"I started with seven or eight rounds of P90X, not to get ‘ripped’ but to stay in shape. I have also tried and loved the expansion packs, P90X2 and P90X3. I love that I can switch loads of laundry during a water break, not worry about what kind of weather is outside, and work out while my kids are home. The biggest changes I have seen are in my arms, back, legs, and stomach.” —Wendy Brown, Boise, ID
Question: Can you get a solid abs workout from yoga? Answer: Hell yeah! Kathryn Budig, author of THe Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga, teaches a core-blasting yoga series in this 20-minute video. She directs you through strengthening poses all while giving tips on form with the type of encouragement and reassurance you’d get if you were actually in class. (Bonus: The serene backdrop helps put you in a yoga mindset.)

Strength training will bring out definition and get you stronger but will not increase bulk. The key is the correct exercises combined with a sensible diet and a serving of aerobics. The exercises that women most commonly do to bring out definition don't really work. They do hundreds and hundreds of repetitions, spend hours and hours on the treadmill and wonder why their bodies don't change. So it's time to try strength training.
Why: "The muscles of your upper arms are very small from a volume perspective. Due to the muscle loss that has occurred since your 30s (sarcopenia), these muscles are atrophied," says Perkins. "It's critical to keep your biceps muscles strong so that you are able to carry objects safely and easily. It'll also make your arms look great." (For more moves for sculpted arms, try this at-home workout.)
How her body has reacted: Since adding in weights, I feel leaner and stronger — physically and mentally. Yoga is incredibly soothing and replenishing for me, but I wasn’t 100 percent happy with my physical appearance. I just wanted more of a body. I’m a petite woman with no curves, which can be daunting in today’s booty-obsessed world. Overall, sweating and detoxifying through working out has made me a happier, kinder and all-around better person. I now have the ability to channel my angst into something positive, benefiting myself and everyone around me. Lifting weights makes me feel like a strong, independent woman, while yoga gives me peace of mind and confidence.
As for food, I’m a huge foodie. I can’t eat the same thing every day, but some staples I always come back to include: avocado toast with poached egg and smoked salmon; chickpeas pastas with parmesan; and crispy tempeh and sweet potatoes. And I have one huge non-negotiable indulgence: Once a week, I disconnect and watch a totally goofy movie, while eating a big bowl of oats, peanut butter, and granola. (Where are my Mean Girls lovers at?)

I have always loved lifting, but I only started doing it regularly about 9 months ago. I needed to lose a bit of weight (fat), and I had no desire to sacrifice essential body parts to do so. After talking with some guy friends, I decided that lifting might be the answer. It was. I have lost two sizes, and 28 inches over all. I haven’t lost tons of weight, but I look like I have, and I did it without going on an excruciating and unsustainable diet.
That’s why I included the analysis of studies lasting 20+ weeks, to specifically look at studies where that sort of effect wouldn’t influence the results as much.  That’s also why I separated upper body and lower body strength gains, as I’d expect this type of effect would be more prevalent for upper body strength than lower body strength.  In support of the hypothesis that “untrained” women may be more untrained than “untrained” men – especially when it comes to upper body strength – women gained strength faster than men in shorter studies but not longer studies, and in measures of upper body strength but not lower body strength.
If you are a woman and want to gain muscle and improve your shape and curves, then you are going to have to lift heavy weights. This means that instead doing endless reps with light weights, as the media often prescribes women to do, you need to lift some heavy weights and really challenge yourself! While performing high rep sets (15-20 reps) does have some benefit, it is not optimal to adding muscle mass.

