There is a plague that is devastating the world of women’s strength training, and I’m not just talking about the foolish “light weight and high rep” recommendations touted about in fitness magazines and all over the internet. No, what I am referring to are the marathon workouts performed multiple days per week with the only goal being to achieve as much fatigue as possible.
Some men are guilty of this as well, but women especially tend to believe that if they don’t end a workout completely exhausted and drenched in sweat that they didn’t “do enough”. And if they can’t dedicate at least 60 solid minutes to training, they don’t see a point in training at all. So they perform session after session of circuits, conditioning work, and anything else that has them sweating, panting, and working themselves into a puddle of sweat.
Some women thrive on this type of training and can follow such routines long-term. However, the women I have witnessed who perform these marathon workouts quickly burnout, and stop coming to the gym all together within a few weeks or months. They realize it’s not practical to perform such gruesome, long workouts on a consistent basis. And because they are told that such workouts are the best way to get results, they stop training all together assuming it’s hopeless to even try something different, and less fatiguing.
Ladies, it is entirely possible to spend much less time in the gym (about 2.5 hours per week, to be exact) and still reap the benefits you desire from your training program. Furthermore, it’s even possible to enjoy your training and leave the gym feeling energized and not wiped out.
This is Your Challenge
For some women, this is going to be intimidating to do “so little work” each week. Undoubtedly some will look at the following program and scoff exclaiming, “There is no way I can get results from that!”
I’ve heard it all before, but I know these minimalist training routines work because it’s what my clients and I have used for years. And don’t worry, ladies, even if your main goal is looking better naked, such a simple (I said simple and not easy) training program is just the ticket.
So if you’re ready to get great results, spend less time in the gym, have more energy and actually enjoy your training, then keep reading.
Note – acceptable alternatives are in parenthesis
- Squat (or front squat or Goblet squat)
- Deadlift (or trap bar deadlift or rack pulls)
- Reverse lunge (may use a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, or weight vest)
- Hip thrust (or back extension)
- Standing overhead press (only if you have healthy shoulders and proper thoracic mobility – may also use dumbbells or kettlebells; push presses are also acceptable)
- Chin-ups (use bands for assistance if you can’t perform them with your bodyweight – neutral or a supinated grip or ring chin-ups are recommended)
- Push-ups (or parallel bar dips or bench press if you can perform at least 10 perfect push-ups)
- Inverted rows (I prefer these be performed on a suspension trainer, but you may also use a barbell set in a power rack; other options are chest supported row and dumbbell rows)
- Farmer walks (use dumbbells, kettlebells, or weight plates)
- Waiter carries (only if you have proper thoracic mobility; use a dumbbell or kettlebell)
Note – if the bodyweight exercises such as inverted rows, push-ups, chin-ups, and parallel bar dips are too easy, add weight via weight plates, weight vest, chain belt with weight plates, or bands.
That brief list of exercises is all you will use for this training program. Welcome to the world of minimalist training – it works.
Now that you know which exercises you will be performing, let’s get into a sample training program. You will be performing three total body strength training sessions each week, on non-consecutive days. Something like Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday works well for most people.
Note – keep in mind that you may use the acceptable alternative exercises listed above, but only those alternatives.
1) Deadlift – 2×6 (2 sets, 6 reps each), and 1×8
2a) Standing one arm dumbbell push press – 2×6-8, 1×10
2b) Chin-ups – 2×6-8, 1×10-12
3) Farmer walks – 5 sets x 30-50 yards
1a) Reverse lunge – 2×8, 1×12-15
1b) Inverted row – 2×8, 1×10-12
2a) Back extension – 3×10-15
2b) Push-ups – 2×8, 1×10-12
3) Waiter carry – 4 sets each arm for 30-50 yards
1) Squat – 2×6, 1×10
2a) Parallel bar dips – 2×6, 1×8-10
2b) Dumbbell row – 2×8, 1×10-12
3) Farmer walks – 3 sets x 60-80 yards
You Must Work HARD
If you’re only going to do a minimum amount of work, you must put in a lot of effort. The previous program is very simple, but that does not mean it will be easy.
Be prepared to challenge yourself and to get a little uncomfortable under the bar. I’m in no way encouraging you to push so hard that your form deteriorates, but I am telling you to push hard. Leave a rep in the tank, but no more.
Don’t stop the set because it’s getting tough – stop the set when you know you have one more rep left in you, but that’s it. If you end the set knowing you could do two or more reps while maintaining proper form, you aren’t training hard enough.
I have worked with numerous clients who claimed to “train hard”, but they were really holding themselves back. They would want to stop a set well short of where I wanted them to because they had to strain a little and things got uncomfortable. It wasn’t uncommon for them to think a set was “over” when in reality they had at least three more perfect reps left in them.
And know this; if after performing three sets of squats or deadlifts you feel like you could do another set, you didn’t push your sets hard enough.
You Must Improve Your Performance
Improving your performance is the name of the game. If you’re not improving, then you aren’t challenging your body, and you won’t get results.
Each week you must do one of two things:
1) Use more weight than last week (even if it’s just a single pound)
2) Perform more reps with the same weight (even if it’s just one rep)
In the case of the farmer walk and waiter carry, you can also walk longer distances.
Improved performance while maintaining proper form – that is what you will focus on throughout the duration of this training program.
What about Cardio?
There will be no crazy metabolic circuits or anything like that.
Why? Because I want you putting 100 percent into the weight training sessions. I want you to be fresh and focused and improving your performance on the exercises listed above. That is where the majority of your results will come from, and so that is where I want all of your effort going.
The only cardio that is acceptable on this program is brisk walking. You can do this first thing in the morning, after your training sessions, or any time you prefer. And please note that I said brisk walking and not jogging.
Keep the brisk walks limited to 40 minutes, and no more. Personally I like to walk first thing in the morning on my non-lifting days, that way I get some activity every day. Plus, the walks will help you recover from your weight training sessions.
What Do You Do with the Extra Time?
If this program is much less work than you’re used to doing, you’re probably wondering what you should do with the extra time on your hands.
Anything! Do something fun with your friends and family. Start up a new hobby. Explore the world. Try some new recipes in the kitchen. There is more to living then spending every spare moment in the gym or working out. Take advantage of this opportunity and discover something new, or do something you once loved but haven’t done in a while.
You can also take this time to focus on other things that will help you achieve your body composition and performance goals such as nutrition, but that’s a completely different article all together.
Are You up to the Challenge?
The program outlined in this article may appear to be “too easy”, but I challenge you to give it an honest shot for six weeks. Work hard, improve your performance, and see what happens. Because you are only training a few basic exercises, you should be able to focus entirely on those three training sessions each week and make consistent progress.
But make sure you follow the program completely as written. Don’t start throwing in things like crunches, curls, kick backs, and sprints and then ask me why the program didn’t work.
Allow me to end this article with an excellent quote from Dan John:
“I think many of us think this way: If it’s free or simple or easy to understand, it can’t be as good as something that’s expensive, complicated and difficult to figure out on your own”.
Nia Shanks is a strength coach and writer at NiaShanks.com. She’s been featured in T-Muscle, Bodybuilding.com, EliteFTS and Muscle and Strength. She currently holds the SPF push/pull world record with a bench press of 145lbs and a deadlift of 300lbs at a whopping body weight of 122lbs! She’s also the author of the popular women’s strength training resource Beautiful Badass.