Our ultimate full-body gym workout for women

Sometimes the truism that physical fitness is beneficial for the body and mind is simply not enough to incite a full-blown workout. But once you experience a routine that works the entire body, that sensation of overall strength and body balance can trigger the stamina you need to get through your hectic day.

Benefits of a full-body workout

While a case can be made for working the upper body one day and the lower body the next, there is a downside. Not only can you feel off-balance, but that regimen requires a commitment for daily strength training. Then life goes awry, and you miss one day of lower-body training, for example. Do you go back to the upper body the next day or try to catch up on the lower-body workout you missed? Consistency is hard enough without that extra pressure of one day throwing off your whole schedule. Additionally, some people become jaded when strength training every day, which can ultimately lead to complete avoidance.

It has been scientifically shown that a day of recovery is required between strength-training sessions. If you have trained intensely or for a long duration, the tissues that have broken down need time to repair. This is the natural process that builds larger muscles, and the last thing you would want is to disrupt this course of events. When you work the entire body, that time in between can be used for cardio exercises, Yoga or sports.

How women can fit in a complete workout

When women have a full plate every day, the thought of piling one more thing onto their docket is daunting. They’re lucky if they can squeeze in a quick run or a few weight-bearing drills. The good news is that a comprehensive session does not require an extended period of time. By doubling up exercises, a full-body workout is achievable in about 15 or 20 minutes. The general recommendation is three or four full-body workouts per week.

The following are examples of exercises that target areas particularly troublesome for many women, namely the hips, thighs and glutes. The deltoid muscles also require special attention for women. Shoulders in women are typically smaller and narrower than in men. Also, shoulders tend to be weaker than the back, so consider using lighter weights for deltoid exercises.



You have likely heard this many times before, but it bears repeating. Always start with a warm-up. This helps to widen your blood vessels, facilitating the flow of oxygen into your active muscles. When the muscles are agile, they transition from a resting to an active zone, which enables the muscle fibers to produce more force.

Even five minutes of aerobics will help to warm up your muscles. It can be as simple as walking in place. To bolster balance and add a little variety, practice standing on one foot as you move from side to side. Try some mini-squats and bicep curls without the weights. Run up and down the stairs. Dance. Just get warmed up before picking up those weights.

Perform 10 repetitions of each of the following exercises, which are based on a routine developed by Cory Everson, six-time Ms. Olympia. Work up to 12 or 15 repetitions when you are ready for a bit of a challenge.

Squat and press

  • Start with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • With weights positioned at the hip, perform squats.
  • Stand up straight, raise the weights up to the shoulders, and lift up from the shoulders.
  • Then combine these movements by alternating them:
  • While standing straight, lift the weights from the shoulders.
  • With weights held in place above the shoulders, squat down.
  • Continue alternating between the shoulder press and squats.

Lateral-raising lunges

  • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, split the legs with the back heel off the floor.
  • Be sure the legs are far enough apart so that when you lunge forward the front knee tracks directly over the heel and does not extend beyond the toes.
  • Check that your legs are wide enough apart to maintain a steady balance.
  • As you lunge, raise the arms up to the height of the shoulders.
  • Lower the arms as you return to the starting position.
  • Repeat on the other side.

If this feels too strenuous, try the exercise initially with lighter weights or even no weights at all until you feel ready for more of a challenge.

One-arm bent row

  • Rest one knee and hand on a bench or firm chair, and begin with the other arm straight down by your side while holding a weight loosely in your hand.
  • Raise and lower the arm with the weight up to your side but not past shoulder level. Be sure not to grip the weight tightly. The goal is to work the upper back.
  • Repeat on the other side.

There is a variation to this activity for those who want to add more rigor. Once the arm is in a lifted position, pulse three times before lowering the arm down.

Triceps kickback

As women age, they may notice a little flabbiness in the back of the arm. Working the triceps can help to firm that area.

In the same starting position as the one-arm bent row, with one hand on the bench or chair and the other at a 90-degree angle holding a weight, extend the forearm back. Feel this in the back of the upper arm.
Repeat on the other side.

Seated shoulder press

This is a traditional shoulder press but is carried out in a seated position to avoid strain on the back. The starting position is with weights in hands just above the shoulders. Lift and lower the weights with a straight back and flat wrists.

