Weight Lifting For Female Beginners

weight lifting for female beginners
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There’s a saying that strong women lift each other up. And, for good reason. Bodybuilding isn’t strictly for men. Over the years, more women’s groups are making it so you can strengthen your core – inside and out. But, what if you’ve never lifted weights before? What if you’ve never been to a gym? No, you don’t need to dust off a copy of the DVD Girl Power: Going for Gold about female weightlifters (but it might give you a few pointers).

Starting a beginner weight training for women program can improve your health and quality of life. Because bodybuilding has become more popular over the years, more women are kicking up their heels – literally and getting proactive about fitness.

Let’s take a look at beginner weight training options for women (and clear up a few misconceptions). We’ll then cover effective and simple tools to help you find the right beginner weight lifting program for women.

The dumbbells, barbells, plates and kettlebells await! 

Weight Training for Women

As you age, you start losing muscle which can cause health problems and injuries. An example is a person who is more sedentary and then becomes prone to back injuries because they don’t have the supportive muscles they need to stabilize their spine.

What’s also concerning is as you age, your bones, heart, joints and other body parts start weakening with inactivity. Another problem is the gender gap. Weightlifting is historically viewed as an activity for men. However, women also need to stay strong and even if you’re a homemaker, fitness and strength training are important. Regular exercise can increase your lifespan. It also means you can pick up your kids or grab those groceries without the risk of injury.

According to the CDC, only about 23.2% of people in the U.S. meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobics and muscle-strengthening activities, there’s a lot you can do.

If you’ve ever toured a gym, then you know that cardio exercise areas are usually off to one side and the weight lifting area is in another section. The weight training section is gender-neutral. It will include mirrors, padded floors, towels and bottled water or a water fountain. Men’s and women’s locker rooms and bathrooms are usually located nearby. The area will also have several types of free weights and weight lifting equipment.

The equipment might include leg extensions and other huge devices like lat pulldown machines. Hence, it can look intimidating at first especially if you don’t know how to use strength training equipment.  

weight lifting for female beginners
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“You’re not getting old; you’re getting ready.” -Ernestine Shepherd, at age 85, she’s the world’s oldest female competitive bodybuilder.

Strength Training Benefits

While you might not realize it, the older you get, the more you need physical activities like weight training. Without strength training, you’re limiting your range of motion and stiffness can set into your joints and muscles over time. Hence, weight training includes several benefits aside from just seeing great results in the mirror.

Reduce Your Injury Risk

For starters, you can reduce your risk of injury. Adults over the age of 65 are more at risk for injuries from falls. Strength training can help you reduce the likelihood of having decreased bone density and muscle loss. As you lift weights, you’re improving your posture, balance, stamina and stability.

Lower Your Body Fat Percentage

Women have higher body fat percentages than men. And, then there are all those yummy foods we enjoy! However, weightlifting safely reduces body fat (more than cardio) because you’re burning fat with the exercises. This, in turn, lowers your cholesterol and risk of getting type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and certain cancers. 

Raise Your Confidence Level

Exercise releases what is called “feel good” hormones. These endorphins can decrease the stress you feel, improve your mood and mental wellbeing and reduce anxiety. Further, as you work out, your toned physique can give you a self-confidence boost and improve your self-esteem.

Decrease Your Cortisol Level

Regular exercise reduces your cortisol level. This is a hormone associated with weight gain and excess belly fat. Hence, even low-intensity weight lifting for female beginners can help reduce these levels.

Improve Your Sleep Quality

When you work out and lift weights, it’s easier for you to get to sleep at night. Bodybuilding releases Adenosine which promotes better sleep. Your blood pressure and heart rate also come down more after exercise and the physiological changes can improve your rest.

Increase Your Strength and Flexibility

When it comes to weight lifting for female beginners, stretching before and after workouts can maximize your flexibility and recovery times. Lifting weights also makes you stronger and improves your balance and muscle coordination. And, when you feel stronger, it’s easier to lift your kids and carry those shopping bags (retail therapy only, please!).

Sculpt Your Body Gradually

It’s a myth that weight training will make you bulk up, not if you learn how to exercise to tone your body. Many athletes, models and actresses weight train and don’t acquire more mass. The key is effective workouts that stretch and strengthen instead of shredding them to build bigger muscles.

