Strength training for women
In this post we’re going to cover:
- why strength training is so beneficial for women
- some of the most effective exercises you can do
- ideas for home workouts
- the best types of exercise to support your body through menopause
- how to start if you’re struggling with time and motivation
To demonstrate these points, I’ll be using a collection of infographics from my Instagram page. You can check them (and plenty more) out and come find me @hayleyplummerpt
And so that this isn’t all just infographics and information, here’s me and my mum.
We meet at the gym once or twice a week to lift weights.
I love that she does strength training, and below are some of the reasons why.
Why is strength training so important for women?
The infographic below sums this up.
Whatever your age, gender or goal, strength training is an amazing activity to do.
Any form of exercise using resistance (such as bands, kettlebells, dumbells, bodyweight, or gym equipment) counts.
The goal is to challenge your body to gradually get stronger over time. Which could be by doing more repetitions, doing them with better technique, or lifting more weight.
And let’s just make this 100% clear – strength training won’t build big bulky muscles. You have to train hard, often, and eat a lot if big bulky muscles are your goal. And even then it’s hard for women, as we lack the levels of testosterone required for natural muscle-building.
What will happen?
Among many beneficial outcomes, you’ll:
- get stronger
- feel more toned and confident in your clothes
- find it easier to lose body fat
- boost your long term health
As we get older, strength training protects bone density and muscle mass.
From around age 30 we start to gradually lose both muscle and bone, and after menopause that loss accelerates.
This puts us at higher risk of falls and fractures, but resistance training can dramatically slow that process.
You can literally change the course of your life by keeping your body strong.
If you’ve never done it before, you have so much to look forward to. The quickest improvements come at the beginning.
And while the gym is brilliant, you don’t have to go there if you can’t or don’t want to.
The majority of my clients are busy mums who do workouts with dumbbells, kettlebells and resistance bands at home.
What are the best exercises to do?
I’m glad you asked.
This infographic shows some of the most effective exercises you can do if you go to the gym.
Why are they so awesome?
They get your body moving how it’s designed to move: pushing, pulling, balancing, lifting, moving in different directions.
This means big groups of muscle and multiple joints work together, which helps keep those muscles and joints healthy for dealing with the challenges of life.
It also enables you to lift more weight, encouraging your body to gradually get stronger.
And doing this means you keep hold of valuable muscle, which is easily lost as we get older (and as we lose weight).
That muscle pulls on bones, making them stronger too, and reducing likelihood of falls or injuries in later life.
And when you have more muscle, you boost your metabolism. Thus making it easier to lose weight and still enjoy your favourite foods (literally adding icing to the cake).
To get maximum benefit, I’d highly recommend adding a couple of exercises that work on balance and mobility into your workout.
When you do this, you reduce your risk of aches, pains, falls and injuries and put yourself in the best position to stay fit and active for life.
If you don’t have the time, finances or inclination to go to the gym, the next section is for you.
How to exercise at home
Not sure where to start when it comes to working out at home?
The next infographic shows a whole body workout requiring minimal equipment. You’ll also see a few warm up exercises and stretches too.
As mentioned earlier, resistance training can be done with anything – dumbells, kettlebells, bands, bodyweight.
While you don’t need anything other than your own body, small amount of equipment can make a big difference to the effectiveness and variety of your workout.
You can find some links to bands, dumbells and kettlebells on the Store page of my site.
This workout covers your whole body in various different movement patterns.
All you need is a resistance band to hook around your feet for the row, and a set of dumbells for the overhead press.
And don’t worry f you don’t have dumbells – you could use the band for an overhead press too. Sit or stand with your foot in the middle of it, and press up over your head.
The stretches are three of the most useful ones you can do, particularly if you spend a lot of your day sat down at a desk or computer.
Chest stretch will open up tight chest and shoulder muscles, which can improve your posture.
Quad and glute stretches help keep your hips mobile. When our hips get stiff, our lower back and knees can take the strain.
If this is something you experience, my next blog post will be about stretching, and you can find a useful post on my Instagram page here – @hayleyplummerpt.
Exercise in Menopause
When it comes to menopause, strength training is more important than ever before.
The younger you start resistance training, the better.
But any age is good, and you’ll be giving yourself an incredible gift by getting started at any stage of life.
For health, strength, weight loss, energy, bone density, less aches and pains, and living a longer happier life through menopause and beyond, this what I’d recommend:
- Whole body resistance exercises to keep your muscles, joints and bones strong. Aiming to lift more weight or do more repetitions when you can will give you maximum benefit. 2 – 3 times per week is a good aim, (at home or the gym) and 15 – 45 minutes per session depending on your time available.
- Mobility and balance training. To reduce the risk of injuries, aches, pains and falls. If we don’t use our mobility and ability to balance, we lose it. But if we train it, we can improve it. This could be a yoga class, 5 minutes of daily stretching, or balancing on one leg while cleaning your teeth.
- Walking for heart health and mental health. Aim for 8000 – 12,000 steps per day (on average) if you can. But remember, the smallest amount you can do daily still helps. Nothing is insignificant.
- Impact exercise for keeping bones strong. Hiking, dancing, skipping, jumping, running and boxing are all good examples.
- Rest and relaxation. Exercise can be an amazing stress buster and energy booster, but sometimes you need to prioritise rest. If you’re feeling worn down, nutrition and sleep come first. Menopause can be tough on the body, and you can’t do everything. Whenever you need to, give yourself permission to relax and take time for you.
How often should you do strength training?
2-4 times a week works well for many women, and 20-45 minutes per session is a good time frame.
But it needs to suit your preferences and lifestyle. Anything you can do is better than nothing.
Every session, no matter how short, is a win. If you choose to celebrate and feel proud of it, you might just find yourself wanting to do it again.
Start where you’re at and build from there, and enjoy the feeling of getting stronger.
Struggling for time or motivation? Start here
Sometimes we think we have to do a tough sweat-inducing workout, otherwise it doesn’t count.
But that’s really not the case.
While challenging yourself and working hard (to an extent) is great, the smallest amount of movement still makes a difference.
You can fit it into tiny gaps in your day. And you don’t even need to sweat.
Any one of the exercises in this infographic will help you maintain muscle mass, and contribute to protecting your bones, boosting weight loss and keeping you strong.
The single leg deadlift (tip forward to the position in the graphic, then slowly return to standing) is a great movement for balance, ankle strength and hip mobility.
Just like strength, balance and mobility fall under the category of ‘if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it’.
If you’ve currently lost it, don’t worry – you can train it to come back again too.
A set of 1 or 2 of these exercises could be done while waiting for the kettle to boil, dinner to cook, on a trip to the loo, in the TV ad break, or while having a mini mental break from work.
Just like with food, your body responds to whatever you do consistently (not perfectly or once in a while).
Something beats nothing.
It all adds up.
Every positive action is a win.
Strength Training for Women – a final tip
If you’d like to explore strength training more, and hiring a personal trainer is an option for you, I cannot recommend it enough.
You can see a trainer in the gym or they can come to your house, and even a handful of sessions can make an incredible difference. It will improve the quality and safety of your technique, and your confidence in doing it.
I spent 11 years as a personal trainer and now work fully online, providing support, guidance and coaching on nutrition, strength training and mindset. If you need any help to reach your goals, find out more about online coaching here: