The Best Weight Training Program For Women

This is where I bring together all the elements for you to build and experience successful workouts. It is important to have a program to follow when working out so that you can keep track of your weightlifting progress. It also keeps you focused on the exercise movements during your workout so that you aren’t stressing about what to do next. Over the next few pages, you will find the tools for building your own workouts (called programming); information on reps, sets, and exercise tempo; and example weekly programming and various sample workouts for your total body, upper body, and lower body that you can use to get started or to inform building your own workout program.

Programming

Programming is a very complex process. I strongly suggest that you seek the guidance of a certified personal trainer to assist you in creating a fitness program that works best for you. This is important because there are many different ways to program and it can be difficult for a beginner to sort out which types of programs would work best for you and your goals. Once you’ve been evaluated by a fitness professional, you’ll have a better starting point for learning how to create and apply your own programs.

For the purpose of this article, I have created sample programs under the assumption that you should circuit train and incorporate supersets for maximum fat burning and strength training. For upper-body exercises, I recommend separating exercises into vertical pushes, vertical pulls, horizontal pushes, and horizontal pulls. This will help ensure that you work every muscle group. With some muscle groups it’s a little difficult to fit into this strict mold; however, you’ll start to learn which muscles are commonly working with each movement pattern and the classifications will make more sense. For example, a Shoulder Press would be a vertical push. However, an Upright Row is still a shoulder exercise but is a vertical pull. So that’s where the rule gets a little tricky.

For lower-body exercises, it is recommended that you split your movements into knee-dominant and hip-dominant exercises. Knee-dominant exercises are generally movements where your knee bends and extends. Hip-dominant exercises are movements that usually require hip flexion and extension, like movements where you hinge at the hips. I’ve also included total-body workouts for those who can only train a few days a week.

Reps, Sets, and Tempo

For building strength, it is recommended you perform 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 8 reps for each exercise. The tempo should be about 3 seconds up and 3 seconds down for each exercise. Make sure to take 90 seconds to 2 minutes of rest after each set.

Progression

As you progress through your workouts, you’ll want to change things up a bit each week. For example, if in week 1 you started with 3 sets of 5 reps, in week 2 you can do 3 sets of 8. Alternatively, you could stick with 3 sets of 5, but increase the weight. You want to change the sets, reps, tempo, or amount of rest each week to make sure that you are not plateauing in your strength training program. It is also important that you only change one thing at a time. If you try to change too many factors at once, you will confuse your body, and this will cause issues in its ability to adapt and get stronger.

Equipment

For each of the exercises and subsequent workout programs in this article, you will want to have a set of medium and a set of heavy dumbbells, as well as a barbell that you can add or remove weight from, if you’re planning to build strength. Medium weights should feel like you could maybe do 3 to 5 more reps if needed. Heavy weights should feel like you could only maybe do 1 or 2 more reps. While many of these movements can be done with body weight to regress (or make them easier), free weights allow you to progressively increase your load to work your muscles harder.

Rest and Recovery Days

It is recommended to take a day or two off in between each workout for proper rest and muscle recovery. Once you get used to weightlifting and have a better idea of programming, you can begin to work out on consecutive days. You’ll still want at least 1 recovery day per week, and you’ll want to take 2 days of rest per muscle group if possible.

Warm-Ups and Cooldowns

As mentioned in the beginning of this article, warm-ups and cooldowns should not be skipped. Warming up and cooling down are essential for helping your body recover and for preventing injuries. I’ve included warm-up and cooldown moves in the programs provided later in the article.

Scheduling

On the next few pages, I’ve included a few examples of what your week of workouts could look like based on your training availability. You’ll notice I’ve included rest days and cardio options on non–weight training days. You can use these examples as a template to structure your weeks in whatever way works best for your schedule. I recommend sitting down one evening a week—perhaps Sunday night before a new week begins—and scheduling out your week of workouts. This will help you remain accountable to yourself and your training, as well as ensure that you block out specific time for training so that nothing unexpected pops up and leaves you with no time to work out.

