up.
- Keep your elbows up during your squat. This will stop the weight from dropping forward when you lower into the squat.
The deadlift is one of the most effective exercises for building lean muscle mass and increasing strength.
Not only does this exercise improve our physique, but it teaches correct lifting techniques that can be applied in daily life, making one of the best movements in the gym.
- Weight Plates
How To Perform the Deadlift
- Standing, set the barbell up on the floor and position it directly over your shoelaces.
- Drop down into a squat and grab the barbell just wider than your hips with an overhand grip.
- Lean forward so that your shoulders are in front of the barbell, and your back is straight.
- Gently pulling the bar, pull your shoulders back and down toward your hips.
- Begin by pushing up with your legs and lifting the barbell up off the floor.
- As the barbell passes your knees, begin to push forward with your hips until your torso is vertical.
- Once at the top, lean forward at the hips and lower the barbell down the front of your thighs.
- Once it passes your knees, bend the knees and lower the barbell down to the floor. Repeat.
- Engage the entire body
- Builds strength and promotes muscle hypertrophy
- Prior to each rep, gently pull the barbell and squeeze lats. This will create tension through the body and improve the activation of your arms and back.
- Focus on breathing, exhaling as you perform the lifting phase and exhaling as you lower the bar back to the floor.
5. Dumbbell Chest Press
Related: 10 Best Chest Exercises For Women
The dumbbell chest press is a great introduction to resistance training for the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
By using dumbbells you can gradually increase resistance while building unilateral strength and improving shoulder stability.
How To Perform the Dumbbell Chest Press
- Sit on the end of a bench with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Lie back on the bench and press the dumbbells straight up so they are over your chest.
- Position the dumbbells in a pronated position.
- Start by bending your elbows out to your side, and lower them toward your chest.
- Lower until your elbows are bent at 90 degrees.
- Then press them back up to the starting position. Repeat.
- Builds chest, shoulders, and triceps
- Improves upper-body definition
- Place feet firmly on the floor and tense core. This will improve your ability to lift.
- Concentrate on breathing, inhaling as you lower the dumbbells and exhaling as you press.
6. Lat Pulldown
The lat pulldown is one of the best exercises for developing a lean, athletic physique.
By performing this exercise, you will also be targeting the rear deltoids and biceps, giving you an excellent upper-body workout.
- Lat Pulldown
How To Perform Lat Pulldowns
- Sit down on the lat pulldown and position your legs under the knee pads.
- Reach up and grab the bar just wider than shoulder-width apart using an overhand grip.
- Start by pulling shoulder blades back and down, then pull the bar down to your collarbone.
- Release the bar back to the starting position carefully and with control. Repeat.
- Sculpts back, rear deltoids, and biceps
- Increases upper body strength
- Lean back slightly with your torso. This will ensure there is room for the bar to pass your face.
- Prior to each rep, pull shoulder blades back and down, then pull the bar to the collarbone. This will improve lat activation.
7. Cable Row
The cable row is a great exercise for sculpting a toned back. This is also beneficial for improving posture and shoulder function.
- Cable Row
How To Perform Cable Rows
- Sit on the cable row and place your feet on the platform.
- Lean forward and grab the handle.
- Push yourself back so that your knees are bent at 90 degrees and your torso is upright.
- Begin by pulling shoulder blades back and rowing the handle toward your chest.
- Row until your elbows are bent at 90 degrees.
- Release the handle back to the beginning position. Repeat for reps.
- Tones upper back
- Improves posture and shoulder function
- Pull shoulder blades back to start each rep. This will help target the muscle of the back.
- Keep your chest up for the duration of the set. This will improve your ability to contract your back muscles.
8. Bench Dips
Bench dips are a bodyweight exercise designed to target the shoulders and triceps.
This is a great introduction to the dip movement which can be progressed with additional weight or full bodyweight dips later in your training.
- Bench/Assisted Dip Machine/Dip Bars
How To Perform Bench Dips
- Sit on the side of the bench.
- Place your hands on the bench at your side.
- Position your feet shoulder-width part.
- Walk your legs away from the bench until your hips are off the bench.
- Begin by bending your elbows and lowering yourself down toward the floor.
- Lower until your elbows are bent at 90 degrees.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
- Targets triceps and shoulders
- Improves upper body strength
- Beginners should start with knees bent at 90 degrees. This will reduce the amount of weight they are pushing. As strength builds, increase the angle of your knee bend to increase difficulty.
- Keep elbows tucked to sides as this will help isolate the triceps.
9. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
The dumbbell shoulder press is a great exercise for developing a lean upper body and improving overhead strength.
How To Perform the Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Standing, hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Press the dumbbells straight up so they are overhead at the midline of the body.
- Begin by bending your elbows, lowering them out toward the sides.
- Lower until your elbows are bent at 90 degrees and then press them back up overhead. Repeat.
- Improves shoulder definition
- Increases overhead strength
- Keep knees unhinged and activate your core. This will create a stable base and improve your capacity to lift.
- Concentrate on breathing, exhaling as you press and inhaling as you lower.
10. Seated Hip Abductor
The seated hip abductor is designed to target the glutes and improve hip function.
By performing this movement you will not only sculpt a strong booty, but improve stability through the hips, knees, and ankles.
- Abductor Machine
How To Perform the Seated Hip Abductor
- Sit down on the machine and position your legs inside against the pads.
- Begin by pushing outward with your knees.
- Push until your both thighs are angled outward at 45 degrees.
- Gently release them back to the midline of the body. Repeat.
- Targets glutes
- Improves hip, knee, and ankle stability
- Beginners should start with a lighter weight and focus on the quality of glute contraction.
