This 12-Week Strength-Training Routine Will Help Women Smash Stereotypes in the Weight Room
By Christopher Walker
The idea of embarking on a weight-lifting regimen can sound a bit intimidating for some women.
For starters, some women might have never lifted a weight and instead focused their time and attention at the gym on cardio machines. For others, the idea of strength training might conjure up ideas of building bulky muscles that are anything but feminine.
Cardio machines are great, but should definitely be secondary to the weights. And as for the fear of “bulky muscles,” that’s just a myth. Unless your main goal is to be a professional bodybuilder and you’re purposely eating a diet and consuming supplements specifically to gain major muscle mass, you won’t get bulky.
Instead, all you’ll get from a typical weightlifting routine for women is strong, sexy muscles. That round tush that JLo has or those sculpted shoulders that Madonna shows off aren’t from jogging on the treadmill for hours at a time. Instead, they’re from pumping iron.
Sure, some women are just naturally gifted with a decent amount of muscle mass in all the right places, but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve similar results with a little hard work and the right workout routine.
In fact, we’ve made things super simple for you by including this handy 12-week weight training routine to help you build lean muscle tissue. We’re also going to help you toss all those stereotypes out the window about women and weights so you can focus on developing a strong, lean, sexy body that you’ve always been longing for.
Let’s get started!
Common Challenges That Women Face in the Weight Room
Before you hit the gym, let’s go over a few common obstacles that many women often face in the weight room:
Fear of getting bulky
As we’ve already said, you’re not going to get bulky by lifting weights unless you’re following a specific diet and fitness plan that is designed to get you big. If that’s why you’ve been tiptoeing around weights, then you can safely put that myth to rest. While a typical weightlifting routine for women will certainly help you build muscle, you won’t look like an Arnold Schwarzenegger lookalike.
Discomfort working out in front of men
A common reason why women avoid the weight room is because it is often filled with men. Women typically don’t like to be ogled at in the gym by other men when they’re working out. This can easily be overcome by joining a women’s-only gym. Or else, you can be confident when working out with other men present and just try to ignore the stares. They could just be admiring the effort and progress you’re making!
Not knowing how to train
That’s why we’re here. Not only have we included a weightlifting routine for you, we’ve also included descriptions of each exercise and exactly how to perform them properly.
Trying to balance working out and family time
This is a big one for moms. As women, we often put others before ourselves, especially our children. But while your kids are certainly important, so are you. Don’t think of being in the gym instead of at home as taking time away from your children. Instead think of it as improving yourself so you can be a better, stronger mom that your kids can look up to and be proud of.
A Word About Nutrition
Lifting weights is great, but what you put in your mouth will help you sustain your lean muscle tissue gains. More specifically, eating protein helps to restore muscle fibers that have been strained during the workout. This process is what helps build lean muscle mass.
Before your workout, eat a small meal that combines both protein and complex carbs to provide you with the energy needed to blast through your workout. A banana with yogurt and berries should do the trick.
After your workout, you can’t go wrong with a collagen protein shake. If you’re not a fan of these drinks, you can always follow up your workout with high-protein bone broth and berries or even a whole-fruit smoothie. Keep in mind that you don’t have to eat immediately following a workout. This is especially true if you ate shortly before your workout.
Sets and Reps
Ideally, you should be able to complete at least 8 reps in order to work your muscles hard, but the weight shouldn’t be so light that you’re able to do more than 15. Around 10 reps is the sweet spot. This may require some trial and error to get the weight just right.
On certain days, your cardio will consist of a HIIT workout. HIIT stand for “High Intensity Interval Training,” which will help get your heart rate racing in no time and lose fat in a much quicker time than steady-state cardio.
The idea behind HIIT is to burn body fat even long after the workout has ended, which will help to reveal all those sexy muscles you’ve been working so hard to build and tone. Plus, you can get the workout over with a lot faster than a steady-state activity. That said, it’s still a good idea to throw in a couple of lower-intensity cardio sessions into your weekly routine to mix things up and still get your fat-burning engine running.
When you perform HIIT routines, be sure to work your hardest for about 30 seconds, then actively rest for 30-60 seconds. Repeat these bouts until your time is up for a killer fat-shredding cardio session in as little as 15 minutes.
Now, before we get into the actual routine, let’s go over the moves you’ll be performing throughout the next 12 weeks so you know exactly how to perform each properly.
Lower Body Exercises
Muscles targeted: quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips, back, core.
This classic exercise engages much of the lower body, making it a staple in weightlifting workouts. You can perform this exercise using dumbbells held in each hand, or a barbell resting across your upper back.
Stand with feet slightly shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower your body until your knees are at a 90-degree angle and directly over your toes. Make sure to keep your chest and buttocks out and slightly exaggerate the arch in your back. Drive your weight into your heels and raise your body back up to starting position.
If you’re holding dumbbells, you can either keep them at your sides or hold them at your shoulders. If you’re using a barbell, be sure to rest it on your traps rather than on the back of your neck.
Bulgarian Split Squats
Muscles targeted: quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips, core.
