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Finally, strength training is essential for managing your body fat and maintaining a healthy body composition, and well… loving the way you look naked.  If weight loss is your goal, as you lose body fat, if you’re not strength training, it’s likely that your body will become a smaller, softer version of itself. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, in our experience working with women who want to “tone up” or “get in shape,” it’s a safe bet to say this is not the physical change you were expecting to see. However, if you strength train and add muscle as you reduce your body fat, your body becomes firmer and tighter, which is more along the lines of what many women envision when they embark on a weight loss journey. As we’ve said before, there is no wrong way to have a body. However, we want you to understand the physical effects that typically take place to help you ensure that all your effort leads you toward what you envision.
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: Using 8- to 15-pound dumbbells, stand behind a chair. Place your feet under your hips and fold forward so that your head can rest comfortably on the chair or surface. Keep your knees slightly bent and your neck relaxed. Begin with your palms facing each other directly under your shoulders. Bend your elbows and pull the dumbbells towards you until your palms are next to your ribs. Draw the shoulder blades together at the top. Pause for two seconds, then slowly release back to the starting position. That's one repetition. Aim for 12 to 15 reps.

I highly prefer dumbbells to exercise machines, for the reasons I've said before. In other words, if you sit down on a machine and press something up, you're really getting good at sitting on a machine and pressing something up. If you sit on a ball or stand in a squat position and press up a set of dumbbells, not only are you working your shoulders, you're working your core muscles, which are your abdominals and lower back, and you're challenging your balance and coordination. In real life, we need all of those things.


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How her body has reacted: Once I started lifting, I got a lot of feedback from friends saying I’d lost weight. Funny thing is, I didn’t really lose any pounds, I was just looking leaner and fitter. Now that I’ve been lifting regularly for several years, my energy is better and I feel stronger. I’m positive that my physical fitness helped me have a faster and (somewhat) easier delivery of my son in 2016. I continued to lift responsibly through my pregnancy, which helped me quickly get back into pre-pregnancy shape later. Overall, I feel better and look better thanks to this lifestyle change.
Do Yoga with Me is one of my personal favourite sources for good home workouts, obviously of the yoga variety! Many of their classes are filmed outdoors in beautiful British Columbia, Canada. The level of instruction is top-notch and there are videos that focus on pretty much every part of the body (e.g. hips, hamstrings, back, etc.), so you can target the area that you need to work on most.
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.
Powerlifting isn’t the only way to get results. Strength training comes in far more accessible forms as well—many of which do not even require a gym membership and certainly don’t require a personal trainer. Resistance bands, cheap strips of elastic that loop around arms or legs, are one good way to build strength without weights, for instance. A 2017 study showed that when frail women over 60 who were obese worked out with resistance bands for three months, they dropped body fat and increased bone density. Another option that involves even less equipment is to use your own body weight. Sitting up and down in a chair many times builds strength, as does jumping, which uses many of the legs’ major muscles. Even walking can count as strength training, depending on the intensity.
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?)
Men are, in the vast majority of cases, both stronger and more muscular than women.  They also gain both strength and muscle mass at a higher absolute rate.  That much is obvious.  However, relative rates of muscle growth and strength gains are, I think, the more interesting comparison since we largely tend to compare our progress to our own starting points.  If a man gets 10% stronger in response to training, can a woman also expect to get 10% stronger after training, or should she instead expect to gain strength at a faster or slower relative rate?
How: Using 8- to 15-pound dumbbells, stand behind a chair. Place your feet under your hips and fold forward so that your head can rest comfortably on the chair or surface. Keep your knees slightly bent and your neck relaxed. Begin with your palms facing each other directly under your shoulders. Bend your elbows and pull the dumbbells towards you until your palms are next to your ribs. Draw the shoulder blades together at the top. Pause for two seconds, then slowly release back to the starting position. That's one repetition. Aim for 12 to 15 reps.

Let’s not forget how resistance training speeds up your metabolism. With every pound of muscle you build, you will burn an additional 35-50 calories a day, even at a resting rate, and that adds up: if you gain 4.5 lbs of muscle, that’s an extra 150 calories burned a day, which is 4,500 extra calories burned each month, and THAT adds up to losing about 15 lbs a year. HELLO!