Beginner Weight Training Routine

A few items can help you get started with your new weightlifting regimen. These include your workout plan, and a home gym or fitness center. You will find that a fitness center or gym is beneficial as they have the various weights and equipment you will use. Some of the weightlifting examples for beginners can be done at home if you have resistance equipment or want to purchase it.

Other items you might need include comfortable gym clothing, weight lifting gloves (to prevent blisters and calluses and sneakers (to avoid toe injuries with the weights, equipment). Upbeat workout music is recommended to help get your juices going. As you continue lifting weights, you can increase to heavier weights and different pieces of equipment.

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Sample Personal Training Program

With a new weight lifting for female beginners program, you will exercise specific body parts on certain days. You might do chest and arms on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You might do legs, back and glutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Some gyms offer their own weightlifting programs or you can find these online if you want to work out independently. Ideally, it’s best to speak to a personal trainer who can give you an assessment.

Sample exercises might include:

Custom Personal Training Exercise Programs

When it comes to training programs, the possibilities are endless! We’ve included infographic examples from Women’s Health below. You can also click on the links for video examples.

Insert matching Lift-to-Get-Lean Women’s Health infographic here

Lift to Get Lean Workout

Get to it ladies! Strive for 10 reps for 2-3 sets with each exercise and rest 30-seconds between each set. Do these 2-3 times weekly.

This workout includes:

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15-Minute Dumbbell Workout

Lift like a boss! Aim for 10-15 reps for 2-3 sets/circuits with each exercise and rest 30-60 seconds between each set. Do these 2-3 times a week.

This workout includes:

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Best Beginner Gym Workout

Calling all Superwomen! Shoot for 10-15 reps for 2-3 sets/circuits with each exercise and rest 30-seconds between each set. Do these 2-3 times a week.

This workout includes:

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Beach Body / Total Body Workout

Get fit Queens and Divas! Strive for 15 reps, then 12, then 10 (reverse pyramid sets) for 3 sets total with each exercise. Rest 30-60 seconds between each set. Do these 2-3 times a week.

This workout includes:

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Schedule a Consultation with a Personal Trainer

Most gyms offer a free consultation where a trainer will walk you through the equipment and get you started on a basic training program. Your trainer will help you learn the proper technique to use with the weights and different weight-lifting equipment.

Based on your goals (get in shape, compete), your trainer will help select weights that are challenging and give you a strong level of resistance. However, the goal isn’t to crush it, grunt loudly and slam the weights down as you might see some people do in the movies and at the gym.

With an assessment, a trainer needs to look at:

  • Your current physical strength (fitness level)
  • Your goals, i.e., short-term (beach body, bride) and long-term (optimal health, weight loss)
  • Any preexisting health conditions or medications
  • Your physiological makeup (perseverance, concentration, affective stability)
weight lifting for female beginners
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Adhere to Weight Lifting Safety Precautions

Using the proper/correct technique or form is vital to avoiding injuries. Consult with a physician beforehand to ensure you’re able to start a weightlifting program.

Some gyms may have special wipes because of the pandemic and ask that you wipe down the equipment before and after each use. Prior to Covid, it was a rule of thumb that you would use the anti-bacterial wipes as a courtesy to other lifters.

Learn Your Gym Etiquette

There’s a gym etiquette so you can work on your targeted muscle groups and respect those around you. While one trainer might suggest a structured program, others only work specific muscles each day. However, compound exercises (working several muscle groups at once) are a good starting point.

weight lifting for female beginners
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Understand Workout Terms

In general exercise terms, a rep is a set number like 10 or 15, while a set is one complete rep. For example, if you are doing crunches a trainer might say do 10 reps for 3 sets. Meaning you would do 10 crunches, pause to catch your breath, then do 10 more, pause and do the last 10. With weights, it differs slightly.

  • Straight Sets: Doing a straight-set means you might keep the same weight level (5-lbs, 50-lbs), for the same number of repetitions.
  • Pyramid Sets: Pyramid sets are where you start out at lower weights with more reps but lower your reps when you add more weight.
  • Drop Sets: Drop sets are where you set the weight and reps until you cannot do them any longer. That’s a failure and you then drop the weight slightly and do reps again until you reach the failure point. The goal is to always use the correct form to avoid injury.   

