Strength Training for Women

From the WebMD Archives

Ladies, would you like to finally get going on a fitness program that you can do at home, one created for women? Does becoming stronger, with lean, long muscles sound appealing? Fitness expert Wini Linguvic joined us on July 12, 2005.

If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR: Welcome to WebMD Live, Wini. Thank you for joining us today. I was always told that women shouldn't train for strength. Obviously this is a myth?

LINGUVIC: Absolutely a myth. Women need to be strong. They need to be strong to lift their babies, carry their briefcases and get through life.

MODERATOR: What can you do to increase your strength without looking like Arnold?

LINGUVIC: It is pretty impossible to look like Arnold. Unfortunately, that fear holds a lot of women back from improving their bodies. The program in Lean, Long & Strong offers exercises you can do at home to get you stronger and bring out the definition in your body. Women don't have the testosterone to get big muscles. Even if they lifted heavy weights, it's pretty hard to look like Arnold. Actually, it's pretty hard for most guys to look like Arnold.

Strength training will bring out definition and get you stronger but will not increase bulk. The key is the correct exercises combined with a sensible diet and a serving of aerobics. The exercises that women most commonly do to bring out definition don't really work. They do hundreds and hundreds of repetitions, spend hours and hours on the treadmill and wonder why their bodies don't change. So it's time to try strength training.

MEMBER QUESTION: How much strength training needs to be done per week to show results?

LINGUVIC: I would suggest three days a week of strength training to get results. If you're just starting out, two days is fine, but three days a week will bring you the best results. Your workouts don't have to be long, yet they should be efficient with the right exercises.


MEMBER QUESTION: How long should each weight training session last?

LINGUVIC: Your weight training session could last anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on what you're doing. More is not necessarily better. You want to have a good program that hits your muscles without overdoing it. Your workout should not be more than 45 minutes -- tops. You can have a great workout in 15 minutes if you have the right routine to do.

MEMBER QUESTION: What are the 'right' exercises?

LINGUVIC: The right exercises are exercises that utilize your whole body in a functional way. What I mean by that is you're not sitting on a machine pushing a weight with your legs. When in real life do you sit on a machine and push a weight with your legs? In real life you stand, lunge, bend and lift.

I recommend exercises that simulate what you do in real life, exercises standing up using your body weight, for example. These exercises not only use the muscles you're targeting, for instance when doing a lunge you're working your legs, they also challenge your core muscles, which are the muscles of your abdominals and lower back. And they challenge your coordination, which you need in real life.

MODERATOR: The exercises are beautifully illustrated with great photos in Wini's book. They make it very clear what you should be doing and how you should be doing it.

MEMBER QUESTION: Should you do cardio workouts on the same day as weights or alter the days?

LINGUVIC: The best scenario is you do it on an alternate day. But in our busy lives sometimes we need to do our workout on the same day. You want to have energy to do your strength training workout, so try to do your cardio workouts on your off days, at least in the beginning.

Aerobics are really important. No one dies of a weak bicep. So make sure you do your aerobics. But it is strength training, hands down, that changes bodies best.

MEMBER QUESTION Are resistance bands as effective as weights for strength training?


LINGUVIC: No. A resistance band is better than no band, and for some exercises it can be very effective, such as adductor and abductor work (your inner thighs), when you need to move your legs laterally. If you were on the road and all you had was a resistance band, that would be fine, but ideally you want to be able to increase the amount of weight you're using as you get stronger and there's no way to do that with one single band. If that's all you have, though, that's better than not using anything at all.

There are a lot of exercises in Lean, Long & Strong that don't require any weights at all. You don't need dumbbells or resistance bands. These exercises rely on body weight, such as lunges, plies and pushups. As you get better at certain exercises you add weight to increase the challenge. With a band it's hard to quantify how much weight you're at.

MEMBER QUESTION: What type of weights do you recommend?

LINGUVIC: I recommend a set of dumbbells to start off, perhaps a 5 pound, an 8 pound and a 10 pound, depending on your fitness level.

I highly prefer dumbbells to exercise machines, for the reasons I've said before. In other words, if you sit down on a machine and press something up, you're really getting good at sitting on a machine and pressing something up. If you sit on a ball or stand in a squat position and press up a set of dumbbells, not only are you working your shoulders, you're working your core muscles, which are your abdominals and lower back, and you're challenging your balance and coordination. In real life, we need all of those things.

MEMBER QUESTION: Do you need to go to the gym daily to workout?

