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Strength Training For Women: 10 Awesome Exercises To Get Toned

Although men tend to gravitate more towards heavy weightlifting than women, it’s also important for women to lift weights.

Whether at the gym or at home, including some key exercises in your training sessions is excellent for your health and physique goals and can help you get a toned, lean body.

But, what are the best weight workouts for women? What are the ideal exercises to include when weight training for women?

In this article, we will discuss programming strength training for women and provide step-by-step instructions for the following exercises to include in your next workout:

Let’s dive in! 

Stability ball arm circles.

Strength Training For Women: The 10 Best Exercises To Get Toned + Lean

It is important to note there isn’t a specific set of weightlifting workouts for women that is necessarily specific to the strength needs or goals of women specifically, as gender identity, and even biological sex, does not really influence the weight training workouts you should be doing.

Rather, your fitness level, primary training goals, and equipment available for strength training workouts are the most important variables to consider when putting together a weight training workout for any person.

With that said, here are some of the best exercises to include in weight training for women due to the effectiveness of the exercises for improving functional strength, physique, and power:

#1: Push-Ups

The push-up is a great bodyweight exercise to include in weight workouts for women. You can begin on your knees or against the wall if you’re not yet strong enough to do full push-ups.

Otherwise, perform full push-ups on the floor on your feet.

Keep your wrists, elbows, and shoulders stacked directly on top of each other. Make sure that your core and glutes are tight so that your body remains in a straight line from the top of your head to your heels.

Bend your elbows to at least 90° when you lower your chest toward the ground.

#2: Forward Lunges With Rotation

This compound exercise works your entire body, helping tone your legs, core, shoulders, and arms simultaneously.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand upright, holding a medicine ball or single dumbbell in between both hands with your arms fully extended out in front of your chest.
  2. Take a giant step forward with your right foot.
  3. Bend both knees 90 degrees to drop down into a forward lunge while simultaneously rotating your arms, holding the weight all the way to the right. Keep your arms straight and feel your obliques (side of your abs) engage.
  4. Rotate back as you stand back up to the starting position.
  5. Switch sides.
  6. Alternate sides for all of your reps. 

#3: Thrusters

The thruster exercise is a mainstay in many of the most popular CrossFit workouts.

Thrusters are a total-body exercise that involves a squat with an overhead press sequenced together into one continuous movement.

You can use dumbbells, a barbell, kettlebells, or other weights.

Use the momentum from extending your legs as you stand up from the lowered position of the squat to press the weight straight up overhead explosively.

Return the weight to shoulder level as you squat back down.

#4: Step-Ups With an Overhead Press

This is a great compound exercise that works all of the major muscles in your body.

You will also increase your heart rate, improve your coordination and balance, and strengthen your core muscles due to the reciprocal, unilateral nature of the exercise.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand facing a plyometric box that is approximately knee height. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand at shoulder height with your palm facing away from your body.
  2. Step up onto the box with your right foot as you simultaneously press the dumbbell straight up overhead.
  3. Bring your left foot onto the box. 
  4. Step back down, leading with the right foot as you bring the dumbbell back to shoulder height.
  5. Perform all of your reps on one side and then switch sides.

#5: Jump Squats

Jump squats are a plyometric exercise that can be great for strength training for women because the high impact helps build bone density.

Women are prone to an accelerated rate of bone mineral loss after menopause due to the changing hormonal profile.

Adding high-impact exercises before you hit menopause (and after) can help build bone density to decrease the risk of osteoporosis later in life.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand upright with good posture.
  2. Sit your hips back as you bend your knees and drop down into a squat while thrusting your arms behind your body.
  3. In one fluid motion, throw your hands up straight into the air as you press through your heels and launch your body into the vertical jump.
  4. Bend your knees to cushion your landing and seamlessly transition down into the next squat rep.

#6: Lateral Lunges With a Biceps Curl

One of the important programming considerations when strength training for women is to train the body in various planes of motion (sagittal, frontal, and transverse). 