Start standing, holding light-to-medium-weight dumbbells at your shoulders, chest up, core braced. Step your right foot back, then bend at both knees, lowering your torso until your left thigh is parallel to the ground. Press back up to standing, then press the dumbbells straight overhead. Lower them back to your shoulders and do a lunge rep with your left leg. Alternate legs on every rep until time’s up. Do 3 sets.
Why: "The best way to maintain and improve bone density is through exercises that involve your entire lower body," says Perkins. "This move is considered a weight-bearing, compound, complex exercise, and is number one for bone health. In addition, the majority of age-related falls and bone fractures involve the pelvis. This move specifically targets and strengthens the muscles and bones of the pelvis." (Here are 4 more strength-training exercises you can do with a chair.)
To go a little deeper, we can look at powerlifting meet results to see how the gap between men and women shifts when comparing less competitive lifters to more competitive lifters.  As mentioned in a previous article, women lift about 67% as much as men in the squat, 56% in the bench, and 71% in the deadlift, on average (using allometric scaling to correct for differences in body mass).  However, those gaps are larger when looking at less successful lifters (those in the 10th percentile of relative strength) and smaller when looking at more successful lifters (those in the 90th percentile of relative strength).  A 5th percentile woman has about 62% as much relative strength as a 5th percentile man in the squat, 53% in the bench, and 67% in the deadlift. On the other hand, a 95th percentile woman has about 71% as much relative strength as a 95th percentile man in the squat, 60% in the bench, and 75% in the deadlift.  An analysis of weightlifting results in CrossFitters had similar findings (though they didn’t correct for differences in body mass):  larger sex gaps in snatch and clean & jerk performance in lower-level lifters and smaller gaps in higher-level lifters.
It can also be super helpful to have a workout buddy, coach or motivational fitness group to help you stay on track and keep you motivated. This is an open invitation to enroll in Rock Your Life, my online fitness and coaching community where you can get motivated, work with me and the other Team Betty Rocker coaches, and meet hundreds of other women who are working on their fitness goals.
I may include post-menopausal women at some point, but I won’t for my thesis. The basic reason is that I want to use trained subjects (since I’m mainly interested in fatigue and recovery, that’s a more homogenous population. With untrained folks, you get some people who are in great shape who just don’t lift weights, and some people who are total couch potatoes. Those differences make a huge difference in fatigue and recovery, independent of sex), and I’d have a hell of a time trying to find enough post-menopausal, trained subjects in Chapel Hill (which isn’t a huge city) who were willing to participate. There is actually quite a bit of research on post-menopausal women, though. This pubmed query should include a lot of it: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=((resistance%20train*)%20OR%20strength%20train*)%20AND%20((menopaus*)%20OR%20postmenopaus*)
Paying attention to your form is definitely important when you’re doing bodyweight workouts, but the risk of injury goes up when you add more weight. Be sure you’re stretching regularly, and whenever  you have the opportunity, work with a trainer, physical therapist, chiropractor or structural integrationist who can help keep your bones and muscles working together and lined up.
Many women miss out on the benefits of strength training out of fear of developing bulging muscles. This is a misconception. According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, high levels of estrogen make it very difficult for women to become overly muscular. When women lift weights, the changes to their muscles are generally related to tone, strength, and endurance rather than size. The resulting look is firm, feminine toning, not bulky masculine muscles.
While your total caloric intake is the most important diet factor, the ratio of protein to carbs to fat can dictate whether the weight you gain/lose is muscle or fat. A diet that contains 80% of calories from carbs, 10% from protein, and 10% from fat will produce different results than a diet containing 40% of calories from carbs, 40% from protein, and 20% from fat.
Thank you for covering women for a change! As an older women I am always looking for information on both groups. I have found that I do better with higher reps simply because heavier weights end up causing me injuries. I think it may be because we start so much weaker (especially me!) that we are more likely to have imbalances if we miss a muscle. Does that make sense? I also get into situations often where I can do one weight many times but can’t really do a higher weight at all. (ie 10# 16 times but 12# not at all with decent form.) So I am now using weight gloves to achieve in between weights. I usually use weights I can lift 12-15 times to (or almost to) failure, doing 3 sets total but in rotation so I have some time to recover. Is that a reasonable approach?

While I was training for endurance events ... at times I felt run down, and it would be hard to eat properly and I would end up bingeing. I also was in the constant mindset of needing to be thinner to excel in endurance events, which would lead me to eat too few calories and again I would end up bingeing. So although my calorie burn was much higher while training for marathons and Ironmans, my nutrition was not nearly as good. The other thing that has changed is my confidence. I was always self-conscious of having big thighs, now I embrace them because they are strong thighs. These thighs let me squat a lot of weight! It is funny, I am even more confident in my running (short distances, of course!) and have run a lifetime mile personal record this year. I am so much more confident in my own skin, which transfers to all aspects of my life.
Grab a medium-heavy looped resistance band and set it up around a post of some sort so it’s at shoulder-height. Kneel facing the band, thighs perpendicular to the ground, and grab an end of the band in each hands. Move away from the band enough that there’s tension on both ends. Squeeze your shoulder blades, then bend at the elbows and shoulders, pulling the band toward the bottom of your chest. Pause when you thumbs touch the bottom of your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades. That’s 1 rep. Do 3 sets.
Start in pushup position, hands directly below your shoulders. Lift your right hand off the ground, then reach it under your torso to the left; reach as far as you can. Bring your right hand back from under your torso then reach your right arm toward the ceiling, rotating your torso as you do this. Repeat on the other side. Alternate reps on both sides until time’s up.
In medical school, she’d counsel patients on the importance of exercise and feel like a hypocrite, she says, since she did little but shuttle from home to the hospital, spending her rare free time catching up on sleep. “My body didn’t feel good, and my mind didn’t feel very good either,” she says. But once she started taking her own advice, as a resident at Loyola University Medical Center, Dena quickly became a hard-core strength-training fanatic. Within a month of learning how to lift weights, she noticed she had more energy without needing as much sleep, she felt far less stressed out, and she saw her body tone up fast.
Cardio history: I started long-distance running in 2008, half and full marathons, which led to half and full Ironmans from 2011 to 2013. That moved to ultramarathons — 50 km, 50-miler, 100 km, etc. — for the past three years. During these periods, I was basically doing cardio in the form of biking, running or swimming for 15 to 20-plus hours a week, with maybe five of those hours as light circuit-style, high-rep weight training — so more cardio than lifting.
If you’re new to weight training, don’t worry. Perkins created this four-week program to help you to build a solid foundation of strength training and shift your body into a new place after all that cardio. The really great news? You only have to do this routine twice a week. Each week, the moves will stay the same, but we'll make the routine harder by changing the program variables (like rest, sets, reps, or load).
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