Strength training is one of those topics able to spark some passionate debate. Everyone has an opinion about the best strength training workouts and types of exercises. It can be really confusing to choose the best strength training workout to meet your needs. Before initiating a specific workout for women, there are a few things to remember as you select a routine that best fits your needs.

Strength train for health

First of all, strength training is a good way to take care of your body. Women, in particular, need to be aware of osteoporosis, which is an age-related loss of bone mass. In order to prevent bone loss over time, women can participate in strength training programs focused on high-intensity, weight bearing activities (http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2004/11000/Physical_Activity_and_Bone_Health.24.aspx).

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Other health benefits of strength training include improvements in several cardiometabolic risk factors (http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2011/07000/Quantity_and_Quality_of_Exercise_for_Developing.26.aspx). Strength training for women is about more than toned glutes and tight abs; always be attentive to your long-term needs and commit to decreasing your cardiometabolic risk.

Build up from the basics

Every strength training routine should be grounded in good exercise prescription principles. There is both an art and a science to developing strength training workouts. The science aspect comes from adhering to sound recommendations (http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2009/03000/Progression_Models_in_Resistance_Training_for.26.aspx).

The art is in how training principles are applied to develop a creative strength training program for women. As you participate in a strength training workout, you should judge it based on the FITT principle.

Frequency:

A majority of research shows that strength gains can be accomplished in 2-3 days per week. This assumes a total body workout, like the one provided in this article.

Intensity:

How heavy, and what volume you lift really depends on your goals. Unless you are looking to compete, there isn’t any need to go past an 8-12 RM. In other words, you should be able to complete 8-12 repetitions of a given exercise with good form, but the last 1-2 reps should be a challenge to the point where you wouldn’t want to do any more reps for that set.

The first set is the most beneficial, but 2-3 sets are recommended for maximizing strength gains.

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Time:

How much time should a strength training workout last? A good strength training workout for women should focus on about 8-10 exercises, with 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions. At that rate (assuming no social breaks), a workout can be wrapped up in about 30-45 minutes.

Type:

My recommendation for mode of strength training is free weights because they require more muscle recruitment. Some other options may include machines or exercise bands.

Strength training doesn’t make you a body builder

Some women are leery of weights, thinking that they’ll immediately bulk up; this is simply not an accurate portrayal of the physiological response to resistance training in women (http://watchfit.com/exercise/resistance-training/).

There are hormonal differences between men and women, which makes bulky women a highly unlikely outcome after strength training. Hypertrophy, or increased muscle mass, is only one method for increasing strength; there are also neuromuscular adaptations, which are most important for women.

Hit the gym

Now that you know what a strength training workout should look like, here is one catered directly for women. Start off with 2 sets of 8 reps. As you get stronger, add an extra rep to each set until you get to 12 reps, then add an extra set and drop back down to 8 reps and work your way back up again. Once you get to 3 sets of 12 reps, you can slowly increase the amount of weight you are lifting.

1. Squat press: A compound exercise good for developing the arms, the legs and core stability.

How to do it: Start with your feet shoulder width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your hips and knees to lower yourself into a squat, then stand up while pressing the weights over your head at the same time; that’s 1.

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2. Medicine ball push-ups: A great way to increase upper body strength while simultaneously training the abs.

How to do it: Do a pushup with your hands up on a medicine ball. Need a challenge? Use a medicine ball for each hand. Really want to impress yourself? Add a third med ball under your feet.

3. Lunge with a twist: This split stance exercise tones the quads, glutes and so-called “love handles”.

How to do it: Take a step forward and bend both knees to about 90°. As you hold a weight in both hands, close to your chest, twist your upper body towards whichever knee is in front.

4. Inverted row: This one helps strengthen the upper back and arms.

How to do it: Find a bar a little bit more than arms-length above the ground (a squat rack works great for this one). Lay on your back and grasp the bar, then pull your chest towards the bar, keeping your body straight. For an extra challenge you can prop your feet up on a bench.

5. Box steps: Another great way to tone the hips and thighs.

How to do it: Find a box about knee height, and step up using one leg at a time. Focus on not bouncing to propel yourself up; use the up leg to push yourself.

6. Single leg hammer curls: Work on getting arms like the First Lady, while training your ankle and core stability at the same time.

How to do it: Stand on one leg. Grasp weights, one in each hand, like you are shaking hands with someone (neutral grip). Keep the elbow at your side and curl the weights up towards your shoulders.

7. Wide-leg goblet squat (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAu6b-KcK0U): Here is the answer to your need for a core exercise that also targets the inner thighs.

How to do it: Assume a stance much wider than shoulder width. Point your toes outwards. Use both hands to hold a dumbbell with top side against your sternum, and the other side touching your torso (just like you would grasp a giant goblet). Do your squat maintaining both points of contact between the dumbbell and your body.

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8. Triceps kickbacks: Train away the “bingo arms” with this isolation exercise.

How to do it: Get on all fours, but take a dumbbell in one hand. Keep your elbow pressed up against your body and extend your elbow until its straight.

9. Straight arm plank with knee raise: Get your upper body strength increased while doing an ab exercise.

How to do it: Assume the pushup position. Bring one knee at a time up towards your elbow, contracting your abs as you do the motion.

10. Single-leg bridge with chest press: Work on your total body control as you tone the glutes and pushing muscles of the arms at the same time.

How to do it: Lay on your back, with knees bent and feet together. Hold a dumbbell in either hand to help you complete a chest press as you simultaneously press your hips towards the ceiling by driving one heel into the ground.

Just do it!

Now you have a full arsenal of exercises in a comprehensive strength training program designed specifically for women. You have sets, reps, intensity and progression all planned out. So no more excuses, get to it! Find a workout partner, write it in the calendar, do whatever you have to do to keep yourself accountable. Remember, you are strength training for your total health and wellness.

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