Lie with your back on a bench, glutes squeezed and feet flat on the floor. Hold medium-weight dumbbells directly over your shoulders. Squeeze your shoulder blades. Keeping your left arm straight, lower the right dumbbell to your chest; pause when it’s an inch from your chest then drive it back up. Repeat on the other side. Alternate reps on both sides until time is up. Do 3 sets.
“I think the most important thing about any athletic pursuit for women ... is the general sense of competence you get from knowing that your body can do whatever you need it to,” says Karen Ko, a Toronto-based strength coach and personal trainer. “This is huge for women. We’re socialized to defer to men in areas of physical activity — they are the experts, they are inherently stronger than us. Strength training challenges this narrative and is extremely empowering.”
Hi, this program looks like a great intro to weightlifting! I do have a few questions though. I'm trying to get back into strength training after a 3+ month break. My main goals revolve around building muscle rather than losing fat. I definitely wouldn't mind shedding excess fat but I mainly want to focus on creating a more hourglass illusion with a more defined upper body and bigger, rounder glutes - would this be a good program to get started on? If so, is it better to start off eating at maintenance or a surplus? And if I want to build muscle, should I skip the optional cardio? Thanks!
You need to strength train your whole body. I know you might be thinking, OK, I'll just do lunges, because Wini said lunges are the best lower body exercise. However, when you work your whole body you increase your metabolism and you burn more body fat and it's key as you're getting stronger and defining muscles that you, at the same time, have your body fat drop so that you can see those muscles. So you need to do a strength training workout for your whole body. You can certainly focus on your lower body. In Lean, Long & Strong we have a lower body concentration where you work your lower body a little bit more, yet you still need to work your whole body.
I just stumbled onto the Muscle and Strength website, and I'm really pleased with all of the information. I am 54 years old and frustrated with the 10-15 lbs gained since my full hysterectomy 4 years ago. I have always been active, have lifted weights for over 30 years, and have been an aerobic instructor for in past years. I am well educated in weight loss and weight lifting but can't seem to get back into shape after my hysterectomy. My doctor says that I should focus on programs that emphasize muscle growth as more muscle will burn more calories. In your opinion, would this program be the best fit for me? Thanks for your help!
Since creating the channel in 2014, Caleb Marshall has provided a steady stream of entertaining, heart-pumping and user friendly dance videos that are perfect for a quick cardio session. The videos feature dancers of all levels, and that combined with Marshall’s near-constant comical interjections (not to mention his facial expressions) eradicate any fears of looking silly during the “Cardio Concert.” Further, as each showcases a different Top 40 track, the exercise aspect is quickly forgotten as infectious rhythms take over. Though the videos are short, you can compile a few into a playlist for a longer workout.
I just want to let you know that this article is absolute gold. You’re the real MVP for conducting a meta-analysis on this topic, especially when it’s so hard to find much research out there. More importantly, you’ve paved a way to explain more fully why strength training is so great for women to women and the benefits of it in comparison to men. Research is not only assuring and affirming, but it’s convincing for people who dabble with the idea of something, so thank you! Anyways, very well done and please keep doing what you’re doing!
Both BCAA and Glutamine oxidation/demand is increased during exercise. In order to meet this increased demand for BCAA and Glutamine, the body breaks down muscle protein. The goal of weight training is to increase protein synthesis. In order to gain muscle mass, protein turnover (protein turnover = protein synthesis – protein breakdown) must be positive. An increase in protein synthesis from weight training can lead to an increase in muscle mass. If we are increasing protein breakdown during training, we are decreasing the training session’s overall anabolic effect and limiting muscle growth.
If so, then there was simply no deficit present during that time. If you would have said this went on for just a couple of weeks, I would have told you there was likely some water retention going on (maybe it was even a certain time of the month). But that would have only been a temporary short-term thing at most. To go 2 months straight with no change whatsoever in scale weight or measurements, it’s pretty safe to say fat just wasn’t being lost. Either that or there was something inaccurate happening in the way you tracked your weight and measurements.

Want to be strong, healthy, and happy, and feel 10 years younger? Then it's time to pick up the weights. "Strength training is no longer about being buff or skinny," says trainer Holly Perkins, founder of Women's Strength Nation. "It's as critical to your health as mammograms and annual doctor visits, and it can alleviate nearly all of the health and emotional frustrations that women face today. And it becomes even more critical once you hit 50."


He’s trained hundreds of athletes and regular folks, both online and in-person. He’s written for many of the major magazines and websites in the fitness industry, including Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Muscle & Fitness, Bodybuilding.com, T-Nation, and Schwarzenegger.com. Furthermore, he’s had the opportunity to work with and learn from numerous record holders, champion athletes, and collegiate and professional strength and conditioning coaches through his previous job as Chief Content Director for Juggernaut Training Systems and current full-time work here on Stronger By Science.
This is the best article I have read in YEARS!!!! I have wanted more muscle for 25 years & the stupid trainers give me these dumb “woman’s training programs” to do, which from a woman’s point of view have NO EFFECT at all – I just got skinny and floppy – YUK YUK YUK so I stated doing the “manly stuff” a while ago & have been looking for a way to do a whole body workout over 2 separate days – I have found them!! Thank you for a “no pink pom-pom” option – I’m off to the gym!!
Thank you for this article, it was great to read one that explained so well the myths surrounding women lifting like men. I’ve been lifting heavy for a few years now and the only time I felt that I was bigger than I would’ve liked was when I had a layer of fat covering my muscle! (often women seem to mistake this for lots of muscle bulk) Once that was lost though, with a small deficit and while continuing to lift, I loved the results! Muscle tone, looking strong, looking healthy. I wish more women would realise the benefits – next time I have a female friend complain about how they’re not getting “toned”, I’ll be sending them a link to this! 😀
Thank you so much for explaining this in such a clear manner. I am also sick to death of most women’s negativity towards weight lifting created by their stupid beliefs which you have discussed here; The ingrained fear that lifting weights will make you bulky/manly! Lifting weights it the best thing I have ever done for my body and I could not be happier with the results I have achieved. The internet can be an excellent tool for research and source of information about training and nutrition. Sites such as yours are truly valuable and ones I turn to very often for guidance! So thanks again, it’s appreciated.
During weeks 9-12, you will be lifting in the 4-6 rep range. What this means is that you want to complete at least 4 reps but no more than 6 reps for each set. If you cannot complete 4 reps, then the weight is too heavy and you should decrease the load. If you can complete more than 6 reps, then the weight is too light and you should increase the load.
Start in pushup position, with your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Tighten your core and glutes and perform a pushup, lowering your torso to an inch from the ground. Press back to the start, and as you do this, remove your right arm from the ground and touch your right hand to your left shoulder. Pause for one second in this position tightening your core and trying to keep your hips level, then return to the starting pushup position. Repeat the process on the other side. This move will challenge you, but you’re continuing to build core stability. Alternate reps on each side for 3 sets. During Week 5, do the move for 40 seconds during each set, then rest for 20. During Week 6, work for 50 seconds, then rest for 10.
Get in position for a kettlebell swing, except this time, as you hike the weight back, take a small step to the right with your right leg. Shift your left leg as well. As soon as the left leg lands, forcefully drive your hips forward, initiating the kettlebell swing. Repeat the pattern, this time taking a step with your left leg. Alternate reps on both sides. Do 3 sets.
The purpose of begin with exercises with the lowest learning curve that provide the greatest benefits is more evident when you compare a goblet squat to a barbell back squat. Every person I’ve worked with can correctly, and confidently, perform the goblet squat from the first workout. Most people master this quicker than a barbell back squat, and that’s why it’s used in this beginner strength training guide.

