The very idea of weightlifting strikes fear into the hearts of women across the land. But weight training is an essential part of any program. Unless of course you want to end up skinny and weak. Some of the most attractive women in the world with the best figures have curvy hips, toned arms, defined abs and a peachy posterior. Stick to the treadmill if the uber-skinny arms, toothpick legs and size zero look is the one you're going for; otherwise, get on the weights.
Machines, barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags and medicine balls can all be used for weight training. While you're probably most familiar with machines like the leg extension, abductor and adductor, pec deck and and seated row, these probably aren't the best use of your weightlifting time. A report from the University of Illinois stated that free weights make your muscles and joints move in a more natural plane of motion and have greater carryover to everyday life. Weightlifting helps build lean muscle, burns fat, prevents injury, drastically improves your physique and won't make you look big and bulky, claims Charlotte Andersen, author of "The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything."
Your main lower-body muscles are your quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. You can hit all of these with just three exercises -- squats, lunges and deadlifts. Don't stop there, though; there are plenty of variations you can try, such as front, back and box squats; regular, stiff-legged, rack and trap bar deadlifts; or forward, reverse and deficit lunges, all with dumbbells or a barbell. But there's one area most women give more attention to than any other -- the glutes. All of these exercises do hit your glutes, but adding in specialist glute exercises like hip thrusts, split squats, kettlebell swings and bridges will help you get that perfect butt even quicker, writes strength coach Bret Contreras.
Just like lower-body training, you can say goodbye to machines when it comes to your upper body. Don't automatically reach for the 3-pound dumbbells and start performing curls and kickbacks either -- for the ultimate upper body and to break away from your skinny frame, you want bang-for-your-buck exercises that work multiple muscles simultaneously. Pick one exercise for each upper-body movement pattern in every session, advises powerlifter and trainer Nia Shanks. The four patterns are vertical pushes such as overhead presses, horizontal presses like the bench press or pushups, chinups or pulldowns for vertical pulls, and horizontal pulls like barbell, dumbbell or cable rows.
Aim for two weight-training sessions per week to begin with, each containing six to eight exercises. At the very least you should do one squat and one deadlift variation along with four upper-body exercises, but add in a glute exercise and another for your arms or core muscles if you feel the need to. Don't get too bogged down in set and rep schemes; otherwise, your gym time becomes more like a math lesson than a workout. Stick with three sets of eight to 12 repetitions on each exercise and when you can hit three sets of 12, increase the weight.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.