The most surprising thing you may learn about the best exercises for women is that they aren't that different from the best exercises for men. For women who want to get the most out of an exercise routine, you'll need to apply the same principles of conditioning
as exercise routines aimed at men.
The most important aspect of any exercise program is to be consistent, and to alternate hard work with rest. Women often think they should lift light weights many times, but that it's far more effective to work harder for a shorter period of time, to challenge yourself and build upon what you can do, to rest when fatigued, and to perform a balanced exercise routine.
Below are exercises that make up the solid foundation for any woman, as well as a few exercises to challenge you in new ways. This routine can be tailored to beginning exercisers as well as the elite athlete. If you are just getting started, it's recommended that you work with a coach or a trainer to make sure you are doing the exercises correctly. For a basic home workout routine, aim to perform the workout 3 days each week with at least a day of rest between. Build up your time, reps and body position to challenge yourself as you progress.
As with any exercise routine, listen to your body, be consistent, and progress as you go. And remember to stop and rest if your form gets sloppy.
The basic plank exercise is a fabulous core strengthening exercise that engages muscles of the entire body (the back, the arms and shoulders and legs). It also provides a tough workout for the abdominal muscles
. As you advance, you can increase the difficulty of the plank by lifting one foot off the ground for a ten count and repeating with the other foot. You can also use the plank every month or so to perform an assessment of your core strength
. Track your results each month and see how much you improve with continued practice.
Along with the basic plank exercise, I recommend that women perform the side plank. This exercise strengthens the muscles that stabilize the hip and knee joints. It also helps keep muscles balanced and helps reduce the risk of patellofemoral pain syndrome
, iliotibial band syndrome
and other running overuse injuries
. A basic side plank exercise: hold the side plank and lift and lower the top leg ten times. Switch sides and repeat.
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After you've exercised the front and sides using the plank and side plank, it's time to work the back side of your body with the bridge exercise. The bridge (or one leg bridge
, as you get stronger) will engage the glutes and hamstrings which are often overlooked. The bridge exercise is also a great exercise that helps build core and spine stability, which is helpful for anyone with a desk job. Hold the bridge by maintaining a straight line from your shoulders to your knees (don't let the hips sink) for 20 to 30 seconds.
The lunge with a twist combines strength, flexibility and balance into one efficient movement. You can begin the exercise with no weight, and then add a small dumbbell as you build up to holding a medicine ball or even a weight plate. Be mindful of your foot position as you lunge forward. Your knees should be over the ball of your foot. The twist occurs from your upper torso and shoulders, not your hips. Keep you ankles, knees and hips facing forward and gently twist from your chest and shoulders. Check the exercise detail page for more tips.
Build balance, coordination and flexibility with the one leg squat and reach. When performed correctly, you will engage your glutes, and challenge your balance. The key to getting it right is to sink down into a slight squat before your begin reaching forward. When learning this exercise, keep the object you are reaching for close in to avoid over-reaching. You can also place one hand on your upper glute to remind yourself to contract your glutes, not just you quads. Again, be aware of your foot position as you reach forward. Your knee should be over the ball of your foot and not beyond.
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Here is a great exercise that can be easy or extremely difficult depending upon how much weight you carry and how deep you lunge. Walking lunges work nearly every muscle in your body to build strength, stability, balance and power. If you are advanced, you can perform an overhead walking lunge
in which you hold the weight overhead as you lunge. This exercise targets the entire body, including the upper body and core. For beginners, start with no weight until you have the movement and balance to do 5-10 strides without difficulty. Then you can add a light bar or 5 pound hand weights, and over time you can add heavy weights, as long as you maintain good form during the exercise.
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Here is a great combination strength training exercise that is extremely effective and efficient. Women often neglect upper body exercise, but building strength through the chest, shoulders, back and torso will pay off as you age. A lack of upper body strength can lead to poor posture, and can make performing daily tasks much more difficult. Building upper body strength doesn't mean you bulk up, it just means you are more capable, and will fatigue less often. Check out the exercise page for all the details on this great combination move.
photo (c) Paige Waehner
Many women work the abs endlessly, but neglect to work the lower back and shoulders, which can lead to muscle weakness and imbalance. Do back extensions to strengthen the lats, rear deltoids and smaller stabilizers along the spine. The back extension is a great way to target the whole back side and even the glutes.
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The previous exercises target muscular strength and stability, and will get you fit, but no workout routine is complete without a bit of high-quality cardiovascular conditioning. Building your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs) with interval training workouts is one of the fastest ways to increase endurance. It also offers an endless number of options: running, biking, swimming, jumping jacks, running in place, and stair climbing are just a few ways you can boost your heart rate with a 30-second fast interval
. Intervals can be challenging, so start slowly, and only build up your speed and time as you feel comfortable.