LINGUVIC: No. You can do the workouts in Lean, Long & Strong at home or at the gym. You can do a workout at home with a set of dumbbells and a mat -- and I really like an exercise ball. If you like going to the gym every day, be sure to vary your workout and not to lift weights every day.


People think that fitness is a full-time job. Being fit is supposed to enhance your whole life, not be your whole life. You want to be able to do your workout and then lift your kids up, take the stairs, carry your groceries and feel relaxed, not worry about being in the gym for hours.

MEMBER QUESTION: So you recommend free weight to exercise machines?

LINGUVIC: Yes. Free weights do more for your body than exercise machines.

MEMBER QUESTION: Does the size of the exercise ball matter?

LINGUVIC: Yes. If you are under five feet tall, use a 45-centimeter exercise ball. If you are under five foot six, 55 centimeter, and if you are between 5 foot 7 and 6 foot 1, use a 65-centimeter ball. A good way to test it, if there's a couple of balls in the gym or you are trying it out at a store, you should be able to sit comfortably on it at a 90-degree angle.

If you are a beginner, there's a special ball called a physioball. There's a picture of it at my web site, which is It looks like a peanut and it's more for beginners because it only rolls forward and back instead of forward and back and to the side. A physio roll is an excellent beginner option.

MEMBER QUESTION: Do you think that yoga and Pilates are good options for strength training?

LINGUVIC: Pilates is an excellent exercise to stretch and to connect to your core muscles, but it doesn't really do anything to get you stronger after a certain point, especially in your upper body.

Pilates is an excellent complement to strength training, but it is not enough to truly change the shape of your entire body.

As for yoga, it is a wonderful form of exercise. But it is not the best way to change your body. I practice yoga for the relaxation benefits of it and the breath control. Everyone in my yoga class asks me how to get cuts in their arms. Yoga is an excellent complement to strength training but it does not change your body the way strength training does.


MEMBER QUESTION: If you are new to strength and weight training, what are the best exercises to begin with, to tone and build sexy lean legs and hips?

LINGUVIC: I think the best "bang for your buck" exercise there is are lunges.

MEMBER QUESTION: Is it natural to have one calf muscle bigger then the other, even though you work them both at the same?

LINGUVIC: Good question. Sometimes one muscle is bigger than the other because we tend to use one more than the other, from a previous injury or just because that's the way our bodies are.

You should check to see if one calf muscle is stronger than the other versus looks bigger. If one is stronger than the other you should make sure you use the weaker side for one or two more sets. No one is perfectly symmetrical.

Please pay attention to the way you walk, the way you stand. For instance, when you're waiting in line at the bank, are you leaning your body weight on one hip only, jutting your hip out to the side? How do you carry your shoulder bag? If you play a sport, such as tennis or golf, are you always leading with your strong side? Try and always do things evenly and notice your posture. Eventually it will be second nature to be even and balanced.

MEMBER QUESTION: I have 43-inch thighs and I want them very tight and muscular, so what do you recommend for do the legs? I always wanted a gap in between my legs and I'm really tired of them rubbing so much.

LINGUVIC: To change the shape of your legs to get them tight and muscular you need to do three things:

  • You need to strength train your whole body. I know you might be thinking, OK, I'll just do lunges, because Wini said lunges are the best lower body exercise. However, when you work your whole body you increase your metabolism and you burn more body fat and it's key as you're getting stronger and defining muscles that you, at the same time, have your body fat drop so that you can see those muscles. So you need to do a strength training workout for your whole body. You can certainly focus on your lower body. In Lean, Long & Strong we have a lower body concentration where you work your lower body a little bit more, yet you still need to work your whole body.
  • You need to do smart aerobics. What do I mean by smart aerobics? Three times a week, in moderate intensity with some kind of consistent movement. Whether it's cycling, walking, walking combined with jogging, using a Stairmaster if you have access to a gym -- but something that will help accelerate the fat burning.
  • You need to be eating a sensible diet. There's lots of good information out there about healthy eating strategies. Sensible strategies for eating healthy will help you have those tight, strong legs.


If you give your body a challenge with a good strength-training program, three times a week aerobic exercise and a sensible diet, your body will adapt to that challenge by getting stronger, fitter and leaner.

MEMBER QUESTION: When I lift heavy weight at high repetitions, my legs get huge. Should I remedy this by not lifting quite so heavy?

LINGUVIC: First of all, what exercises are you doing? If you're doing things like leg presses, they tend to just give you overall strength and size.

I would recommend you do exercises like lunges and squats, with moderate weight. Single leg exercises such as a lunge, will be better for you if feel like your legs bulk up quickly, but priority is doing aerobics three times a week and a sensible diet.

