One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when starting to work out (or jumping back into exercise after taking a break), is that they want to go right into the 2.0 level stuff they see people doing on Instagram or at the gym. They think that if it doesn’t look like it’ll kill you, how can it make you stronger? The truth is, though, that you need to learn how to plank before you burpee; otherwise you can hurt yourself or cause imbalances in your body.
Start, instead, by building a solid foundation, and for my female clients, that means focusing on their hip area and core, which includes your abs and back. These muscle groups combine to form the powerhouse of the female body, so any strength-building workout for women should target them both.
Focusing on the basics does NOT, however, mean you aren’t going to get in a stellar workout. Some of the best exercises for women are foundational movements that will sculpt, strengthen, and challenge your total body big time just by using your own bodyweight.
So, if you’re looking for a workout plan for women that is good for all levels and will help you get stronger from head to toe, master these exercises. As you get stronger, you can increase the challenge by adding weights into the mix. Start strength training three to five times per week and you’ll be ready for power cleans and Turkish get-ups in no time!
Time: 15 minutes
Best for: total-body strength
Instructions: Do all sets/reps for each move before continuing to the next exercise. These are some of the best exercises for women, and as such, I’d recommend performing this total-body workout two to three times per week. If you’re looking for a longer workout, you can start the sequence over again from the top once you finish and repeat it one to two more times. Just make sure to rest for two to three minutes in between rounds.
How to: Start lying back with arms extended over chest, legs raised and bent at 90 degrees (knees above hips and shins parallel to floor). Keep low back pressed to the floor, brace core, then slowly and simultaneously extend and lower right leg and to hover just above mat. Pause, then return to start and repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep. Complete as many reps as possible, with control, in 30 seconds.
How to: Start lying on back with legs extended straight toward ceiling, feet over hips and arms by sides. Lower left leg down as low as you can go without lower back arching up off the mat. Return to start, and repeat on the other side. That’s one rep. Complete as many reps as possible, with control, in 30 seconds.
The weight here is optional. Feel free to ditch it and place hands, palms down, under butt for added support.
How to: Start lying on stomach with arms and legs extended on the floor so body forms one long line, forehead on mat. Engage abs, squeeze glutes and lift all four limbs, plus chest and head a few inches off the ground, keeping your neck neutral by gazing at top of mat. Hold for 3–5 seconds then slowly lower back to the starting position. That’s one rep. Complete as many reps as possible in 30 seconds.
How to: Start kneeling at back of mat with toes tucked and butt resting on heels. Walk hands forward to an all fours position with knees under hips and wrists under shoulders. Lift knees to form one straight line from heels to head. Keep hips high and abs engaged. Hold for 30 seconds then return to start.
How to: Start lying on left side with left arm bent, head supported by hand, right hand on hip, right leg on top of left, knees bent and heels in line with glutes. Open legs like a book by lifting right knee toward ceiling without allowing right hip to roll backward. Return to start. That’s one rep. Complete as many reps as possible, with control, in 30 seconds, then switch sides.
This exercise will also help activate the smaller muscle groups in your legs so that you can truly target the bigger muscle groups when doing more advanced strength exercises.
How to: Start lying on back with legs bent, feet flat on floor, and arms by sides. Engage abs, squeeze glutes, press into heels, and raise hips toward the ceiling until body forms one line from shoulders to knees. Hold the position for two seconds before lowering to start. That’s one rep. Complete three sets of 10 reps.
How to: Start standing with feet together and arms by sides. With control, tilt torso forward while lifting left leg behind body (foot flexed) and extending left arm forward until both are parallel with floor. Return to start. That’s one rep. Complete three sets of 10 reps per side.
How to: Start standing with feet hip-width apart, arms by sides. With control, step left foot back and lower down until both legs form 90-degree angles and back knee is hovering 2–3 inches off the ground. Reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep. Complete three sets of 10 reps per side without alternating.
How to: Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hands extended straight overhead, palms facing forward, with biceps by ears. (Note: You can use dumbbells for an added challenge.) Keeping back straight and core engaged, slowly lower arms by sides until elbows are bent at 90 degrees. Be sure to squeeze shoulder blades together at the bottom of this movement. Return to starting position. That’s one rep. Complete three sets of 10 reps.
How to: To start, stand with feet under hips and knees slightly bent, hinged forward at the hips so torso is parallel to mat, arms hanging straight down, palms facing each other. Squeeze shoulder blades together and bend arms, pulling elbows toward ceiling. Stop when hands reach rib cage. Pause, then lower arms back to start. That’s one rep. Complete three sets of 10 reps.