ALWAYS consult your medical doctor before beginning ANY exercise program.
I had a special topic request from a very special reader, my baby girl Molly Ann. Of course at 31 she is no longer a baby to anyone but me. What great timing for her request as this is something I have had on the back burner for a few days anyhow.
To first get a few things out of the way, there can be several reasons why ladies and men fail with weight training programs. Although lifting weights is not rocket science, if you have no experience, you do not know what it is you do not know. Your lack of knowledge will result in over training, injury and burn out to name a few issues you will encounter. Over training comes from pushing yourself too hard before your body is actually ready for it. Your central nervous system can become fatigued over time and one day you will wake up feeling as if you are coming down with the flu and a depression can overwhelm you. Injury can happen from over training, such as pushing too much weight too soon. Your muscles will gain strength at a quicker rate than your connective tissues which will leave you with painful tendinitis. Injury will also happen if your form goes deteriorates during a lift and you strain or tear a muscle. You have to know when to throw in the towel. Burn out can be a result of a combination of Central Nervous System Fatigue and injury, or it could be that you should have had some rest days in between sessions and just got bored with the hard work of strength training.
My next word of caution if you want to get into strength training is be extra choosy about who you take your advice from. Even if someone looks to be in great shape, it does not mean they know much about good training. Sometimes a person might look fit despite their training. Just because a person appears strong and has muscles, it does not mean they can put together a workable strength training program for you. In short, the guy who is always posing in the mirror or in front of a camera flexing his muscles, and who spends hours and hours in the gym hitting muscles from every different direction, is not who you want to go to for advice when you are new to lifting. Especially if they try to get you to complete a hard to understand laundry list of exercises every session. These types usually have more of an interest in impressing you with their vast knowledge over actually helping you. Weight training does not need to be complicated to be very effective. In fact, when you are new, a complicated routine will end up aggravating you more than anything. Who has the time or interest in learning and doing every curl variation there is under the sun, then moving on to another dozen lifts per muscle. If you go that route though, be sure they teach you how to flex in the mirror or in front of the camera between every set just like they do. Also make sure they teach you how to do that annoying guttural groan with every rep of every set so that every one knows you are pumping the iron.
I am going to lay out a simple barbell program along with a dumbbell variation at a later time for any who may only have access to them instead of a barbell. You do not require much equipment, but a good flat bench with squat stands is essential for the barbell program. Adjustable dumbbells is all you require for the dumbbell variation besides the bench.
In full transparency, the barbell program is not one I have written myself. I am a student of Coaches Mark Rippetoe, Bill Starr, Louie Simmons, Glen Pendlay, Steve Shaw and Jeff Cavalier to name a few. Most of these coaches have developed programming based on old school training methods which are simple by design and the best linear progressive programs you can do. In my early years of weight training I realized that the only way to go if I was going to be serious was to learn from serious coaches and not go with trial and error from bull I picked up in Muscle Magazines and other media. It only makes sense to learn from those who have already made and corrected every mistake that can be encountered while under the iron.
Now, to get to my thoughts on Women’s Weight Training. How about we not distinguish any difference in how men and women train. True we have hormonal differences, and obvious differences in our genders. But other than that, our bodies are the same. There is no difference in our muscle groups, therefore there is no good reason to train any differently solely because of a difference in our genders. Ladies, know that barbell training is not going to make you bulky unless you put in a lot of effort towards getting bulky. You do not produce the testosterone to get there. It is a lot of work for men to ever get bulky and usually requires eating a very high calorie diet to get there. At my strongest, I was intentionally eating 6000 calories a day to fuel heavy lifting. You do not do that by accident, I guarantee. No one just gets bulky over night, not ever. Unless they are on performance enhancing drugs, and not always even then if they are not putting in the work to get huge.
