The most unexpected exercises women should be doing—and why
I have heard it so many times. Whether it’s my female clientele or the many comments posted around the Internet, "I don't want to look like a man” is a popular statement. Women who say this then make a point to avoid workouts they perceive as masculine.
With that, many females choose single-joint, linear movements—but a woman’s body is meant to move, twist, turn, and even carry a child. Training your body in a linear, one-dimensional fashion will only make you more susceptible to injury as you attempt to live your life in a multi-dimensional world. Think about it: A mother carrying her child is squatting, lunging, lifting, twisting, turning, and picking him or her up out of the crib, all while rotating in multiple directions.
Training “like a man” can actually prepare your body for these actions. Performing highly beneficial compound, functional exercises can literally decrease the chances of suffering from osteoporosis, increase lean muscle mass, and reduce belly fat—all things women want to do! Selecting the proper compound exercises can also reduce your chances of injury, what I like to describe as "pre-hab" so you can avoid rehab.
RELATED: Keep your routine varied and effective with 22 men's exercises women should do.
Use the five moves below to train “like a man” and take your fitness to the next level—without looking like a meathead. Choose one or more of the protocols to add to your training program or use all five as a multi-dimension, functional workout.
Repetitions: 8 to 12, unless otherwise noted
Sets: 1 to 3, depending on your fitness level
Rest/recovery between sets: 45 seconds
1. Front Squat: Perform this exercise in the squat rack at the gym. Position feet about one and a half shoulder-widths apart and place the barbell at chest height. Position the barbell on the front portion of your shoulders, crossing arms to secure barbell. Place hands on the top potion of the barbell with the upper arms creating a 90-degree angle with chest. Walk slightly back from the racked position of the barbell and secure your stance. Inhale and lower hips slowly until quads are parallel to the floor. Pause. In one explosive motion, exhale and drive hips to the original position.
Coach’s tip: Like any squat, keep your core tight and chin parallel to the floor, and don't let your knees bend past your toes. It’s also important to remain flat-footed throughout this lift. Distribute weight through your heels and keep them securely fastened to the floor to prevent tilting forward. Begin with just the barbell and work your way up to added weights.
RELATED: For more booty-shaping, learn 12 ways to spice up your squats for better results.
2. Luggage Lift (a.k.a. Single-Arm Deadlift): Begin with a 25-pound barbell or a dumbbell you can easily move without breaking form. Hold the weight in your right hand at your hip at approximately pocket level. Position feet about one and a half shoulder-widths apart. Lower hips to the floor as if performing a squat (or picking up luggage). Exhale while contracting hamstrings and gluteus as you return to standing, pushing hips forward.
Coach’s tip: Begin with a hand weight to learn proper form while gaining confidence with the lift before using a straight weight bar. The bar will force you to work harder to control the weight and prevent yourself from twisting.
3. Double Lumberjack Swings: Begin with a dumbbell that is heavy enough to challenge you without breaking form. Position feet about one and a half shoulder-widths apart. Grasp the dumbbell with both hands on one end and arms fully extended between legs. Inhale and lower hips until quads are parallel with the floor. In one explosive movement, exhale while driving hips toward the ceiling and swinging the dumbbell until it is parallel to the floor at chest level.
Coach’s tip: This move is about control. To avoid creating a pendulum-like motion with the dumbbell, which can cause your body to lean too far forward, select a weight that you can control throughout the entire movement.
RELATED: Swings are often used in CrossFit, but you don't need a gym to gain the benefits of the workout craze. Try our at-home CrossFit workout.
4. Fall Outs (a.k.a. Pull-Up): Begin with a flat bench or 24- to 36-inch box underneath a pull-up bar. Step up onto the bench or box and extend both hands overhead. In one explosive movement, lower down into a squat as fast as possible and explode upward toward the pull-up bar. Grab on with both hands (palms facing away from body) and use momentum to pull yourself up. As soon as your chin clears the bar, pause and slowly lower back onto the bench or box.
Coach’s tip: Make sure your hands are dry. I recommend a good pair of training gloves that will provide adequate protection and grip.
5. Row This Way: Think plank meets dumbbell row. Choose a pair of dumbbells that you can easily control without compromising your form. Begin in a standard push-up position with one dumbbell in each hand. Squeeze right hand and lift right elbow upward, past the middle of back. Return to the starting position and repeat with left arm. Continue to alternate for a total of 12 to 20 repetitions.
Coach’s tip: Do not rotate your hips as you move your arms. To prevent this from happening, contract both your gluteus and abdominal region as tight as possible throughout the entire set.