Today’s post is all about weight lifting for female beginners. This post contains lots of helpful tips to get better results, prevent injury, and make you look like a weight lifting pro, even though you only just started!
I neglected weight training for a long time, opting instead for the ever-popular cardio.
However, I can now say that weights have had the biggest effect, not only on my sense of empowerment, but also my physique.
Please note: Check with your physician before starting any exercise routine or starting any particular diet. See this Disclaimer for more details. This post may contain affiliate links. For details, please visit my Disclosure page. Thank you!
[Post last updated: 5/23/20]
My Background as a Female Weight Lifting Beginner
I started weight lifting when I graduated college. To tell the truth, I was tired of having to accept help lifting up my huge suitcase on Amtrak trains and frustrated by lacking arm strength when turning my ICU patients in bed. I wanted to feel strong.
It was daunting when I started. I had so many questions:
What kind of equipment should I buy? How do I use all these different gym machines? And why does it seem like everyone I see weight lifting knows what they’re doing…except me?
While overwhelming at first, I quickly identified a passion for resistance training.
I’ve since gotten my personal training certification through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and gotten a ton more experience.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a huge hulking mass of muscle and don’t claim to be. Anyone who knows me will tell you: I’m a small person. But I’m a whole heck of a lot stronger because of weight lifting, and I’m way more toned.
And now I love nothing more than helping other women learn how to lift weights.
So here are the answers to 6 common questions I get from women new to weight lifting!
1. How much weight should a female beginner lift?
The feminist in me wants to demand, “Why is this specifically directed at females??”
The trainer in me, however, knows better.
It’s simple fact that most men have more testosterone than women. This means that they naturally put on more muscle. So a female new to weight lifting will likely need lighter weights than a male new to weight lifting.
But how much you will need still varies. And it even varies among exercises.
For instance, while I may be able to use 10 lbs for my bicep curls, I can use 20 lbs for bent-over rows. The reason is simple: the back muscles are much larger and stronger than the arm muscles, so they can tolerate greater weights.
A good rule of thumb is use as the heaviest weight you can that allows you to complete all repetitions. And part of this is trial-and-error.
If you go to complete 10 reps of bicep curls with 8 lbs and find you could easily keep going, even on the second set, then you need to increase the weight. You should begin to struggle on your last rep or two.
2. Which exercises should I do?
Like many women, you may have a specific area of your body that you want to strengthen or tone.
When I first started it was my upper body. Now it’s my abs/core.
RELATED POST: The Only 11 Abs Workout You’ll Ever Need
Regardless, from a health perspective it’s best to strengthen your whole body. Especially with weight lifting for female beginners, hitting every muscle group will decrease the chance of muscle imbalances and injury.
For instance, if you strengthen your chest and abs but not your back, the strengthened front muscles will pull your shoulders forward, worsening your posture and likely leading to back pain.
For best results, make sure you spend some time strengthening all muscle groups: biceps, triceps, shoulders, upper back, lower back, chest, abs, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
While it may sound like a lot, there are many exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once – such as squats to overhead press. Characterized as full-body exercises, these often hit at least some muscles in both your upper and lower body, as well as work your core. #efficiency
3. How often should I lift weights?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends lifting weights at least 2 times per week. Ideally, it’s better to aim for 3 or 4.
This is because your body goes into a muscle-building/calorie-torching state for about 48 hours after a weight lifting session. So only 2 sessions a week won’t quite cover you.
Performing a complete full-body workout 2-3 times/week is a great place to start.
As you get stronger and are able to tolerate more exercises, you can always switch to splitting your upper and lower body days. For instance, you can target your upper body on Monday and Thursday and target your lower body on Tuesday and Friday.
4. How many reps/sets should I do?
This is actually a pretty involved question, but I’ll keep it simple here.
When it comes to weight lifting for female beginners, you’ll first want to work on muscular endurance. This helps create a great foundation for heavier strength training. Building endurance means higher reps and lower sets so your muscles get used to being under tension for a long period of time.
10-15 reps is a great starting place. And because researchers have found the greatest muscle change occurs after 25-30 reps, aim for 2-3 sets on each exercise. These are the recommended guidelines if your goal is fat loss with toning.
As you get stronger, you can challenge your muscles more and focus on increasing muscle mass. This doesn’t mean bulking up – remember, that’s very challenging to achieve as a woman with less testosterone. But to increase muscle and accelerate toning, you need to increase the weight, back down on the reps, and increase the number of sets. 5-10 reps is better here, with 3-5 sets instead.
5. Should a woman lose weight before lifting weights?
I stumbled across this question the other day.
The answer is no, that’s absolutely not necessary.
In fact, lifting weights is a great way to lose weight. Many weight lifting exercises get your heart rate soaring, burning calories on their own. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn as well.
And many women with a weight loss goal also want to tone. Just performing cardio and eating less can help you lose the fat, but lifting weights during the process will lead to revealing strong, toned muscles underneath.
If you are overweight or obese, the main caution to consider is high impact cardio, like running and jumping exercises. These exercises can increase the wear and tear on joints of someone who is already carrying around excess weight, increasing the risk of injury. For that reason, it’s best for those who are overweight or obese to start with low-impact cardio – such as walking, biking, or using the rower or elliptical – until you have begun to lose weight.
But with weight lifting, this is not a concern for regular exercises that don’t include jumping.
So no, when it comes to weight lifting for female beginners, these tips apply to ALL women. Regardless of size.
6. How should a beginner start lifting weights?/How can a woman start lifting weights at home?
To begin lifting weights, you just need to find a workout. There are so many available on Pinterest and Instagram – just be sure it’s from a reliable source. Some of my favorite sites are Shape and Women’s Health.
I’ve also begun adding workouts to my Instagram and have lots of workouts here on my blog too. To start, try out this full-body workout!
Now you’re all set to become a weight lifting muscle machine!
Weight lifting is one of the most empowering things I’ve done. The stronger you are, the more you can do more for yourself – and that’s a pretty amazing feeling.
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