If you’re a woman (or guy for that matter) and new to weight training, then you need to learn proper exercise technique and have a system in place with which to train against. You also need to understand how to structure your programme and how to progress it using training variables.

If you don’t plan, nor understand the possibilities then you won’t shape your body or develop your strength and fitness optimally. I’ll show you how to get started.

Start simple!

Through my experience it’s always best to start simple. After a few months of weight training more advanced/complicated systems and programmes can always be brought in but you should always aim to execute simple training systems well before progressing. It’s also very important that you lay a strong foundation on which to train.

This will benefit you not just aesthetically and strength-wise but also in terms of injury prevention and in terms of building a stronger understanding of how your body responds to training. You’ll also gain the confidence needed to structure your own training. So, what is a strong foundation of training? What are the most important movement patterns?

And crucially how to do you structure your training programme? In terms of exercises you should use compound ones to begin with. These exercises, such as squats, bench presses, shoulder presses and lunges, work big and numerous muscles across many joints.

They give you a great workout hit in one go and will help to build greater amounts of lean muscle that will make you look more toned and shaped.

As I said in my last article the leaner you are the better at calorie burning your body will be (muscle is metabolically active tissue and the leaner you are the more calories your body will burn 24/7). You should also do a full body workout. This means that you should exercise your upper and lower body and core in the one workout.

Why? Again this will have a greater metabolic effect than just training smaller muscle groups and body parts (i.e. using a split routine, which is often used by bodybuilders and advanced trainers, where you may train, for example, the back on one day and legs on another).

If you want to work on smaller muscle groups such as your triceps to build more specific shape and tone in your upper arms then add these isolation exercises (triceps kick-backs, dips, in this case) to the end of your compound orientated, whole body workout. However, you should see these as an addition to you programme and not the main part.

As a weight training newbie, you’ll perhaps be a little phased by the amount of .weight training (and other resistance training options) available in your gym. Just where and with what do you .start with?

As a weight training newbie you’ll perhaps be a little phased by the amount of weight training (and other resistance training options) available in your gym. Just where and with what do you start with?

So, I’ll start by advising on barbell and bodyweight exercises (I’ve provided a workout at the end of this article using these). There are a myriad of training systems available – many of which you may have come across in magazines, exercise videos, websites and blogs and sometimes it’s hard to decide which would work best for you.

But, as mentioned earlier and to reiterate, I believe it’s all about keeping it simple. I’ve come up with four training variables with which to build your workout – which as noted uses a barbell and bodyweight exercises. I’ll show you how you can put together this very effective full body workout using these variables.

Hopefully this will provide you with the knowledge needed for you to then construct a training programme for yourself – one that is measurable and consistent.

I always keep a record of what I do because trust me as your body adapts and progresses it’s a nice thing to look back in your training diary and be like, ‘Wow I used to struggle with 40kg, now that’s what I warm up on!’

Once you decide on a weights programme and particular training systems, the key element is patience! Work and roll with it for 6 weeks minimum, see if you like it, how you feel after training, how your body changes and make a note of all these things. You’ll soon be able to find out how a system and variables work for you.

There’s nothing wrong with you combining a number of variables within one programme, which is what I plan to do in my sample workout, but like everything consistency is key. I run my training programmes for 12 weeks and as I get stronger I start to lift heavier weights, my recovery might become less, my tempo (speed of lifting) might change and my reps and sets may also change, but the basic structure is always there.

I always keep a record of what I do because trust me as your body adapts and progresses it’s a nice thing to look back in your training diary and be like, ‘Wow I used to struggle with 40kg, now that’s what I warm up on!’

Your 4 Getting Started Tool-kit Training:


– Repetitions and Sets
– Tempo
– Supersets
– Recovery and Rest Periods

You need to understand my selected getting started tool-kit items. I call them a tool-kit as with them you’ll be able to construct a great variety of workouts. They’ll – when you know what to do with them and don’t worry I’ll explain – will when put into a training programme enable you to achieve that lean, strong and sexy physique we all look for.

So as a basic rule if you want to target increased strength you should be working between 3-5 reps and if your goal is to develop more lean muscle mass then go for 8-12 reps. Obviously the weight you lift would be more for the first option and less for the latter.

Repetitions and sets

When designing a strength training programme and using a system, reps and sets are the building blocks. A rep is the completion of one movement of an exercise for example a squat, which comprises of a lowering and lifting phase, when you bend and then extend your legs.

A set is made up of a designated or attempted number of reps. So 8 (reps) x 3 (sets) would be for example, 8 squats performed 3 times. Simple, right?!

Ok, within the repetitions and sets variable there are different ranges (multiples of sets and reps) you can work with and these affect the outcome of the workout i.e. whether you are working solely for strength or building lean muscle mass. I could go into great depth about the number of reps for specific goals but for the sake of programme structure and in keeping with the theme of this article, let’s keep it simple.

So as a basic rule if you want to target increased strength you should be working between 3-5 reps and if your goal is to develop more lean muscle mass then go for 8-12 reps. Obviously the weight you lift would be more for the first option and less for the latter.

