Before I list the exercises please read these very important notes.
When lifting weights you should be lifting heavy. And yes, that includes women. Before you start telling me you don’t want to be bulky or have big muscles please understand this – it just isn’t that simple.
Seen a woman with BIG muscles? She is almost certainly taking steroids. The female body just isn’t designed for getting big. Did you watch the Olympics? Notice how many incredibly strong women there were in the weight lifting who didn’t have big muscles?
Lifting bigger weights will burn more calories, make you stronger (and who doesn’t want to be stronger), decrease the chance of osteoporosis, help build core strength and did I mention it will burn more calories?
Also, although this article is aimed at women, all of the points are valid for men too!
Finally, generally speaking, you cannot tone muscle. You can however:
- Make muscles bigger by lifting weights and eating an excess of calories
- Make muscles appear more toned by losing fat by eating a calorie deficit
On to the exercises…
Ok, so it’s not an exercise – but without the correct supporting diet you will never reach your goals. Looking to gain muscle? You need to eat more calories than you burn so you must be gaining weight. Want to lose fat? Then you need fewer calories than you burn. That might seem a bit simple; that is because it is!
- Not building muscle? Eat more
- Not losing weight? Eat less
Do not try to combine building muscle and losing weight.
Alongside the deadlift this is the most important exercise in your arsenal. Working the lower back, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calf muscles all in one exercise. It is important that you squat to at least parallel – anything else is not a full squat. You want 100% of the benefits – do 100% of the exercise.
Ladies, if you have ever seen a woman with a great bottom; chances are it was built with squats – not Zumba!
Here is a video a girl squatting a good weight – notice how not massive she is?
Just like the squat this is another exercise that hits many muscles at once. Working the forearms, back, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calf muscles. Form is very important with deadlifts and I’d recommend filming yourself or getting someone experienced to check you are lifting correctly.
Recruiting as many muscles as the deadlift does, you’d better believe its a fantastic exercise to burn calories and raise your metabolism for hours after your workout.
Here is another girl deadlifting twice her bodyweight – notice how fantastic she looks?
Now I enjoy running and have clocked up many hours on the roads. But running generally speaking isn’t all that good for you, especially if you run with poor form. And you probably do (sorry!).
Indoor rowing however is non impact and using upper and lower body muscles will give a great cardio workout (and burn lots of calories).
A few points about using an indoor rower however, the numbered handle on the wheel is not resistance. The damper setting is used to emulate different sizes of boats on the water. It should never be used to make a workout harder or easier (if you want to make the workout harder – pull harder!)
Here is a video that explains how to set up the damper setting
And here is a video that explains how to row (notice how she doesn’t over reach)
Crunches are good, sit ups are bad. If you want a nice tight midsection you must not do exercises where your abs are pushed out. Doing hundreds of sit ups and leg raises might be good for your core but will give also give you a thicker waist.
- Abs are created by losing fat which means eating fewer calories than you burn.
- You cannot spot burn fat
- The abdominal muscle is one single muscle – leg raises do not work the lower abs, lower abs come from having very low body fat.
For not doing any of the above is why you should crunch.
This mini seminar explains further
Working your transverse abdominis will give you a tighter waist and stomach vacuums are great for this.
Flat bench pressing gets some bad press for damaging shoulders but with correct form it is a very safe exercise to do. Working your chest, triceps and shoulders it is another great compound movement. Do not get caught up in the myth that decline, flat and incline bench press can increase the size of different parts of the chest. The shape of your chest (like every other muscle in your body) is genetic. You cannot change genetics.
Here is a another video of a girl (notice how she isn’t huge) this time bench pressing a heavy weight
Shoulders, triceps, core muscles (hopefully you are seeing the theme with exercises that work lots of muscles at once) are all worked with the overhead press. Doing overhead presses will also help increase the weight you can bench press and help keep shoulder injuries away.
I’d prefer you to keep your feet under your shoulders and not push with your legs, but this is another great video showing a strong girl overhead pressing
You should include a mixture of both these exercises in your workouts. Working your back, shoulders and arms will help develop a v taper to your body (which will make your waist look smaller). One of the best things about chin ups and pull ups is the minimal equipment needed – any flat bar will do.
If you are struggling to do either exercise, try doing negatives where you start at the top of the movement and slowly lower yourself down.
Please note, lat pull downs are not an acceptable alternative and the only way to get better at chin ups and pull ups is to chin up and pull up!
Here is a 44 year old woman doing 39 pull ups. Doesn’t she look great?
- Match your diet to your goals
- Quit Zumba – NOW!
- Put down the pink weights
- Pick up heavy weights
- Always lift with good form
Want further proof that lifting heavy weights will make you look fantastic?