Building and Strength Exercises For Women

Muscle-Building and Strength Exercises For Women

One of the most common questions we get asked by women is something like, “What’s the best exercise to grow my small butt, hips, calves, thighs, arms, etc.?”

While there are tons of studies looking into what exercises activate the muscles the most, that’s just one factor that goes into deciding what exercises are the best for building muscle.

There are many things to consider. Some are more straightforward, like choosing an exercise that’s appropriate for your experience level.

Some are pretty complex though so there’s a good chance that you haven’t considered all of them. Stuff like including lifts with active insufficiency or passive tension is something hardly anyone knows to do but it can have a real impact on your results.

Matching The Exercise To Your Experience Level

Are hip thrusts an excellent lift for building up your glutes? For sure.

But it’s also an extremely complex lift. You need to learn how to brace your core, keep your ribs glued down towards your pelvis, and keep your back from excessively arching. Many people feel a pinch in their back because they’re moving their back rather than doing a solid hip extension initiated by the glutes and hamstrings.

If you don’t do it right, you might just be working out your back instead of your glutes. Doing that won’t even help you with your goals, and could put you in a position for an injury.

But if you do a simpler lift, like the glute bridge, having your back against the floor will allow you to keep your back in a neutral position more easily, allowing your glutes to do the heavy lifting instead.

So a simpler lift can be better for building muscle if it allows you to actually hit the muscles you’re trying to grow. There’s also less risk of injury, allowing you to keep exercising long enough to reach your goals (and beyond!).

What Workout Equipment Do You Have?

If you’re a beginner, you don’t need a lot of equipment to build muscle. It’d be better to pick an exercise that is just enough to stimulate your muscles to grow, without needing to invest a lot of money for a squat rack or require a lot experience to stay safe.

And some of these simpler exercises even teach you how to move better.

Take a goblet squat, for example. While it’s true that you can’t hold as much weight as you could load up onto your back with a traditional barbell back squat, it has many advantages over the back squat.

First, someone working out at home could totally do this lift because it doesn’t require lots of equipment. You don’t need a squat rack, a barbell, lots of weight plates, or even space.

All it requires is a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell. This makes it a great option for those who work out from home or those who just want to get started and are shy in the gym.

Second, because the weight is in front of your body, it automatically helps to turn on your anterior (front) core, which teaches you how to safely brace your core while doing any heavy squat movement.

Third, the weight acts as a counterbalance, allowing you to properly squat deeper than you normally could. This increases the range of motion that you’re building up strength in, which also helps your muscles to look their roundest too!

Fourth, it’s a much safer lift for beginners than the back squat because it helps with learning proper form (anterior core turns on) for the squat movement, and the weight is only as heavy as you can hold.

Fifth, it also saves a lot of time in the gym because it works out your upper body at the same time as your lower body.

And because beginners don’t need to stimulate their muscles as much as a seasoned lifter to grow (study), it’s a great option for them.

Compound Versus Isolation Lifts For Building Muscle

To build muscle, you’ll want to optimize the “three M’s of muscle.” That’s mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage. You can do this best by using a heavier weight (that’s appropriate for your experience and strength) through the main movements.

Those movements would be something like the Romanian deadlift (hip hinge), a goblet squat (squat), dumbbell row (upper-body pull), dumbbell bench press (upper-body push), any anti-rotational exercise, and a farmer carry (loaded carry).

A good workout will have a mix of both compound and isolation lifts for your entire body. There is evidence in research that doing both helps to build more evenly developed muscle mass, more muscle mass overall, and more strength too. (study, study).

There’s even research showing that adding in some isolation exercises on top of your compound exercises can help you reach your goals faster. We know that you might not be trying to build your biceps really big, but we can learn from this study. It shows that while chin-ups (compound exercise) were great for building up biceps, doing both compound and isolation exercises like the bicep curls, resulted in the most arm growth.

With all that in mind, you’d begin your workout with the heavy compound lifts and then finish with the lighter accessory/isolation lifts.