Bulgarian split squats look somewhat like a combination of lunges and squats. This particular exercise engages the core quite a bit, even though it’s classified as a lower body workout.
To perform this move, you’ll need a chair, workout bench, or even a set of stairs. Your back foot will need to rest on any one of these in order to remain elevated throughout the movement. Place your front foot in a forward lunge position, keeping your upper body fully upright. Your front leg should be about three feet in front of the bench that your back foot is resting on.
Lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the ground, making sure that your knee is in line with your front foot. Raise you body back up to starting position. Alternate legs and repeat to engage the other side.
Muscles targeted: quads.
Sitting on a leg extension machine with your feet hooked behind the padded bar, make sure that your legs are able to bend at a 90-degree angle. Otherwise, make the necessary adjustments on the machine. Choose the appropriate weight.
Grip the bars at your sides and lift the weight until your legs are straight. Be sure not to lock your knees. Hold for one second, then slowly bring the weight back down in a controlled motion.
Muscles targeted: glutes, hamstrings, upper and lower back.
A simple way to perform this exercise is with a Smith machine. To perform, set the bar just under shoulder height. Grip the bar with your hands, step underneath, and place the bar on your traps.
Keep your legs slightly bent, then bend at the hips, making sure that your back stays straight without hunching over. Lower the weight until your back is about parallel to the ground. Drive your weight through your feet as you lift the weight back up and get back to starting position.
Muscles targeted: glutes, hamstrings.
Get on all fours with an ankle weight strapped to your right ankle. Raise your right foot up as high as you can towards the ceiling, then bring it back down to starting position. After you’ve performed your target number of reps, switch to the left leg.
Muscles targeted: glutes, hamstrings, quads, lower back.
Stand in front of a barbell that is resting on the ground in front of you. With feet shoulder-width apart, grab the barbell and bend at the knees. Straighten your legs and raise the weight up in a powerful, quick movement until you are standing upright and your shoulders are tucked back.
Slowly lower the weight back down while bending at the knees, and quickly start again. Be sure to keep your spine straight throughout the movement and resist the urge to slouch.
Muscles targeted: quads, inner thighs, calves, glutes.
Stand upright holding a dumbbell or kettlebell close to your chest, with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward. Squat deeply until your hamstrings touch your calves. Make sure to keep your chest and head up, your back straight, and buttocks out. Slowly raise your body back up to starting position.
Muscles targeted: quads, hamstrings, inner and outer thighs, glutes.
Start in a standing position with your feet together, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. With your right foot, take one large step back behind your left leg and out to the left side at a roughly 45-degree angle. Lower your body until your left thigh is parallel to the ground, then bring your right foot back to starting position. Do the same with your left foot, alternating between legs.
Muscles targeted: quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, core.
Holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, start in a standing upright position. Take one large step in front of your with your right foot, then lower your body into a lunge position until your right thigh is parallel to the ground, keeping your knee directly over your toes. Bring your body back up, pushing off your heel, then immediately take one large step in front of you with your left foot and do the same. Continue alternating legs.
Muscles targeted: glutes, quads, inner thighs, hamstrings, calves.
Start in a standing position with your feet spread wide apart (wider than shoulder-width) and toes pointing out at 45-degree angles. Hold a heavy dumbbell in your hands and drop it down in the center of your legs with your arms straight. Lower your body into a squat, bending at the hips and knees and keeping your chest and buttocks sticking out until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Slowly raise your body back up to starting position.
Upper Body Exercises
Muscles targeted: Front and side shoulder muscles, triceps.
You can perform this exercise either standing or seated and either with dumbbells or a barbell. Whether you stand or sit while performing this exercise, be sure to keep your chest out and shoulder blades pinched together.
To perform with dumbbells, start with each dumbbell at each shoulder formerly grasped in each hand. Press the weight overhead until your arms are straight, making sure not to lock your elbows. Bring the weights together and gently tap them before slowly bringing them back to starting position.
To perform with a barbell, start with the weight in front of you at your upper chest. Push the weight up towards the ceiling until your arms are straight, then bring the weight back down to starting position.
Lateral Shoulder Raises
Muscles targeted: Side (lateral) shoulder muscles.
Stand upright with feet shoulder-width apart and holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. Keep your chest out and your shoulder blades pinched together. Slowly raise each dumbbell out to the sides, keeping a slight bend in your elbows. Raise the dumbbells up to shoulder height, and resist the urge to “shrug” your shoulders. Hold for one second, then slowly bring them back down to starting position.
Posterior Shoulder Raises
Muscles targeted: Rear shoulder muscles, upper back.
Sit on the edge of a workout bench with your knees together, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Bend at the hips, keeping your back straight without slouching. Starting with the weights near the ground and your arms straight, slowly raise each dumbbell out to the sides until they’re at shoulder height. Hold for one second, then slowly bring them back down to starting position.
Barbell Chest Press
Muscles targeted: chest and triceps.
Lie down with your back flat on a workout bench and a barbell resting on a weight rack above your head. Grasp the barbell with each hand slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and bring the weight down to your chest. Straighten your arms and press the weight towards the ceiling, focusing on pushing the barbell with your chest muscles. Squeeze your chest in the contracted position, hold for a second, then bring the weight back down to starting position.
