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Strength training is important for everyone, but women in particular often ignore it. What you may not realize is that free weight exercises can help you lose weight just like cardio, all while giving you a sleeker, more toned appearance. Resistance training can also improve your cardiovascular health and reduce stress, long after your workout is over.
If you’ve been considering a strength training workout, check out our suggestions below. We’ve put together some of the best free weight exercises for women for blasting body fat and strengthening core muscles. These exercises are all suitable for beginners, and when you’re ready to increase the intensity, all you have to do is select heavier weights and complete more reps.
1. Seated Shoulder Press
The seated shoulder press targets your shoulders, tricep muscle group, and upper back
How to do seated shoulder presses
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and sit on a flat bench.
- Raise the dumbbells to shoulder height so that they’re on either side of your head, and rotate your wrists so that your palms are facing forward.
- Push the dumbbells upward until your arms are fully extended.
- Hold the position for a beat, and then return to the starting position.
2. Single Arm Row
Activating multiple muscle groups, the single arm row targets your shoulders, bicep muscles, upper back, and lower back
How to do single arm rows
- Grab a dumbbell in your left hand, and place your right hand and right knee on a flat bench.
- Ensure your right arm is fully extended to support your upper body, your right knee is bent with the rest of the leg lying on the bench, and your left leg is fully extended.
- Keeping your back straight and tight, lift the dumbbell as high as you can without overextending.
- Hold the position for a beat, and then slowly lower the dumbbell until your left arm is fully extended.
- Repeat the exercise for 10 reps, and then switch sides.
3. Split Squat
One of the easiest lower body workouts, the split squat targets your quads and glutes
How to do split squats
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and stand straight with your shoulders pulled back.
- Take a step back with your left leg, and slowly bend it until your heel is off the floor.
- Bend your left leg slightly until your foot is flat on the floor.
- Keeping your left foot flat on the floor, slowly bend your right knee and lower yourself until your right knee makes contact with the ground.
- Hold the position for a beat, and then lift back up to the starting position.
- Repeat this exercise for 10 reps, and then switch sides.
4. Dumbbell Chest Press
The dumbbell chest press targets and builds muscle mass in your chest, tricep muscles, and shoulders
How to do dumbbell chest presses
- Hold two dumbbells, and lie back on a flat bench.
- Keeping your feet flat on the ground, dig your shoulders into the bench and arch your back.
- Bring the dumbbells up, keeping them over your chest rather than your shoulders.
- Push the dumbbells up over your body until your arms are fully extended.
- Hold the position for a beat, and then slowly lower the dumbbells until they are on either side of your chest.
- Hold the position again for a beat, and then repeat.
5. Seated Bicep Curl
Easy to incorporate into any workout routine, the seated bicep curl targets both your upper and lower arm
How to do seated bicep curls
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and sit on a bench with your feet flat on the ground, your back slightly arched, and your arms straight down.
- Lift your left arm and curl the dumbbell upward until it almost touches your left shoulder.
- Hold the position for a beat, and return to the starting position by lowering the dumbbell until your left arm is fully extended.
- Repeat the exercise for 10 reps, and then switch arms. You may also alternate arms instead.
6. Hip Thrust
Concentrating on the lower body, the hip thrust targets your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and hips
How to do hip thrusts
- Roll a barbel until it’s sitting parallel to a flat bench.
- Sit on the floor perpendicular to the bench so that your shoulders touch the bench and the barbel is in front of you.
- Stretch your legs in front of your, and roll the barbel onto your lap over your hips.
- Spread your feet shoulder width apart, and then bend your knees to bring your legs in.
- Planting your feet on the ground and your shoulders on the bench, push your hips up until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees.
- Squeeze your glutes and hold the position for a beat, and then while keeping your upper body straight, lower yourself until your butt touches the floor.
- Immediately thrust back up to repeat the exercise.
7. Step Up
Doing step ups targets your quads, hamstrings, and glutes
How to do step ups
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and stand in front of a flat bench, plyo box, or other platform. If you’re a beginner, you can start with an aerobic step and your own body weight, and then work your way up to a taller platform and dumbbells.