For example, you may find that doing 8–10 reps of the goblet squat for a few sets will help grow your glutes pretty well. But you don’t need to stop there.

You could finish with some additional lighter isolation work, such as a higher rep glute bridge, some clamshells with resistance (a band, a light weight held in place on your leg, or pushing against your hand), etc. for even more glute growth.

Progression And Variety Helps When It Comes To Building Muscle

The best way to stimulate every part of your muscles is to do a wide variety of great exercises that hit your muscles in slightly different ways.

But it’s important that you don’t switch your exercises too often. When you learn a new lift, you’ll adapt by improving your coordination through practice. Once you’re good at doing the lift, you’ll adapt by building more muscle. If you keep switching your exercises before getting good at them, all you’ll be doing is improving your coordination, not gaining muscle.

Try sticking with an exercise for 5–10 weeks before progressing to a new one.

And when you decide to progress to a new one, it can help to progress slowly to get what you can out of each exercise, to minimize frustration, and to reduce the chances of injury.

So ideally you wouldn’t go from a goblet squat straight to a full-out barbell back squat. You could try going in smaller steps like from a goblet squat to a double dumbbell front squat. Then once you’ve gotten what you can out of that, then graduate to a barbell front squat. Then, finally, when you’ve mastered that, move onto the barbell back squat.

Here are a few other ways to switch up an exercise for variety:

Alter your grip, hand position, or stance

Altering your grip will hit different fibres of your muscle and even muscle groups. There are 3 types: pronated/overhand, neutral, and supinated/underhand.

So say you’re working out your back with a row, you can hit different parts easily just by switching up your grip after you’ve done one grip for a few weeks.

You can also switch up your hand position. When it comes to something like a push-up, bringing your hands closer together into a diamond position will put a bit more stress on your triceps on your arms. If you go wider, it’ll hit your pecs in your chest area a bit more.

Lastly, you can switch up your stance with your feet. When it comes to something like the deadlift, a hip-hinge movement, you can grab the weight between your legs and stand wider like the dumbbell sumo deadlift exercise. This will keep you more upright and can be a simpler exercise to start with for those with back issues or who are beginners and still building up their muscles in their lower back. Being more upright would work your quads (front of your thighs) a bit more, too.

As you continue to get stronger and want to progress you could stand narrower and grab the weights on the outsides of your legs. This would make your upper body more horizontal (bent over) as you pick-up the weight. This would work your lower back (spinal erectors, etc.) and your hamstrings (back of your thigh) a bit more. If the barbell or dumbbell is too low for you (long legs) or you have limited mobility, you could do raised deadlifts and move the weight up off the floor to keep the progression in smaller steps.

Same hip-hinge movement, but different muscle groups and muscle fibres being worked.

Change Your Angle

The best example of this would be taking your dumbbell bench press exercise and just changing the angle of the bench. Using a flat bench would be hitting your pecs pretty evenly. If you change the bench to sit up a bit and do the incline dumbbell bench, it works your shoulders and upper pec fibres a bit more. You can even do the decline dumbbell bench where it’d hit your lower pecs a bit more.

Try More Progressed Lifts To Challenge Yourself As You Continue To Practice and Get Stronger

If you’re a beginner or you’ve been out of the lifting habit for awhile, you should start with simpler lifts. You don’t need much stimulus to get going and it’ll be much safer.

But as your muscles get stronger, your mobility improves, your bones become denser, your co-ordination becomes solidified through practice—then you can move onto more complex lifts that have a higher risk/reward ratio.

We’re not talking about something actually high-risk that should ideally be coached one-on-one in person, like an Olympic lift, but something like a deadlift where good form is a priority since you’re using heavier weights.

You can even begin to challenge yourself by getting intentional about what you’re working on. We mentioned this in quick passing at the very beginning of the article, but you can use passive tension to target muscles. It’s when you using your muscles like slingshot being pulled back. A great example would be a Romanian deadlift where your hamstrings will be stretched out then fire very efficiently.

