One-size-fits-all weightlifting programs for women don't exist, but knowing the basics of weight training can help you find the best plan for you. First, dispense with a few myths: you won’t get bulky like a bodybuilder; it’s not difficult to get started; and male- or female-only exercises don't exist. With effort, you can get that sexy, toned body you’ve always wanted.
Setting a schedule keeps you on track and honest with your workouts. Lift weights three days per week to start -- Monday, Wednesday and Friday work great. Each workout will consist of three to five exercises targeting two or three muscle groups. Work each major muscle group once per week with the exception of your abs, which you can exercise every workout if you’d like. The muscles you target for each workout are flexible, but a sample weekly schedule might be: Monday -- chest, calves and abs; Wednesday -- upper legs, shoulders and upper back; and Friday -- arms and lower back.
The goal of each workout is to challenge your muscles until they are completely fatigued. This will build strength and tighten your body over time. You can fatigue each muscle group with one or two different exercises per workout. Experiment with various exercises to determine which is the most comfortable and most effective for you. Some exercises you should definitely try include dumbbell flys, barbell bench press, squats, lunges, deadlifts, exercise ball crunches, military press, seated dumbbell shoulder press, bent-over rows, bicep curls and triceps extensions.
Reps, Sets and Weight
Don’t be afraid to lift heavy. Lifting heavy weight will lead to the best results in terms of muscle strengthening and toning. You only need to do three to six repetitions per set. The key is ensuring that you have enough weight and resistance to make the final one or two reps very difficult to do. You may have to experiment your first time in the gym to find the weight that works best for each exercise in your routine. Start with weight you can easily handle and progressively increase the weight until you can't do more than six reps per set. Then you know you have the right amount of resistance. Women benefit by doing one or two more sets compared to men, so aim for four to six sets per exercise.
Sample Routine: Day One
Work your chest and calves on Monday using barbell bench press and weighted calf raises. On the bench, ensure that your hands hold the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and never bounce the weight off your chest. Use dumbbells to perform your standing calf raises -- keep good posture during the exercise. Lift your heels off the floor and squeeze your calves once on your tippy toes.
Sample Routine: Day Two
Exercise your lower back and arms on Wednesday using deadlifts, bicep curls and weighted dips. Use a loaded barbell for your deadlifts, and keep the bar close to your body throughout the entire movement to prevent back injuries. Keep your spine aligned -- don't arch your back. Use dumbbells for your sets of bicep curls, and use a slow, controlled motion. To do weighted dips, place some resistance on your lap -- a weighted plate or dumbbell -- and place your hands on the edge of a sturdy bench to lower and raise your body using only your triceps muscles to do the work.
Sample Routine: Day Three
On Friday, work your upper-back and legs using reverse dumbbell flys and squats. Perform reverse dumbbell flys by bending forward at a 90-degree angle, holding the dumbbells with your arms straight to the ground. Lift the dumbbells up and down simultaneously like a flying bird but in a controlled manner. When doing weighted squats, try to keep your weight on your heels and don't allow your knees to cross your toes. Exercise your abs at the end of every workout using crunches, exercise ball crunches or reverse crunches.
Keeping Things Fresh
Vary your workout every few weeks to help avoid the dreaded workout plateau. Exercise plateaus occur when you do the same workout regularly, allowing your body to adapt to it. To keep progressing up the fitness ladder, make changes to your workout regimen. This may include trying new exercises, using lighter weights with which you can do up to 12 reps, increasing resistance, working out at a different time of the day or simply doing your exercises in a different sequence.
Joseph Eitel has written for a variety of respected online publications since 2006 including the Developer Shed Network and Huddle.net. He has dedicated his life to researching and writing about diet, nutrition and exercise. Eitel's health blog, PromoteHealth.info, has become an authority in the healthy-living niche. He graduated with honors from Kellogg Community College in 2010 with an Associate of Applied Science.