Besides having run the barbell program myself, I coach Brenda Sue. We began her with a simple Kettlebell program before she decided to get truly serious and bought a barbell. Her bench and squat rack came later. We had barely began with her training when her home took a direct hit by three tornadoes back in March 2018. In the beginning, she was doing floor presses instead of bench press and had to improvise a squat rack by stacking containers up to set the barbell at shoulder height. Brenda Sue recovered her iron from the wreckage of her home and continued the improvised lifting for a couple more weeks in her temporary shelter at a local hotel. And then she moved into a house and completed her set up with a bench and squat stands. Brenda Sue went from a very shaky 35 lb squat and maybe about the same for a dead lift and bench press to her current 140 lb squat, 110 bench press and 225 lb deadlift. Her squat was so weak and shaky that I truly wondered if she was going to master the lift or stick with it long enough to master it. I told her when she first began that if she stuck with my training that she would need to buy more weight for her barbell. I know that did not seem real to her at first, then soon we had to discuss her getting more weights. And guess what ladies, Brenda looks strong, she is strong, yet she is not the least bit bulky. Oh, another point of interest, Brenda was 61 years old when she began lifting weights seriously. She had piddled around in years past, but never serious as in now. Now, she is a true believer in how effective it is. This is a very simple to follow basic barbell program that follows a linear progression, which means you will start very light and add 5 to 10 pounds to the barbell every lifting session until you fail to execute all of your reps in a set. At that time, you will simply try that same weight next session and if you get all reps, you add more weight the next. If you fail to get all of your reps again, then you de-load by about 10% and work your way back up. This is the Rippetoe Starting Strength model of 3×5 where you will do 2 warm up sets and then 3 working sets of 5 reps only on each set. The entire program only involves 5 different lifts; Squat, Dead Lift, Bench Press, Overhead Press and Bent Over Row. This is a full body workout that will get you great results without having to spend more than an hour in the gym and does not require any complicated set and rep schemes that the body builders would have you doing. I believe in the KISS concept, Keep it Stupid Simple so even a guy such as myself can follow it. This routine will only be done 3 days a week, such as Monday, Wednesday and Friday and then no lifting at all on the other days. If you want to do cardio, I suggest you run or walk directly after your lifting. Do not run on your non lifting days as the running will kill your lifts. You have to be able to recover between sessions, even though you will not feel the need at the beginning. Know this, a good lifting program performed right is cardiovascular in nature. This training is going to work your heart as much as running.
Now to cover the lifts and the muscle groups impacted by each:
Squats: (From Wikipedia)
a compound, full body exercise that trains primarily the muscles of the thighs and hips, and buttocks, quadriceps, femoral muscle and hamstrings, as well as strengthening the bones, ligaments and insertion of the tendons throughout the lower body. Squats are considered a vital exercise for increasing the strength and size of the legs as well as developing core strength.
Dead Lifts:(From LiveStrong)
The erector spinae, the muscles of your low back, are some of the main movers during the deadlift exercise. These three muscles — the iliocastalis, the longissimus and the spinalis — run from near the base of your skull, down your back and attach to the lower vertebrae. The erector spinae muscles perform several movements related to the torso and neck. During the deadlift, these muscles help extend the torso, pulling the spine back as you stand up.
The deadlift also targets your butt muscles, the gluteus maximus. This is the large muscle that runs diagonally down from the middle of your body to the outside of your thigh. It attaches to your pelvic bone and sacrum on one end and your femur, the thigh bone, on the other end. The gluteus maximus muscle is responsible for hip extension, moving the top of your pelvic bone back as you stand up during the deadlift exercise.
The deadlift targets both the quadriceps on the front of your thigh and the hamstrings on the back of your thigh. However, the hamstrings only act as stabilizers during this exercise; the quadriceps muscles are the primary movers. They are four muscles that run from the top of your thigh, down the front of your leg and attach to your tibia, one of the bones of your lower leg. These muscles are responsible for knee extension, straightening the knee joint as you stand up during the deadlift.