You can also use active insufficiency to target some muscles by slackening others. So in a hip thrust your hamstrings will be shortened, when your knees are bent, making them so they can’t fire as well. This will allow your glutes to take over and do most of the work which will help an advanced lifter get the stimulus they need.

Strength exercises for women.

One of the biggest reasons our women have been so successful is that we make getting stronger a priority.

Goblet Squat

Quite possibly the most important movement you can do. A proper squat demonstrates you have adequate range-of-motion of your ankles, knees and hips and solid lower-body strength. Many women come in thinking they cannot squat because of previous knee pain. By keeping the range-of-motion small and teaching them proper technique, it is not long before they are squatting pain-free, with weights!

Key Points:

  • Start feet shoulder width with toes slightly pointed out
  • Stay tall with stomach braced throughout
  • Initiate movement by sitting back and pushing knees out
  • Go as low as you can with no pain and good neutral spine position
  • Finish tall with glutes squeezed
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 8 reps

Push-Up

One area that most women want to improve upon is upper-body strength. Our favorite exercise to improve just that is the push-up. Focus on this exercise and not only will your arms tone but you will build one solid core! If new to the push-up, be sure to start from and elevated position and work closer to the floor as your strength improves.

Key Points:

  • Start hands directly under shoulders
  • Keep straight line from head to heels
  • Keep glutes squeezed and hips tucked
  • Lower entire body until arms are parallel with body
  • Keep arms back at 45 degree angle
  • Start with 3 sets of 6-10 reps

Wall-Press Dead-Bug

The dead-bug is one of our favorite ab exercises here at Dynamic. It is a great way to build anterior ab strength and is great for all levels. We use them in our warm-ups, strength circuits and even as part of our cardio finishers.

Key Points:

  • Start with hands on wall and low back flat to floor
  • Keep hands pressing into wall
  • Lift legs to 90 degrees, knees bent
  • Slowly reach one leg out, pause and exhale through mouth
  • Press low back into floor as you exhale
  • You should feel abs working
  • Start with 3 sets of 5 reps/leg

Inverted Row

Rows are a crucial exercise for keeping your shoulders healthy and improving the strength of your upper-back. We love the inverted over other traditional rowing exercises because they incorporate your entire body and are also great for building core strength. Talk about a win-win!

Key Points:

  • Start with straight line from head to heals, arms straight
  • Initiate movement by pulling shoulder blades towards each other
  • Pull yourself up, finishing arms in line with body
  • Finish by lowering yourself to starting position
  • Start with 3 sets of 8-10 reps

MIMI (Multi ion mask insert)

  • Can be worn with any facemask and provides additional heavy-duty protection.
  • Adult & Youth Sizes Available

KB Swing

Kettlebell swings are a staple for many of our members. The dynamic, fast paced motion makes the swing a great exercise for getting your heart-rate up and burning calories. The majority of the work comes from your hips, hamstrings and glutes making the swing a great choice for individuals with bad knees, feet and ankles. The hamstrings and glutes are two of the most important stabilizers of the knee so strengthening these two muscles is a must for improving knee pain.

Key Points:

  • Before trying the KB swing, be sure to master the Kettlebell Deadlift or RDL first 
  • Make sure all the work is done through your hips
  • Keep posture strong and tall throughout 
  • At the top position, finish tall with glutes squeezed and legs straight
  • Start with 8-10 swings followed by :30-:45 of rest for 6-10 rounds

Anti-Rotation Press

The anti-rotation press is our favorite exercise for that typically tough to hit area of your lateral oblique. By pressing the band out, your lateral obliques need to work double time to prevent yourself from rotating.