Most of the time, there are meta-analyses to answer questions like this.  A meta-analysis is essentially a “study of studies,” pooling the results from many different (smaller) research projects to make some sort of comparison.  Meta-analyses are useful because individual studies may have skewed results, and a single study can’t possibly hope to answer every facet of a general research question like “how do relative gains in strength and muscle mass differ between men and women?” (What if they used different exercises?  What if they used different training programs? What if they manipulated diet differently? What if they used people in a different age range? What if the study lasted twice as long? etc.)


Ok, so all fears gone! I will give it a try, and the cool part is that since my husband and I are trying to do something together, without kids, and look better, we could do this! But I am confused as to the ‘losing fat’ and ‘building muscle’ separate dietary reqs. I want both?! And how long to do the beginners workout before moving onto intermediate… Other than that, I’m very excited to start! I’m going to do before and after pics, and document progress. Awesome!
This is true and this should be the focus. Not ‘you can’t get bulky so lift’. I’m a dancer and heavy weight training ruined my lines (which I need to work). I’m fit and strong either way but I need to be more careful with how I train because looks matter to me professionally. It would be nice to hear trainers talk more about how they tailor workouts to clients needs and wishes than to make sweeping statements about women’s bodies.
This comment made me think about my husband pointing out to me that my upper traps are getting too big. He doesn’t like it. In fact, he doesn’t like me building muscle at all, and insists I need to be doing low weights and high reps to only “tone”. “You don’t need to be struggling on those heavy lists, you get more range of motion on the low weight, high reps”. “That’s all you need” he says. I feel so discouraged by not having the support, but I won’t stop my lifting (and heavy at that). I love lifting weights, and I love challenging myself with the heavier lifts.
Great notes! However, since people reading this might be forwarding to their girlfriend, wives, fiancees, etc, you might want to include a small section that identifies what 1 pound of muscle means. It would be a guess but most women reading this will go, “What is 10 lbs of muscle? I don’t want that!” It might say how many pounds of muscle she might need to look “toned.”
I’m a weight lifter, and I’m not afraid of the freeweights, nor the heavy ones. I went to a gym test session at a “girly” gym, and was so annoyed at the girl’s surprise that I was capable of tripling most of her clients’ weight limits. And I haven’t regularly lifted in months. So even now, seriously out of condition, I’m capable of lifting more than most.
Thank you for this article – it confirms what I’ve read a few times, though sadly not often enough. I had this discussion with my sister that was at an all-girls gym – they ONLY have crappo machines, and you’re only allowed to use the free-weights if you’re working with a PT!! I shit you not… ANYWAY, I digress. I did have a question to ask – with regards to progression training, at what point do you decide to maintain, rather than constantly upping the intensity, or is that a really noob-y question??? =)
One of the reasons why I love this specific routine so much is that is it easy for beginners. It does not have you doing a thousand reps and burning you out! Instead, you might notice the reps being a little lower than what you are probably used to and that is because the goal is to gain muscle-not worrying about endurance much. Also, you train 4 days per week-that screams “DO-ABLE” to me! You have two designated days where you work your upper body and the same goes for lower body.
If you don’t have a ball you can perform the exercises on the floor or a bench. For each exercise below perform 8-12 repetitions and rest for 30-60 seconds in between exercises. Move slowly through each exercise concentrating on proper form and continued breathing. And don’t forget, it’s always helpful to have guidance. If you have the ability to reach out to a fitness professional — even if it is just for one session — he or she can help take you through proper form and teach you how to move properly for your body. Enjoy your new fountain of youth.
Now, I’m a student at Berkeley, so I can only fit three or four workouts into my schedule. But if you do it right, four days is enough. I do two upper-body sessions, one focused on shoulders and chest, the other on back, biceps, and triceps. The two lower-body sessions are both focused on legs and glutes. And overall, I mainly focus on compound lifts, like deadlifts, squats, hip thrusters, bench press, and military press.
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