- When performing the movement, gently release with control and take your time returning the knees to the midline of the body. This will allow for great glute activation.
11. Dumbbell Bicep Curls
By increasing lean muscle in this area, you will also improve definition to the triceps and shoulders, giving you a lean and athletic look.
How To Perform Dumbbell Bicep Curls
- Stand with a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
- Position the dumbbell so that your palms are facing forward.
- Curl the dumbbells up toward your shoulders.
- Lift until the elbow is flexed at 30 degrees.
- Lower back down to the starting position. Repeat.
- Tones arms
- Improves upper body strength
- Keep knees unlocked and abs tensed for the duration of the set. This will improve the quality of the lift.
- Focus on exhaling as you lift and inhaling as you lower the dumbbells.
12. Dumbbell Standing Calf Raises
The standing calf raise is an excellent exercise for developing lean and strong calf muscles.
- Standing Calf Raise Machine
How To Perform Dumbbell Standing Calf Raises
- Stand holding a pair of dumbbells at the sides.
- Place feet shoulder-width apart.
- Start by pushing down with your toes and lifting your heels off the floor.
- Once at the top of your calf raise, lower heels back to the floor. Repeat.
- Improves calf definition
- Builds lean muscle mass
- At the top of each rep, squeeze the calf muscle. This will improve contraction and results.
- Perform the calf raise in a controlled manner, and slowly lower. This will further improve calf muscle contraction.
The Best Weight Training Program for Women
Below are two of the best weight training programs for women. There’s one for beginner and advanced lifters.
Each program will contain a weekly schedule with recommended sets, reps, and rest times to help you build lean muscle.
The beginner program will be based on a three day full body split, with alternating rest days.
Meanwhile, the advanced program is designed as a four day per week upper and lower body split.
These splits will help you to build on your lifts and improve technique.
Beginner Weight Training Program for Women
Beginner Weekly Schedule
Full-Body Program (Duration 40 – 45 Minutes)
|Barbell Hip Thrusts||3||8-12||45-60 secs|
|Back Squat||3||8-10||30-45 secs|
|Lat Pulldown||3||10-12||30-45 secs|
|Cable Row||3||10||30-45 secs|
|Dumbbell Shoulder Press||3||10-12||30-45 secs|
|Bicep Curls||3||10||30-45 secs|
Advanced Weight Training Program for Women
Advanced Weekly Schedule
Upper Body (Duration 40 – 45 Minutes)
|Lat Pulldown||3||8-12||30-45 secs|
|Cable Row||3||8-12||30-45 secs|
|Dumbbell Chest Press||3||8-10||30-45 secs|
|Bench Dips||3||8-10||30-45 secs|
|Bicep Curls||3||10||30-45 secs|
Lower Body (Duration 40 Minutes)
|Barbell Hip Thrust||4||8||45-60 secs|
|Back Squat||4||8-12||30-45 secs|
|Goblet Squat||3||12-15||30-45 secs|
|Seated Hip Abductor||3||10-12||30-45 secs|
|Dumbbell Standing Calf Raises||3||10-15||30-45 secs|
Pro Tips for Effective Weight Training for Women
Now that we have established our top exercises and workout program, it’s time to go through some professional tips to help you get the most out of your training.
Increase Protein Intake
Eating enough protein is essential when you set out to build muscle or lose weight.
It can help you build lean mass, assist in recovery and keep you fuller for longer.
Studies recommend 1.6g – 2.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight to build muscle.
Increase Training Volume
Increasing your training volume has been identified as a way to increase muscle growth.
Studies suggest that performing multiple sessions per week will increase gains.
Recording your lifts is a great way to monitor progress during your training block.
When we set out on a program, there are times where our lifts will hit plateaus and we may feel like our numbers aren’t budging.
And when this happens, it can feel like an eternity since those numbers last moved.
Tracking progress not only ensures that we are taking positive steps toward our goals but gives us the ability to look back and see how far we have come.
It gives us that motivation to continue pushing through with our training.
When we perform weight training exercises we need to progressively overload our muscles with each session.
This can be done by incrementally increasing sets, reps, or weight so that we are constantly stimulating our muscle tissue.
Without this, we will struggle with those dreaded aforementioned plateaus.
Focus On Contraction
One of the best things you can do when weight training is to focus on the contraction of your target muscle.
Scientific literature suggests that by actively contracting target muscle can build our mind-muscle connection and improve our results.
This draws focus to our target muscle, ensuring we are hitting them with every rep.
Weight training for women is the most incredible way to improve strength, function, and even bone mineral density.
And while taking that step from machines to free weights and large compound movements may seem daunting, the benefits will soon appear. Before long, you’ll be looking at a stronger, leaner, more athletic version of you.
So, if you are thinking of taking your training up a level, be sure to eat nutrient-dense, protein-rich foods, track your progress, and progressively overload.
Are you considering starting weight training? What are some of your goals?
Let us know in the comments.
What weight training is best for women?
The weight training that is best for women is a variety of large and moderate compound lifts combined with progressive overload to stimulate muscle growth.
This can be performed with free weights, machines, cables, or bands to promote muscle hypertrophy.
Can a female lose weight by lifting weights?
Yes, women can lose weight by lifting weights provided they are in a calorie deficit allowing them to burn more energy than they are consuming.
What does weight training do to female body?
Weight training will increase lean body mass, burn fat, and increase metabolic rate, revealing an overall leaner physique.
How many days a week should a woman lift weights?
Women should lift weights three to five times per week. However, this may vary depending on the goals, experience level, and training preferences of the individual.
A beginner looking to build muscle or lose weight may like to train three times per week, while advanced female lifters may want to train four to five times to really push their limits.