Weight Lifting for Women

Check our our best weight lifting for women advice!

trainer demonstrates weight lifting for womenIt's important to use a balanced weight lifting routine that is appropriate for a woman.

Weight lifting for women is similar to weight lifting for men in many regards, but slightly different approaches are necessary to maximize the benefits women can get from weight lifting. One area of particular concern for women is losing fat from the hips and thighs. This is one of the toughest challenges among even women who weight-lift regularly and properly. 

I can’t begin to tell you how many times women have come up to me and asked, "What can I do to tone up these thighs? I’ve tried everything." There is usually a common thread among these women with complaints about less-than-stellar results. If these women work out, they typically haven't been following an effective weight lifting routine. Rather, they've usually been spending hours doing inner and outer thigh leg lifts, squats and lunges with no weight, and moderate-pace cardio on the treadmill or the elliptical trainer, and they wonder why all their sweat and toil isn’t garnering results. I hate to see so much work and desire going to waste with people doing exercises that simply aren’t very effective for their goals. A drastically different approach is needed if the goal is to strip off that notoriously stubborn lower body fat. The first priority a woman should have is adopting a serious weight lifting routine.

Before we go any further, however, I must express this notion: While there are effective and not-so-effective ways to work out for sure, keep in mind that there is a genetic component to bodyfat storage. You might have a friend that is the proud owner of a pair of tight, toned legs, but has a roll of fat around her middle. You, on the other hand, might be pleased with your abdomen but wish you could make headway with your jiggly thighs. Even though genetics is what determines this natural variation, all women can make improvements if they use the right techniques. For females, by far the most common complaint is excess bodyfat on the hips and thighs. Read on for tips you can start using today to finally tone up your legs, hips, and glutes--and lose that lower body fat for good.

We shouldn’t start talking about weight lifting for women until we address the basic requirements for taking off bodyfat and improving the appearance of your lower body. 

There are three basic requirements for weight lifting for women:

1. Perform resistance training and weight lifting exercises for the lower body. To improve the appearance of your legs, hips, and glutes, you absolutely must perform compound weight lifting exercises for the lower body using a sufficient amount of weight. These compound exercises include: squats, deadlifts, leg press, and lunges. Isolation exercises for the lower body, although not as crucial, are also helpful. Isolation exercises for the lower body include: leg extension, hamstring curl, and calf raise. Other exercises such as abduction and adduction (inner and outer thigh and hip machines) are also helpful for certain purposes, such as improving the stability in your hips. This can in turn help you perform the compound movements better. However, hip machines and exercises such as leg lifts aren’t going to change your appearance very much--if they change it at all. These types of exercises don’t involve the large muscles, which means you’re not going to get much of a muscle-toning effect--AND you’re also going to burn very few calories doing these types of moves.

When I say that you need to use a "sufficient amount of weight" during your weight lifting, I mean you should choose a weight that allows you to do 6-12 repetitions before your muscles "give up." Your muscles "give up" when you cannot continue to lift the weight, or when you are forced to use improper form to continue (if you don’t know the proper form for basic exercises, click here: Basic Home Workout 

Unless you are pregnant or have a health concern that limits you, always choose the heaviest weight possible during weight lifting (assuming that you're able to maintain good form) for best toning results.

Your legs and glutes have the potential to develop more muscle mass than any other part of your body. By developing them through a proper weight lifting routine, not only will you have a tight, toned, and shapely appearance, but your body will also burn more calories every day as a result of that extra muscle mass--which helps you lose fat. Worried about bulking up? Don’t be. As long as you aren’t eating more calories than your body is burning, your body will not get bigger. If you are maintaining your bodyweight or losing weight, you won’t get any bigger no matter how you work out. In fact, regular weight lifting actually makes your body SMALLER at a given weight: A 120-pound woman who exercises with heavy weights is smaller than a 120-pound woman who exercises with light weights or doesn’t lift weight at all. Moreover, it's important that you develop muscle in your lower body if you want to improve the shape and firmness of your legs, hips, and glutes.