Key Points:

  • Set up in athletic position, feet shoulder width apart
  • Start cable handle or band at chest level with fingers interlocked
  • Brace abs throughout
  • Press handle or band out front so arms extend straight
  • Hold for a long exhale and feel abs tighten then return to starting position
  • Start with 3 sets of 8-10 reps/side

Split-Squat

Our second favorite lower-body strength exercise is the split-squat. Like the squat, the split squat is great for improving lower-body strength and mobility. We increase the challenge here by putting you on one leg which helps to improve balance and flexibility and strength. Our women’s group members master this exercises before moving on to more advanced exercises like lunges.

Key Points:

  • Start in a long lunge position with front foot flat and back heel up
  • Lower yourself straight down, keep straight line from back knee to head
  • Keep weight in front foot
  • Without allowing front knee to drift forward, go as low as possible without 
  • pain or losing position
  • Push through front foot to return to starting position
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 8 reps/side

Planks (front and side)

When is comes to ab training, the plank is number one on our list! It challenges your abs and obliques to work to stabilize both your spine and pelvis. This is a great teaching tool for how to brace and how your posture should be while doing just about every other strength and cardio exercise. Getting good at planks will have a great impact on your posture, strength and performance.

Key Points (front plank)

  • Start on elbows with fists directly under your eyes
  • Keep straight line from head to heels
  • Keep hips tucked under and glutes squeezed
  • Focus on long exhales through your mouth
  • Start with 3 sets of :10-:30 holds/side

Key points (side plank):

  • Start on side with elbow directly under shoulder
  • Keep hips squared and high 
  • Keep straight line from head to heels
  • Keep hips tucked under and glutes squeezed
  • Focus on long exhales through your mouth 
  • You should feel lateral ab or side
  • Start with 3 sets of :10-:30 holds/side

Sled Push

The sled push is one of our FAVORITE lower-body strength exercises. It is great for our members who come in with bad backs, knees and/or shoulders. The controlled, concentric-only leg action places much less stress on the knees than traditional lower-body exercises like squats and lunges. They are great for getting your heart-rate up and burning fat, but also great for building some serious lower-body strength — a great way to improve and prevent lower-limb pain.

Key points:

  • Keep arms straight and straight line head to back foot
  • Keep body leaning at 45 degree angle 
  • March forward one step at a time keeping head and upper body still
  • Start with 3-5 reps of 15-25yd march with :30-1:00 rest between reps

Ball Rollout

Get ready for some ab soreness! These are one of the toughest exercises for your core as you have to work extremely hard to hold your spine in a good position as you rollout. If you are new to these, start with a small range-of-motion and work to a larger motion over time.

Key Points:

  • Start on knees with forearms on ball
  • Have hips tucked under, glutes squeezed and abs braced throughout
  • Start motion by letting ball rollout up arms
  • Your hips and head should move together towards the ball
  • Maintain a straight line from head to knees throughout
  • Go as low as possible without losing spine position and return
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 6-10 reps 

Farmer Carry

The farmer carry is a favorite amongst our members. Think of these as a weighted and moving plank. Walking with weights is a great way to improve the strength of your grip, shoulders, core and hips. Carries challenge you to control your spine and aid in improving core stability and even improve cardio and fat-loss by elevating your heart-rate.

Key Points:

  • Start with 2 kettlebells or dumbells in hands
  • Squeeze weights hard and stay tall
  • Keep shoulders back and abs braced
  • Do not allow weights to move around
  • Start with 3 sets of 40-50 yd walks

Pause Bear Crawl

Think of the pause bear crawl as a more challenging, moving plank. We love crawls here at Dynamic as they work to strengthen and stabilize the entire torso. The movement at your hips and shoulders challenges your abs to stabilize your spine, rib cage and pelvis. Not only do these work your abs and shoulders but they are great for getting your heart-rate up and burning some serious calories! Be sure to master the front plank before adding the bear crawl to your routine.


Key Points:

  • Start on all fours with hands placed under shoulders and knees under hips
  • Start by lifting knees off ground
  • Progress forward by moving opposite arm and leg at same time no more than 3″
  • Pause in between each rep 
  • Keep abs braced and do not let low back or trunk move
  • Also move backwards to increase the challenge
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 5-10yds

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