Complete exercise routine for women
In this post we shall provide a comprehensive guide on exercise for weight loss as well as aesthetics in women. The focus is mostly on strength training. You can do this for overall fitness and health. We shall also focus on cardio and stretching.
But remember, exercises must be done with the certified fitness trainer. Also keep in mind that you must consult with your doctor before starting the exercise program.
This holds good even if you are a woman, old person, obese or on a diet. For losing fat, weight training is by far your best choice. Even this is the way to go for overall fitness or get a toned/aesthetic body.
And yes, ladies, raising small pink dumbbells may make great Instagram pics. But, to lose weight efficiently, you need to lift heavy.
The core part of your workout routine must be resistance training. Do not be afraid of many taboos with weight training in women.
Do dynamic stretch before workout and static stretch after workout.
Let me mention another point here. Exercises like hip thrust or adduction/abduction are considered embarrassing and hence avoided by many women. Remember, you have one body to live and it’s your responsibility to keep it good. To hell with those naysayers, just do everything that is good for you.
Do these pre-workout stretching and warm-ups:
Do a few jumping jacks or jump ropes – 50-100 reps are fine to warm up whole of your body.
Do full shoulder circles – in front and in back, ie clockwise and anticlockwise from any side.
Do 10 push ups with wide hand position. (If classical push up seems tough, prefer knee push ups).
Do 10 reps of air squat (try full squatting).
Do 10 reps of touch-your-toes (try touching your toes for one second)
Do 6 to 8 mountain climbers each side and stretch hip flexor as much as possible. Try to hold each stretch for one second.
Do glutes bridge for 10 reps and hold bridge for 1 second.
Do full sit ups with flexed hip and knee all the time (don’t allow any anterior tilt of hip).
Pull a horizontal window or other bar (at chest level) alternating with each hand for 20 reps.
Stand with open arms and twist both sides for 10 reps.
Do the two big movement of the day with half of the working load for 8 to 10 sets.
You can modify these as per your requirements keeping the basics same.
Watch these two videos and follow them or make adjustments for your warm up:
Now let us move to the core lifting part. Remember, this is the base of the exercise which will make you (if you do them right) or break you (if you do them wrong).
For beginners, learn proper form and try to stay obsessed with it. Some movements may be tough as you start out. Don’t worry, you have the strength potential to overcome them in future. But be persistent and focused.
I advice never to do this only for few months to transform yourself. Make them your ingrained habit. Think about continuing strength training for life or at least very long term. Do not be over enthusiastic or try any innovation or adjustment. This is a time tested science. Follow it and it can bring amazing results for you.
Now let us talk about the all important workout split. For beginners and even in most intermediates, full body split works best. I shall give you two workout regimens, Workout A and Workout B. Do them by rotation every alternate day or 3 to 4 days a week. Try to give 48 hours of rest in between workouts for muscles to recover.
Rest or cardio
Rest or cardio
Rest or cardio
Workout B or full rest
I have optimized the workouts for women in this post. This is perfect for weight loss, toning up body or even overall fitness improvement and maintenance.
Barbell back squat:
Do 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps. If it seems too tough in beginning, start with only a bar or even practice box squat/air squat. Note the form by videotaping or a trainer to check out.
This is called king of all exercise as it works the lower body better than any other exercise. Practice it to perfect and remember that form has to be spot on.
Pull up / chin up (do lat pulldown if you can’t do more than 3 pull ups):
Do 3 sets of as many as you can. For lat pulldown, do 8 to 12 reps for 3 sets. If you can’t do so many at a time, do the negatives or eccentrics or band pull ups, to get stronger. Do as many reps as possible in a set. Target total of 20 reps in as many sets as possible.
If you are an overweight client with no previous practice, chances are that you can’t do any. Don’t worry, do front lat pull downs to the chin. Avoid below the back ones. Try to feel the peak contraction for best results. Also avoid using too wide grip.
