Gym workouts can be bewildering when you first start – there are tons of options and information can be unclear online.
We’re going to take you through the basics of how to get into beginner gym workouts for women, what to focus on, and how to structure your worn workouts to stay safe and turn your hard work into results.
As an exercise beginner your top priority is to take the right approach. Results will come, but the way you train will determine how many, how quickly, and how sustainably.
Focus on the right things and the results will pour in over time, but get it wrong and you may risk injury or stagnation.
The most important place to start is beginning to understand your body and getting into the habit of movement. The point of a beginner’s gym workout is to start learning the skill of different exercises and practicing them to make sure you can perform them safely – and add weight over time.
For example, the goal of squatting for the first month is to make sure that your form (the technique you use to move through an exercise) is precise. It’s about preventing major problems (like rounding your back), build the mobility to move through a full range of motion with the exercise, and get ready to start adding more weight.
The process of building body-awareness is a huge factor in the development of a beginner in the gym and building maturity. This means long-term rewards as you start to acquire new skills, making sure you can recruit the right muscles in the right exercises, and maintaining good technique when things get hard.
If you’re not trying to move well, why are you exercising? It’s step one and everything else comes afterwards.
Once you’ve gotten in to practice your movement, step 2 is just doing it again. Nothing is as important to your success as consistency and persistence – imagine what you could achieve with something as simple as 2-3 hours a week.
That’s 1560 hours over the next 10 years. How much better shape do you think you could be in over that much time? It starts to add up fast – even if you’re doing a little every week. This is how fitness changes your life even without asking too much time from you – and it’s a huge change to your mind and body, together.
All it takes is to keep going, even when it doesn’t go great. The time you put in is paid back in the years of better health and confidence that come from exercise, strength, and health.
The next thing to worry about is how you’re setting up your workouts to support better long-term performance and training. It’s a point to focus on helping yourself get better over years, with a focus on things liker properly training around the joints and muscles to ensure better longevity.
For example, proper balance on both sides of a joint by building up (e.g.) the quads and hamstrings might help improve your injury risk. It definitely improves your control of the hip and knee, which are common injury sites, and makes your tendons stronger and more resilient to the demand you put on them in everyday life.
This extends out to other areas that are commonly injured, weak, or poorly positioned. Things like face pulls, paused leg extensions, and core exercise are all great at conditioning your body to get used to the exercise-load and help you do more training in future. Focus on getting better at training and the results will come.
The best thing you can do once you’re into a regular gym routine is to focus on the things you do outside of the gym. It’s rarely adding another training session that helps you improve and, more often, better food, sleep, and recovery.
The goal is to make your exercise structure your sleep and food choices, which then fuel better results in your exercise. This kind of harmony in your life is the healthiest approach and you’ll find that – once you’ve got the basics down – you can work on small, incremental improvements.
Getting it all aligned ensures you’re not fighting your gym hard work with your weekend eating and drinking habits. The lifestyle you live is the main factor in how you perform, and you need to put some thought into what you’re doing the other 165 hours a week.
Gym workouts, specifically, have some powerful benefits that you can use to get the best out of yourself. On the other hand, they do come with their own challenges that make them one form of exercise among many options.
Lets look at the specifics and what there is that’s unique to gym workouts.
The obvious reason to go to a gym is the variety of equipment. A state of the art commercial gym probably contains 100,000s of dollars of equipment. If not millions, depending on the size.
This is your strength: you get to use a wide range of equipment without paying for it. This also means being able to progress along your weight training exercises with more weight than you’d have from a home gym. Not to mention the space and preparation you’d need to put together.
Free weights and machines are just not available in your garage or apartment most of the time. The wider selection makes for an expensive home gym, and you should make the most of the savings from a gym membership on weights – and then any specific cardio kit you enjoy.
The real downside to the gym for most people is breaking the ice. Going in and overcoming the fear and intimidation of the experience, making it a normal part of everyday life. People in the gym aren’t horrible, but it’s easy to feel out of place during those early days – and it can be debilitating if you’re not confident (one of many reasons that so many people work out from home first).
This sense of uncertainty is the main barrier to entry and is why many people often seek a PT to smooth their transition. This does come with extra costs – and the expense of a good gym and guidance can easily start getting expensive.
The other distinct struggle with gyms is that you’re subject to their timings.
If you can find a gym with good timings that fit your schedule, you’re in business. However, this can be a real challenge for shift workers, people with family commitments, and those working unusual hours.
The drawback of all that equipment and membership is that you’re working on somebody else’s schedule. This is going to be a real pain if you’re not able to work to the exact schedule that suits the gym (the average 9-5) – unless you’re lucky enough to have a 24-hour gym.
The idea of a warm up is simple: get your body prepared for the exercise ahead. There are a few simple stages to this that you should focus on which make sure you’re getting the most from it.
You want to start stretching out the muscles and positions that feel most limited. This is a simple way of getting some extra range into those positions so that you can move into and out of them, building longer-term mobility.
This helps prevent you from finding yourself in bad positions during your workout.
Joints and muscles have full ranges for a reason: they’re meant to move through them.
Once you’ve beaten back your movement restrictions, focus on dynamic movement and getting into and back out of those end ranges. This helps improve the response of muscles and tendons in those ranges, as long as you remain in control of the movement.
This also helps reduce injury as you’re making tissues more familiar with the demands you’re putting on them.
Warm-ups should help you move better in the main exercises in your workouts. You want to practice the movements or components that you’re going to use.
To return to the squat example, you might work through Cossack squats, light kettlebell good mornings, and Kang squats to warm up to squatting. Even 1-2 sets will help you get into the postural positions and habits that make you a better squatter.