Tips for Better Workouts

As you begin your weight training journey, a little fitness center advice can go quite a long way. Here are some of the top tips to help with your strength-training program. 

Start Simple and Don’t Burnout

Start off slow and get used to the various types of equipment. If you have questions, ask a trainer or someone who uses the equipment. Most machines have a pictorial guide. You can also find helpful tips online.

Ask for Help, Be Safe and Be Flexible

Gyms are sometimes packed with a lot of regulars. If you find that people are dominating the equipment, change the time you visit the gym. As safety is crucial, ask for a spotter or staff member if you need help. To avoid injury, don’t rush through your workout and don’t get distracted. Using the proper form is key.

Always Warm Up And Cool Down

Stretching can improve your recovery time and you won’t have stiff joints or tight muscle spasms. Always set aside 5-10 minutes before and after each workout and stretch in the morning when you wake up and at bedtime (to relax your muscles, reduce tension and promote better sleep).

Work on Your Breathing

Similar to yoga, proper breathing through your sets can improve your workouts. Slow breathing during an intense workout can facilitate muscle tightness or tonicity.  It opens the airway, reduces hernia risks and creates more stability as you inhale and “brace” your abs before big lifts.

Known as the Valsalva Maneuver, it requires moderately forceful exhalation where air does not escape (because you’re closing your airway). It helps you move even more weight. And, you can burn extra calories. Use this Dead Bug breathing technique to help flatten your spine with this breathing technique so your form doesn’t collapse when you lift weights!

Stay Hydrated and Get Plenty of Rest and Nourishment

Strength training is so much fun once you get the hang of it and start seeing results. However, staying hydrated is crucial. Drink plenty of water and you may need electrolyte replenishers or sugar-free sports drinks to replace your salt content from sweating.

Additionally, to decrease your body fat and increase your muscle mass, fuel your body with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. And, take time to rest between each set, rest on your days off and when you’re menstruating. During your cycle, to help with recovery, go for a walk, try yoga or do pilates.

weight lifting for female beginners
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FAQ

How much weight should a female beginner lift?

For ballistic exercises (throwing medicine balls) the average woman who is very active might use 18-26 lb. weights. Women in excellent shape can lift around 35 lbs or more. On average, women can lift 50-125% of their body weight with squats (75-125%), deadlifts (100-125%) and the bench press (75-125%).

What is a good weight lifting routine for beginners?

When picking a good weight lifting routine for women, start with five days of the week you want to lift weights. And work with a trainer to stay focused. Do leg curls for 10 reps (10x in a row), reverse grip pulldowns for 10 reps, leg extensions for 10 reps, incline dumbbell reps for 10 reps and 10 reps of dumbbell bent arm side raises. See examples of beginner weight lifting for women here. As you progress in your routine,  incorporate these total body weightlifting exercises

If you don’t have access to a gym, set aside 10-15 minutes daily and do incline pushups (against a sturdy piece of furniture), chair squats, walking lunges and stationary lunges (with a table or countertop for support). Do 12-15 reps for 3 sets total.

Can a woman lose weight by lifting weights?

Yes, but to lose weight – and burn fat, you need to eat fewer calories and/r burn more calories than what you consume. You can also combine more exercise with eating less for better results. However, don’t starve yourself. Eat foods to fuel your body for better recovery. Include fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats and legumes.

Factor in that as you weight train, you might not immediately lose weight because you are building muscle mass but you will lose inches so take measurements all over your body beforehand to keep track of your progress!

What weight should a woman lift to tone?

To choose the right weights, don’t go too heavy as you’ll burn out before you finish the set or you might injure yourself. Avoid going too light as you won’t see results. You want microscopic damage or muscle hypertrophy. It’s an inflammatory response that forces your muscles into shape as the cells divide, they attach to your existing muscle fibers. Bodybuilders refer to this as shredding.

With weights, you should just be able to complete your reps. For example, if you have 10-12 reps, your barbell or dumbbell weight should let you do a minimum of 8 reps, but less than 13. So, you should feel a burn and stop and then attempt it again. If you can rip through 12 reps easily, you don’t have enough resistance/weights.

Does lifting weights burn belly fat?

Yes! As you build muscles, you burn calories and fat. For the best results, focus on compound exercises that strengthen multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Include a mix of squats, lunges, leg presses, bench presses, power lifts, deadlifts, rows, pullups and pullovers.