Strength Training for Women: 5 Exercises to Look Lean & Toned

woman training with weights

You’ve done the cardio and counted calories, but you still haven’t seen the results you want. What gives? It may be a lack of iron -- that is, of the dumbbell variety. As it turns out, dieting and cardio alone won’t change your shape. Chances are you’ll lose muscle, slowing down your metabolism. That’s why strength training for women is so important.

When you gain muscle, you gain a lot -- more benefits, that is. Not only does hitting the weight room fend off flab, but it also protects against a variety of diseases, like heart disease and osteoporosis. And just 30 minutes of lifting of day can slash the risk of diabetes by as much as 34 percent, according to a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Other added bonuses include decreased blood pressure, improved sleep and enhanced balance and coordination.

More muscle mass also translates into a faster resting metabolism (the baseline number of calories you burn throughout the day). So even at rest, you’re incinerating extra fat.

In spite all of the benefits, many women still avoid weight room. Intimidated or not sure where to start? I’ve got you covered. The following basic, effective routine is simple and easy to learn. Plus, it only takes 20 to 30 minutes from start to finish.

Worried about getting too pumped? Don’t be. Women lack the testosterone levels necessary for building bulky muscles. Instead, look forward to looking toned and lean.

Strength Training for Women: The Workout

After warming up with five to 10 minutes of light cardio, do 10 to 12 reps of each exercise -- this counts as one set. Rest for 30 seconds, and repeat for a second set. Aim to do the workout two or three times a week.

I recommend using 5- to 8-pound dumbbells. (If that’s too hard, use just your body weight to start.) Reach for heavier weights as you get stronger.

1. Step Up
Start: With dumbbells in hand and arms at the side of your body, face a bench or step.

Movement: Lift your right knee and place your foot on the bench. Push your body up. Your left leg will hang straight behind you and won’t touch the bench. Pause at the top while squeezing your glutes. Lower down to starting position. Finish your reps before switching to your left leg.

2. Forward Lunge
Start: With dumbbells in hand and arms at the side of your body, stand with feet hip-width apart.

Movement: Step forward with your right leg and slowly lower your body until your right knee is bent at least 90 degrees. Be careful not to let your right knee extend past your toes. Push back to starting. Complete all reps and then repeat with the left leg.

3. Dumbbell Row
Start: Hold dumbbells with your arms in front of your body, palms facing toward you. With feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent, bend forward at your hips and lower your torso until it's nearly parallel to the floor. Allow your arms to hang from your shoulders, palms facing your legs.

Movement: Bend your elbows and pull the weights up toward the sides of your torso. Pause and pull your shoulder blades together. Lower the weights back to start and repeat for all reps.

4. Dumbbell Chest Press

Start: Lie on a bench with your feet flat on the floor (or on the bench if you can’t reach). Hold a dumbbell in each hand on either side of your chest. Keep your elbows out to the side and upper arms parallel to the floor.

Movement: Push the weight up till arms are extended. Pause and lower back to start.

5. Plank
Start: Starting from a pushup position, bend your elbows and lower down until you are resting on your forearms. Your body should form a straight line.

Movement: Engage your abs (think of pulling your belly button towards the ceiling) and hold your body in a straight line for 30 to 60 seconds. Don’t allow your hips to drop or your butt to rise up. Rest and then repeat for a second set.

Main Photo by FitNish Media on Unsplash

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