The Six Principles of Weight Training for Women

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“Weight Training” is a scary term for many women. This was the case for quite a few of my female clients in the beginning. The minute that I would direct them towards the free weight section of the gym they’d get this look on their face like they wanted to run as fast as they could in the opposite direction. I too once found the idea to be a daunting one. This changed once I gave it a chance. Sometimes having a better understanding of something can make it less intimidating. This is why we’re going to share the six principles of weight training for women.

Once I gave it a try, I realized that it wasn’t as scary and complicated as I was making it out to be. We don’t want to miss out on all of the great benefits that weight training has to offer us! It changed my life for the better, it improved my client’s lives and it can change yours too! 

The Six Principles of Weight Training for Women

1. Warm-Up/Stretch, Cool-Down/Stretch Again

The Six Principles of Weight Training for Women

I can’t express enough how important a proper warm-up, cool-down and stretching session is when it comes to a strength training program. Neglecting a warm-up can lead to muscular imbalances, improper form, and injury. Spend 10 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical or jump rope, if that’s what you prefer. Just WARM-UP.

A cool-down is crucial to allow your body to restore itself to its pre-exercise state including but not limited to heart rate and temperature regulation.

In a perfect world, you would stretch out before AND after your workout. Alas, this world is not perfect and I’ll settle for you stretching before OR after (as long as you promise to do it at some point.) Flexibility is not to be taken for granted. Stretching regularly will keep you limber to perform each exercise with proper form as well as limit the amount of muscle soreness that you experience the next day. Try this great stretching routine for flexibility.

2. Keeping it Basic – Compound Lifts

One of the worst things that you can do is over-complicate your training regimen. Not only will this lead to needless injuries, but it can also overwhelm you. When we feel overwhelmed, we’re more likely to quit the program. Keeping our lifting program sweet and simple will make way for success!

If you’re just entering the weight training world, start with learning the compound lifts. A compound lift is an exercise that utilizes more than one muscle group. The top 3 compound lifts are squats, deadlifts, and bench press. I know that those exercises can sound scary, but they absolutely aren’t. Find someone that knows the lifts and can guide you, be it a trainer or a friend. Learning proper form is the hypothetical “meat and potatoes”. Once you have the form down, everything else is relatively simple. These lifts will give you the most bang for your buck in terms of strength gain and physical change. (We’ve included instructional videos for each of them at the bottom of this post to help you understand proper form a little bit better.)

3. Specificity and Accessory Exercises – Strengthening Weaknesses

The Six Principles of Weight Training for Women

Okay, so we’ve focused on the basics. We’ve learned proper form for the compound lifts, but we’re realizing that we have some weaknesses.The principle of specificity states that in order to become better at an exercise, you need to continue to practice that exercise. While this is true and will allow you to make progress you can also resort to using accessory exercises.

For many women, the bench press is enemy #1. If your bench press is weaker than it should be, we need to focus on strengthening your weaknesses. Your chest may be to blame, but it could also be your triceps or core. In order to fix your weaknesses, you’d practice accessory (or secondary) exercises like pec flyes, tricep extensions or planks. Improving these muscle groups will lead to improved compound lifts, in turn, making you stronger and giving you a more athletic, fit look.

4. Push it – Progressive Overload

I’m going to say those 5 words that many new female lifters really don’t want to hear… are you ready? “You need to lift HEAVY.” In order to make progress after the first month or so, you need to increase the stress on your muscles. This is known as the progressive overload principle. For the first few weeks of your training routine, you will see substantial gains using relatively “light” weight. Our bodies are incredibly adaptable and WILL adapt to performing the same weight, sets, and reps over and over. “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” No, that’s not just a quote on Pinterest. It’s actually extremely accurate. In addition to increasing the amount of weight lifted (while maintaining proper form), we can also adjust the volume. This means we can do more sets and reps as well as increase the frequency of which we train. Overloading the muscle will promote strength, growth, and endurance.

Something to make a note of:

For muscle growth, perform 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps of moderately heavy weight.

For strength, do 3 to 5 sets of 5-6 reps of heavy weight.


The Six Principles of Weight Training for Women

All of this will be for naught if you’re not tracking your progress! Consistency is key. It’s difficult to remain consistent if we don’t know exactly what we did the last time. You can’t progress if you just guess. Build yourself a training program, have a trainer design one for you or find one online. Follow it and make notes of the exercise, weight used, number of sets and the number of reps. Tracking your progress will allow you to see where your plateaus (stall-outs) are so that you can change it up and get past it.

Another thing that I track for my clients are the changes to their body! Working out will no doubt make you feel better, but it will also make you look better. Tracking circumference measurements (chest, waist, hips), weight and even body fat can inspire us to keep going! I don’t want you to become obsessed with the scale, though. Trust me, that’s not going to help anyone and will only lead to frustration. I’ve seen it many times.

The most accurate way of tracking weight is to weigh yourself 3 days in a row, at the same time each day, right after you wake up and do your business. Write down the weight for all 3 days and find the average (add all 3 days together and then divide by 3). Our body weight can fluctuate up to 5 pounds each day so there’s no reason to stress out about it every single day. When you’ve completed your 3 days, promise me and yourself that you’ll stay off of the scale for the next week or two! You can take circumference measurements every other week.

6. Listen to Your Body

There are going to be days when you’re not in the mood to work out. You need to establish for yourself ahead of time when you’re just being lazy and when you genuinely don’t have it in you to train. Overtraining is a real thing and while relatively uncommon, it can happen. If you legitimately feel exhausted, that’s your body telling you it needs rest. Listen to it. However, on those days where you’re just not feeling it, you need to pick yourself up off the couch and get to the gym. Remember, consistency in your routine will make or break you.

A feeling of weakness can also be explained by something lacking in your diet. Eat well-rounded meals. Make sure you’re drinking enough water and eating enough protein. (1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is a general rule of thumb.) Your body needs nourishment and will tell you if you’re not giving it the proper amount of something. Weight training requires carbs, don’t cut them out. Eat a banana or a cup of oatmeal before a training session for energy.

When you’re sick, stay home and rest. Working out while trying to get over an illness is a recipe for disaster not just for you but for all of the other gym goers as well.


Dead Lift

Bench Press

We hope that these principles of weight training for women will help you make some serious progress in the gym. Weight training doesn’t have to be scary, in fact, it’s one of the most exciting things that you can do! A customized training program that focuses on proper form and the correct amount of volume can change your body! You’ll become stronger, more confident in your appearance and feel unstoppable. Weight training is one of the most empowering things that a woman can do so I hope you’ll try it out! Follow along on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram for the latest weight training workouts!

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Erin Miller

Erin is an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist. She is also a Performance Nutrition Coach, certified through the Clean Health Fitness Institute. Some of Erin’s favorite hobbies include hiking, kayaking, and hanging out at the beach, although weight lifting is her greatest passion. She says, “Weight training is one of the most empowering things a person can do. Not just seeing, but feeling yourself transform… There’s just nothing else like it.”

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