The row

  • In a seated position, lean forward.
  • With weights in hands, position arms by your sides at a 90-degree angle.
  • Lower the arms and lift back up to your sides.
  • Be sure to keep the back straight and neck aligned with the spine throughout this exercise.

Seated lateral raises

  • In a seated position with weights in hands and palms down, raise arms up to the ears.
  • Lower arms back down.
  • Be sure the back is straight, wrists are flat and the core is tight.

Seated arm curls

  • In a seated position with weights in hands, contract the biceps by curling up one arm up toward the shoulder while the other arm is steady.
  • Alternate arms so that each arm is lifted in turn.
  • Hold the contraction at the top of the move by not bringing your arm all the way up to the shoulder.

Concentration curl

  • In a seated position, rest the elbow of one arm on the thigh. With a weight in hand, raise and lower the forearm while keeping the upper arm stable.
  • Keep the opposite hand on the opposite thigh.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • As the name suggests, make an effort to concentrate on this move. Feel it in the muscle.

Bench press

Bench pressThis exercise and the one that follows is for the development of the chest.

Lay down on a bench or floor with weights in hands and arms at a 90-degree angle. Move the arms straight up and down. When the upper arms come down, they should be parallel to the bench or floor.

The Fly

  • Stay on the bench or floor with weights in hands. Keeping the stomach flat with the buttocks and thighs tight, start with arms straight up over the head and weights in hands.
  • Lower the arms down to the level of the ears.
  • Raise the arms to the starting position.

Triceps extension

  • This is the last exercise while on your back. Start with weights in your hands and arms straight up in the air.
  • Lower both forearms back behind the head with elbows pointed up.
  • Raise the arms back to the starting position.

Cool-down exercises

Please take the time to cool down after the workout. The muscles tighten and shorten during vigorous exercise. It is good to stretch to lengthen the muscle.

  • Take a deep breath. Exhale slowly.
  • Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, look up and raise the arms high.
  • Look down as you lower the arms.
  • Clasp the hands behind the back and stretch.
  • Stand wide with legs split, bend the front leg, and keep both heels on the floor.
  • Lean forward to stretch the back of the thigh. If you need support, rest the hands either on top of the thigh or the back of a chair. Hold for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Stretch the hip flexor by repeating the split stance, but this time raise the back heel off the floor, and lean back slightly. Hold for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Women with low bone density

Both women and men can suffer from osteoporosis, though it is more common in women. The reasons stated by the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), are that women have lighter, thinner bones to start with; they lose bone rapidly after menopause; and they tend to have greater longevity, allowing more time for the disease to develop. Because of this, many women undergo bone density testing. The consternation resulting from a diagnosis of osteoporosis or osteopenia may cause some women concern about exercise. However, the NOF strongly recommends regular physical activity to include weight-bearing/impact and resistance/strengthening routines.

Specifically recommended are the following: Weight lifting with a safe back position and technique, using exercise bands, working out on weight machines, practicing one-foot stands and toe rises, doing Tai Chi, and slow dancing. Suggestions of movements to avoid include slouching, bending forward at the waist, twisting at the spine and leaning or reaching past a safely balanced position.

Weight-lifting tips

Even fitness enthusiasts who have enjoyed weight lifting for a while may benefit from reminders about the basics. When first starting out, people assiduously follow the guidance of a cadre of fitness experts. When the workout becomes second nature and the mind tends to wander, there is a risk of becoming lackadaisical. For the sake of your muscles and bones, try to be mindful of the following fundamentals:

  • Hold the stomach in tight, especially when lifting weights, to protect the back.
  • Maintain good posture. Avoid rounding the back.
  • When stretching, pull to the point of mild tension. Avoid over-extending.
  • Be cognizant of moving through the exercises too quickly. The objective is to use muscle and not momentum to give your body a good workout.
  • Don’t sacrifice good form for more repetitions.

Additionally, listen to your body. If you are fatigued or feeling under the weather but do not want to skip your workout, be sensible. Give yourself permission to use lighter weights, or go through the motions without any weights. You will still reap benefits from the movements.

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