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Despite the old myth that weightlifting is just for athletes and butch guys still lingering very slightly, more and more women are taking part in strength training. But are you doing it right, and do you know what exercises you should be performing?

Ask 100 women what they do in the gym, and you’re virtually guaranteed to get 100 different answers.

The truth is – there is no right and wrong when it comes to weightlifting. Anything can work, provided you do it with intensity and consistency. There is however an optimal approach, and plenty of sub-optimal approaches.

For best results, be that for gaining strength building muscle mass, increasing fitness, shredding fat or just getting healthier, the optimal approach is the one you need to be taking.

Let’s have a quick rundown on weightlifting and strength training first.

The Female Weightlifting Dogma

The classic advice given to females was that they shouldn’t train with weights unless they wanted to bulk up. During the 70s and early 80s there was an obsession with women’s aerobics – cardio classes, leg warmers, sweat bands and jumping jacks were all the range. The closest most women got to resistance training were Jane Fonda-style leg lift exercises and Rosemary Conley sit ups and knee pushups.

The trend then gradually started to change, and more women started to jump on the weight training bandwagon. Research and knowledge showed that weight training wasn’t just about building muscle – it could ramp up your metabolism, torch fat, burn calories and help prevent injuries too. The standard advice given to women was to use light weights to “tone and define” the muscles.

Fast forward to the present day, and the mainstream is gradually getting a better grip on how women should train. Pink dumbbells and sets of 300 reps are definitely out, and proper strength training is most certainly seeing a surge.

General advice given to women now is that they should focus on compound exercises. These are moves that work multiple muscle groups and joints simultaneously. Think squats, lunges, pushups, pullups, bench presses, rows, deadlifts – any move where you’re working lots of muscles and generally having to work harder than if you were doing curls or kickbacks, or just sitting on the leg extension machine.

The theory behind the compound exercises

The theory behind the recommendation of compound exercises is that because they work more muscle fibers, they also burn more calories. This increased muscle activation also results in a greater production of testosterone, growth hormone and lactic acid, all of which lead to faster fat loss.

Compounds have real world carryover too. Think about all the things you do in everyday life – picking up grocery bags, lifting something onto a high shelf, holding your kids – all of these require the use of many different muscles and coordination of numerous joints.

The set and rep guidelines have changed too. People have gradually begun to realize that the high reps for toning idea doesn’t hold weight, and that heavy training, using challenging loads that force you to make a huge effort are definitely the way to go.

So by the sounds of it, heavy compound exercises are all you need. Five sets of five on squats, deadlifts, bench presses and rows and you’re sorted, right?

Well it’s not quite as simple as that. While you could certainly get amazing results just by giving your all on these four compound exercises, to get the absolute best results, you’ll need a little more.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • “Train Muscles NOT Movements!”, By Nick Tumminello, Published on September 5, 2012, Accessed on November 22nd, 2012, Retrieved from
  • Photo courtesy of mariachily on Flickr: