If you're looking to lose weight or just maintain your physique, try cutting back on cardio for a few weeks to focus on these strength training exercises for women that increase metabolism and build lean muscle

By Caitlin Carlson
Updated January 05, 2021
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Are you cardio-ing yourself to death? Yes, running, cycling, and hitting the elliptical religiously can absolutely help you reach your goals, especially if you're looking to lose weight. But, at some point, you're going to hit a plateau, says Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S., founder of Women's Strength Nation and author of Lift to Get Lean.

To get past it, you need strength training in your life. Why? Lifting weights helps to amp your metabolism for long after your gym-time ends since the more muscle you have, the more calories you torch when working out and while sitting perfectly still. Not to mention, strength training is a great way for women (and, well, everyone) to steer clear of injury; the stronger the muscles surrounding and supporting your joints, the more you'll be able to maintain good form and keep out of harm's way. And, of course, lifting weights can — and does — make you strong AF (without causing you to "bulk up"). (Related: 11 Major Health and Fitness Benefits of Lifting Weights)

If you're new to weight training, don't worry. Perkins created this four-week beginner strength training workout for women to help you to build a solid foundation of strength training and shift your body into a new place after all that cardio. The really great news? You only have to do this routine twice a week. Each week, the moves will stay the same, but the routine will get harder thanks to changing program variables (i.e. rest, sets, reps, or load).

Put at least two days of rest between strength training days, but you can do cardio on those rest days (to be clear: cardio isn't bad, it's just not the best method for long-term weight loss or maintenance or, simply, staying fit).

Now, let's break down the weekly gym workouts so you can start lifting weights like a pro in no time.

4-Week Strength Training for Women Program

Week 1

Complete the exercises in each workout as straight sets. For example, you'll do one set of leg presses, rest for 30 seconds, do a second set, rest, do the third set. Then, move on to the next exercise. You'll complete all movements in both strength workouts for women this way.

Complete 12 reps of all movements for 3 sets each, and rest for 30 seconds in between each set. Choose a weight load where the last two reps of every set are extra hard, where you wouldn't be able to do the thirteenth rep. You may find that you increase the weight load for each set while keeping the 12 reps for all three sets. (New to lifting weights? Check out this strength training workout for women that’s also perfect for beginners.)

Week 2

This week, you'll continue with the straight-set format for both strength training workouts. But now, you'll complete 15 reps of all movements for 3 sets, and you will only rest for 15 seconds in between each set. Therefore, this week, you'll complete more work in less time. This is a great stimulus to take your fitness to the next level.

Week 3

Time to mix it up this week. Instead of straight sets, you're going to complete your strength training workout for women in a circuit style.

This week, you'll complete 1 set of each exercise for 15 reps, then you'll immediately move on to the next movement with no rest in between. For example, on the day 1 workout, you'll perform your first set of leg presses for 15 reps, then you'll immediately go to the goblet squat and perform 15 reps and then continue on to the next exercise with no rest in between movements. At the end of these four movements, you'll rest for one minute, then complete the circuit two more times.

Week 4

This week you're going to continue with the circuit-style sets; this time you'll perform only 12 reps of each movement, but there are two (tough!) changes: You'll complete a total of 4 full circuits (that's four sets of each exercise for both workouts) and there will be no rest in between each circuit. This week is all about keeping you moving. After you finish the last movement of either workout, you'll immediately return to the first movement and begin a new circuit.

Got it? On to the strength training for women moves: Below, see demos of the four weight lifting exercises that make up Workout 1, and the five moves that make up Workout 2. Watch and learn, then mark your calendar — four weeks from now, you won't believe how strong you'll feel.

Strength Training for Women Workout 1

Leg Press

Goblet Squat

Seated Cable Row

Dumbbell Hammer Curl

Strength Training for Women Workout 2

Leg Press

Walking Lunges

Dumbbell Bent Arm Side Raise

Lying Dumbbell Chest Fly

Straight Bar Tricep Press Down

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