The long-held belief that strength training would ruin a woman’s physique and build “bulky” muscles has been fading. More women now understand that strength training is an essential part of staying healthy, getting stronger and developing the body they want. But despite this new mindset, many females are stuck on exercise selection.
Women can benefit from traditional strength exercises in their workout programs, and they can perform many of the same exercises as men, with a few modifications. Exercises like Squats and Deadlifts work the entire body in one motion. Since they also require athletes to support their own body weight, these compound movements build bone density, an especially important factor for female lifters. Compound lifts can be loaded heavier than isolation exercises, helping to build muscle, raise overall metabolic rate and give women the toned appearance they want.
Lower-Body Training Modifications for Females
Based on a variety of factors—including age, training goals, physical maturity and current fitness level—modifications may be necessary when designing a training plan specifically for women. For instance, a woman with little experience loading weight on her back may initially be uncomfortable with Barbell Back Squats. Instead, a Goblet Squat, in which the weight is carried in front, may be more comfortable and more appropriate for learning proper Squat form.
Other modifications may include:
- Complexity of Movement. Although combining exercises is great for ramping up intensity, beginners will benefit from performing and mastering separate exercises first, before pairing them together in one motion.
- Range of Motion. Female lifters are typically more flexible than their male counterparts, allowing them to achieve a greater range of motion when weight training. However, if their muscles aren’t prepared to stabilize during the full range, they risk sustaining an injury. Women should build stability around their joints and throughout exercises before adding weight.
- Volume. Weight training can be tough for new lifters, particularly later in the workout when form tends to break down. Female athletes who are new to strength training should adjust training volume to match their level of experience. They can reduce the number of sets and reps, and lengthen their rest periods to allow ample time to recover between sets.
The most important consideration when designing a strength program for a woman is to align the workout with her individual training goals and level of expertise.
Picking Appropriate Leg Exercises
Women can perform and benefit from traditional, bilateral strength training exercises. With the proper progressions and regressions, exercise selection is quite simple. One popular approach is to use a superset, in which, for example, exercises focused on the quadriceps are paired with others focused on the hamstrings and glutes.
For example, a workout may include the following pairs:
1A. Dumbbell Goblet Squat
1B. Stability Ball Hamstring Curl
2A. Romanian Deadlift
2B. Dumbbell Step-ups
Unilateral exercises are also beneficial for women, since they improve balance and coordination while strengthening and toning the hips. When creating pairs, incorporate single-leg exercises into the workout. For example:
1A. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
1B. Goblet Squat
2A. Single-Leg Squat
2B. Kettlebell Sumo