2. Perform resistance training for the entire body. So you’re probably thinking, "Great--I’ll just do those lower-body weight lifting exercises, and do cardio." Not so fast! See, your back, abs, arms, and shoulders all have the potential to carry a significant amount of muscle mass, too. Developing the muscles in these areas will result in an even higher metabolic rate than if you just exercise your legs. Besides, it’s important that you fill out your body with feminine curves as the fat starts melting away--skin and bones is just not attractive. 99% of women simply don’t have the hormonal makeup to build a "manly" physique. You are performing weight lifting to help develop feminine curves and raise your metabolism. Again, it's important that you choose a heavy-enough resistance, or weight. The heavier the weight lifting, and the more intense the workout is overall, the greater your post-workout caloric burn will be. The post-workout calorie burn can last for up to 24 hours after your workout, and if you work hard enough to trigger it, you’ll be burning more calories than you normally would have THIS ENTIRE TIME. This is in addition to the calories burned during the actual workout, of course, which is also greater the heavier you weight train.

3. Perform cardiovascular exercise. Some people like it and most people hate it, but females especially almost always have to do cardio in order to lose much bodyfat. It's common for men to be able to get and stay lean just by working out with weights and following a clean diet. Women, on the other hand, really need the extra boost to fat loss that cardio provides. And cardio helps women make the most out of weight lifting, because if those beautiful muscles are covered by fat, aesthetically there's not much good in having them!

Just looking at energy (or calorie) balance, men require more calories than women because they generally weigh more, and in particular carry more of the metabolically-active lean mass. Men also burn more calories during weight lifting workouts because they can lift heavier weights. Since men require more calories to maintain their bodyweight, they can cut a few hundred calories from their diet to facilitate the loss of bodyfat and barely notice the difference. Although males can usually get lean without doing cardio, cardio can certainly speed up the process, and will allow a man to eat a bit more and still lose weight.

Women need fewer calories to begin with, which means cutting below that in order to diet can be very difficult, both physically and psychologically. Cardio results in extra calories burned, which makes it easier to burn more calories than you take in in order to lose weight. Cardio also increases circulation to the peripheral regions of the body, including the limbs. This is important because women are more efficient than men at storing fat after a meal, and also are worse at mobilizing stored bodyfat so it can be burned off. We can thank mother nature for that one! Cardio really helps women lose weight and keep it off since it works to prevent fat storage and also facilitates fat mobilization. Men, on the other hand, tend to carry more fat in their bloodstream after a meal, which means they don’t store it right away like women do. This sounds good at first, but you must consider the fact that it's probably why men have a higher risk for heart disease--more fat floating around in the bloodstream means there's the potential to cause a blockage. It's also part of the reason why men tend to develop "pot bellies" as their pattern of fat storage.

Women not only show more overall fat storage after a meal, but also show greater blood flow to the thighs in particular after a meal - which increases the rate of fat storage in that area. Any exercise including weight lifting, but especially cardio, helps improve blood flow to the hips and thighs. This helps mobilize and burn the fat in that area, as long as you’re burning more calories than you take in on a daily basis. Men have more blood flow to visceral/abdominal storage after a meal, which means men tend to store more fat there--but because circulation is always fairly good throughout the abdomen, cardio isn’t as crucial to help mobilize and burn off that type of bodyfat.

So ladies, it’s not your imagination that you have more fat in your lower body - your gender predisposes you to this phenomenon. To work on this "problem," make sure to follow the general exercise advice above, and ladies, be sure to include cardio. Walking is better than nothing, but running is superior for trimming fat in the lower body.

Home cardio workouts can be done outside or on a piece of home cardio equipment. Check out my treadmill page or my elliptical page if you'd like tips on what to look for in a piece of home cardio equipment.


**For maximum fat-loss, women should perform a full-body weight lifting routine 2-3 times per week, and perform cardio for at least 30 minutes 3 times per week.

**Women should also follow a moderate-carb diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and small portions of whole-grains, while minimizing simple carbs like white flour and sugar.

For a free basic weight lifting workout you can follow at home, go here: home workout. You can also order a weight lifting for women custom routine by signing up at this page: weight lifting for women.