Beginning Strength Training for Women

by ~jenniferlynn on January 2, 2015

in Weight Lifting

“New Year, New You.” While not a fan of that phrase, as we roll into the new year, a lot of women are looking to experiment with new things, and I am loving the increasing trend of women lifting weights! While I posted a version of this quite some time ago, here are my updated tips for beginning weightlifting or beginning strength training for women.

Beginning Strength Training for Women

Don’t be afraid – just show up

I think the biggest concern that women have is mostly the intimidation factor.

Ask yourself – what is it that you are afraid of?

Afraid of not knowing what to do? See the tips below. Afraid of “getting bulky?” False. Afraid to fail? Do it anyway.

When I started lifting weights, I was just a little stick girl who would be knocked over by trying to squat a barbell. Now, I can squat more than my bodyweight and it feels amazing. There are women of all ages, all shapes, all sizes that make friends with the barbell and end up loving it (seriously, check them all out here!)! Conquer your fear; tell yourself that you can do it, and just do it!


Read books. Read blogs. Read forums. Read all the things!

There are a number of different programs out there for women to self-start, such as New Rules of Lifting for Women, Jamie Eason’s Live Fit, Bret Contreras’ Strong Curves, Rachel Cosgrove’s Female Body Breakthrough, or any of Nia Shanks’ programs.

Educate yourself on proper lift form and lifting techniques.

Youtube is FULL of videos on how to properly execute certain lifts. If you are able, record yourself doing the movements so you can watch yourself. Many sites allow you to post your videos online and do “form checks” so others can critique your form, or even so you can see yourself perform various lifts.

Ask for help

I started doing the New Rules of Lifting for Women program on my own with only the knowledge of what was in the book (and zero athletic background prior).  While the book and other online programs may provide you with workouts and detailed explanations on how do to them, sometimes you need someone else’s advice to give you a little more confidence or an extra push.

I enlisted the help of a personal trainer (which was ridiculously expensive), but after the first few sessions, I knew that I was squatting properly, and knew the proper form on a deadlift. Even though I did not want to stick with a trainer full-time and break the bank, being able to have a solid foundation at light weights will help you as you move up in weight. If you do not have the funds to pay a trainer for a few sessions, sometimes they may offer a session for free and cram all you want to know in that session! 😉

Since I just started Crossfit, I think that is another amazing introduction to lifting, and overcoming the fear and intimidation of scary lifts. The instructors are trained to teach functional fitness and the workouts can be scaled down to any fitness level, so you work from the bottom up.

If your budget does not allow formal training or Crossfit classes, find a friend, significant other, or even a fellow gym goer to watch your form as you do the lifts. There are also plenty of free online networks such as Fitocracy where you can find others doing the same program or that have done similar workouts to compare notes, stories, etc.

Find a Community

Self-teaching can also open the doors for finding other resources or people interested in the same things as you. I have made huge connections on social networks such as Twitter and Instagram, and by connecting on Facebook with other women who lift. It is always refreshing to find like-minded women and those that you can throw ideas off of and compare notes.

Search on whatever program you have chosen and you are sure to find plenty of online groups of others doing the same.

Finding an in-person group such as going to a Crossfit box or attending group strength training classes at your gym, community is a key factor. Being able to have someone who “speaks the language” and can relate to your lifting is key to progressing further.


There are so many exciting and empowering reasons why you should strength train and why more women should make a resolution to lift more weights in the new year, but this is a great way to get you started!

Your turn..
Do you lift weights?

What was your biggest fear when you started lifting weights?
What it the biggest misconception that you discovered about women and strength training?

Claire January 2, 2015 at 11:18 am

Do you lift weights? I do but I’ve had a break recently due to injury & illness
What was your biggest fear when you started lifting weights? That I wouldn’t be able to increase my weights – I like the feeling of being able to lift heavier
What it the biggest misconception that you discovered about women and strength training? That you’ll buck up – so many women got to a Body Pump class & lift small weights, never increasing. What they don’t realise is that any benefit they got from it has long since stopped.

Charlotte January 2, 2015 at 5:41 pm

These are very helpful tips. I think especially finding a supportive community that can help you with diet, technique and programs. I think my biggest fear was and still is, injuring my tiny, child-sized wrists and shoulders. As my shoulders are becoming stronger and wider, I am falling in love with the sport!

~jenniferlynn January 2, 2015 at 6:05 pm

It’ll get better, Charlotte!!

Theresa January 3, 2015 at 4:25 am

When I first started CrossFit, a non-CrossFit powerlifter told me that the women he lifts with are always cautious about adding on weight. The men he lifts with just add the weight and accept that failing once in a while might be a consequence of that.

It’s obviously a generalization, but it’s something I keep in mind whenever I approach the bar. Am I being timid about challenging myself because I’m afraid of failure? Are there any consequences to failure? No? THEN LET’S DO THIS.
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~jenniferlynn January 3, 2015 at 8:52 am

So true! In NROLFW they say women often struggle with what weight to start with. Men usually should be doing less than they think, and women probably should add weight!

Kristen January 3, 2015 at 9:08 am

I used to train every day before kids – now we don’t have a gym with decent childcare so I’m slacking. You have motivated me!
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Kristin January 3, 2015 at 9:28 am

It’s so hard! And the time it takes to get them there makes it even more difficult. Naptime is my friend and I’m fitting in personal training session then, but it still isn’t easy – my little girl has interrupted twice now and completed the workout with me! 🙂
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Kristin January 3, 2015 at 9:26 am

Great tips! I recently was gifted with a personal trainer and have learned so much! I doubt I would have ever spent the money, but you’re right about how much it helps to get your form right and prevent injury. She asked my goals when we started and, although I have plenty of weight to lose, I told her I want to be strong.

Great list of resources! I’ll be looking into them once my sessions with my trainer are over in March/April.
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Maureen January 3, 2015 at 9:29 am

I love this absolutely love this post! I do lift weights but it has been quite a journey as I deal with my herniated discs. It flare up from time to time so I need to be really careful. I love lifting.Women here are so scared of weights I us ually am the only woman in the free weights area. Some still thinks 3lbs dumbbells and high reps are the only way to go. I have not heard about some of the links you mentioned so I will be checking them. So happy to found you on SITS Saturday Sharefest 🙂
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January 3, 2015 at 11:16 am

Happy New Year Jen! I got away from lifting this year and I miss it! I need to get back into it again. These are great tips. Thanks for sharing!

crossfitness January 9, 2015 at 4:47 am

I love this post !

Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner January 23, 2015 at 5:45 pm

Great tips! I was afraid it would make me bulky when I started over 10 years ago. I’m addicted and love what it has done for my body
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Mandy January 25, 2015 at 2:28 pm

I lifted for a long time and loved it. My biggest fear was that I would fall over or drop a weight on myself. I was lucky to have a few lifting buddies as spotters. Or, I’d use machines instead of free weights. My biggest misconception was that people would judge me, but I realized no one cares what other people are doing unless it’s super weird or unsafe. No one is that interested in a beginner figuring it out.
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~jenniferlynn January 25, 2015 at 3:38 pm

That is so true – that people think everyone will be looking at you, when in fact, most people are too concerned about their own selves to even shift their focus! Thanks for the comment!

Susan May 11, 2015 at 7:01 am

I am 49 I started doing cross fit over a year ago after I was diagnosed with breast Cancer, the radiation prevented me from finishing boot camp so I had to stop. After my treatment was offer I resumed theological and stuck with it for a year. Now I am doing weight lifting at a gym. I miss cross fit but I take classes with a cross fit feel every week to help with weight loss. I just started in March and I’m struggling. I’m not sure if I doing enough exercises, how often should I be doing it, I wish someone would just offer a “do this” book. Any suggestions?

~jenniferlynn May 11, 2015 at 7:20 am

Hey Susan, thanks for stopping by!

I really enjoyed the book New Rules of Lifting for Women, and they have another book New Rules Of Lifting Superchargedthat has “metabolic finishers” would be similar to wods. Maybe give those a look?

Mary @ Savvy Lifting May 14, 2015 at 9:28 pm

As a female who lifts I would also recommend Starting Strength and Stronglifts. Women can do the 5×5 program just fine, the only diff is that progression is a bit slower on bench and OHP but nothing microplates can’t help with. As a matter of fact, I find lifting for pure strength and training powerlifting style much more rewarding than for aesthetics and looks etc.
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~jenniferlynn May 14, 2015 at 9:39 pm

I agree that getting stronger often can give more confidence than just training to look a certain way. Thanks for stopping by!

Stijn van Willigen May 19, 2016 at 4:51 am

Great write-up, Jennifer. Some stellar resources for women to read. Indeed, surrounding yourself with like-minded people is key!

However, I think some women don’t find themselves in these surroundings very quickly. They have to push through the initial barrier. In this case, I would like to add that having a goal, with a fitting plan of execution is of utmost importance to weightlifting for women. Like you said, a lot of women are intimidated by ‘the iron atmosphere’ in the gym. I know women that actually blamed this for slacking on their workouts.

Having a plan for every workout you do gives you something to hold on to during these ‘judgmental’ moments in the gym. Knowing what you have to do when you get their gives the confidence to actually do it.
As a further benefit: seeing your weights go up is highly motivating to stick to the plan. This last point also remedies the ‘going through the motions’ boring aspect of weightlifting that I hear a lot of women talk about. You actually have a goal when you’re there: hitting your weights!

A plan in the form of a program (be it from a PT or from the resources you linked to) is a great idea when you’re starting out!
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