This helps prevent muscle imbalances and strengthens the joints in all movement directions.

The lateral lunge is a frontal plane exercise because it involves moving from side to side. You will strengthen your glutes, quads, adductors, and abductors, which are the muscles on your inner thighs and other glutes, respectively.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand up straight with good posture, holding a dumbbell in your left hand.
  2. Take a giant step out to the right with your right foot, bending your right knee and leaning into that leg as you form a lateral lunge. Simultaneously perform a biceps curl with the left arm by tucking your upper arms snugly against your ribs and curling the weight up by bending your elbow towards your shoulder.
  3. Step your right leg back to the standing position as you lower the weight back down to your side.
  4. Perform all of your reps on the right side and then switch sides.

#7: Stability Ball Circles

Strength training workouts for women should include functional core exercises to train your core muscles to stabilize your body even when parts of your body are moving.

This exercise is a version of a plank, but it is more challenging because your arms are on an unstable surface, and you are deliberately moving, which helps target all of the muscles in your abs.

Here are the steps:

  1. Get in a forearm plank position with your elbows on top of a stability ball and your toes out behind you. Make sure that your body is in a straight line from your head to your heels.
  2. Keeping your core and glutes tight, dig your elbows into the stability ball and make small clockwise circles. Try to keep your entire body stable except for the arms moving the ball.
  3. Perform 15 clockwise circles and then perform 15 counterclockwise circles. Move as slowly as possible to maximize your time under tension.

#8: Stability Ball Hamstring Curls

Weight training workouts for women should also include muscles of the posterior chain, such as the hamstrings and glutes, to prevent muscle imbalances.

Here are the steps for this strength exercise for women:

  1. Lie on your back with just your heels up on a stability ball. Place your hands alongside your body on the mat.
  2. Engage your glutes to bridge your body all the way up so that it is in a straight line from your heels down toward your shoulder blades.
  3. Use your hamstrings and glutes as you bend your knees to bring the stability ball up toward your butt.
  4. Slowly roll the ball back out to the starting position. Keep your hips up the whole time rather than dropping all the way down to the mat.

#9: Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

The single-leg Romanian deadlift is another great posterior chain exercise to include in weight training workouts for women. 

Begin with just a light kettlebell or dumbbell since this exercise requires excellent balance and core control.

Here are the steps to perform this weightlifting exercise for women:

  1. Stand up straight, holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in your right hand.
  2. Hinge from your hips to reach the dumbbell down towards your left foot while simultaneously extending your right leg all the way out behind your body as a counterbalance.
  3. Press through your heel to return to the standing position.
  4. Perform all of your reps on one side and then switch sides.

#10: Side Planks With Rotation

One of the common strength training goals for women is to improve core strength.

This challenging, dynamic plank exercise helps strengthen your body in both the lateral and transverse planes, improving core strength, hip and glute strength, and even upper body strength.

Here are the steps to perform this strength training exercise for women:

  1. Lie on your left side with your feet stacked on one another and your left elbow and forearm on the floor under your stacked shoulders. Hold a dumbbell in the right hand.
  2. Press up so that you are in a side plank, weight-bearing on the left forearm and the side of your left foot. Make sure that your body is in a straight line with your hips in line from your shoulders to your heels.
  3. Reach the dumbbell under your torso into the space that is created between your body and the mat, and then slowly rotate your entire torso as you straighten that arm all the way up overhead, following the arc of motion with your gaze.
  4. Hold at the top position for 2 seconds and then slowly rotate all the way back until the dumbbell reaches back under your body for the next rep.
  5. Complete your reps and then reset your side plank on the opposite side and perform the same movement holding the dumbbell in the left hand.

Perform 2-3 sets of every exercise. Use a weight that is heavy enough that you can only do 8-12 reps before you need to rest.

If you are an older woman looking to get into strength training, check out our guide to strength training for adults over age 55 here.

A rolling plank exercise.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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