Machine chest press (bench press for advanced) :
Use a chest press machine for 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps. Don’t flare your elbows and slow down the negative phase. As you get better, try bench press, but with care, if you are a newbie. Bench press is perhaps the king of the upper body exercise. Don’t avoid it as you are not a guy!
Use a spotter or even without one only if inside a power cage. Use only a bar or lesser weight you use in that chest press machine. Progress slow with good form. Be wary of any shoulder pain and try to be spot on your form. Videotape it to check form or let your trainer monitor it.
This is an isolation exercise for the hamstrings. Do 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps. Prone leg curl in machine is a good option. You can also do alternating leg curl for same sets and reps. Try to lower weights slowly for best effects. Try positioning feet parallel or wide open to target different parts of hamstrings, in the 2 sets.
Dumbbell shoulder press:
Sit on a bench with backrest at 90 degrees. Select dumbbells such as to press them overhead for 8 to 12 reps for 2 sets. Keep chest up and don’t slide down to make it kind of incline press. If you have shoulder issues, twist the dumbells a bit towards middle, at the lowest point. You can also use machine shoulder press, if available.
One arm dumbbell row:
Do 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps of these for both hands separately. Keep your other hand and knee supported on a flat bench. Don’t round your back and keep core tight. Just pull up dumbbells up to your torso, without rotating to that side. Also row them little back, towards your navel level and not straight up to connect lower lats better.
Crunches (weighted crunches for advanced):
Start by doing crunches on flat ground. Hold peak ab contraction for 1 – 2 seconds and release slowly. Go for higher reps of 15 to 20 reps for 2 sets.
As you can do more than 20 reps easily, go for weighted crunches, holding a dumbbell or weight plate directly over your shoulder / upper chest. You can also increase intensity by doing crunches in a declined benches.
Do front lunges of 8 to 12 reps for 2 sets. Do forward lunge for each leg separately and backward lunge for the next set. Start with hand on the waist or shoulders with bodyweight only. Be careful not to get off balance and fall.
As you learn proper balance and master the body weight movement for several reps, go for dumbbells in both hands (hanging down or at shoulder levels). Dumbbells weight can increased slowly over time. Do not do heavy barbell walking lunges until you master the lunging basics.
Loaded hip thrust:
Let me tell you one thing, this may be embarrassing for some women but perhaps the best workout for glutes. Gluteus maximus, the chunk of the glutes shaping the buttock, is the largest muscle of the body. You simply can’t afford to miss it in your workout. It is essential for both aesthetics and functionality.
Do 8 to 12 reps for 2 sets of hip thrust. If you feel too weak for loaded thrust, try bridging and holding contraction with slow lowering. As you master it go for loaded barbells (with padding in middle) or even Smith machines. Some people can use the leg curl machine too for this exercise. Choose one and stay consistent with slow progressive overloading.
This is another posture correcting exercise often overlooked. Do it for 15 to 20 reps for 2 sets. This can be done in pec dec or even fly machine, sitting and moving arm just opposite to the normal pec dec fly movement. You can also do it prone in a flat bench. Do not go for heavier weights.
Standing calf raise:
Do it in a calf raise machine while standing. Go for higher reps, around 15 to 20 reps for 2 sets. Lower the feet slowly and try to feel the squeeze of calves (mainly gastrocnemius) at peak contraction. Try to go for heavy weight for this after you correct your balance and form. You can do it with dumbbells in both hands too.
Don’t worry, you won’t developed manly arms,with your low testosterone! Just go for 1 or 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps of dumbbell /barbell / machine curl. Keep the lowering phase slow and elbow fixed.
Triceps pushdown / extension:
Do one set of rope or bar push down at machine. Do another set of dumbbell or barbell overhead extension in sitting position. Keep the elbows fixed to the side of your body. Go for 12 to 15 reps in both sets.
It is the best muscle for posterior chain of muscles. But learn the movement and proper hip hinging technique before going heavy. Start with lower weight or only the bar and practice the movement. Check your form by videotaping or under monitoring of a personal trainer. Keep your pelvis little ant tilted and neutral spine all the time. NEVER ROUND YOUR BACK IN DEADLIFT. Do 3 sets of 6 to 8 REPS of deadlifts.