For those who can commit to 3 days of training per week:

EXAMPLE 1:

Monday: Upper-Body Workout 2 

Tuesday: Cardio (walk, run, bike, etc.) 

Wednesday: Lower-Body Workout 1 

Thursday: Rest Day

Friday: Total-Body Workout 1 

Saturday: Cardio

Sunday: Rest Day

EXAMPLE 2:

Monday: Lower-Body Workout 2 

Tuesday: Rest Day

Wednesday: Upper-Body Workout 3 

Thursday: Cardio

Friday: Total-Body Workout 2 

Saturday: Rest Day

Sunday: Cardio

EXAMPLE 3:

Monday: Total-Body Workout 3 

Tuesday: Cardio

Wednesday: Upper-Body Workout 1

Thursday: Cardio

Friday: Lower-Body Workout 3 

Saturday: Rest Day

Sunday: Rest Day

For those who can commit to 4 days of training per week:

EXAMPLE:

Monday: Upper-Body Workout 1 

Tuesday: Lower-Body Workout 1 

Wednesday: Cardio

Thursday: Upper-Body Workout 2 

Friday: Lower-Body Workout 2 

Saturday: Rest Day

Sunday: Rest Day

For those who can commit to 5 days of training per week:

EXAMPLE:

Monday: Total-Body Workout 3 

Tuesday: Shoulders and Core* 

Wednesday: Lower-Body Workout 3 

Thursday: Back and Arms*

Friday: Cardio

Saturday: Lower-Body Workout 2 

Sunday: Rest Day

*Use the exercises from earlier articles and follow the programming information in this article to practice building your own workouts, including the number of sets and reps, tempo, and rest time between sets. Don’t forget to include warm-up movements before you lift and stretches to finish out your workout program.

Total-Body Workouts

TOTAL-BODY WORKOUT 1

WARM-UP

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each move for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Fast

Equipment: None

  • Butt Kicker
  • World’s Greatest Stretch
  • Wall Angel
  • Straight-Leg Kick

WORKOUT

Sets: 3 to 5

Reps: 5 to 8

Rest: 1 to 2 minutes between sets

Instructions: Perform 3 to 5 sets of each exercise and then move on to the next exercise for optimal strength gains. If you want to superset muscle groups, then you can perform 1 set of an exercise and then go straight to the next exercise. Repeat that pattern for 3 to 5 sets total. Performing supersets will increase the fat-burning effects of strength training.

Tempo: Moderate (about 3 seconds each direction)

Equipment: Medium to heavy dumbbells, barbell

  • Horizontal Push: Wide-Grip Barbell Chest Press
  • Horizontal Pull: Bent-Over Row
  • Vertical Push: Shoulder Press
  • Vertical Pull: Overhead Pull
  • Hip Dominant: Deadlift
  • Knee Dominant: Goblet Squat
  • Core: Plank

COOLDOWN

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Slow

Equipment: None

  • Standing Quad Stretch
  • Wall Stretch
  • Child’s Pose

TOTAL-BODY WORKOUT 2

WARM-UP

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each move for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Fast

Equipment: None

  • World’s Greatest Stretch
  • Scaption Plank
  • T-Spine Rotation
  • Plank

WORKOUT

Sets: 3 to 5

Reps: 5 to 8

Rest: 1 to 2 minutes between sets

Instructions: Perform 3 to 5 sets of each exercise and then move on to the next exercise for optimal strength gains. If you want to superset muscle groups, then you can perform 1 set of an exercise and then go straight to the next exercise. Repeat that pattern for 3 to 5 sets total. 

Performing supersets will increase the fat-burning effects of strength training.

