Many women avoid weightlifting and resistance training because they don’t want to end up looking like bodybuilders. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, however, women have too much estrogen to produce “bulky” muscles. In fact, by strength training regularly, women are likely to develop sleeker, leaner body lines and lose stubborn fat stores. For visible results, practice exercises that sculpt the shoulders, abs and glutes.
The Women’s Heart Foundation recommends side and front raises to develop the shoulders and upper back. Broader, sculpted shoulders can also make a woman’s waist appear smaller. To do a side raise, hold a dumbbell in each hand. Begin with your hands in front of your thighs and palms facing each other. While keeping your elbows slightly bent, raise the dumbbells outward to shoulder height and then lower them back to the starting position. For front raises, begin in the same position but with your palms facing the thighs. Slowly raise dumbbells in front of you to shoulder height and slowly lower them back to the starting position.
You need to combine abdominal exercises with cardio activity to get a flat belly, but toning moves do go a long way toward sculpting core muscles. For target toning, do crunches and oblique twists. A more effective overall exercise is the plank, a static pose that strengthens the thighs and lower back along with the abs. Start from all fours. Place your elbows on the floor, so they are directly below your shoulders and your forearms are extended in front of you. Then walk your feet back until your legs are fully extended; your body should be in a straight line from your head to your heels. Pull your abs in, keeping them tight as you hold the pose for as long as you can.
Glutes and Thighs
Bodyweight exercises are effective ways for shaping your glutes and thighs. Focus on squats and lunges, which are easy to adapt to your ability level. To make a standard squat more difficult, do the motion as slowly as possible and hold a dumbbell in your hands as you do the move or add a jump to burn extra calories. Vary standard lunges by moving back and to the side as well as to the front, and make any lunge more difficult by holding a weight or adding a jump at the end of the movement. For both squats and lunges, protect your knees by never letting them bend forward past your shoelaces.
Strength training exercises have tremendous physical benefits for women. According to the American Council on Exercise, women who begin strength training programs experience up to a 40 percent increase in muscular strength after just a few months. To get the benefits, follow the ACSM’s recommendation of strength training two or three times per week with two to four sets of each exercise and 8 to 20 reps per set.
- American College of Sports Medicine: Strength Training for Women
- Women's Heart Foundation: Strength Training
- Daily Mail: Personal Trainer - How to Do the Perfect Plank Exercise
- American Council on Exercise: How Women Build Muscle
- American College of Sports Medicine: ACSM Issues New Recommendations on Quantity and Quality of Exercise
Carly Schuna is a Wisconsin-based professional writer, editor and copy editor/proofreader. She has worked with hundreds of pieces of fiction, nonfiction, children's literature, feature stories and corporate content. Her expertise on food, cooking, nutrition and fitness information comes from a Level 1 personal training certification and years of in-depth study.