This applies to all kinds of exercises – good warm-ups set you up for success.
Start your workouts with heavier work, using lower reps. These are the most demanding exercises, and you don’t want to be tired when you perform them due to the increased risk of heavy loads while fatigued.
The idea is to start heavy and taper down over time to let your joints work through lighter weights in line with your natural tiredness. You can use the same exercise for heavy sets and then light ones, or a heavy ‘compound’ exercise (uses multiple joints, like a deadlift) followed by simpler exercises with lighter weights.
High rep exercise comes afterwards since each rep is less strenuous on the body. They add up to improve your fitness, joint health, and muscle mass along the way.
These are a great way to prepare the body and condition joints, too, since they flush these areas with blood and nutrients. Focus on muscle-building exercises (like presses and rows) as well as high-endurance, postural areas (like the core and upper back) for these exercises.
They are a great way to finish out your workout and improve your physique, health, and longevity.
If you’re here for general health, a gym workout should be a 60/40 or 80/20 split of strength training and endurance.
Endurance training is important as a way of keeping fit, but should be secondary in these kinds of workouts. Or you can use a conditioning workout: something between weight and cardio – where intensity stays relatively high but you’re working on fitness with a good pace.
For example, HIIT, circuits, and CrossFit all appeal to the conditioning approach. They’re not heavy strength-builders, but involve continuous or intervals of hard work, instead of the duration-based approach of a long row, for example.
This should always come after weight training since it is less loading on the joints and the body naturally has the capacity for endurance even when it’s tired of strength training. It’s okay to be tired when you get to endurance – that’s what it’s there for!
You can add 5 minutes of very light exercise to the end of your workout to help improve blood flow to key areas like the tendons. This is a great way to kickstart the recovery process and also helps lower your training anxiety, key to switching gears back to relaxation.
It’s also a good way to help work out the metabolic waste from the muscles after exercise and help rebalance muscle chemistry. These are great for reducing the risk of muscle damage, muscle soreness, and joint soreness/stiffness after a workout.
You’ll probably still be sore, but less!
Women’s needs are subtle, but they do make a difference to how you progress and what your body responds best to.
The specific differences between men and women are closely related to diet, training, and recovery. Harnessing your biological and individual needs is how you get the best from gym workouts.
Women typically need more volume and less weight than their male counterparts. This is because of some subtle differences in the energy source women’s muscles use (more triglycerides and less carbs) and muscle structure/innervation.
The result is that a woman’s workout should involve good durations, working with the body to get the most out of both strength and cardio training. Gym workouts can be used to get the best results, but this also means you’ve got a flexible workout system that takes well to strength and endurance, weight training and bodyweight workouts at home, and both carbs and fats in the diet.
Just because women use higher volumes, there’s no reason to avoid the hard work that comes with heavy weight. Most of the concerns around getting manly or ‘too big’ are just informed by women’s bodybuilding – who are deliberately getting big (and take decades to do it).
You won’t get too muscular by lifting heavy weights. You’ll get lean, strong, and capable. These are things we all want to chase – whether it’s through intervals, circuits, or weight training in the gym, the point is to work hard in everything you do!
Women’s postural problems often come out in the gym as hyperextension.
Make sure you’re incorporating core and hip flexor work, balancing out the natural postures that we tend to see. This means exercises like deadbugs, leg raises, crunches, and hollow holds are going to be great to keep your spine and hips healthy.
You can also use interesting versions like the psoas march, the front-loaded good morning, and the hanging knee tuck to really work on strengthening the core and tucking the hips and ribs into the navel – building great core control.
First, remember that a well-balanced body is the goal of any workout. While most women tend to work through lower-body dominant workouts, the balance should be around 60/40 in favour of the lower body.
Again, misconceptions about “manly” upper bodies are all over. They’re just that: misconceptions that don’t reflect what real women look like. Specifically, you should balance your pushing and pulling exercises to really help maintain the health and strength of the joints in the upper body (like the shoulder).
This is important for posture, too. You should aim for a 1-1 ratio or slightly preferring rowing and other pulling exercises. These are a great way to build a healthy and high-performance body without taking time off for annoying injuries.
If you’re not ready for the gym, you can gain these same benefits at home on your own time and in private.
Preparation for gym is one way of looking at it. Home workouts can be used to build work capacity, transform the body, and they fit easily around your other commitments. You have complete control over the timing of workouts and can fit them in piecemeal if life starts to interrupt.
This is also a way of leading into gym workouts by preparing the body and practicing key movements before loading up. This is a great way to go from beginner to gym enthusiast healthily without the addition joint and muscle loading of weight training.
Obviously, you can do cardio at home or outside – that should be an easy substitution!
We might be a bit biased, but home workouts offer a narrower selection of kit, but a much more versatile experience and all the keys we were mentioning before: muscular change, healthier joints, better work capacity, tissue conditioning, and a more affordable approach. Specifically, members point out that they cut out time-demands, depending on gym opening hours, and the hidden time-costs of commuting to and from gyms, before even thinking about time waiting for equipment!
Gym workouts for women are great when they follow the most important principles of good exercise and smart programming. We’ve discussed workout plans before, and these two go together as the main planning of a fitness routine.
Formulaic exists to take the hard work out of planning and let you get on with doing on your schedule. We love gym workouts but understand that the benefits aren’t unique, while some of the logistical challenges are – especially if you’ve not got a great gym nearby.
We work through these challenges together with smart programming for bodyweight workouts at home. They’re affordable, accessible, easy to work through at any experience level, and offer all the same benefits of a gym workout without the stress and hassle.
Feel free to write us here and one of our coaches can help.