Saying women have no business strength training is like saying the Earth is flat. It wasn’t true a long time ago, and it certainly isn’t true today. Healthy females of any age and fitness level can benefit from strength training. In fact, they’re doing themselves a major disservice should they avoid it.
“Whereas in the past women may have questioned the value of resistance training or even avoided this type of exercise due to social stigma, evidence clearly indicates that women are capable of tolerating and adapting to the stresses of resistance exercise and that the benefits are substantial,” reads the latest edition of the text Essentials of Strength and Conditioning.
“It is now suggested that resistance training be an essential component of any training program that females follow.”
Any high-level female athlete will be quick to tell you the importance resistance training plays in their performance and overall fitness. But women don’t have to be competitive athletes to make awesome progress in the weight room. Don’t believe me? The above slideshow shows 13 female celebrities who prove women can dominate traditional strength training—and that getting seriously strong does not mean you’re going to be built like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Many of them were inspired to build more muscle for an upcoming role, but you don’t need to be starring in the next summer blockbuster to get strong!
If you’d like to start strength training but don’t know where to start, it’s best to find a certified strength coach in your area—preferably one with a proven track record of helping females build muscle and get stronger.
Kate Upton lifts. She’s a long-time client of Ben Bruno, a trainer who’s helped a number of female celebrities embrace strength training. We’re big fans of his philosophy, which he can outline in about three sentences.
That’s Upton bear crawl pulling a 300-pound sled in the above video. She was still knocking out some badass training during her recent pregnancy, including these heavy Reverse Kettlebell Lunges.
Impressive stuff! The week before this Sports Illustrated photo shoot, Upton hit a PR on Hip Thrusts of 225 pounds for 12 reps. “To me, exercise is about working really hard in the gym to be healthy and feel good and confident about my body,” Upton told Insider in 2017. “Weight training helps me do that the best. Lifting heavy weights leans you out if you do it the correct way.”
Gal Gadot is a great example of a woman who made tremendous progress quite quickly once she got serious about building strength. The former Miss Israel knew she had to get stronger to be believable in the role of Wonder Woman. Her training, conducted under the guidance of trainer Mark Twight, included a lot of barbell complexes and bodyweight moves like Pull-Ups and Ring Push-Ups. She went from not being able to complete a single unassisted Pull-Up to knocking out sets at a time. While Gadot was tentative to gain muscle at first, she ultimately found it incredibly empowering.
“Since I’ve started (training), I’ve gained about 17 pounds, and it’s all muscle. I feel so much better now. When you feel strong, it changes everything—your posture, the way you walk,” Gadot told Glamour in 2016. “I look at photos from five years ago and think, Whoa, I was too skinny. It’s not cool.”
Jessica Biel is another one of Bruno’s clients. The dumbbells she’s holding in this video might not look all that big, but trust us—these sort of Single-Leg Squats (a.k.a. “Pistol Squats“) take an insane amount of strength.
If you doubt us, try it yourself.
It looks like Biel’s working in sets of eight reps per leg, which is a great range to be in when building muscle is the goal. A problem a lot of strength training newbies run into is performing way too many reps in a set, which is a symptom of using way too light of weight. Biel can barely eek out that eighth rep on her right leg—she finishes the set with maybe one rep in reserve. That’s the level of challenge you need to build legit strength and muscle and see serious changes in your body.
Kate Beckinsale is an English actress who’s perhaps best known for her starring role as Selene in the Underworld film series. She trains with Gunnar Peterson, former Director of Strength and Endurance Training for the Los Angeles Lakers. Here she is making a 150-pound tire look light as a feather, and here she is dominating a heavy sled push.
Heavy sled pushes (ideally 80% or more of your body weight) are a great option for building the muscles of the posterior chain (the hamstrings, glutes, etc.), which is one reason elite trainers love using them to help women get stronger. It’s also proven to help you increase your maximal horizontal force production, a key component of running faster.
When Alison Brie landed the role of professional wrestler Ruth “Zoya the Destroya” Wilder in the Netflix series GLOW, she wanted to build the muscles to match. With the help of Walsh, she did exactly that. The 5-foot-3 Brie’s reportedly capable of 14 consecutive Pull-Ups, a 230-pound Deadlift and a 400-pound Sled Push. She also performs all of her own stunts on the show and has yet to sustain an injury, as the increased muscle and strength has been key to that resiliency.
