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Strength Training for Women: The key to get your body feeling its best!

A white woman performing strength training for women as she prepares for a deadlift in a gym.
Fitness Editor
Julia is a qualified fitness trainer. She writes our articles about nutrition and fitness. She also makes free workout plans for our site.

Even though the free weights section of the gym is no longer exclusively full of men, muscle building and strength training for women is still relatively uncommon. A fear of bulky muscles can keep many fitness enthusiasts from exploring strength training and lifting weights. Even when it comes to reaching and maintaining your feel-good weight, strength training is your key to long-term success.

March 8th is International Women’s Day! Although this article focuses on athletes assigned female at birth, at foodspring we are here for all women in all bodies. There’s no stopping us when we put our minds to something. Let’s commit together to getting stronger outside as well as inside!

With posts of their training progress or favorite exercises, singers, athletes, and actors have started to be more open about how they work out. And many influencers, regardless of gender, are using weight lifting as part of their workout plans.

Can I Lose Weight with Resistance Training?

First things first: To lose weight you need a calorie deficit. Your resistance training program supports this process by increasing your calorie needs, making it easier to maintain your deficit, and keeping your body from breaking muscles down. Strength training exercises signal to your body that you still need your muscles, so you can lose weight while keeping your strength up.

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Cardio Isn’t Everything

Maybe you’ve noticed that many women tend to stick to the cardio equipment at the gym and avoid both free weights and the machines. Don’t let that influence you, because weight training is an essential part of maintaining a fit and strong body!

Our muscle mass is responsible for nearly a quarter of our daily energy expenditure at 22%, which makes muscles one of the most important tools on your path toward your feel-good weight. Even at rest, muscles burn additional calories, which means they increase your basal metabolic rate and total calorie needs.

Strength training with the right training plan not only builds up the muscle mass essential for meeting your fitness goals, but also makes sure that your existing muscles are maintained. Pure endurance training in combination with a low-calorie nutrition plan creates a calorie deficit, but over the long term you’ll also lose muscle, which you definitely want to avoid!

While we’re debunking myths about women and fitness, the myth that a woman doesn’t need protein shakes is also still around! Check out this article for some more myth busting, plus tips for making protein shakes work for your fitness goals.

Women & Protein Shakes – Myths vs. Facts

Prevent Muscle Loss and Burn Body Fat

Losing muscle mass decreases your body’s need for energy, and that need often remains low after weight loss.

The consequences:

  • It becomes more and more difficult to sustain a sufficient calorie deficit and support fat loss.
  • After losing weight, you might experience the dreaded “yo-yo effect.”

This is where strength training comes into play, because it helps maintain and define lean muscle, and boost the fat burning process. Cardio training is still useful as a complement to strength training to get your heart rate up, burn more calories, and strengthen your cardiovascular system for long-term health.

A profile view of a medium-skin-toned, slim stomach area, probably of a woman, with smooth skin. Part of the model's hand is visible resting on their front hip.
©Jacob Ammentorp Lund

Don’t Worry About Bulking Up

Weightlifting doesn’t automatically mean you’ll bulk up. Sure, the body’s basic muscle structures are almost identical for all genders, but the process of muscle growth varies widely. It’s not the workout and the amount of weight by themselves that determine the size of your muscles, but also your level of testosterone.

Overall, different testosterone levels result in different outcomes in terms of muscle strength, development, and body fat percentage. Which means that, even with a full weight training program, women’s bodies keep their curves and don’t develop bulky upper or lower body muscles.

To challenge your muscles enough to achieve your fitness goals, you need to keep an eye on how much weight you’re using. The right total body workout with a balance of exercises and gradual increases in reps and weight will help you achieve noticeable results quickly.

The Benefits of Strength Training for Women

A strong, toned physique is just one of the benefits of strength training for women. In contrast to endurance training, individual muscles can be trained in a more targeted way, so you can strengthen different sections of your body.

This type of targeted strength training exercises for women can also lead toward a better balance in your overall fitness. For example, targeted training of the lower body helps compensate for a sedentary lifestyle, while back strengthening improves your posture. Last but not least, strength training also contributes to your long-term health and better body awareness.

Improved body image and awareness enhance your quality of life and well-being — feeling good in your body is a great way to build up more self-confidence and self-esteem. Weight training in the gym also helps lower your risk of injury in your everyday life, improving your health over the long term.

Our tip for women with little time and a limited budget: It’s also possible to do strength training at home so you don’t have to pay for a gym membership. With the help of minimal equipment like a kettlebell or dumbbell, you can effectively strength train your entire body in as little as 30 minutes.

How Long and How Often Should I Train?

How often you should strength train depends on where you’re starting from. For beginners, 2 strength training workouts per week are enough, while an experienced, well-trained athlete can do total body workouts 3 times per week. Make sure to give your muscles enough time to recover and plan at least one day of rest between your strength workouts. Muscle growth takes place during the recovery phase, which means less is more.

You don’t need to spend hours in the gym during a weight training session. Your workout should last no longer than one hour to 90 minutes, because if you train for too long, your body may release the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone can keep you from seeing any improvement in your workout routine.

Also, don’t forget to increase your difficulty over time: Do more reps or use more weight to keep experiencing the same training effect. And remember: Proper form is always the most important thing!

Effective Exercises for Women

The basic exercises of weightlifting are especially effective in a whole-body strength training program because they train the interaction of the individual muscle groups. Solid coordination is essential for an upright, healthy posture and effective execution of movements in both sports and everyday life. It’s not for nothing that they’ve remained classics to this day.

The most important basic exercises are deadlifts, squats, lunges, the bench press, and pull-ups.

Our Tip

To cement your progress when strength training, the right nutrition plays an essential role. Consuming enough protein is part of how you sustainably build muscle.

If you’re working out regularly, your protein needs are going to go up. That’s why we recommend you consume 1.3g – 1.5g of protein per kg bodyweight while in a strength training program. Working hard and still not completely covering this additional requirement with your balanced diet? Check out our high-quality protein products for a bit of extra help in meeting your fitness goals!

Dive into our range of protein products

Healthy eating with enough protein enhances the positive effect of your new fitness routine.

A delicious Whey Protein shake, for example, can be an appropriate supplement after a workout. With its carefully calibrated mix of whey concentrate and whey isolate, our Whey Protein is perfectly tailored to your strength training goals.

A canister and glass full of Whey Protein with a few fresh berries on the side. Whey Protein is a great tool post-strength training for women or men
©foodspring

The unbeatable advantages of the basic exercises:

  • They strength train several parts of the body at the same time.
  • They also engage smaller muscle groups that are often neglected in other targeted exercises.
  • They boost your body’s fat burning process due to their complexity and increased effort.
  • Hardly any equipment is required for a workout – the basic exercises can be performed at home and made more difficult with variations.

Sample Training Plan for Women

Dividing up your strength training workout over 2 – 3 times a week is a great place to start. Then a cardio workout can also be integrated into your training plan, see the example below:

Monday: 

Strength training A (bench press, shoulder press, crunches)

Tuesday:

Free

Wednesday:

Strength Training B (deadlifts, pull-ups, rowing)

Thursday:

Cardio workout (30 minutes of cycling)

Friday:

Strength training C (squats, lunges, leg press)

Saturday:

Free

Sunday:

Cardio workout (30 minutes of jogging)

It’s important to incorporate rest days into your plan. This gives your body time to recover from the workout and start building muscle in peace.

Article sources
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