If you are weak at your lower back, this can cure you. I have done it myself. Start with Romanian deadlift to master the movement pattern first. You may distribute the sets between classical and Romanian deadlift too.
Pull up / chin up (do lat pulldown if you can’t do more than 3 pull ups):
Please read the workout A, just repeat it.
Dumbbell bench and incline press:
Do one set of incline and one flat bench dumbbell press. Lower dumbbells slowly and try it for higher rep range of 12 to 15 per set. Dumbbells activate the two arms separately. If there is any imbalance between your two arms, do even more sets or include it in workout A, instead of bench or chest press. You can also do it in machines. Stabilizer muscle do much lesser work in machines, though.
Go for 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps, not loading too heavy. Never lock your knees at the peak contraction phase and avoid keeping hands on thigh. Keep lower back stable and butt fixed to backrest.
Try different feet position to activate different muscles. Wide thighs activate abductors more. Feet positioned towards the front stresses quads more. Back position of your feet will activate the hamstrings more. Keep foot position different in the 2 sets.
Dumbbell lateral raise:
Do this for 2 long sets with lower weight for 12 to 15 reps, or even more if possible. Keep the pulley at eye level and pull the rope to your ears. Hold peak movement for a second and release slowly under control.
Face pull is an important exercise to do. Don’t ignore it. This is a great exercise for post delts and external rotator cuff. This is extremely important for long term lifting, your shoulder health and postural correction. If possible you can tag a set in workout A also.
Seated cable row:
Do 2 sets of 12 to 15 rows, while sitting straight with chest up. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as hard as you can and keep the peak contraction for 1 to 2 seconds. Don’t pull with your biceps, try to engage the lats more. Think of a pair of strings pulling your elbows back, as a tip!
Don’t stoop forward too much and use a narrow parallel grip V bar and a wide grip bar for best effects in the 2 sets. For weaker upper back muscles, you can stress more on this exercise.
This is a great quad builder, mainly the 3 vastii. Do 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps. Keep feet position parallel and rotated outwards in the 2 sets. Different feet position will activate different parts of the quads.
Do not lock the knee at peak phase and try not to go too heavy. Keep lower back steady and fix butt to your backrest all the time. Try to slow down the lowering phase, do it with control.
Hip adduction and abduction:
This is another often overlooked exercise for lower limbs. Do one set of each for 12 to 15 reps in machines. Hip adduction and abduction machines may not be available every gym. You can do lighter squats with very wide and very narrow feet placement.
Fix you ankle to a lower pulley of a machine and pull back with thighs. Do not flex your knees too much or jerk the movement. Do separately for both legs for total 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps. This is a good isolation exercise for glutes.
Besides gluteus maximus, it also stimulates even the overlooked gluteus medius and minimus. Try to raise the working thigh laterally before pulling back to work these latter two muscles.
Seated calf raise:
This works the soleus muscles, the inner component of the calf muscles. Use a sitting calf raise machine or a barbell or a pair of dumbbells over your thighs near knees. Go heavier and for higher reps for best effect, about 15 to 20 reps for 2 sets.
Biceps and triceps exercise:
For women there is no need to go for much detailing and variety in these exercises. Do 1 or 2 sets of both as in workout A.
Few problems in ladies:
Women normally have a few common muscle imbalances. Your exercise should focus on correcting these too for long term health. Let me enumerate them one by one:
Chest muscle tightness with weak scapula retractor and post deltoids – may lead to slouching posture. Today’s mobile and computer era is making things worse for you.
Weak hip extensors(or weak hamstrings and glutes) and higher quad strength. If you did lesser running, walking or jumping, you may be in deeper trouble. This worsens as you become more sedentary.
Active upper traps but weaker and less active scapular stabilizers like middle and lower traps. This may give your hunched back posture.