Unless you are competing in a strength sports (weightlifting or power lifting for example) or have a specific strength goal then I suggest you work the 8-12 rep option. You should work up to a weight that is difficult to perform for about 10 reps. When you are feeling good you may be able to get those extra two reps out and when perhaps you are not feeling so strong you might just get 9-10 completed.

Whatever the outcome form (technique) is important. Always aim to complete each rep with good technique. As you develop you can start to train across different rep ranges in order to achieve optimal results, but this is something that is learnt over time and with discovering how your body responds.

The basics of weight training for women


Tempo is less discussed in the everyday fitness media when looking at training systems but I have found it to be a crucial variable when constructing and developing training programs as it is one of the easiest ways to progress an exercise. Tempo in its simplest form is the speed at which an exercise is performed (the lifting and lowering phases).

Most women don’t think about the speed of an exercise in terms of loading muscles to a greater or lesser extent, but tempo can do that and is a great tool to help build that lean physique as it can for example, force the muscles to work longer under load i.e. if you use a slower up and down tempo.

The lowering phase

I need to go into a little bit more detail now as the lifting and lowering phases of an exercise can also determine the outcome and success of your workouts. This is because they stress your muscles slightly differently. The lowering (called ‘eccentric’) phase is particularly important and is when the muscle fibres lengthen.

So for example, when you squat the eccentric action would be the bending of the knees phase as you lower toward the ground and when you do a press-up, it’s the movement of your chest toward the floor. Try it now with a bodyweight squat, do two or three at normal speed and now do two or three squats but this time in the eccentric phase count 4 seconds down and lift to a 1 count – trust me you’ll notice the difference.

When performing exercises at this tempo in your training programme you will begin to feel the ‘burn’.

There are a number of ways you can use tempo but for our getting started workout, I’m going to say do your exercises to a 4 second lower and a 1 second lift. As the months progress and we learn and develop our understanding of training principles, systems and structure I will elaborate and change the tempo.


You might have heard this name for a training system before and have maybe even used this system without even knowing it. A superset means that you do two exercises back-to-back taking no rest between them. There are a number of ways of doing a superset. For example, you might want to work the same muscle group in a superset so you might do squats followed by lunges.

Or you combine a compound exercise and an isolation one, for example a bent over row followed by biceps curls. Then there’s also push and pull where you would alternate a push exercise with a pull one, for example, you could superset the bench press with the seated row. There are other ways to do supersets, but I’ll leave those for another article.

Recovery and rest periods

These relate to the amount of time you take between exercises and sets. How long you take between sets can vary from 30secs to 2mins plus and will affect the outcome of your workout – a shorter recover will create a greater metabolic demand on your body and you’ll use more energy.

However, if your goal was to gain greater strength then you would be advised to use a longer recovery to give yourself a greater chance of pushing out the reps required. When constructing your training programme this is another variable to consider.

The workout

So I have given you a brief outline of four training variables that you can use to put together your weights programme. I’ve now used these to put together a full body barbell and bodyweight workout using compound exercises. Before you begin your workout, remember you will need a pen and training diary. Initially it might feel like you are fumbling around with weights trying to figure out what your working weight would be.

That’s fine, spending an extra 10min trying to get that good working set weight in the long run is more beneficial than not, but you must keep a record. You need only do it once to figure out where you start from, as your progress the weights will naturally go up. I’m sure there are a million apps out there for your smartphone to log your sessions down but I’ve always been a pen and paper kind of girl!

Full Body Workout using the 4 Training Variables 

A1: Barbell Back Squat (Training variable: Reps and Sets only) 10 reps x 4 sets (at a challenging weight keeping good form) B1 & B2: (Training variable: Supersets, complete 3 supersets) 

B1: Barbell Bent Over Row x 8reps B2. Press-ups x 8 reps C1. Deadlift (Training variable: Reps and Sets) 8 reps x 3 sets D1. Barbell Bench Press (Training variable: Tempo) 10 reps x 3 sets: 4 seconds down on the eccentric movement one up on the concentric 

E1. & E2 (Training variables: Rest and recovery and superset) x 5 sets 

E1. Barbell Squat Thruster x 10reps E2. Bodyweight Squat Jumps x 10reps Perform E1 & E2 back-to-back with timed 45sec recovery and then repeat.

If no tempo is indicated perform the lift and lower (concentric/eccentric) portions to a 1:1sec tempo. Where no recovery is stipulated take as much as you need to be able to maximise your chances of completing the reps. So, you have a simple sample workout you could do – once that includes all the training variables (feel free to substitute the exercises with similar compound exercises should you wish).

It’s a full body workout using all compound movements with minimal equipment but it works. It’s structured and with a basic knowledge of training variables you will be able to start to put together your own workouts. You can decide just to use one variable for example, sets and reps and as you advance start supersetting and using tempo and so on.

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Pollyanna Hale Health and Lifestyle coaches
Lost 13 Kg in Total
Mel, 32y Location: London, United Kingdom Working with Pollyanna changed everything. I lost 13kg, got toned and have more energy than ever! Get same results!


Chriz Zaremba Fitness Consultant
Lost 45 Kg in Total
Chris, 50y Location: London, United Kingdom Lost 45kg after the age of 50 and now competes and wins physique competitions and runs marathons Check our weight loss plans