Tempo: Moderate (about 3 seconds each direction)

Equipment: Medium to heavy dumbbells, barbell

  • Horizontal Push: Dumbbell Chest Fly 
  • Horizontal Pull: Reverse Fly
  • Vertical Press: Upright Row
  • Vertical Pull: Dumbbell Bird-Dog
  • Hip Dominant: Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift 
  • Knee Dominant: Forward Lunge
  • Core: Side Bridge

COOLDOWN

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Slow

Equipment: None

  • Pretzel Stretch
  • Seated Toe Touch
  • Cat-Cow

TOTAL-BODY WORKOUT 3

WARM-UP

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each move for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Fast

Equipment: None

  • Straight-Leg Kick
  • Butt Kicker
  • T-Spine Rotation
  • Up-Down Plank

WORKOUT

Sets: 3 to 5 

Reps: 5 to 8

Rest: 1 to 2 minutes between sets

Instructions: Perform 3 to 5 sets of each exercise and then move on to the next exercise for optimal strength gains. If you want to superset muscle groups, then you can perform 1 set of an exercise and then go straight to the next exercise. Repeat that pattern for 3 to 5 sets total. Performing supersets will increase the fat-burning effects of strength training.

Tempo: Moderate (about 3 seconds each direction)

Equipment: Medium to heavy dumbbells, barbell

  • Horizontal Push: Wide-Grip Barbell Chest Press
  • Horizontal Pull: Bent-Over Row
  • Vertical Push: Iron Cross
  • Lower Back/Vertical Pull: Good Morning
  • Hip Dominant: Glute Bridge
  • Knee Dominant: Lateral Lunge
  • Core: Hollow-Body Hold

COOLDOWN

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Slow

Equipment: None

  • Cross-Body Stretch
  • Cat-Cow
  • Cobra
  • Standing Quad Stretch

Upper-Body Workouts

UPPER-BODY WORKOUT 1 (BACK AND BICEPS)

WARM-UP

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each move for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Fast Equipment: None

  • Cross-Body Arm Swing 
  • Up-Down Plank
  • Scaption Plank
  • T-Spine Rotation

WORKOUT

Sets: 3 to 5

Reps: 5 to 8

Rest: 1 to 2 minutes between sets

Instructions: Perform 3 to 5 sets of each exercise and then move on to the next exercise for optimal strength gains. If you want to superset muscle groups, then you can perform 1 set of an exercise and then go straight to the next exercise. Repeat that pattern for 3 to 5 sets total. Performing supersets will increase the fat-burning effects of strength training.

Tempo: Moderate (about 3 seconds each direction)

Equipment: Medium to heavy dumbbells, barbell

  • Bent-Over Row
  • Reverse Fly
  • Farmer’s Carry
  • Good Morning
  • Traditional Bicep Curl
  • Hammer Curl

COOLDOWN

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Slow

Equipment: None

  • Standing Bicep Stretch
  • Cat-Cow
  • Child’s Pose

UPPER-BODY WORKOUT 2 (TOTAL UPPER BODY)

WARM-UP

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each move for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Fast

Equipment: None

  • Cross-Body Arm Swing
  • Up-Down Plank
  • Scaption Plank
  • T-Spine Rotation

WORKOUT

Sets: 3 to 5

Reps: 5 to 8

Rest: 1 to 2 minutes between sets

Instructions: Perform 3 to 5 sets of each exercise and then move on to the next exercise for optimal strength gains. If you want to superset muscle groups, then you can perform 1 set of an exercise and then go straight to the next exercise. Repeat that pattern for 3 to 5 sets total. Performing supersets will increase the fat-burning effects of strength training.

Tempo: Moderate (about 3 seconds each direction)

Equipment: Medium to heavy dumbbells, barbell

  • Chest: Dumbbell Chest Fly
  • Back: Farmer’s Carry
  • Shoulders: Iron Cross
  • Biceps: Hammer Curl
  • Triceps: Tricep Overhead Extension 

COOLDOWN

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Slow Equipment: None

  • Cat-Cow
  • Child’s Pose
  • T-Spine Rotation
  • Wall Stretch

UPPER-BODY WORKOUT 3 (CHEST AND TRICEPS)

WARM-UP

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each move for 30 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Fast

Equipment: None

  • Cross-Body Arm Swing
  • Up-Down Plank
  • T-Spine Rotation

WORKOUT

Sets: 3 to 5

Reps: 5 to 8

Rest: 1 to 2 minutes between sets

Instructions: Perform 3 to 5 sets of each exercise and then move on to the next exercise for optimal strength gains. If you want to superset muscle groups, then you can perform 1 set of an exercise and then go straight to the next exercise. Repeat that pattern for 3 to 5 sets total. Performing supersets will increase the fat-burning effects of strength training.

