The weight room is no longer a man’s world. Ladies are getting into formation at the squat rack and hitting the bench — and it’s not just about aesthetics. Lifting heavier weights can help strengthen joints and improve sports performance, among other benefits. Yet while super-toned arms and glutes are muscle groups women tend to tackle first, they shouldn’t wave, “Bye Fit-licia” to other areas.
Erika Shannon, certified personal trainer and a lead trainer for Daily Burn’s Power Cardio Program, says, “In general, women tend to have weaker chests and shoulders, just because of how we are anatomically different than men.”
Women also need to strengthen their core and pelvic floor, especially those who recently gave birth and have diastasis recti, Shannon says. And because women have smaller, thinner bones than men, weightlifting is recommended to help build bone density and reduce risk of osteoporosis. Here’s our strength workout plan for women.
The Workout Plan for Women to Get Strong and Lean
Ready to get strong and toned head to toe? These compound dumbbell exercises from Shannon’s Power Cardio workout plan for women target multiple muscles at once, while providing cardio benefits, too. “I use compound movements to get the best bang for your buck, time-wise. Why just work arms when you can get legs, core, and cardio, too?” Shannon says. Grab a pair of dumbbells and perform eight reps of each move for two to three rounds. But don’t skimp on weight! The heavier you lift, the greater the results.
1. Hip Hinge to Reverse Fly
Targets: Back and shoulders.
This good morning and reverse fly combo engages your thoracic spine, so you can draw your shoulder blades together and open the chest. “I love a reverse fly because it opens up the upper back. When we’re hauling our kiddos around all day, we tend to hunch and the shoulders pull way forward,” Shannon says.
How to: Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your hips, and stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart (a). Engaging your core and pulling your shoulders back, bend forward at the waist until your torso is parallel to the ground (b). Then, using your back and shoulder muscles, raise your arms up to form a “T” with your elbows slightly bent. Squeeze your shoulder blades together to fully engage the muscles (c). Bring your arms back down and stand back up to the starting position (e).
2. Hammer Curl to Overhead Press
Targets: Biceps and shoulders.
Functional movement patterns don’t get more real than this compound move. Since we’re constantly picking things up and reaching high and low, this exercise is great for testing your squat. But don’t forget to also engage your core. “From putting groceries away to throwing our kids in the air, it’s important to contract your abs for balance,” Shannon says.
How to: Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing in, and stand with your feet slightly wider than hip distance (a). Activating your glutes, squat down with the weights between your ankles, and then curl your arms to lift the weights up to shoulder height (b). Press the dumbbells up overhead, and then bring them back down by your sides (c).
3. Rear Lunge to Row
Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, and lats.
No workout plan for women is complete without lunges. Lunges are great exercises for improving balance and coordination, as well as strengthening the lower body. “Holding a lunge, even when supporting yourself on one elbow, is a lot of great glute work. Keep the back knee bent and the weight distributed equally to really feel it,” Shannon says. In this combo move, we add a row to work the lats, so you can finally beast those pull-ups.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and hold a dumbbell with your right hand, palms facing forward (a). Take a big step back with your right foot into a lunge (b). As you lower your body to the floor, pull the dumbbell up to your chest, forming a 90-degree angle (c). Stand back up and repeat on the left side.
4. Plank Row to Triceps Kickback
Targets: Core, lats, and triceps.
The key to maintaining form with this exercise is to have a wide stance and use your core and back to stabilize you. “If you have diastasis recti, perform the rows and kickbacks on all fours. You’ll still get core work in there because you’re using your abs and back to stabilize yourself while only holding weights in one hand,” Shannon says.
How to: Get into a high plank position with your shoulders directly over your wrists and a dumbbell in each hand (a). While maintaining a plank, pull the right dumbbell up to your chest, bending your elbow to 90 degrees. Then, engage your triceps to fully extend your arm behind you (b). Keep hips square and core engaged throughout the exercise. Repeat on the left side.
5. Glute Bridge to Chest Fly
Targets: Chest and glutes.
Want to make everyday activities like pushing and pulling heavy things easier? Work your chest! “When you bring your arms back from opening them up, see if you can maintain the feeling of freedom in the chest when you open your arms!” Shannon says. The bonus is that the glute bridge will strengthen your pelvic floor, too — an essential in every strength workout plan for women.
How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing each other, and raise them up directly over your chest (a). Lift your butt off the floor to perform a basic glute bridge (b). While holding this position, lower your hands out to the sides with a slight bend in your elbows (c). Bring your hands back in and lower your butt to the ground (c).
For more cardio-strength workout plans for women, sign up for the Daily Burn Power Cardio Program and get your first 30 days FREE!
Originally posted on January 29, 2018. Updated on March 8, 2022
GIFs and cover image by Daily Burn