bodybuilding for women (beginners welcome)
For far For too long, it felt like the bodybuilding area of the gym was too male-dominated and off-limits to women and non-binary people, but thankfully things are changing on that front and bodybuilding for women (or ‘ strength training’) is definitely on the rise. Gone are the days of rushing to a barbell rack, freaking out, and then heading back to the treadmill for the rest of your workout (someone else? Or was it just me?).
Whether you want to start weight training as a beginner to build strength or to tone up, it’s completely understandable that it can still seem a little daunting – there’s also a lot of equipment out there that might seem unfamiliar. And that’s it! But the joy of being a beginner with anything is that you only have to do your very first session once… after that you are already a little closer to your goals than you were the day before.
Here, expert personal trainer Alice Liveing (who is keen to dispel any fears that lifting will make you look “bulky”) explains how to start lifting and recommends six moves to help you build a personal routine. “A lot of people worry about getting hurt if they start weight training,” she says. “Of course, the barrier to entry with strength training is higher than lacing up your sneakers for a run, but if you’re well guided and start slow and steady, there’s very little reason to worry on that front.”
So, notepad handy?
What are the benefits of bodybuilding?
Where to start? “The benefits are vast and range from physical to mental,” says Alice. “That’s why it has gained popularity in recent years.” Strength training in general, either using weights such as barbells or dumbbells or using your own body weight, will build and maintain muscle mass, which is important for overall physical health.
“Having a good level of muscle mass is important for supporting your overall structure and helps with things like balance, proprioception, weight management, movement quality and more,” adds the PT expert, observing that daily tasks such as carrying your child (if you have one) or shopping will also become easier.
Other benefits of strength training are:
- Less risk of injury: it will improve the strength, range of motion and mobility of your muscles, ligaments and tendons, which can build strength around major joints like the knees, hips and ankles to provide extra protection against injury.
- Stronger bones: This is especially important as we age and for women going through menopause.
- Best for mental health: As with any exercise, there are mental health benefits associated with moving your body, says Alice, who adds that strength training can be a particularly good option for those who want something that makes them feel physically independent and strong.
How to start bodybuilding
Building the right foundation by learning the basics is key, Alice points out, as is hitting the gym with a pre-planned routine, so you’ll know clearly what you’re doing and have one less thing to worry about. And keep in mind that how quickly you start seeing results depends on a) what goal you have in mind and b) how much time you can devote to it.
A good way to perfect the basics of weightlifting is to join a local club or attend a class at your gym, or if you can afford it, book a few PT sessions to seek more personalized advice with a made-to-measure. – a frame.
“If you’re looking to lose fat through strength training, then eating with a calorie deficit is also necessary for best results, and the time it takes you to reach your ‘goal’ will vary wildly,” notes Alice. “If the goal is just to get stronger, then I would give you a good 12 weeks of following a program to notice improvements in strength, but again this can vary a lot depending on the individual.”
The PT, which has worked with the likes of Maya Jama and Jodie Comer, also adds. “You want to make sure you’re not running before you can walk, before you start adding more complex moves…and be patient with your progress, results may take time but don’t give up just because you’re see progress in a week.”
Alice reminds everyone of the importance of rest days. “Rest is very important when it comes to training because this is when your body recovers and repairs muscles so they get stronger. Be sure to factor in at least one to two days off from your workout, but longer if you’re feeling particularly sore.”
And of course, the biggie: enjoy! “Strength training should be a fun and challenging experience, so if you don’t enjoy it and have tried it well, then maybe find something else that works better for you.”
How do I know what weight size to use?
When it comes to knowing which weight to choose, it all comes down to what seems difficult for you. “My advice is to always make sure the last two reps of the given rep range are really hard,” suggests Alice. “So, for example, if you’re doing 10 reps of a goblet squat, reps 8, 9, and 10 should be really hard, but not so hard that you start to lose movement quality or good form. If those reps are really easy, chances are the load is too light, and if those reps are knocking you out of shape, chances are the load is too heavy.”
Ready to learn your own beginner weightlifting routine? Alice has put together a simple one to start with:
1) Goblet Squats: hold a dumbbell or kettlebell, with a challenging weight, close to your chest (use both hands to keep it steady!), then lower yourself into a squat.
2) Push up lowers: this move doesn’t actually require any extra weight – you can use your own body weight to build strength with it! Get into a normal push-up position, but lower yourself to the floor at a slower pace than usual to really challenge your muscles.
3) Slots: take a dumbbell in each hand and step forward into a lunge, bring your leg back and repeat on the other side.
4) Single arm row: take a dumbbell in one hand and press your opposite knee onto a flat surface, such as a weight bench. Pull the weight to your chest and lower the control as you come back down. Switch sides after performing the appropriate number of repetitions.
5) Big press on the knees: kneel on the floor using and taking a dumbbell in each hand, lift it above your head and bring it back to shoulder level.
6) Romanian Deadlift (RDL): see Alice’s video for more details –
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