I am going to attempt to distill all of my 20 years experience as a fitness trainer and cover the best fitness plan for women that I have seen. In this article we’ll look at exercises, mindset and a periodised programme to get the best workouts for women that there is. Womens fitness differs greatly to mens mainly due to the physiological and hormonal differences between the two sexes. For example, women menstruate and have less testosterone, generally, than their male counterparts. They also tend to have less muscle mass in their upper body along with a lower centre of gravity and wider hips. There are obvious exceptions to these rules but the statements ring true on the whole.
These factors bring the need to design an effective workout plan that is effective for females but is still still challenging and rewarding at the same time. Most women are looking to tone and shape up and while competitive body building and sculpting are competitive sports most women I have worked with are not after this type of figure. A toned trim body is what girls generally are after combined with some sort of weight loss or dietary regime.
The best exercises for the female body are compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, push ups, lat pulldowns and woodchops. The reason these exercises work so well is that they involve many muscle groups at once and give you the maximum bang for your buck. When used with the correct loading parameters, such as the correct number of sets and reps, these workouts often provide fantastic results. I like to combine these exercises into a circuit to increase the levels of lactate in the blood (which is great for fat burning) and also keeps the workouts short and very focused.
When it comes to cardio training most of my female clients do really well on High Intensity Interval Training (HITT) for many of the same reasons as the circuit training benefits. They can get all of the cardiovascular beefits of steady state cardio in a fraction of the time. Also, because HITT involves intense bouts of exertion there is an increase of lactic acid production which helps promote fat burning – which is very desirable for most ladies I come across. Whether I put them on the rower, stairclimber or teadmill, a 15 minute HITT session of 1 minute on (fast) coupled with two minutes off (active recovery) can provide an intense female workout and gets the fat burning fires well stoked!
One of the key recommendations I make with any female fitness programme is to use free weights or body weight as much as you can. While fixed machines in the gym can be great for beginners, body builders or people in rehab they are not the best solution for a woman who wants to effectively sculpt and tone her body. It can also set her up for injury further down the line as her joint stabiliser muscles don’t increase strength in proportion to the main working muscles on those machines. This imbalance can lead to injury if her joints aren’t able to be effectively stabilised playing sport or lifting things in her day to day life.
Functional training is really important for a woman wanting to get in shape and stay injury free – so body weight exercises and dumbbells are the perfect workout equipment. An example workout would be dumbbell lunges, medicine ball squat push press, kneeling push ups and a TRX pull up performed in a circuit of around 12 reps per exercise. Depending on the conditioning level of the clients I would recommend 3-5 circuits be completed in around 25 minutes.