Please don't be afraid of strength training. If you do it correctly, it will not bulk up your legs. If you want the shape of your legs to change, you need to give them a challenge. Exercises like lunges and Swiss ball squats will challenge your body to react and your body will get leaner, longer and stronger.

MEMBER QUESTION: I am a 59-year-old woman and I'm looking for help in gaining back muscle strength that I appear to be losing with age. Any suggestions?

LINGUVIC: Absolutely. We lose muscle every year as we age, which is why strength training should be a priority for women. We also need to keep our bones strong and the best way is to do weight bearing exercise. The muscle pulls on the bone and the bone gets stronger and stronger. You can increase your bone density at any age.

I would recommend a basic full-body program to increase your muscle mass. Three times a week would be ideal.

MEMBER QUESTION: I have back fat where the bottom of my bra lies. How or what do I do to get rid of this?

LINGUVIC: That challenge is common in a lot of women. You need to tone up the muscles of your upper body. I would recommend you do exercises like dumbbell rows, but please remember to work your whole body even though you want to firm up your back. You can certainly have a leaner upper body with a strength-training program.


MEMBER QUESTION: I had a C-section and I am having a hard time getting rid of that bulge. Any suggestions?

MEMBER QUESTION: As I am getting older my stomach area is getting flabby. I do sit-ups, but what else could I do to flatten my stomach?

LINGUVIC: Ah, the elusive abs. First of all, make sure you're totally healed from your C-section and you have your doctor's approval before working out.

Again, sit-ups alone aren't much for the abs. You want to hit your abdominal muscles from a couple of different angles. I would recommend starting off with Swiss ball crunches. You lie on the ball doing a crunch, bringing your ribs closer to your hips. Another great exercise is the plank, where you're actually lay face down in a push-up position.

Spending hours on sit-ups are not the best way to tighten up your abs. Spending a few minutes on some really good exercises, such as Swiss ball crunches and the plank, combined with strength training for your whole body, a sensible diet and some aerobics will help you lose the flab and tighten your abdominals.

MEMBER QUESTION: When I try to do sit-ups, there is an area in my tummy where skin bulges out like a balloon and then sucks inward like a cave. I'm four months postpartum. Is this diastasis?

LINGUVIC: I can't tell you without seeing you. Your doctor will be able to tell if your muscle has separated.

MEMBER QUESTION: Do you address diet in your book?

LINGUVIC: I think most diets are too strict, and if you make something too strict you're bound to go off. I have a full section of what I call sensible, commonsense strategies, where each week you add one more strategy into your lifestyle.

Some commonsense strategies are increasing your water intake, logging your food and something called "closer to the source." What I mean by that is when you're deciding what to eat and what to feed your family, ask yourself "Where did this come from?" We know where an apple came from, we know where an egg came from, but I'm not too sure where cheese doodles come from. You want to try to eat closer to the source. For instance, cheese is better than cheese doodles. There are lots of good commonsense strategies like that in Lean, Long & Strong .


MEMBER QUESTION: I have never been to a personal trainer but I would like to for motivation and targeted advice on my best workout plan. What tips can you give me when trying to find a personal trainer and how long/short of a time could I expect to use one?

LINGUVIC: People go to personal trainers for a number of reasons. You want to be able to learn how to do your workout yourself. So the first thing you want to do is learn the exercises with proper form. I would suggest going a couple of times to learn and understand your program and then following up after a couple of weeks to make sure you've been doing everything correctly.

Sometimes people go to personal trainers just to keep up with their exercise program and to stay motivated. You can do that once a week and then work out on your own the other time, or two times.

When just starting out, I would recommend learning your program in two or three visits and then following up two or three weeks later.

MEMBER QUESTION: Do you anticipate doing any DVDs that show the exercises in your book?

LINGUVIC: Yes, I am working on that now. Please sign up for my newsletter at so I can keep you posted.

MODERATOR: Wini, we are almost out of time. Before we wrap things up for today, do you have any final comments for us?

LINGUVIC: I'd like to thank everyone for their great questions and for coming to the chat today. Please visit me at my web site,, for more information about strength training and my latest book, and remember that you're already strong -- exercise just uncovers it.

MODERATOR: My favorite quote from your book: "Strength does not come from how much weight you can lift or how many miles you can run. Strength comes from knowing that you set a goal and rose to the challenge. Strength comes from within."

Our thanks to Wini Linguvic for joining us today. For more information, please read Lean, Long, & Strong .

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