Tempo: Moderate (about 3 seconds each direction)

Equipment: Medium to heavy dumbbells, barbell

  • Wide-Grip Barbell Chest Press
  • Dumbbell Chest Fly
  • Dumbbell Floor Press
  • Tricep Kickback
  • Tricep Overhead Extension 

COOLDOWN

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Slow

Equipment: None

  • Overhead Tricep Stretch
  • Wall Stretch
  • Child’s Pose

Lower-Body Workouts

LOWER-BODY WORKOUT 1 (HIP DOMINANT)

WARM-UP

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each move for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Fast

Equipment: None

  • Straight-Leg Kick
  • World’s Greatest Stretch
  • Butt Kicker
  • Plank

WORKOUT

Sets: 3 to 5

Reps: 5 to 8

Rest: 1 to 2 minutes between sets

Instructions: Perform 3 to 5 sets of each exercise and then move on to the next exercise for optimal strength gains. If you want to superset muscle groups, then you can perform 1 set of an exercise and then go straight to the next exercise.

Repeat that pattern for 3 to 5 sets total. Performing supersets will increase the fat-burning effects of strength training.

Tempo: Moderate (about 3 seconds each direction)

Equipment: Medium to heavy dumbbells, barbell

  • Step-Up
  • Deadlift
  • Single-Leg Glute Bridge
  • Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

COOLDOWN

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Slow

Equipment: None

  • Pretzel Stretch
  • Seated Toe Touch
  • Standing Calf Stretch

LOWER-BODY WORKOUT 2 (KNEE DOMINANT)

WARM-UP

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each move for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Fast

Equipment: None

  • Straight-Leg Kick
  • World’s Greatest Stretch
  • Butt Kicker
  • Plank

WORKOUT

Sets: 3 to 5

Reps: 5 to 8

Rest: 1 to 2 minutes between sets

Instructions: Perform 3 to 5 sets of each exercise and then move on to the next exercise for optimal strength gains. If you want to superset muscle groups, then you can perform 1 set of an exercise and then go straight to the next exercise. Repeat that pattern for 3 to 5 sets total. Performing supersets will increase the fat-burning effects of strength training.

Tempo: Moderate (about 3 seconds each direction)

Equipment: Medium to heavy dumbbells, barbell

  • Goblet Squat
  • Forward Lunge
  • Lateral Lunge
  • Suitcase Squat
  • Single-Leg Goblet Squat

COOLDOWN

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Slow

Equipment: None

  • Pretzel Stretch
  • Seated Toe Touch
  • Standing Quad Stretch

LOWER-BODY WORKOUT 3 (TOTAL LOWER BODY)

WARM-UP

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each move for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Fast

Equipment: None

  • Straight-Leg Kick
  • World’s Greatest Stretch
  • Butt Kicker
  • Plank

WORKOUT

Sets: 3 to 5

Reps: 5 to 8

Rest: 1 to 2 minutes between sets

Instructions: Perform 3 to 5 sets of each exercise and then move on to the next exercise for optimal strength gains. If you want to superset muscle groups, then you can perform 1 set of an exercise and then go straight to the next exercise. Repeat that pattern for 3 to 5 sets total. 

Performing supersets will increase the fat-burning effects of strength training.

Tempo: Moderate (about 3 seconds each direction)

Equipment: Medium to heavy dumbbells, barbell

  • Lateral Step-Up
  • Deadlift
  • Curtsy Lunge
  • Bulgarian Split Squat

COOLDOWN

Sets: 1

Reps: Perform each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds 

Rest: No rest between moves

Tempo: Slow

Equipment: None

  • Pretzel Stretch
  • Seated Toe Touch
  • Standing Calf Stretch
  • Standing Quad Stretch

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