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Strength Training for Women

Strength training refers to exercise that requires your muscles to exert a force against some form of resistance, such as free weights. Performing strength training exercises 2-3 x a week for 20 minutes yields terrific results.

What are the benefits of strength training?

Strength training is the fastest way to improve muscle strength and endurance. The increase in muscle strength and endurance allows a person to perform everyday tasks with less effort and for longer periods of time. Many changes in muscle tissue that are associated with age are caused by disuse. Simply forcing the muscles to work on a regular basis significantly improves their capacity to do work. Resistance training can also improve circulation, coordination, balance, bone and ligament strength.

Is it safe for a woman to participate in strength training?

Some misconceptions associated with weight training are that women would produce bulging muscles and/or they would seriously injure themselves lifting weights. It is very difficult for a woman to produce large muscles due to the fact that women generally have high levels of the hormone estrogen. The fact is improvements are made in muscle tone, strength and endurance and not necessarily in size. As muscles become toned, the body begins to lose fat tissue and becomes more firm. When it comes to strength training, anything that is considered a healthy practice for men is also healthy for women.

Is it necessary to stretch before and after performing free weight exercises?

Yes, stretching before exercise prepares the joints for motion, helps avoid injury and increases the range of motion of the area being stretched. After exercise stretching reduces soreness, helps to prevent muscle cramping and increases the range of motion. When stretching it is important to remember to stretch until you feel a slight tension and hold for 10-20 seconds. Do NOT bounce. Never stretch until it hurts and stay relaxed throughout the stretch. Aerobic exercise and stretching should be performed first followed by resistance training participation. Trained professionals should demonstrate proper form and technique of each exercise before participation is encouraged.

Techniques for Strength Training

Below are examples of some strength-training exercises for women

1. SIDE SHOULDER RAISE—for outer portion of the shoulders

  • Start with arms hanging in front of thighs, elbows slightly bent, and palms facing each other
  • Raise both dumbbells outward simultaneously to shoulder heights, keeping elbows slightly bent
  • Lower dumbbells to starting positions and repeat
person lifting dumbbells outwardly

2. FRONT SHOULDER RAISE—for front portion of the shoulders

  • Begin with arms hanging in front of thighs and palms facing thighs.
  • Raise one dumbbell straight in front of you to shoulder height
  • Lower dumbbell to starting positions and repeat using other arm
  • Alternate arms.
person lifting dumbbells out in front, alternating arms

3. UPRIGHT ROW—for shoulders, neck and upper Back

  • Stand with arms hanging in front of thighs, palms facing thighs, and dumbbells close together
  • Keeping palms close to the body, raise dumbbells simultaneously to the chin
  • Lower dumbbells to starting position and repeat
person lifting both dumbbells simultaneosly to chin

4. BICEPS CURL—for biceps or front of arm

  • Commence the exercise with arms hanging at sides and palms facing away from your body
  • Keeping the elbows close to your sides, curl both dumbbells upward to the shoulders
  • Lower and repeat
person curling dumbbells simultaneously to shoulders


  • Stand erect, head up, feet 16 inches apart
  • Hold dumbbell in right hand; raise overhead to arm's length, upper arm close to head
  • Lower dumbbell in semicircular motion behind head until forearm touches biceps
  • Return to starting position and repeat with left arm
  • Inhale down, exhale up
person raising dumbbell overhead, then lowering behind head

6. ALTERNATED DUMBBELL PRESS—for front and outer deltoids

  • Raise dumbbells to shoulder height, palms and elbows in
  • Press one dumbbell straight up to arm's length
  • Lower to starting position and press other dumbbell up
  • Keep body rigid; do not lean from side to side
  • Do all work with shoulders and arms
  • Inhale up, exhale down
person raising dumbbells to shoulder height, then pressing overhead

This Exercise page was contributed by Kathleen B.Williamson, MS, RN, C, Coordinator of Cardiopulmonary Fitness and Rehabilitation Services at Capital Health System in Trenton, NJ.

Diet and Exercise Log  |  Exercising Safely  |  An Exercise Calendar  |  Strength Training  |  Starting a Walking Program  |  Stretching Exercises  |  Relaxation Exercises  |  Living with Mindfulness  |  Intro to Exercise  |  Yoga

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1999-2000; updates: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 Women's Heart Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited. The information contained in this Women's Heart Foundation (WHF) Web site is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment, and WHF recommends consultation with your doctor or health care professional.