Imbalances between biceps and triceps and also between two arms (due to hand dominance and carrying load in one side) is common in women.
How to overcome these imbalances?
You have to be take care of these, to continue long term exercise without injury. Try these for good results:
For more chest tightness and weaker upper back: Give more priority to rowing motions (like seated cable row, one hand bent over dumbbell row, bent over barbell row etc). Also do chest stretching at doorway for 30 seconds.
Do regularly face pull and bent over lateral raise more for post delts strengthening. Also stretch the upper traps by pulling the opposite hand behind your body.
Do not ignore lower traps. Try prone Y raise at incline bench and lat pull down with squeeze and hold at the bottom. Hang from pull up bar to get a good stretch of upper back muscles.
Don’t ignore the arm muscles if you have any imbalance between biceps/triceps or between 2 sides. This is not about bulking up, you will never get big arms. These can stabilize the elbow and the shoulder joints for big moves. Use dumbbells for correcting such imbalance.
As you progress in your workout, your body will give you feedback. Also take feedback from your gym partner and trainer for these imbalances. Modify or tweak the exercises as needed.
What about cardio?
Well, I have not forgotten it! Cardio should be done. But optimize it for best results.
Do it for last 15 minutes of workout. Don’t do it for too long at the beginning. You will be fatigued and lose out the intensity the core part, strength training.
You can also do cardio in the rest days, that can give even better results. Do 30 to 45 minutes of mild to moderate intensity cardio (keeping heart rate at 40 to 60 % at beginning, may increase above 60% later). Keep cardio or aerobics for those 3 days. Assuming you are doing weight training 3 days a week, keep 1 day full rest. Watch this video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=bhlXiC-rMqs
Recommended cardio for you is simply that you love to do. This maybe jogging, cycling, rowing, swimming etc. It can be better monitored (heart rate or calorie burn – approx values) if you do it inside gym like treadmill, gym bike, crosstrainer.
If your target is to lose weight fast, do HIIT or high intensity interval training on at least 1 or 2 days per week. Just do 6 to 8 intervals of very high intensity (like sprinting, cycling fast, burpee etc.). Remember, if you can do the interval training for more than 2 minutes, you need to increase the intensity. Alternate it with low intensity cardio. An example is 1 minute treadmill sprint (@12 to 14 km per hr) alternating with 1 to 2 minute low pace jogging (@7 to 8 km per hr). Intensity can be increased by increasing speed or incline of treadmill. HIIT can burn a lot of fat effectively in very less time. See this video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=h2kjwykLkWE
You can follow TABATA protocol of HIIT, it takes very less time. This can be done without any instrument, even at home. This alternates 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest for 8 cycles. Two Tabata workouts can be done in 8 minutes only! You can do air squat, burpee, push up etc. to fit into your tabata workout. See this video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4ENlAmvRUdw
Cool down and stretching:
Do a few stretching workouts, preferably static stretch with hold for 30 seconds (mostly depicted in the above images). Do these stretches for best results:
Cool down in cardio by decreasing speed stepwise for last 5 to 10 minutes. Follow it by static stretches, as given below
Door frame stretching of chest
Quads stretch by pulling on feet up at a time while standing
Sit and reach stretch by sitting and touching toes, keep knees straight.
Triceps stretch by alternately pulling each elbow behind your neck
Biceps stretch by clasping both hands behind your body
Deltoid stretch by alternately pulling elbow of on arm by other elbow
Lats stretch but freely hanging from pull up bar
Hip flexor stretch by staying in a semi lunge position
Upper traps stretch by alternate pulling of elbow behind your body and tilting head to that side
Overall stretching of torso over gym ball
Make the weight training the core of your workout. Do it 3 to 4 times a week with smartly prepared routine. Properly warm up before doing it with dynamic stretching. Cool down and do proper static stretches after workout. Try doing cardio after strength training or in the rest days. This is the best bet for your goals, be it weight loss, overall aesthetics or staying healthy and fit.
All the best…
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