Dumbbell Chest Fly
Muscles targeted: chest muscles, biceps, forearms.
Lie down with your back flat on a workout bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand out to your sides and the palms of your hands facing each other. Starting with the weights at shoulder height, raise the dumbbells up towards the ceiling and bring them together until they can gently touch. Keep your elbows slightly bent, creating an arc. Bring the weights back down to starting position.
Muscles targeted: biceps.
Grab a couple of dumbbells and hold them at your sides. With palms facing up, bring the weights up towards your shoulders, keeping your wrists curled in and your elbows tucked into your sides. Slowly bring the weights back down to starting position.
Muscles targeted: triceps.
You’ll need a workout bench, chair, or set of stairs for this move. Start by placing the palms of your hands on the bench behind you. Make sure you’re not sitting on the bench, but rather have your buttocks just in front of the bench with your weight resting on your hands.
Place your feet together out on front of you with your legs straight. Most of your weight will be on your hands, with some on your feet. Lower your body by bending at the elbows until they’re at a 90-degree angle, then raise your body back up and repeat.
Muscles targeted: lats (large muscles under the shoulder blades), biceps.
Grab the handles off the lat pulldown machine, keeping your back straight and your chest and face up. Engage your lat muscles as you pull the bar down. Tuck your elbows into your sides, hold for a moment, then slowly raise the bar back up to starting position.
Seated Cable Rows
Muscles targeted: lats, traps, biceps.
Keep your back straight and your chest out as you grab the handles of the cable. Keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, pull the cable and hand grips into your abdomen while focusing on using your back muscles to do most of the pulling. Hold for a moment, then slowly bring the cable back to starting position.
Muscles targeted: lats, traps, biceps.
Rest your left hand and knee on a workout bench with your right foot on the floor and your right hand holding a dumbbell reaching out to the ground. Slowly raise the dumbbell up to your torso by bending at the elbow, keeping your elbow tucked into your right side. Hold for a moment, then bring the weight back down to starting position. Repeat with the left side.
Downward Dog on an Exercise Ball
Muscles targeted: abs, hip flexors, arms, back.
Begin in a plank position with your hands on the floor and your shins on an exercise ball. Using your core, bring the ball in towards your head as you move into a downward dog position. Hold for a second, then slowly push the ball back behind you as you straighten your body back into a plank position.
Muscles targeted: upper abs.
Lie flat on the ground with your knees bent and your feet tucked into something stable to help keep them down on the ground as you perform this exercise. Holding a 5- or 10-pound weight at your chest, engage your abdominal muscles to bring your torso up towards your knees while keeping your chin tucked into your chest. Lower your torso back down to starting position.
Muscles targeted: lower abs, hip flexors.
Lie flat on the ground with your legs straight and feet together. Tuck your hands under your buttocks to give your lower back some support. Slowly raise your feet off the ground about two feet, hold for one second, then bring them back down to starting position. Try to keep your legs straight with only a slight bend in the knees.
12-Week Weight Training Routine
Now that you’re armed with all this information, are you ready to build those sexy muscles? Let’s go!
Here’s a weekly schedule that you can repeat for the next 12 weeks. By the end of these three months, you should see a noticeable difference in your body composition and shape – just in time for bikini season!
Workout A: Lower Body (Monday)
- Squats: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Bulgarian Split Squats: 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps
- Leg Extensions: 3 sets of 10-15 reps
- Weighted Kick-Ups: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Bent-Legged Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
30 minutes of steady-state treadmill hiking on incline.
Workout B: Shoulders and Chest (Wednesday)
- Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Lateral Shoulder Raises: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Posterior Shoulder Raises: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Barbell Chest Press: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Chest Fly: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
18 minutes of HIIT on elliptical machine.
Workout C: Lower Body (Friday)
- Goblets Squats: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Curtseys: 3 sets of 10-12 reps each leg
- Dumbbell Lunges: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Good Mornings: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Sumo Squats: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
30 minutes of steady-state cardio on a stairclimber.
Workout D: Arms and Back (Second Monday)
- Bicep Curls: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
- Tricep Dips: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Lat Pulldown: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Seated Cable Rows: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
- Dumbbell Rows: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
18 minutes of HIIT on stationary bike.
Workout E: Lower Body and Core (Second Wednesday)
- Squats: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Lunges: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Good Mornings: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Downward Dog on an Exercise Ball: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
- Situps: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
- Leg Raises: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
15 minute HIIT workout with jump ropes.
Feel free to repeat this 12-week training program again, but consider taking a week off in between to rest and refresh your body and mind. Also, pay attention to the ease with which you’re lifting weights. As you progress, you’ll notice that you’re getting stronger, and as such, the weight you’ve been lifting might start to get too easy.
If you want an exact plan backed by science and developed by experts make sure to check out UMZUfit!
At that point, add on an extra couple of pounds to make things harder and help you realize even bigger gains and muscle growth. Stay diligent, and you’ll start seeing results before you know it!