- With your arms straight at your sides, lift your right foot onto the platform. This is the starting position.
- Planting your right foot, push yourself up onto the platform.
- Lower your left foot back to the ground, and then immediately push yourself back onto the platform.
- Repeat the exercise for 10 reps with the same leg on the platform, and then switch legs.
8. Plank Row
More intense than most dumbbell exercises, plank rows target your arms, shoulders, lower back, and upper back
How to do plank rows
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and go into a plank position with your legs straight back with your weight supported on your toes and each arm straight and fully extended.
- Keeping your body in a straight line from shoulders to feet, lift the dumbbell in your left hand until it’s at your side.
- Lower your left hand, and switch to your right hand to repeat the same move.
The Benefits of Strength Training for Women
A lot of women shy away from weight training because they fear that they’ll become bulky. We’re here to tell you that absolutely won’t happen — unless you want it to! While you’ll certainly build muscle mass by lifting weights, it takes a lot of dedicated, targeted work to bulk up. So while you won’t immediately become a bodybuilder with our strength training exercises for women, you’ll enjoy an array of other exciting benefits.
Build Lean Muscle Mass for a Toned Body
If you’re aiming for a sleek body, weight training is just as important as counting calories and cardio. Lean muscle gives your body definition and shows off all your hard work.
Burn Fat to Lose Weight
You’ve probably heard that muscle burns more calories than fat, and that’s absolutely true. Because muscles are active, it takes more fuel to maintain them. That means a fit, toned body will burn more calories, even when you’re doing nothing at all.
Better Heart Health
Studies show that engaging in strength training can reduce your chances of a heart attack or stroke by up to 70%. This is partly because lean muscle require more blood flow. The more muscle you have, the more blood your heart can pump out, leading to less stress on your arteries.
Less Stress and Improved Mood
Physical exercise causes your body to release endorphins, chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. Strength training, in particular, has the added benefit of making you stronger, which in turn can also make you feel more confident and in control.
How to Warm Up for Strength Exercises with Weights
Warming up before weight training is a great way to loosen your muscles and prevent injury.
To start, do some gentle stretching. Be sure to stretch every muscle that you plan to engage during your strength training exercises.
From there, move on to heavier stretching and warming up by completing a few reps of the free weight exercises you’ll be doing — sans the free weights. For example, do some split squats without dumbbells to activate your quads and glutes and some hip thrusts without a barbel to ready your hamstrings and hips.
Choosing the Right Weights for Strength Training
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to how heavy your weights should be for these weight workouts for women. Instead, you’ll need to consider your fitness level and what you intend to get our of your workout.
When selecting weights for each of your strength training exercises, you should make that you can lift the weight, maintain correct form, and complete all of your reps. If you’re working out to build muscle, you’ll want to ensure that your chosen weight also challenges you but doesn’t overwhelm you.
How often should women practice weight training?
If you’re new to strength training, you’ll want to take things slow so as not to cause injury or excessive soreness. Once you’ve built up some strength and stamina, aim for three days of weight training per week.
What kind of equipment do I need for strength training?
To complete the strength training for women exercises above, you only need a flat bench, a set of dumbbells, a barbel, and a plyo box. As you progress and become more confident in lifting weights, you may want to expand your collection with more weights or even take a look at weight machines.
Are strength training exercises for women safe during pregnancy?
Yes, it is generally safe to practice strength training while you’re pregnant. We actually encourage it because building muscle will support your changing body. However, you should always check in with your doctor to make sure that exercise is safe for your particular situation.
Strength training workouts offer a ton of benefits, and it’s so easy to get started. If you’re a beginner, you can invest in minimal equipment and start out with our dumbbell exercises. As you build strength and confidence, you can expand your equipment to include other free weights like barbels and maybe even a weight machine.
Ready to upgrade your workout routine right now? Check out our best home gyms buying guide for advice and our top recommendations.