“Some of the key elements were lots and lots and lots of heavy sleds, pushing and pulling. Lots of Deadlifts, variations of Squats, Hip Thrusts, Pull-Ups, lots of work with medicine balls, throwing and jumping and lunging. You can’t go wrong with these, there’s a reason why they’ve been around for years,” Walsh told SELF. “She got so strong and it felt so good, and that gives you so much confidence.”
Shortly after Alicia Vikander landed the starring role in the 2018 film Tomb Raider, she began working with trainer Magnus Lygdback to gain muscle and strength and transform her body. In addition to bodyweight moves like Pull-Ups, Push-Ups and Inverted Rows, Lygdback included traditional strength training staples like Deadlifts, Front Squats and Tricep Pushdowns into Vikander’s routine. Diet-wise, she ate three meals and two large snacks per day, aiming for 40 grams of protein both at lunch and dinner. Ultimately, Vikander gained 12 pounds of muscle in preparation for her turn as Lara Croft.
“I wanted her to be a very strong physical girl,” said Vikander during the run-up to the film’s release. “This was the first time I really weight trained. I think a lot of girls are intimidated by it, but I felt empowered lifting like that.”
Emily Blunt was already a client of Walsh’s when she landed the role of Sergeant Rita Vrataski in the 2014 sci-fi thriller Edge of Tomorrow, but to better play the tough-as-nails character, she really wanted to enhance her strength. Blunt’s routine included moves like Bent-Over Rows, Pull-Ups and Squat Presses.
As you can see in the scene from the film above, the results were impressive. Walsh says many new female clients come to him specifically referencing that shot as inspiration.
“It was a total-body transformation. (Emily) became this super-strong woman, and she was the hero in that movie!” Walsh told Well and Good.
Blunt was also expected to wear a 70-pound prop exoskeleton suit during much of filming, and was often required to run and jump in said suit. To help build a body capable of withstanding that pounding, Walsh had Blunt don a weighted vest during their track workouts. She started off with a 10-pound vest before progressing all the way up to a 50-pound model, which is nearly half her body weight.
If I told you super model Nina Agdal could sled push over 500 pounds, you’d probably think I was crazy, right? Well, she can. And there’s proof.
That’s trainer Andy Speer rooting her on. “Pushed 527lb today, thats basically 3 baby elephants,” Agdal writes in the caption. Sounds about right.
Photo Credit: Coveteur.com
Emma Stone’s turn as tennis legend Billie Jean King in the 2017 film Battle of the Sexes earned rave reviews from critics. A big part of Stone’s phenomenal performance was her body transformation—she didn’t need to just talk and act like Billie Jean, she needed to look and move like her, too. Stone teamed up with Walsh, who she’d previously collaborated with to help her prepare for La La Land, to get it done.
“It was a lot, a lot, a lot of weight lifting. And then, after three weeks, you’re like, “I can lift this?! I can do that!” It just becomes very addictive,” Stone told Entertainment Tonight.
Stone was ultimately able to add 15 pounds of muscle thanks to a steady diet of strength builders like Deadlifts, Farmer’s Walks, Hip Thrusts, Pull-Ups, Weighted Push-Ups and Sled Pushes and Pulls. She generally did about two strength workouts for every one cardio workout during her preparation, as too much cardio can cannibalize strength gains. Stone used the VersaClimber, which LeBron James has called his favorite piece of gym equipment, for her conditioning.
Shortly after having her second child, Blake Lively began integrating more strength training into her routine. At the time, her goal was to build a strong surfer body for her role in the 2016 film The Shallows. Trainer Don Saladino, who also work’s with Lively’s husband, Ryan Reynolds, drew up her plan of attack.
“We take a strength training approach. I do it with any female that I work with. The foundation of fat burning is weight training and cardio is needed, but it’s the sprinkles on the ice cream. If you had to choose one or the other, I’m saying you want to go with resistance training—which is what we did with Blake,” Saladino told E! News.
One key movement in her routine was the Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift, which his essentially a wide stance Deadlift. After warming up, Saladino had her complete five sets of five reps. “I try to get her to the point where she struggles for five sets of five, but her technique is always perfect,” Saladino told INSIDER. If you’re struggling at rep five in a set, that’s a good sign you’re using weight heavy enough to build real strength. If you’re banging out 40-50 reps of a weight lifting exercise in a set–something that’s really not all that uncommon in group fitness classes–then odds are you’re just getting tired and not actually getting stronger and building muscle.
“I had to become an athlete,” Lively told People of her preparation.