How to Start Weight Training for Females

Published by Jason Narog on

Tricep dips

I’ve trained both male and female clients, and figured it was time to address how to start weight training if you’re a female. I’ll be addressing a variety of items in this post including choosing a gym, training ideas, progressions for upper body workouts (like pull ups) and more. Let’s get started.

Decide you want to start weight training

Let’s assume you’ve decided to start weight training if you found this article. You may still be on the fence if it’s the correct move or not, but hey, we’ve gotten started.

Understand It’s Kinda Loud

Weight training is fun, but is is also involves grunting and noises. A good kettlebell swing requires an explosive exhale so you can tighten up correctly.

Apologies for generalizing here but saw this over at Muscle and Fitness

Excessive grunting. So distracting. If you need to grunt, just go down in weight…” – Athena L.

At the SFG1 (StrongFirst Kettlebell Certification) everyone grunts – men and women. You yell “Up” when performing the return of the squat. You explosively exhale when shoulder pressing. It’s part of the gym. Grunt, don’t go down in weight.

Choose a Facility with Free Weights

I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, child, alien, dog, cat, whatever. The gym / facility you choose absolutely NEEDS to have free weights available to play with. Sandbags, kettlebells, bulgarian bags, suspension trainers, dumbbells, olympic bars, etc, etc. Just no machines. Machines are bad. Stay away from the machines.

Choose a Facility You Feel COMFORTABLE In

Again, this suggestion is gender-neutral, if you pick a facility you don’t feel comfortable training in then you’re less likely to go. And the entire reason you’re joining a gym is to go right?


Weight Training Programming

Pull ups.  This will be the ultimate goal and will turn into a series of additional articles on top of the tons of articles I already wrote. I want you to be able to do a pull up. So let’s run through some pull up progressions –

Floor Angels

Let’s use the floor angel as a warm up to wake up those shoulders. Lay flat on your back, knees bent as though you were going to do a bridge, arms out to the sides with the elbows bent at 90 degrees. Palms up towards the ceiling. Slowly slide your hands up above your head (keeping arms on the ground) doing your best to keep everything flat on the ground. If your hand or elbow comes off the ground, stop. That’s your end range of motion for now.

Floor Pull Up

Lie on your stomach, legs flat, arms out to your sides, elbows bent at 90 degrees. Grip the ground with your hands and slowly pull yourself upwards. You can use slider pads under your body to help make this is a smoother transition.

TRX (Suspension Trainer) Pull Up

Suspension trainers are great as they allow you to easily progress movements and train areas that need a little bit more attention. Get yourself directly under the TRX anchor with the straps overly shortened (they’ll look like bunny ears.) In the beginning you can use your hips / legs to assist with moving you up and down, then eventually you’ll use only your arms with your feet fully extended away from you to pull yourself up off the ground.

Bar – Dead hangs / negative pull ups

Dead hangs are exactly as they sound – just hang from the bar to work your grip. A negative pull up is when you jump off something like a box to the top position of the pull up then slowly lower yourself down in a controlled fashion.

This is a generalized progression routine for achieving a pull up.

Weight Training Routine for Females

Learning progressions and regressions of movements is really all there is to putting together a routine. As I said earlier, I would find a gym that specializes in functional movements and provides free weights so adjusting is easier.

Start with a suspension trainer to dial in movements surrounding the wrists, hips, ankles, knees, and shoulders. Your own bodyweight and gravity are going to assist in dialing in these movement patterns for you. They’re also going to do wonders for the grip.

Hinges (like the deadlift / kettlebell swing), squats (like the bulgarian swing squat or any other squat), lunges, pushes (like punching or push ups), and pulls (like pull ups) with some core work thrown in are the keys to any successful program. Include one of each from above and you have a solid weight lifting program. Toss in some cardio / agility work (like a speed ladder or jump rope) and you have a well rounded program.

Finding YOUR WHY

Alright, here’s where I finally get controversial. I’ve talked with other trainers on this matter and the difficulty that male trainers have when working with female clients tends to be around the end goal. One day a female client may be happy with a strength routine, the next day they only want to do cardio. Then back to strength, then on to obstacle course racing or something else.

Strength training is good for everyone. Strength helps us with things like falling down. If you’re strong then you’re less likely to fall down. Strength and hypertrophy are two totally different things though. Huge muscles come from a specific kind of weight training. Fewer reps, heavier weight, longer rest cycles.

You can strength train without massive hypertrophy.

Bench pressing and push ups won’t make you huge. It’ll make you strong, but it won’t make you huge. And it will help you with the weight loss goals as well.

I want to tone and lose weight!

Roger. If comparing apples to apples in terms of “calories burned” then things like Muay Thai, Running, and Ellipticals look good on paper (Muay Thai looks good regardless…). But we want to burn fat all day, every day, not just when we’re exercising.

More muscle means more calories burned at rest [WebMD]. ‘According to Wharton, 10 pounds of muscle would burn 50 calories in a day spent at rest, while 10 pounds of fat would burn 20 calories.

So, by spending more time building muscle through a weight training routine, the more calories you’ll burn WHILE NOT AT THE GYM EXERCISING meaning you can now spend less time on the elliptical machine because you put in the extra time doing things like kettlebell swings.