Bench Press: (from BodyBuilding.com)
It is the staple exercise for building muscle mass and strength in the chest. The primary muscles that are worked in a bench press are the triceps brachii and pectoralis major with the anterior (front) deltoids, traps& back as secondary muscles.
Overhead Press: (from LiveStrong)
You usually lift less weight in the overhead press than you do in a squat, deadlift or bench press because the primary movers are small muscles.
The anterior deltoids, located at the front of the three-part shoulder muscle, activate when you push up. This muscle does the most work during the overhead press. The lateral, or medial, deltoids, located at the top of the shoulder, and the postior delts at the back also help in the pushing process.
Your rotator cuff muscles, a complex group made up of the surpraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis that fan over the shoulder blades, keep your shoulders in proper position during the press. This group also benefits from doing moves like the overhead press because it makes them stronger and prevents them from failing during everyday activities, such as playing tennis, moving furniture and lifting things onto a high shelf.
Upper Back and Arms
The shrug performed at the top of the press activates the upper portion of your trapezius muscle, which shows as a broad, diamond shape across the upper back. The upper traps originate in the neck and along the very top part of the backs of the shoulders. The middle and lower traps activate to a lesser degree during the shoulder press.
Your arms, specifically your triceps, are responsible for the extension of the elbow that allows you to push up. The biceps stabilize the extended elbow at the top of the movement.
Doing an overhead press from the classic standing position requires greater muscle control and stabilization. Your core, primarily the muscles of your abs and lower back, help keep you pushing in a straight line.
The shoulders, arms and upper back must also engage in a greater degree of stability during a standing overhead press, as compared to a seated press, showed a 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Although the overhead press is not leg-specific, your thighs, hips, ankles and calves maintain your upright position as you overhead press. They work isometrically to do so.
Bent Over Row: (from BodyBuilding.com)
This exercise is a great compound movement which incorporates the lats, rhomboids, rear delts, traps, and even the biceps. It is obviously a good choice to ensure you are getting as much benefit out of your back training as possible.
Here is the workout in it’s simplicity. You will begin with an empty 45 pound Olympic barbell for each lift or load a standard barbell to 40 pounds if you have no access to an Olympic bar:
Squats, 5 sets of 5 reps.
Bench Press: 5 sets of 5 reps
Bent Over Rows: 5 sets of 5 reps
Squats, 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 4 sets of 5 reps
Overhead Press: 5 sets of 5 reps
Alternate these workouts, ABA on week 1, BAB the next then back to ABA. Be sure to skip a day between sessions and skip 2 days after the third. In due time, you will need those rest days.
You will squat every session. You will only do 4 sets of 5 reps with the deadlift. When the deadlifts get heavy, they will be very taxing on your system, especially with squatting each session.
Start with an empty 45 pound Olympic barbell or 40 pounds on a standard barbell. On your second work out, do your first two sets with the empty bar and then add 5 pounds to the barbell. Next session, begin with the empty bar and add 10 pounds, then 15 and on and on, by adding five pounds to the last weight you used every session. Once your 3 sets of working weight gets about 35 pounds heavier than your warm up, begin adding in 5 pound increments to your warm up also. Even if this seems ridiculously light at first, you first need to perfect your form before getting into heavy weights. By adding 5 pounds every session, that barbell is going to get heavy more rapidly than you might think. Keep your ego in check, you do not want to rush heavy weights as first, and foremost we do not want you to suffer an injury from improper form.
Lastly, try to eat 1800 calories of whole healthy foods a day and you will drop body fat as you gain strength and tone your body. Please do not let any meathead body building types get you side tracked with a bunch of superfluous lifts that will only serve to take away from the main lifts on this program and have you trying to follow their madness. As laid out above, you can see these compound lifts will work your entire body. Weight training is not rocket science and does not have to be a day long commitment in the gym unless you just truly want it to be. Keep it simple and enjoy.
ALWAYS consult your medical doctor before beginning ANY exercise program.